All posts by Alex Calvo

Guest Professor at Nagoya University (Japan), interested in military history, international law, geopolitics, and defence and security policy. Main geographical focus Indian-Pacific Ocean Region, also following the polar regions and the South Atlantic. Former teaching and research fellow at OSCE Academy (Kyrgyzstan).

Sanctions and Grey on White: Raising the Stakes in the South China Sea

For years, there has been extensive talk of “managing” China’s rise, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and lamenting Beijing’s encroachment in the South China Sea. The US has announced her “Pivot”, Japan has reinterpreted her constitution, the Philippines have initiated international arbitration proceedings, Vietnam has kept rearming, and Russia has kept including tactical nuclear weapons in her Far East “counter-terrorism” exercises, just to name some of the most relevant developments. To no avail, China has followed the same relentless path of territorial expansion, which reached a new plateau last year with the combined deployment of an oil rig supported by myriad fishing and state vessels near Vietnam, and the launch of a major reclamation drive, while naval construction continued apace, supported by the expansion of maritime militias. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, there is some evidence that analysts are ready to consider measures almost unthinkable of until recently. In her recent report titled “Conflict in the South China Sea”, Bonnie S. Glaser (Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies) has sent two significant shots across China’s bow, suggesting sanctions against energy companies involved in the South China Sea, and the use of US Navy warships against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels.

These two proposals may just be suggestions, but they merit careful examination on at least two counts. First of all, because they suggest novel solutions to a long-recognized problem, which current policy does not seem to be having a significant impact on. Second, because they come as some other voices are suggesting withdrawing from the South China Sea, giving up the region and concentrating on the First Island Chain. Such move may prompt a miscalculation by Beijing, and unravel the web of alliances among maritime democracies in the Pacific, including extended deterrence.

Sanctions against Chinese energy corporations

China’s rise rests on a combination of integration into the world economic system and use of limited force to achieve foreign policy goals. While the latter is often lamented, until recently the former has not been questioned. Proposals to deal with China’s rise have failed to contemplate sanctions as a tool to constrict Beijing’s behavior. It is true that, to some extent, a move away from manufacturing in China is already apparent. This seems to be, though, mostly due to economic reasons like rising relative wages and a wish for diversification. However, perhaps some “hidden sanctions” are already in place in the case of, for example, Japan, with some actors understanding that in the current atmosphere it is unwise to keep transferring manufacturing capacity to her neighbor.

Before examining sanctions, perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions. Do we really need China that much? Have many countries become over reliant on the Chinese market and Chinese capital fluxes, prompting Beijing to believe that she is so essential as to be indispensable? Is this one of the underlying causes of China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea? Does Beijing believe that economic factors guarantee a ceiling on any reaction by the maritime democracies, ruling out any meaningful response?

While we shall not try to answer them in detail, it seems clear that Beijing has indeed succeeded over the last three decades in becoming a pillar of the international economic system, as clear from, among others, the country’s significant portion of world manufacturing, her growing presence in many markets, the gradual internationalization of her currency, and her leading role as energy and commodities importer. Some voices doubt the sustainability of Chinese economic growth, but at least for the time being there is little doubt concerning its contribution to Chinese power and influence, as clear from Beijing’s latest move, setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Thus sanctions, even if strictly limited and carefully targeted, should ideally be preceded by a debate on the above points. A debate bringing together specialists in economics and national security, two communities which do not always communicate that well.

