Potential Flashpoint for Internatinal Conflict

  • '12

    I think the South China Sea is one of the places most likely to be the location of a flash-point drawing major nations to the point of armed conflict.

    China is claiming a huge area of the South China Sea and are slowly becoming more belligerent in their claims.

    11 April 2012 Last updated at 03:47 ET

    Philippine warship ‘in stand-off’ with Chinese vessels


  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    The stand-off comes as the Philippines prepares for joint naval exercises with the United States from the 16 to 27 April near the disputed area.

    That’s the best quote from the article.  What does it tell you? 😛

  • Adding to the article, about 1/3 of the world’s shipping passes through the South China Sea.

    But it still won’t be a “flash-point drawing major nations to the point of armed conflict”.

    Think of things on a personal level.

    Suppose you have a woman that’s starving to death.  Lock her in a room with ten other women of similar mind for 30 days, and put in a bunch of knives, and enough food for 10 days for everyone.

    Or suppose you have a very fat woman that’s not starving to death at all, but that either has homicidal tendencies, or some deep-seated psychological bent that demands the acquisition of masses of food at any price, including killing other people.  Now lock her in a room with ten other women of similar mind for 30 days, and put in a bunch of knives, and enough food for 100 days for everyone.

    Shortages of vital resources, typically food, water, and fuel, can bring people to the point of armed conflict.  Or a particular mentality in a particular situation brings people to the point of armed conflict.  (You could really include the first in the second, but the first is a more general condition, while the second is a more specific condition particular to certain groups.)

    Now the question is, where do you measure China, and where do you measure certain countries in the Middle East?
    The answer is that armed conflict will undoubtedly occur in the Middle East region.

  • In response to the poll -

    A lot of people have this mentality that there is such a thing as “law”, and that it is natural to obey law, because that’s what people do.

    The reality is that laws are written by people in certain situations.  Since it is natural that people form groups, and since groups of people in differing situations will naturally have conflicting interests, it is natural that laws will conflict.

    Furthermore, laws naturally change over time.  For example, in the United States, slavery is now illegal where it was once legal, and alcohol is now legal where it was once illegal, etc.

    Now here’s a serious question.  Suppose you have a society that is made up of ten wolves and a sheep, or ten sheep and a wolf.  What do you think will happen?

    In the wolf society, there will be a law passed that killing and eating sheep is perfectly normal and legal, and the wolves will at once set out to exercise their - as they claim - entirely justifiable and LEGAL right to do so, using deadly force if necessary.

    In the sheep society, there will be a law passed that killing and eating sheep is strictly illegal, and the sheep will at once set out to prevent anyone from snacking down on them, using deadly force if necessary.  Of course, the wolf is going to be left to starve to death (i.e. Weimar Germany), but these are unfortunate things that just happen in life; what are the sheep expected to do about it?

    So in the first case, even though the sheep is completely going against the law to fight back against the wolves, and in fact could be perceived as a rather rude and impudent bastard for even daring to say something on its own behalf, you can be pretty sure the sheep is going to have something to say about the matter.  If the sheep happens to have a semiautomatic rifle at hand, it is likely to engage in blatantly unlawful behavior.

    In the second case, even though the wolf is completely going against the law when it protests against starving to death, and could even be perceived as a rather rude and impudent bastard for even daring to say something on its own behalf, you can be pretty sure the wolf is going to have something to say about the matter.  If the wolf happens to have a semiautomatic rifle at hand, well, things will take their course.  Now of course, the wolf isn’t insane or evil; the wolf just wants not to starve to death, which is, although completely illegal, perhaps understandable.

    So what it really comes down to is that “international law” is just a bunch of people shoving at each other.

    China will get special treatment if it really WANTS special treatment, because it has strength, and laws are written not according to some vague definition of absolute justice, but with respect to the interests of the powers that write them.

    That is to say, if China decides to threaten nuclear war over a little patch of ocean, and it looks able to carry out that threat, then it isn’t a matter of “special treatment”, it is the NATURAL ORDER of things that a compromise will be reached.  Even though CURRENT laws might not support that compromise, laws can be REWRITTEN.

