Carrier domineering mentality obsolete

15:09, December 29, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

During the World War II and since, the aircraft carrier has been acting as the awesome demonstration of American power; and how seriously it measures the challenge posed to its preeminence over the sea can be judged by how many carriers it dispatched. The aircraft carrier battle group plays a central role in American Grand Strategy of securing the US hegemony over the waters far and away from its territory.

When in time of foreign crisis since 1945, Presidents of the United States have always said---"Send in the carriers!" More often than not, the US fleet of aircraft carriers has been as much a diplomatic tool as a military weapon.

In the aftermath of the flare-up between North and South Korea and in response to North Korea's threat of a "sacred war" using nuclear weapons, The U.S., again, sent nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its escorts, the Ronald Reagan and the Carl Vinson, to the waters off the Korean peninsula, supposedly sending a series of messages----reassurance to the South, and deterrence to the North, but undoubtedly raising tensions in the West Pacific region.

Evidently, the three carriers assembling off the hotspot of simmering Korean crisis is not intended to shoot trouble, but, to create more troubles, with the obvious villain's design. The appearance of the menacing battle group of warships in the Pacific is not merely the classic projector of American predominance, or a signal usually delivered by Pentagon to show the escalating tensions and Washington's seriousness, but to turn out targeting China, with the pretext of North Korea's nuke threat and readiness for war.

It is no longer a secret that Washington eyes Beijing as its strategic rival in the region, and with its "comeback" strategy, the US ambition to regain the privilege in Asia is looming large. To achieve this, it will have to further press the strategic space of a rising China and dilute China's growing clout over the Asia-Pacific region.

Unfortunately, no matter how the U.S. is sentimentally attached to Carrier, and however amazing aircraft carriers are as weapon systems, over time, the powerful warships' offensive efficacy has declined, especially in the missile age. They can be sitting ducks when encountering carrier killers like missiles, tactical nuclear weapons, and electromagnetics.

No one doubts even the "impoverished" North Korea would and could build its ballistic missiles system designed to leave a gigantic task force dead in the water. Today, the carrier is not only a muscle-flexing demonstration, a signal of US determination to maintain a presence, but also an easy target.

It also explains why there were jitters in Washington when a Chinese submarine unexpectedly surfaced close to a US carrier strike group on exercise south of Japan in 2007.

It is by no means the last time the George Washington would be deployed, and the American warships will never give up any chance to show teeth. They are a substantive warning to a leader like Kim Jong Il to beware of bomb crater, and a message to the Chinese that Washington means war, and peace, and American hegemony, and "freedom and justice" defined by Americans but applied to all.

No other country has a carrier force like the Americans have and no others could match Uncle Sam for the combat ability on the sea. That explains why every American president has the cozy idea that he can easily reach his hand out to any faraway water, by just asking, "where's our nearest carrier"? Yes, he could wave a hand in the direction of the huge flight deck of the nuke-powered mother ship that can be parked off any shore.

And yes, aircraft carriers could burn Pyongyang to the ground, but will Pyongyang get whatever message Washington is sending in that direction, and will the sight of US warships maneuvering at its doorsteps set the "defiant N Korea" shivering with fear? And will it be enough to reassure Seoul ?

In a time of growing strategic competition between the United States and the emerging powers like China, the US carrier force in the Pacific ceases to symbolize Washington's determination to hold sway over the region. Instead, it is now taken as a real threat to the regional peace, and a showcase of the obsolete saber-rattling mentality.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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PD Online Columnists

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.

Li Hong has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."