Two important aspects of sanctions are their effective impact, and Beijing’s possible counter-sanctions. Concerning the former, it is unlikely at this stage that China would stop exploration and drilling in the South China Sea. Too much is at stake, in terms not only of national prestige and self-image, but also of economic development and national security. Furthermore, any suspicion of weakness in dealing with foreigners may be taken badly by citizens. Many observers stress how the Chinese regime is increasingly relying on nationalism to preserve its legitimacy, but a look at history shows how this has not just been one of the hallmarks of the CCP from day one, but how it runs deeper in contemporary Chinese history. The 100 anniversary of the Great War should serve as a reminder of how the May the 4th Movement erupted following the failure of the young republic to secure anything at Versailles, despite the contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps to the Allied victory. With regard to Chinese counter-sanctions, again this would be nothing new, since Beijing has never been shy over the last three decades in using her economic might to achieve foreign policy goals. Just to mention an example, forcing the Netherlands to stop submarine sales to Taiwan. Thus, any detailed proposal for sanctions should contemplate the different scenarios, their impact, and how to react to them. This does not mean that the shadow of Chinese reprisals should rule out any sanctions policy. This self-defeating view would only embolden Beijing. What it means is that we must recognize that playing the sanctions card demands a re-examination of economic relations with China, something perhaps necessary anyway, given the destabilizing impact of persistent trade surpluses and the accompanying capital flows. Thus, by upping the ante in the South China Sea the maritime democracies may be killing two birds with a stone, making it clear to Beijing that they are not surrendering, and bringing forward a very necessary but much long delayed debate on the place of the Chinese economy in the world.

Grey on white

Glaser argues that “The United States should be prepared to respond to future Chinese coercive acts including using U.S. naval forces to deter China’s continuing use of “white hulled” paramilitary vessels”. Concerning this, it is clear that Washington cannot stand idle as the South China Sea, not only because of its importance in terms of SLOCs (sea lines of communication), but because it would mean an open door to further acts of aggression, the loss of American credibility, and serious doubts about extended deterrence in the Pacific. It is also clear that, since the United States do not have coast guard or equivalent units deployed in theater, or large numbers of trawlers and merchantmen capable of being employed in a dual role, a symmetric national response to China’s tactics is not possible. Does this mean that the US Navy should be employed against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels? It is indeed a possibility, but it raises many questions, and ideally a discussion should be accompanied by a parallel examination of alternative options.

When discussing gray on white, natural caution and fears of escalation militate against this possibility. Yet, at the same time, the question arises why we should play by China’s rules. For years, the mantra that navies only confront navies, has mainly benefited China. There is no much point in reinforcing the US Navy in the Pacific if it is forced to contemplate, impotent, how Beijing achieves her goals using a mixture of other assets, from oil rigs to fishing vessels, including maritime militias and state vessels. Letting the other side lay down the rules is a sure way to defeat. A problem, though, is that conventional naval vessels are designed with lethal force in mind. Thus, other than ramming other ships or blocking their way, the other manners in which they may be employed would involve kinetic means leading to loss of life and a substantial escalation. Concerning ramming and blocking, the United States simply lacks the numbers to respond in this way. There is some quality to quantity, and Chinese numbers are simply impressive.

China knows that other countries do not want to be seen as having fired the first shot in what may soon turn into a regional conflagration. The challenge then is how to avoid firing that first shot, without losing the current limited conflict already taking place in the South China Sea. Escalation may not be an alternative option, but surrender is not either. Glaser’s suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand, and in doctrinal terms could be compared to Russia’s concept of “de-escalation”, raising a confrontation by one notch in order to bring it down. The problem is not doctrinal, but political, since it is doubtful whether maritime democracies are ready to follow this approach. However, there are other alternatives that merit some serious discussion. Just to mention one, a permanent land deployment in disputed islands, before China had the chance to seize them, could exert a stabilizing influence. Such deployments may be carried out by the countries involved, yet with a US rotational presence. This would not only aid in developing the necessary interoperability skills, but would send a powerful signal to Beijing, avoiding any perception that the South China Sea is just home to some far away rocks of little concern for Washington and thus ripe for the taking when the moment is right.

Conclusions: a first step in the right direction.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Contingency Planning Memorandum Update is a step in the right direction, putting on the table two options hitherto considered taboo in discussions on how to deal with the South China Sea conflict. At a time when some other observers are suggesting we scuttle the Pacific, using some to the same words (like “rocks” and “far away”) that history shows prompt miscalculations by would-be aggressors, they make it clear that the game is not over yet. Maritime democracies may lose it, but not without a fight.

Concerning sanctions, they would show Beijing that other countries mean business, and are ready to go beyond posturing. While unlikely, at least in the short term, to change Chinese behavior, their absence from the negotiating table weakens the maritime democracies’ case. Any detailed consideration of this weapon, however, requires not only an examination of the different retaliation scenarios, but a wider reflection of the Chinese economy’s place in the world financial system. An examination that is anyway necessary, and has been unduly delayed, and which is therefore an additional reason to seriously consider Glaser’s words.