    Partial capitulation to bullying?  Special treatment?

    The entire nation of the United States of America is based on an initial pact of basically fraudulent land deals, and frankly, most nations are no better when it comes right down to it.  But world opinion is that the government of the United States of America is a legitimate government!  And why is that?  Simply because it managed to put one over, and KEEP one over.

    So although the popular perception makes the phrases “bullying” and “special treatment” useful, when set against the backdrop of current international law, people should keep in mind that those phrases are actually more the rule than the exception, when it comes right down to it.

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

  • '12

    Nice video!  Should we be worried that you have a clip for every occasion?  Can’t wait for the response!

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

  • I voted “No results, both parties save face and back off.”

  • Bunnies, that analogy was a bit confusing. Are you comparing China or the US to the fat homicidal woman with the eating disorder?

  • '12

    So far neither side has backed off, we have a Mexican standoff for now.


  • '12

    The standoff continues!  A just came across a news article relating to the China/Philippines standoff.


    It’s really quite amazing what China claims to be theirs.

  • 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Another example of a long-lasting conflict (it’s been going on for 28 years) over a disputed border is this one…


    …which has the added refinements of: a) involving two nuclear powers; and b) involving the highest (and arguably the most hostile) battleground in the world.

  • '18

    Hmmm - hopefully China doesn’t borrow something from the “Falkland Island Dispute” playbook.

  • '12

    Nice reference CWO Marc, the recent avalanche there might finally see that area de-militarized.

  • '12

    Another small step to war or……?

    Headline: China denies preparing war over South China Sea shoal

  • Right now, China wants to assert claims over the South China Sea.  It’s the power in the area.  But other nations also have claims to parts of the area that China’s claiming.

    The way it’s put by nations other than China is that China is building a pool on their property.  Like, wtf, China?  This is our property, you gtfo.

    The way China puts it, there’s a bunch of hobos camping on China’s lawn.  Like, wtf, nations?  This is our property, you gtfo.

    There’s a bit of back and forth as China pushes civilian and military traffic into contested areas.  If China can successfully swamp an area with traffic, it has a stronger claim on the area, roughly under the idea the China is using the area, so should have the rights to it.  For example, if China built an oceanic oil platform in a contested area, and harvested from it, it would be hard to just kick China out.  After all, if the area is contested so actual ownership is disputed, and China has actual property (the oil well), then China’s claim would be hard to break.  The question of the value of the oil itself is almost secondary, because China could make the claim that the resource wasn’t being used anyways, &c &c.

    So China’s been trying to negotiate with the many relatively (extremely) weak powers in the area individually, so it can win with its advantageous disparity of power to the bargaining table.

    The powers in the area are weak individually, but understand what China’s about, so have (I think) for the most part only gone to the bargaining table collectively.  Even if a single weaker nation is willing to cede its claim, the other relatively weak nations will gang up on that weaker nation to prevent it from “caving” to China.  (If a weaker nation “caved”, it could set unfortunate precedents.)

    Right now China’s in the “push and shove” stage of the fight.  Like, it’s conducting military exercises &c to show the rest of the world “We are teh awesomeness, gtfo our propertah!”  On the other hand, allies of some of the non-China nations are also conducting military exercises, to show “We are teh awesome frends, gtfo our frends propertah!”

    So it’s ALREADY a “international conflict” in a way.

    But it is, as I noted earlier, unlikely to be a “flashpoint for ARMED international conflict”, unless China really pushes.

    Why would China NOT push?

    Because war is a real b*tch if you don’t know you’re going to win.

    China’s choices:

    1.  Enter small scale war and hope it doesn’t escalate.  (But considering the political situation in the area, that is unlikely.)

