The US in East Asia

U.S. foreign policy in East Asia may be leading, mostly by inertia, to a global crisis which could dwarf the incessantly touted tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear program. Yet the media and the political leadership are ignoring American security policy, or rather the lack of it, in East Asia.

The candidates in the Republican primary season and now the early general election season have paid scant attention to foreign policy and no attention at all to what is perhaps the most important issue of the day. The economy rises and falls in an almost cyclical fashion, but the relations of great powers determine pattern of politics for generations. While relations with China have appeared in the campaign occasionally, they have done so mostly in the context of trade relations and the rate of the Yuan, which are essentially divisible economic issues which are conducive to compromise.

In a wise and timely response to the threat of Communist expansion, the U.S. created a system of alliances and bases in the region in a relatively successful bid to contain Communist expansion. The US presence in the region has expanded to a ring of bases surrounding China, with a particularly notable military presence in Japan and South Korea. This order of battle, under USPACOM command, has 300,000 military personnel under its command. To the east, the equally robust CENTCOM handles the many security challenges of the Middle East, but also borders China in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.

This may seem like a peripheral matter at this time, as the country faces the biggest economic challenges in a generation but the contours of this policy could determine whether the upcoming global structure will be peaceful or conflict-ridden. Whether one believes China will replace the U.S. as the world’s greatest power or merely rival its influence regionally, there can be little doubt that Beijing will demand a predominant position in the Asian subsystem. A simplistic, but useful, device for classifying great powers is the division into revisionist and status quo powers. Basically, wars for control of the international system tend to be fought when a revisionist power wants what a status quo power has. But these classifications are not inherent to the states and based on some sort of stereotypical concept of state cultures. States are not good or evil, rather they are a product of political circumstances.

Even if we stick to economics, which are after all the defining issue of the time, this topic cannot be ignored. These bases are part of an international network of bases which the Pentagon estimates are worth $127 Billion. Any policy which would allow the US to cut its annual expenditure figures and perhaps recoup significant amounts of money in return for the sale of huge amounts of real estate is worth discussing when the deficit has become a strategic threat to the well-being of the United States and its status as a hegemonic power.

The United States found itself in a similar situation as a rising regional power. As a young nation the United States was intent on removing the European centers of power from the western hemisphere. The reactions of the great powers of the day is both interesting and instructive. The French realized that they no longer had the economic and military ability to compete for domination in the region. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 signalled the French withdrawal from the region and the beginning of a long and productive friendship between the two countries. The British and Spanish insistence on punching above their weight in a region which was peripheral to their central interests, led to wars and enmity lasting over a century. The Spanish Empire finally collapsed thanks to the Spanish American War. The British found themselves embroiled in an unnecessary war in 1812 and in a Sisyphean attempt to keep up with the size of the American navy as well as its other rivals known as the “two-power standard”. London realized that this policy was untenable and began rapprochement with the United States in 1895. Once the U.S. had asserted its dominance in the western hemisphere, it became a status quo power in that it was unwilling to go to war in order to change the balance of power. Instead it was involved in several attempts to stop the attempts of a revisionist power from overturning the existing order.

The situation in Asia may turn out to be quite similar. Much like the colonial powers in the western hemisphere, the United States continues to hang on to its bases in Asia which are the product of outdated strategies and concerns. In doing so, the US is a major part in an overall configuration blocking Chinese aspirations in the region. To the north, China faces its traditional Russian rival. To the south it borders the other major rising power of India, which will surpass China by 2040 as the world’s most populated country. Thus the natural sphere for Chinese domination would be the smaller states to the east and south of China and the mountainous region to the west of it. These are the exact regions currently defended by the US military. This places the United States at odds with China in the long term.