With regard to gray on white, the current dogma that navies only fight navies is clearly benefiting Beijing and can no longer be merely repeated mantra-like, unless we are ready to lose the battle while some of the most powerful weapons simply look on. However, this does not mean that this is the only option, or that it is one politically acceptable. Thus, the time has come to examine the different possibilities, one being the permanent deployment of land forces on disputed islands, with a rotational US presence.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at,  can be found at

Asymmetric Naval Warfare: Next Stage in the South Atlantic Conflict?

By Alex Calvo

More than 30 years after the Falklands War, the South Atlantic remains a focus of tension, given Argentina’s refusal to acknowledge the right to self-determination and rule out the use of force. In conventional terms, generally speaking the balance of forces has moved in favour of the UK, despite the current carrier gap (while two Queen Elizabeth II class carriers are being built) and deterioration of amphibious capabilities. British defence planners seem to rely first and foremost on the air and anti-aircraft assets permanently deployed at Mount Pleasant plus the few but powerful Royal Navy units in the region. Together, they seem to be able to deal with Argentina’s current order of battle in the event of an attempted invasion or blockade. For some, this is the end of the story, unless Buenos Aires rearms, starting with modern aircraft, which China and Russia may have offered according to different unconfirmed reports. However, there is no reason why any actor in a given conflict should stick to a particular strategy or mode of warfare. As the saying goes, “the enemy has a vote”, and given British conventional superiority (despite the lack of embarked aviation and deterioration in amphibious capabilities) Buenos Aires may choose to upgrade her strength in this field … or change tack and go asymmetric. Actually, that would not really be a novelty, since in the 1960s and 1970s a number of incidents took place featuring civilians and special operations. In 1966, a nationalist group hijacked a Dakota airplane over Patagonia and landed in Stanley Airport, and 10 years later Argentine forces set up a clandestine weather station on South Thule (South Sandwich Islands), which British authorities detected but kept quiet about to avoid an escalation. An echo of such actions was seen in 2011, when two Argentine civilians attempted to reach the Islands on a kayak.

Furthermore, events in the South China Sea over the last few years are a clear reminder of the many ways in which force can be used in disputed maritime domains. Thus, anybody following the South Atlantic must keep in mind the full spectrum of warfare, from non-conventional to sub-conventional, with all possibilities in between, and their myriad combinations. Defence planners will need to incorporate such assessments in their decisions on training, equipment, doctrine, and Rules of Engagement (ROEs). Otherwise, one may run the risk of preparing to fight yesterday’s war, as historians have more than once accused generals and admirals of doing.

Last year, in the spring and summer, clashes between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea / East Sea featured oil rigs protected by a large number of vessels, ranging from coast guard and other state ships to trawlers, while some observers also stressed the presence of naval and air assets. These clashes did not involve exchanges of fire, instead non-lethal kinetic means ranging from water cannons to ramming were used. This was in line with previous clashes between China and Japan and China and the Philippines, yet what was different was the numbers involved, and the deployment of specially-equipped ships. Some reports mentioned more than 100 vessels of different kinds, for example a 24 June 2014 Vietnamese report mentioned “44 coast guard ships, 15 cargo ships, 19 tugboats, 35 fishing vessels and five battleships” guarding a rig. Concerning special equipment, Chinese trawlers with “reinforced prows” featuring a “large metal object” appeared to be much better at pushing and damaging other vessels.

The question is then, could Argentine choose asymmetric non-lethal force over conventional rearmament? A number of scenarios come to mind, from the occupation of a minor island by activists, special forces, or a combination of  both, to the operation of trawlers escorted by non-naval state vessels. Things may get more complex with the involvement of third parties. Could Argentina grant a Chinese company a licence to explore for oil in the Falklands’ EEZ? Or to fish there? Could Buenos Aires then deploy non-naval state vessels (coastguard units or simply law enforcement personnel on board civilian vessels) to protect Chinese trawlers or even a rig?  To make things more complex, Taiwanese trawlers operate in the region, under license by the Falklands Government.