    2.  Prepare for escalated war.  If coalition forces back down from China, China can grab a huge slice of Asia.  If coalition forces stand up to China and lose, China can grab an even huger slice.  If coalition forces stand up to China and eventually quit because of war weariness, China stands to lose a chunk of civilians, but will still likely grab a huge slice of Asia, and lasting crappy negotiations with much of the rest of the world for a long time to come.  If coalition forces stand up to China and win, China gets chopped up like Nazi Germany.  In any event, escalated war would lead to internal problems in China.  China’s political situation is not “delicate”, but there’s been a decent amount of unrest in the country that a war would accentuate.

    2A.  So what it really comes down to is China’s assessment of its internal ability to sustain a war and external ability to resist it.  (External ability including willingness not simply troop counts!)  If China thinks it can make a grab, it will.

    2B.  Even IF China makes a successful grab, it won’t necessarily be able to maintain it.  Consider, particularly, India, a growing power in the region.  It could be that India would “liberate” (take control of) territories that were “invaded” (taken control of) by China.  (Of course, you could call this an Indian re-invasion.)

    3.  Play the diplomatic game.  I’d guess the big players would be China (ofc), India, and North Korea, with Pakistan, Japan, and South Korea as important adjuncts either with close ties to one of the powers closely involved, and/or geographical proximity to South China Sea.

    In terms of a large conventional military, India will be the major secondary (but in time possibly primary) player with the most independence and ability to either make a significant agreement or disagreement with China.

    China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are all nuclear powers.

    North Korea is dependent on China.  My guess is that the current political situation there is partially because of the change of regime from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un, but also very possibly because China’s been secretly pressing North Korea to test military reactions in the region.  (It could also very easily be the case that North Korea is trying to break its dependency on China.  Or both.)

    My prediction for the short term, considering the current balance of power & relations, is that nothing will happen, and that nothing will continue to happen.  At some point, some nation will start exploiting resources in the South China Sea (rather than passively laying a claim), at which point there will be a lot of military exercises, and probably some low level armed conflict, but almost certainly no military escalation, and peaceful resolution before too long.  (This does not rule out armed conflict.  I anticipate up to a few hundred could die in various “incidents.”)

    The likely short term “flashpoint” would be if North Korea got maneuvered into doing something stupid.  This could set off a bunch of nastiness during which China could push a claim on the South China Sea, but the “flashpoint” would center on North Korea.  It might be that China would try to engineer a North Korea incident for precisely this purpose.

    The longer term “flashpoint” would be conflict between India’s growing power and China.  I don’t expect this to become a serious situation at least for the next ten years.  India could ally with China to make joint pressure and claims into the South China Sea, or could gather other less powerful nations to conflict with China (and thereby improve India’s diplomatic relations with those other countries and their allies), or could enter into more direct conflict &c &c.  But again, considering current power balance and trends, I don’t expect this for a while.

  • I suppose you could try to make a case for South China Sea being like Poland in WW2, with US taking the role of UK.

    But Germany’s political relations were not quite analogous to China’s current position.  The question is, what other major power would China consider allying with to cement its hold on the region?  In WW2, Poland was split between Germany and the Soviets, with good reason.  But what nation would play that role in the South China Sea?

    That’s another reason I consider South China Sea an unlikely flashpoint for serious armed conflict.  There aren’t any other major powers with an interest in supporting China’s claim, that also have a claim to the area, and that could work together with China to diffuse responsibility.  So if China makes a play in the area, it’s unilateral action, and unilateral punishment.  This, with all the reasons from the previous post, make me consider South China Sea unlikely to be an area for major armed conflict.

    The ONE EXCEPTION would be if China could claim a push on the South China Sea were RETALIATION for something.  This wouldn’t necessarily have to be retaliation for military force by another nation - it could be an extreme diplomatic provocation, a few other things.  It COULD be that China is looking to engineer a situation to allow precisely this, but I think most of the governments are aware this is the case, so are being careful not to do anything that could provoke China.