It may be that it is in the American interest to defend its allies in East Asia and risk turning China into a revisionist state and possibly embroiling the US in a future Asian war. But at the very least, this momentous decision should be part of a nationwide political discussion.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim


A Day on the USS Midway

For almost 50 years, until its decommissioning in 1992, the 70,000 ton aircraft carrier USS Midway played an important role projecting naval power for the United States. Commissioned in 1945 a month after hostilities with Japan ended, the Midway was at the time the largest ship afloat and the lead ship of a new class of carrier that included the USS Coral Sea and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Following Desert Storm in 1991 – where it acted as flagship for the US fleet – and its decommissioning the Midway was part of the reserve fleet docked and sitting entombed near Seattle. Fortunately in 2004 it was rescued and towed to San Diego where it now a floating military museum, and what a wonderful museum it is. My son and I had the pleasure of visiting the ship during Spring Break and would recommend it to anyone interested in naval history or aircraft. There are over 60 exhibits, including over 20 aircraft, ranging from the Korean-era Skyraider to the Vietnam-era F-8 Crusader and F-4 Phantom to the more recent F-14 Tomcat and F-18 Hornet, all sitting atop its huge flight deck.

F-8 Crusader, "Single-engine, supersonic, carrier-based air superiority jet aircraft." Last fighter to use guns as primary weapon. US service career 1957-1987. Source: wiki.

As you walk through the tens of dozens of compartments on multiple decks in the 1,000-foot long ship one is immediately struck at the lack of personal space. It was extremely claustrophobic with just visitors; one can only imagine what it would have been like with its full complement of 4,100 sailors and airman aboard. The officers were not pampered either, judging by their quarters. Even the captain had a very small room, enough for a bunk, locker, folding table and a sink. I spoke to the tour guides – all past Midway veterans – and almost to a man what they remember the most were the smells of the quarters and sounds of aircraft taking off and landing at all hours. During the 1950s up to 130 aircraft were operating from its deck, later to be reduced to 70 to 80 because of safety concerns.

Despite structural deficiencies – it was far too top heavy and was built atop a battleship hull, which in one storm rolled almost 30 degrees! – the USS Midway was at the forefront of US naval power for almost 50 years. While it saw no action in Korea it constantly patrolled the Mediterranean Sea with nuclear weapons aboard as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. Later it completed three tours of duty of Vietnam launching thousands of sorties against targets in North Vietnam. In the 1980s it set new benchmarks for battle preparedness and became the first US carrier to be based out of a foreign port, Yokusaka, Japan.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, "tandem (two-seat), twin-engined, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber." US Service 1960- 1996. Source: Wiki

For both my son and I whether in the crew’s quarters, walking around the enormous hanger deck, taking in the four acres of flight deck or the very cramped bridge on the island you felt like you were part of something special. A visit is highly recommended. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in San Diego either.

I would also suggest you read “Midway Magic” by Scott McGaugh and visit the Air and Space Museum in nearby Balboa Park.

Mike Kuzik

The Naval Geek Encounters Halifax

When I accepted the admission offer from CMSS, I knew I was going to receive opportunities to go to places and see things directly relevant to my interest in naval affairs. This has been demonstrated no better than by the trip to Dalhousie University’s Political Science Symposium in Halifax. Knowing we’d only be there for a total of four days, two of which would be taken up with conference proceedings, I decided that I had to make the best out of my limited time there.

Thus, shortly after our red-eye flight landed in YHZ at 6:30am, we proceeded to our hotel and thence break our fasts at Smitty’s across the street. While most of the “team” felt too tired to do much sightseeing so soon after our flight, I managed to convince our resident exchange PhD student to accompany me on a delightful walk to the Maritime Command Museum in the middle of CFB Stadacona.

The “delightful” aspect, of course, was Halifax’s equivalent of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Warned by one of our taxi drivers to never go through the area, we nonetheless marched boldly through it, my plentiful experience growing up in Vancouver (and Surrey, in particular) providing me confidence. And of course, nothing untoward happened, and soon enough we arrived at the outer gates of the Museum.

The lady at the gatehouse asked us for a piece of ID, at which she gave a cursory glance before waving us through.

20mm Oerlikon

Guarding the front entrance to the Museum was a small circular plot of land, upon which were several old cannons and a 20mm Oerlikon AA gun from WWII. While these guns had good range and hitting power, they weren’t quite enough against Kamikazes that needed to be destroyed rather than merely disabled. Nonetheless, a pretty cool weapon, if only because I have had to deal with dozens of the little buggers in 1/350 and 1/700 scales for much too long.