If this happened, British authorities may be faced with some of the dilemmas familiar to governments in the South China Sea. In theory asymmetric tactics may be dealt with by drawing a line in the sand, threatening to respond with conventional force. In practice, however, such a “tripwire” policy can be very difficult to implement given the natural reluctance to risk an escalation and appear as an aggressor before international public opinion if, for example, the life of civilian activists or fishermen was endangered.

Responding to asymmetric tactics may require a different kind of training, ROEs, and equipment than those designed with conventional operations in mind. An advanced anti-aircraft missile may be very useful in dealing with an inbound bomber, less so when confronting a civilian airplane full of activists. A nuclear submarine is a great asset when facing a surface combatant, not so much when what you see in your periscope is a trawler. To add to these challenges, defending forces must still be ready to engage in conventional operations. Furthermore, there is no reason why the other side cannot combine conventional and asymmetric tactics. By analogy with the USMC “Three Blocks” doctrine perhaps we may need to talk about a “Three Islands” doctrine.

While it may be too early to know what direction the confrontation in the South Atlantic may take, there are reasons to expect Buenos Aires to at the very least consider going asymmetrical. These include a much shorter time frame than that required for conventional rearmament, lower costs, and the possibility to graduate the level of confrontation, in the hope of securing political concessions without crossing the threshold of armed conflict. Concerning the British response, we can already see some evidence that London may be preparing for a new stage in the long-running conflict. In particular, for an scenario where Argentine special forces seize a minor island, which may explain the recent announcement that two Chinook troop-carrying helicopters will be deployed from next year.

 Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at,  can be found at

OP-WEST: Open Source Intel in Contested Maritime Spaces

An interview with Michael J. Sanchez

Introduction. While the Indian-Pacific Ocean, and in particular the South and East China Seas, have attracted the most media and scholarly attention in recent years, the use of limited force in contested maritime spaces can also be observed in other corners of the world, even among NATO allies. The case of Gibraltar is interesting, among other reasons, because it features the collection and distribution of open source intelligence by local citizens. In a world where the lines between the military, coastguard and police forces, other state agencies, and private sector operators, are increasingly blurred, this initiative should be of interest to anybody who follows maritime and naval issues. Welcome to OpWest, a non-for-profit private initiative.

1.- What is OpWest and how was it born?

OP West is a naval/maritime observation service for the Bay of Gibraltar and Strait of Gibraltar (STROG). It commenced in June 2011. The concept is primarily to to make people aware of the daily occurences within the Bay of Gibraltar and its surrounding sea area known as British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTWs). This is as a result of Spanish pressure and non recognition of the administration/competency/jurisdiction of these waters by Gibraltar, resulting in confrontations. This pressure by Spain is a resurrection of its outdated policy to claim the soveriegnty of the Rock of Gibraltar.

OP West also serves to highlight and inform the public of illegal incursions by Spanish State vessels that occur on an almost daily basis and are a cause for concern and alarm to many. OP West strives to inform the general public of naval affairs within STROG as reasonabily and responsibly as possible. OP West is vigilant to help provide and promote navigational safety.

2.- Could you tell us a bit more about its historical precedents?

The origins of OP West can be traced back to 1977 as a simple hobby of recording warship arrivals at Her Majestys Naval Base Gibraltar(HMNBG).

3.- How is information collected?

Information is gathered rather painstakingly on a daily basis by scouring for open source material in internet, newspapers,radio/television and oral reports. This is then put together, analized and a picture formed. Rather like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The most important factor is the human element. Experience over a vast amount of years of observation provides one with the necessary expertise in the process of identification of vessels and the interpretation of actions.

4.- Are you planning to deploy any drone or unmanned vessel as part of OpWest?

There is no intention of operating any drones or other unmanned craft. Outside the remit and aims of OP West.

5.- In addition to your Twitter account (@key2med ), how is information spread?

Most information is distributed via social media(Twitter) and other contacts.

6.- Is OPSEC (operational security) a concern? How do you ensure that information is not used by terrorists or criminals?

