Aircraft Carrier For Sale Or Rent

An article in today's London Telegraph  ("HMS Ark Royal Put Up for Sale on ‘Military eBay' ") reports that UK's MoD website is offering Great Britain's just-mothballed aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, and three Royal Navy destroyers for sale to the highest bidder. Maybe the Chinese will buy them. After all, they've got the money.

It's not a joke. Tony Blair has been saying for a while now that China's rise -- and a more general shift of global power to Asia -- is the central geopolitical fact of the early 21st century. He's right  But I would argue that a conscious decision by Western elites to acquiesce in that shift is of at least equal significance.

As Lenin said: "[p]robe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed. If you encounter steel, withdraw." Lenin's heirs in Peking have to be pleased.

Exhibit One is NATO's so-far anemic effort in Libya. Wouldn't, the British press has asked, the Ark Royal have come in handy in evacuating British citizens stranded in the Near East by the Arab Spring? Well, yes -- and in killing Gaddafi too. Instead, with Spain, Germany and Italy sitting on their hands, the Europeans are sucking wind.

Only the French carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is presently deployed.

Exhibit Two is the Obama Administration. A devastating  piece this week by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, "The Consequentialist," chronicles the President's confrontation with those within his Administration who argued for a foreign policy of "liberal interventionism." In it, one senior Presidential advisor describes the emerging Obama Doctrine as one of "leading from behind."

Meanwhile, in the real world, Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute warns in Strategic Analysis that "[t]he U.S. Navy has not been as small as it is today since the administration of William Howard Taft, when the Royal Navy filled the international role that America's naval forces inherited and currently possess."

The consequences of this shrinkage in the U.S. Navy are visible, too,  if you have eyes to see. As first reported here ("Where Are My Carriers?" March 8, 2011), under President Obama, the U.S. Navy's big ships have been largely AWOL from the high seas. Two months on, there are still no U. S. supercarriers operating in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean or the Straits of Malacca.   

And Peking, so far, is following Lenin's maxim and proceeding. This month's issue of the U.S. Naval Institute's  Proceedings is devoted entirely to China's emerging naval strategy. Perhaps prophetically, the various experts focus not on China's future carrier fleet but on its existing arsenal of long-range anti-ship missiles. Their point: the Chinese already have the ability to deny the U.S. Navy easy access to the so-called "second island chain" in the Western Pacific.

That area -- comprising the seas and territories of Taiwan, Vietnam and our ASEAN allies -- is now well within the range of Chinese ASBM's. While the expansion of the Chinese Navy now underway will certainly increase China's capability there, the reality is that China's land- based ASBM's already pose a challenge to America and its allies' power in South Asia. The title of the lead article in Proceedings says it all: "Mao's ‘Active Defense' Is Turning Offensive."

This, too, is the point of Robert Kaplan's important new book on the strategic challenge in the Indian Ocean, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. Kaplan argues for a U.S. naval build-up akin to that mounted by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980's. America, he says, must be the dominant, over-the-horizon power in the Indian Ocean, because the Straits of Malacca are the "Fulda Gap of the  21st century."

 Nothing less, Kaplan says, will meet China's challenge.

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