Anyways, the Maritime Command Museum itself is sited in a three-story brick mansion built back in 1818. Entry is free, as with most (all?) military-run museums. In addition to the three above-ground floors, there is also a basement. Multiple rooms are on each floor, each room following a specific-ish theme. Items inside ranged from original ship blueprints arrayed on the stairway walls to a floorplate from one of our aircraft carriers, HMCS Magnificent. It is a very neat museum, for it does not, in the opinion of my trip companion, appear to be very well curated. A lot of items are not explained, if labelled at all -some items will require the viewer to have existing knowledge of the item’s nature in order for it to be understood. In a way, there is a sense that you’re walking through a collection of old items thrown together for your viewing pleasure, instead of the clinically organized pieces of a more “conventional” museum. In my view, this makes the museum a lot more interesting and “alive”. The third floor was under renovations at the time, as well as one of the larger rooms on the second floor.


"Evolution of RCN Destroyers": (Back) unknown Tribal Class, (Mid) Pre-TRUMP DDH 280 HMCS Iroquois, (Fore) Post-TRUMP DDH 282 HMCS Athabaskan. (Tim, correct me if I'm wrong - MH)


After the museum, we headed through the base towards the harbour to see if we can spot some of our Atlantic fleet at their berths. Sure enough, there were three Halifax class frigates at the Irving yard undergoing what appears to be their FELEX mid-life upgrade. Walking back towards our hotel along the waterfront road (and thereby giving Halifax’s DTES a miss, sadly), we spotted a few more ships, including an Iroquois class destroyer, one of our infamous Victoria class submarines (HMCS Windsor, the only one on in the Atlantic fleet), and the replenishment ship HMCS Preserver, along with a handful of Kingston class coastal defence vessels.

And so, within 6 hours of getting off our red-eye flight, I had accomplished my objective of seeing one of every type of warship in the RCN. It was a good start.

During Friday night’s post-conference dinner, I had the pleasure of being better acquainted with several people who were/are relevant to my area of research and interest. One is a former naval architect, the
other the Editor of the Canadian Naval Review, and finally a young officer serving aboard HMCS Preserver. A stimulating conversation over dinner regarding the process of naval engineering and Canada’s future fleet marked my interaction with the first; an invitation to write an op-ed for Canada’s leading naval journal-magazine marked the second (see the Spring issue coming out in May!); and a personal tour of HMCS Preserver marked the last.

Thus on Saturday morning, my roommate and I joined the young officer on a tour of one of Canada’s two replenishment ships. Over forty years old and still steam-driven, HMCS Preserver is an one-stop-shop for a small naval task group. Containing both fuel and dry goods, she is vital for the conduct of extended at-sea operations in support of our combatant fleet.

HMCS Preserver - "Le Coeur de la Flotte"

The tour necessarily required that we step foot within Her Majesty’s dockyard, resulting in no small amount of giddiness from yours truly. It was here as well that I also found HMCS Sackville, the only Flower class corvette remaining from World War II. During the winter months she is berthed at the base instead of at the Maritime Museum of theAtlantic.

The tour took us through the berths and the helicopter hangar, down through the oily and stifling engine room, up to the wardroom, and even to the bridge.

After the tour, we returned to the hotel and headed towards the Farmer’s Market for lunch before heading to the Pier 21 immigration museum. Sadly, most of it was closed for renovations. Afterwards,while most headed over to the Keith’s Brewery for their famous tour, I went on over to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (MMA).

The MMA is the broader, roomier cousin of the MarCom Museum. While a section on the ground floor is dedicated to naval exhibits, there’s also a very large showcase room for commercial shipping on the second floor, as well as a large two-story-high room showcasing the boat-building industry. The Halifax Explosion and the Titanic each get their own special sections. It’s definitely a more conventional museum – everything is well-labelled and neatly organized. Still a lot of fun to go through – they even have a refurbished marine storefront from the late 1800s!

And thus my trip to Halifax ended with nearly all my objectives achieved. It was all too brief and I would love to return in the summer to see HMCS Sackville.

Timothy Choi