    Suppose a nation like Philippines constructed an offshore oil platform in a contested part of the South China Sea, that China sent some military units to commandeer or destroy construction, and that China were met with armed resistance (whether of the nation or coalition).  Suppose further that deaths resulted.  This would be in line with “a few hundred deaths” that I mentioned could come up.  In fact, a couple such incidents could occur.  (Suppose China let ONE construction go, but seeing TWO or THREE decided to put a stop to it, for example.)

    But at any rate, after the initial deaths, for the reasons already mentioned, I think it unlikely China would escalate.  Probably peaceful resolution would be worked out.  (Not HAPPY resolution . . . just without any more bullets flying).

  • The flip side, of course, is if a nation tried to provoke China into armed conflict over the South China Sea.

    For example - say India was concerned with China’s growing power, so tried to engineer a situation that would blow up on China.  The reasoning would be if China gave in at South China Sea, then China would be weaker politically.  If China fought, its diplomatic relations and the country itself could suffer.  Therefore, nothing to lose, so provoke armed conflict.  But China’s leadership is probably canny enough to see through such an obvious game.

    Consider the US and Japan in World War 2.

    After Japanese occupation of French Indochina, US cut vital exports of materials essential to Japan’s war effort.  This wasn’t actually firing bullets at Japan, but Japan likely considered it effectively an act of war, considering what a blow it was to Japan’s war effort.  It wasn’t too long before Japan’s “unprovoked” attack on Pearl Harbor.

    There’s a whole line of historians that claim that US deliberately attempted to provoke Japan and Germany with nonmilitary actions.  If Japan or Germany used military action, US could claim to be a victim, and would have far less war weariness to deal with.

    So there’s the question of whether the South China Sea could be used similarly to provoke China, to its detriment.  This scenario, not previously mentioned, is the most likely scenario resulting in SERIOUS armed conflict at South China Sea.  Even if China’s leaders are aware of such manipulation, they might not be able to avoid it.

    For example, India might provide funding via a European contracting company to support mass building of oil platforms in the South China Sea.  India could make the claim that its funding was to improve development in the region, and to help India’s relations with other nations in the area.  The fact that such funding came at the expense of conflicting claims in the South China Sea could be explained by any number of regions.  At the same time, diplomatic incidents could be engineered to cause China to severely lose face.  This would slash China’s perceived abilities in the region, and would practically demand serious Chinese response.

    I do not, however, see any signs of this sort of thing happening just now.  Of course, such things would NOT be particularly obvious even if it were going on (there wouldn’t be much point if it WERE obvious).

    So maybe it could happen!  Or, China might plant evidence to indicate that such manipulation were going on, and claim sovereignity over the South China Sea in retaliation!

    Which brings me back to my FIRST point in the thread - maybe a couple weeks ago - if China REALLY wants something, it can probably GET it.  Unless the other concerned nations ALSO really want something . . . it’s just a shoving match.

    But at any rate, the sorts of things we’re seeing now are just the expected saber rattling that come of conflicting claims in the region.  Perfectly natural, and no reason to think it would indicate serious armed conflict.  It’s only the sort of thing that I put forth in this post that will REALLY be likely to push things to such a point, and those will be the sorts of things to watch out for, not just a few incidents of boats being boarded, spying, fishermen being harassed, military exercises &c.

  • '12

    China ought not to be talked about as if it was a monolithic entity.  There are competing powers in China one of which is civilian the other is military and even in those camps are sub-camps.  There once a decade leadership change occurs this year and there have been many political scandals recently.  I suspect some of the Chinese bravado might be merely to take the domestic audience off local corruption news stories and instead beat the drums of patriotism.

    I would like to see how China will explain their claim to territory well over 1000 miles from their own shore and only 20 miles from a neighboring countries shore.

    If China refuses to abide by the laws of the sea, then it becomes a two way street.

  • @MrMalachiCrunch:

    China ought not to be talked about as if it was a monolithic entity.

    A gun is a combination of distinct parts, without any of which the gun would not work.  However, a gun is referred to as a single unit, for ease of convention.

    Similarly for China.  United States.  Or, really, any political “entity”.

