I promised you saber-rattling and I took all week to get to it, but here it is at last.
China has deployed its first ever aircraft carrier group, the Liaoning, into the Western Pacific for the first time, in what is widely regarded as a response to Donald Trump's posturing, including his Twitter messages. ("You kids" might not read that sentence and almost laugh, but being in my late 30s the fact the saber-rattling might occur in response to Twitter evinces a grim "LOL".)
If you don't want to read the article, here's the crux of the matter:
China has been flexing its military muscles and has deployed its aircraft carrier, a symbol of naval power projection in the contested South China Sea.
With US President-designate Donald Trump intensifying his Twitter attacks on China and its aggressive stance in the South China Sea, China seems to be showing the world who is the boss in the neighbourhood.
How seriously should we take this? Whenever two nuclear powers engage in a pissing match, there's always the possibility that things can go wrong.
That said, I don't get too scared about the Liaoning myself, and that's because I've read the War Nerd on this topic. You should really read the whole article - it's long(ish), but it's also hilarious and informative. The crux of what Gary Brecher d/b/a the War Nerd says is that aircraft carriers are cool looking but - hate to break it to you - sort of obsolete. The new Chinese aircraft carrier isn't really about military strength projection; it's about an image. It's about pride.
And that’s the point about this Chinese carrier: It’s about national pride, not military usefulness. The Chinese are after both those things, and it’s actually incredibly cool the way they’ve managed to get both. First, since they’re smart, they came up with a real weapon that totally neutralizes the US carrier fleet, a weapon that could sink all 11 of the US carriers in a few minutes, without even having to bother with all the screening vessels and air cover and other useless “defenses” we’ve stacked around them. It’s not a glamorous weapon, it just works.
He goes on to describe China's DF-21 long-range ballistic missile, and makes a pretty good case that this weapon could take out any American aircraft carrier lickety-split.
In the interest of fairness, here are some people who really don't like Brecher's opinion regarding aircraft carriers going on at some length about it. Maybe they're right and maybe he's wrong, although they seem awfully quick to defend the armored knight of the Middle Ages, even against the famed longbowmen who pretty decisively opened a can of whupass on the mounted armored knight, so make of their opinions what you will.
So, it seems quite possible that China's aircraft carrier move is nothing to get worked up about. However, insofar as this move speaks to a larger deterioration of the US-China relationship, it's troubling. This thoughtful piece by The National Interest (full disclosure: I know nothing about The National Interest, but this piece sure seems reasonable to me) makes the point that ramped-up tensions in the South China Sea may make bilateral cooperation on North Korea more difficult, and the North Koreans are actually (1) armed with nuclear weapons and (2) fond of firing missiles to and fro, including potentially one day at America.
I'm going to go hang out with my wife and our cats in preparation for the New Year, but let me send this year off with a link to another tremendous (and relatively brief) War Nerd article on Chairman Mao and his relatively massive cojones. 2017 promises to be full of saber-rattling fun in the Pacific, and elsewhere!
Happy New Year everyone!!!