Fri, Jun 03, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Offshore balancing and Taiwan

By James Holmes

Offshore balancers thus expect the self-correcting logic of the international system — by which weaker states band together against domineering states, righting imbalances in the system — to reassert itself. Only in the direst circumstances should the US countenance returning forces to Eurasia. For instance, an aggressor that controlled the coastal Eurasian “rimlands” would command vast resources while geographically encircling the Americas. It would pose a clear and present danger.

However, offshore balancers set an almost impossible standard for undertaking a military response to aggression. Indeed, Layne candidly dubs his strategy an “America First strategy,” evoking the isolationist movement of the 1930s. He strongly suggests that the US could have abstained from both world wars. In his eyes, even total Axis dominance of Eurasia may not have warranted direct US involvement.

Needless to say, succoring Taiwan doesn’t make Layne’s list of just causes for transpacific military action. Chen would applaud. The actions offshore balancers espouse — abandoning friends and allies, gutting US military might, vacating base infrastructure, surrendering command of offshore waters and skies and premising US foreign policy on narrow self-interest — would grant Beijing a free hand throughout continental and maritime Asia.

US leaders must think twice before buying into such a strategy. It could leave the US with neither the credibility, the forces, nor the staging points to return to Eurasia quickly enough to matter. Let the buyer beware.

James Holmes is an associate professor of strategy at the US Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.

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