OPSEC is always at the forefront of OP Wests concerns when making decisions to disseminate information. All information gathered is carefully evaluated. Any sightings or observations that might be deemed as prejudicial are either time lapsed, exact locations and headings not given, or in many cases not at all. OP West takes OPSEC extremely seriously.

7.- Given rising tensions between Russia and NATO, and the former’s use of the nearby port of Ceuta as a de facto base, have you perceived any increased interest in OpWest?

There has definitely been an upsurge of interest in OP Wests reporting of Russian Naval movements in and out of Ceuta particulary, since it is one of the few sources if any that provides this service.

8.- An incident in 2013 featured divers, how can such incursions be detected?

I believe the incident in question involved Guardia Civil divers. This was in August 2013. The Spanish divers photographed and measured a series of cement blocks laid by the Government of Gibraltar to promote an artifical reef for environmental purposes within BGTWs. This was a flagrant breach of sovereignty . Months later a block was actually removed by Spanish civilian divers in defiance of our jurisidiction in these waters .It was indeed a theft of Government property.

These incidents highligted the lack of supervision on the part of the local law enforcement agencies and their inability to protect BGTWs.

Little can be done to stop these underwater incursions but better and more patrolling of BGTWs is of paramount importance. There should always be at least one vessel at sea on a 24hrs basis. Sadly this is lacking.

9.- Do you believe OpWest’s experience may be useful in other contested maritime spaces featuring revisionist powers?

OpWest is willing to impart on experience gained over the years to anyone with legitimate aims.

10.- Do you expect the number of incidents to keep rising this year?

Very difficult question. Short answer is yes. If the Partido Popular wins the next elections, there can be no doubt that these unwanted illegal incursion will continue and undoudtedly increase.

On a personal note OP West is run by 2 persons who have the dedication and duty to protect our small country from ANY sort of aggression. We love our little bit of land. We were born here as so our ancestors going back over 300 years. OP West provides a unique service. Hundreds of man hours are spent on lookout It can be an unforgiving task at times. OP West can complement and support local law enforcement agencies in their duties, but sadly this has not been taken up. Indeed in some circles OP West is viewed with contempt. We are not going away. Not by any strecth of the imagination. We only ask for respect and acknowledgement of our work. Lots of people have given up their lives to give us free speech and the right to inform and be informed, We owe it to them.

Interview by Alex Calvo, member of CIMSEC.

The Challenge of Non-Lethal Force at Sea

This year’s CIMSEC HQ Christmas party featured a number of ‘unofficial’ polls on the main naval developments of 2014 and prospects for 2015 (the results of which can be found in CIMSEC’s Twitter feed). These provided a most interesting glimpse both of recent events and of what the immediate future may hold in store. Needless to say, 2014 has indeed been an eventful year in the maritime domain, not least in the Indian Ocean-Pacific Region.

JAPAN-TAIWAN-CHINA-DIPLOMACY-DISPUTEOne of the main challenges of the year, highlighted in the polls, is how to respond to the use of non-lethal force, that is to coercion by means of a limited amount of violence, designed to gradually expand control over disputed bodies of water without leading to casualties or a major reaction by the victim country and other maritime democracies with a stake in freedom of navigation and the rule of law at sea (also known as “Salami Slicing). This non-lethal force approach usually features coastguards, other state agencies, oil rigs, and civilian vessels (mainly trawlers) in lieu of navies. The difference is often rather academic however, due to the size, capabilities, and numbers of some of the vessels involved. Equipped with modern communication technologies these forces are bound together not just by institutional links but also subsidies, participation in part-time militias, extreme nationalism, and an integrated whole-of-government approach to the maritime domain. They operate in the grey areas between peace and war, naval warfare and law enforcement, public security and private enterprise, and have made significant advances in areas like the South China Sea. The use of ramming by these forces, rather than firing, is a reminder of ancient times, yet state of the art of technology is still very much in display.

While Beijing’s inability or unwillingness to take a Bismarck-like step by step, divide and rule approach to expansion has helped usher a new era of regional cooperation, contributing to the U.S.-Vietnamese reconciliation and Japan’s normalization as a military power, unless naval planning is geared toward the whole spectrum of conflict, including undeclared non-lethal wars, we risk preparing for a conflict that will never come, losing instead the one that actually takes place. We should never forget that, as the saying goes, the enemy has a vote too.

