When considering the top security concerns for the U.S. in Asia, two nations stand out.
The first and simplest is North Korea for several reasons. North Korea is considered a rogue state with nuclear weapons and has been known to conduct missile tests as a way to show relevancy.
What makes this more important is that the Korean war is still technically active, meaning that at any time the ceasefire can be broken. Also pertinent is the presence of 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea itself, not counting the roughly 50,000 in nearby Japan. All are well within range of the rockets that North Korea possesses.
If North Korea were to fire any missile at U.S. troops, that would be an act of war.
The ease of which this could be done is probably the most frightening because all it takes is Kim Jung Un simply being mad enough to give that order. (I should note that when I say mad here, I mean both definitions for anger and mental state.)
The second concern is China itself. Because of their policies with respect to Taiwan and also with respect to the South China Sea, China has become a concern for the U.S. particularly because China has been actively trying to compete for hegemony on the global stage.
The Taiwan issue is easier to discuss because the main concerns flow from the fact that China wants to reincorporate the island under its terms while the Taiwanese do not. This is compounded by the fact that the U.S. has a carrier group routinely patrolling the Taiwanese strait, and also by Congressional assurance of protection for the island, a resolution passed in the early years of the Cold War.
Any move or threat to Taiwan has to be carefully considered and watched because it can easily lead to U.S. involvement. The second and more difficult issue is the South China Sea dispute.
The entirety of the sea has overlapping claims made by the nations that border it. The nations involved in the dispute besides China are Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Beyond that the UN defines maritime claims as allowing coastal nations to protect resources within their Exclusive Economic zone or EEZ. The distance between the shore and the edges of all EEZs is 200 miles.
China, for one, has claimed the entirety of the South China Sea, in the process ignoring all other claims and angering the nations making those claims.
In each case, the claim is an a assertion that the claiming nation’s laws apply to the region in question. If China’s claim were accepted, then Chinese laws of the sea would apply across the entire South China Sea.
The validity of these claims is important for two important reasons. One of which is a massive amount of international trade that flows through the South China Sea.
To give a rough figure, of all trade that travels throughout the world roughly 80% by volume and 70% by value runs through these waters. If any nation was able to enforce a claim over the entire area, it could reap economic power on a global stage that few could match.
The second reason and probably the more significant, is the fact that approximately 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and approximately 11 billion barrels of oil exist in the South China Sea.
If any nation were to control this, they not only would have energy independence for centuries but also a large degree of control on the global market for the price of oil and natural gas.
The concern for the U.S. is not so much the claims themselves or what lies beneath them but rather the U.S. trade that flows through the area as well as the U.S. warships that operate there.
What makes this topic more interesting is the fact that this dispute alone has been going on for years and is still going on currently. However, the coverage of this issue is practically nonexistent. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Frank Felber is a long time Manhattan resident who graduated from Manhattan High in 2016, Kansas State University with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international security studies from the University of Arizona.