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Politics & Law

In South China Sea, US is said to be in the ‘Lippmann gap’

The USS Ronald Reagan displayed the flag of China Hong Kong Special Admin Region flag next to the USA flag when it visited the port on Nov 21, 2018 (photo from WSFA12 News)

By summoning the 1943 concept ‘Lippmann Gap’, which was used by Samuel Huntington in 1988 to assess the post-WWII American foreign policy.

Lindsey Ford, a former senior advisor on Asia-Pacific affairs in the Department of Defense 2009-15, argues that this gap is happening in East Asia.

The Lippmann Gap argument suggests that, according to Huntington, a state should seek a balance between its commitments and power in foreign policy.

“If this balance exists, the foreign policy will command domestic support. If commitments exceed power, insolvency results which generates deep political dissension.”

With a worry for insolvency, Ford’s Dec 3 article, published by the Realist journal ‘War on the Rocks’, “… points to four specific challenges that the United States faced (in East Asia which are) … an asymmetry of interests; the problem of incrementalism; imposing costs short of military action; and weak coalitions.”

Although the author has made some insightful points, there is a lack of deep dig into the key concern. “In the South China Sea,” Ford says, “the United States forcefully laid out a ‘national interest’ in freedom of navigation, open commerce, and respect for international law …” Then she moves on to something else. Wait a minute! You have not explained the so-called ‘national interest’ on how to convince the American public that you have to send your soldiers to risk dying for the islands (most are uninhabited) far from homeland against the Chinese for the sake of fighting for ‘freedom of navigation’ etc.

The Vietnam War was about the worry in respect of the expansion of the Communist ideology but yet it was controversial at home. Even the worry about terrorism has difficulties in generating supportive consensus on attacking Afghanistan and Iraq (the White House is going to have “direct peace talks with the Taliban”!). How can you justify a fight against China for safeguarding ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea? There is obviously a dis-equilibrium between (small) commitments and (big) power.

Unless the US can find a more threatening reason into which it can commit so as to confront China in the South China Sea, the Gap will continue to exist, thus limiting Washington’s ability to militarize the zone, or to call on allies to form a meaningful coalition (in Oct, Abe was in a happy breakthrough summit with Xi in Beijing).

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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