Two brief historical references may prove useful. First, the roots of President John F. Kennedy’s insistence on developing a strong counterinsurgency capability lied in the previous administration, but it ultimately derived from a recognition that it was not credible to threaten to employ nuclear weapons or massive conventional forces against every single instance of aggression (“trip wire approach”). Similarly, it is not credible to threaten naval war against any attack on freedom of navigation or against any grab of maritime territory. A revisionist power aware of this may react by adopting the gradual “Salami-slicing strategy” approach, pushing, never carrying out any individual action likely to trigger in and by itself an armed response.

Faced with such strategy, and taking into account China’s extensive economic connections with the United States and other major powers, the prospects of conventional force being employed to stop Beijing’s expansion seem rather slim. This is not to say that the modernization of nuclear weapons and the continued reinforcement of traditional naval power should be neglected. However, these two legs should be accompanied by a third one, giving rise to a whole-spectrum capability able to withstand any challenge to peace and security in the Indian Pacific-Ocean Region, freedom of navigation, and the rule of law at sea.

p3A second useful historical reference may be the United States’ Vietnam, or Second Indochina, War. Almost half a century later, historians still debate why the Republic of Vietnam, the United States, and their allies did not prevail. One major school of thought argues that it was self-imposed restrictions, in other words a failure to wage a more total kind of war, which doomed Allied efforts. As evidence, they point out that it was conventional troops, not guerrillas, which delivered the coup de grace to South Vietnam in 1975. Another major school of thought argues that it was the failure to master counterinsurgency, and more widely nation-building, that ultimately doomed the efforts to save the Republic of Vietnam. Without entering this debate, we may perhaps note that in Vietnam it was not just conventional or insurgent forces that one faced, but both, and that any lasting victory required prevailing against the two.

Furthermore, while some restrictions may seem or even plainly be irrational and self-defeating, simply criticizing them leads nowhere. The military cannot live in a fantasy land where total war is the rule and limits are few. Historically this has not been the case, and also because in today’s complex web of international relations and extensive economic connections, any “tripwire” or “massive retaliation” strategy is unlikely to enjoy the necessary political support and thus deterrence credibility. Therefore, the need to be flexible and able to deal with very different scenarios simultaneously is one of the great lessons from that controversial war, and one equally applicable on land and at sea. It is, to mention a relevant example, one of the inspirations behind the U.S. Marine Corps’ “Three Block War” concept.

For the disputed maritime spaces in the Pacific this means that countries in the region and other interested parties such as the United States need to develop a full capability spectrum. With conventional naval warfare on one extreme, it must extend to non-lethal violent clashes on the other, and cover all intermediate scenarios. This must be the underlying rationale for acquisitions, doctrine, regional cooperation, and training. It will of course require an additional effort from everyone involved, but there is simply no alternative.

LaserSome of the weapons systems currently in development hold great promise in the event of hostilities breaking out, but there is no realistic prospect of their use being authorized short of a major conflict, a scenario that right now seems remote. Just to show how remote, a comparison with Russia is useful: replicating the sort of sanctions directed at the Kremlin is simply unimaginable, and has never been suggested when discussing Chinese expansionism (although there is indeed a discrete trend away from FDI in China by countries like Japan). In other words, lasers, just to give an example, are great, and their development surely must continue, but they will not stop a trawler fleet or an oil rig, simply because the necessary permission to fire will never come.

This does not mean that there is no way to counter such tactics. Coast guard capacity building, one of the main pillars of Japan’s security and defense cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, is a major step in that direction. It should not be seen, however, as an isolated step, but rather as one of many to be taken in the coming years. What we face is a long, undeclared, mixed, war at sea. A war without great battles or big names, without campaign medals, a war where many advanced weapons systems will merely be silent witnesses. It will be one, however, whose ultimate impact on future generations will be as great as many of its more heroic, spectacular, counterparts. A war that maritime democracies cannot afford to lose.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University in Japan and focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at @Alex__Calvo and his work “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact” is available at the Naval War College Press Working Papers.