    I actually quite agree with the quoted point, but in a very real sense, China IS a “monolithic entity” as well.  There are not “the Chinese ambassador(s)”, but “the Chinese ambassador”.  It’s not “an aggregation of disparate cultural and ethnic groups’ army”, it is the “Chinese army”.  &c.

    I would like to see how China will explain their claim to territory well over 1000 miles from their own shore and only 20 miles from a neighboring countries shore.

    “I claim this land in the name of Spain!”
    “I claim this land in the name of Britain!”
    “I claim this land in the name of Portugal!”

    (Native American - “How do you explain your claim to this land?”)

    (babble of excited voices)

    How does ANY territory EVER get claimed?  It isn’t just humans, it’s basic right down to animals.  You make an aggressive claim and tell others to keep the f* out.  You might be working alone, you might be working as part of a group.  It has nothing to do with “power”, but everything to do with the perception of power.

    You make some reference to an idealistic international law.  But what does that MEAN, really?  A bunch of people got together and decided that they want to play by certain rules.  That’s all.  Now we have another bunch of people that got together that decided they don’t really like those rules.  Now what?  You want to say “so and so said so and so first”?  Tell that to the Native Americans.  It didn’t work particularly well for them.

    How is it that someone that steals millions of dollars, or loses millions of dollars through criminal incompetence, in the process destroying thousands of lives, or tens of thousands, or even negatively impacts nations, knowingly performing these criminal actions over the course of years, repeatedly and deliberately, can be sentenced to less time in jail than some hot headed kid that does something stupid for a single night?

    Certain things happen in certain ways for certain reasons.  Instead of saying things SHOULD not happen or COULD not happen, it’s best to see what DOES happen, and reason accordingly.

    If China refuses to abide by the laws of the sea, then it becomes a two way street.

    According to China, it is the OTHER nations that are not “abiding by the law”.

    That said, just exactly what are other nations going to do if China doesn’t play nice?

    Remember back to WW2.  Appeasement was not just some policy that some European powers just came up with on the spot to make Hitler happy.  Action of that sort has a long history, and with good reason.  It often works.

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    Well the Geneva convention better not apply if we end up at war with China…

    They could just simply “surrender” and we wouldn’t have enough housing to keep them, the ability to feed them, or the ability to guard them.

    At all.

    And the only hope the western powers would actually have of winning, would involve biological warfare.

  • 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10


    Well the Geneva convention better not apply if we end up at war with China… They could just simply “surrender” and we wouldn’t have enough housing to keep them, the ability to feed them, or the ability to guard them.

    Not a problem.  Let’s assume for fun that the U.S. and China are at war over the possession of a given territory – let’s say the port city of Shanghai – and let’s assume that the city is defended by a million Chinese troops.  Now let’s say that a U.S. airborne division parachutes into the city, and that all the Chinese troops in the city respond by immediately surrendering (for whatever inexplicable reason they might have) to the 10,000 or so American soldiers.  Yes, that would make them POWs, which means the American troops would be obliged to detain and care for them as such (after disarming them, of course).  The fastest way to solve the problem would be for the White House to state that the U.S. had achieved its objective (annexing Shanghai) and to unilaterally declare that the war was over.  At this point the Chinese POWs cease to be POWs and all the Americans have to do is to repatriate them to China, which would simply involve pointing to the road that leads out of the city and telling them to start walking until they cross the brand-new border between the United States Federal Territory of Shanghai and the People’s Republic of China.  All of this could be done in just a few hours, which means that the U.S. airborne guys wouldn’t even need to share a single MRE ration pack with the Chinese troops.

  • '17 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    And if the roles got reversed, you all know the Chinese army will not be sharing any MSG ration packs either.

  • US troops sharing MRE’s may be considered an act of biological warfare. Those things do insidious things to the digestive system!

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    I wonder what would happen if they deliberately surrendered something like 2 million troops (who knew the game), and then kept another million or two engaged in the conflict,

    I guess the west starts learning better ways of keeping millions of soldiers underguard?   I wonder what the ratio of guards to prisoners would be…

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