|Disputed Islands - Worth Fighting Over?|
For the larger part of history, nobody cared a bit about these tiny rocks. The Japanese tried to operate a fish processing plant on the largest of the islands, but it failed. They remained mostly isolated, uninhabited and ignored. But there was one other event that occurred in 1969, while the islands were still under US control. That year the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East released a report indicating that there were likely large reserves of oil and gas in the seabed around the islands. And immediately thereafter, a long-simmering dispute was born. In light of the threats and saber rattling, just last month the Japanese government took back full control over the Senkakus by purchasing them for 2 billion yen and nationalizing them. Needless to say, the Chinese government was not pleased by this turn of events.
Now, as oil prices have risen to one hundred dollars a barrel as demand for refined petroleum spikes all across Asia, the availability of domestically produced energy resources has gone from being an economic advantage to a strategic necessity. As such, the two largest consumers of fossil fuels in the region, China and Japan, now eye each other belligerently across the East China Sea, each demanding their claim be recognized, and neither willing to back down or compromise. Diplomats, analysts and pundits are now talking openly about the possibility of an actual shooting war, ostensibly over the disputed islands but more accurately, a war between Japan and China would be over control of the energy resources under the waters of the East China Sea. The economic and territorial dispute between these two Asian powers is exacerbated by their history of occupation and brutality over the last century.
It's very important to understand why Japan would be willing to confront a much more powerful China over a territorial dispute. On its own, Japan could be counted on to back down before the shooting started, as it has already been utterly destroyed by war in the recent past, and would not once again be willing to go to war against an adversary that it could not hope to defeat. But Japan is most certainly not on its own. The US is committed by treaty to defend Japan, and even beyond that, the US has always seen China, as a communist nation, as a major natural global adversary, so Japan knows well that a war with China would quickly become a war between the United States and China.
Which brings us to Israel. America is just starting to discover the risks and dangers inherent in an open-ended, unlimited commitment of military support to another, smaller nation. That nation can easily become the obnoxious kid in the neighborhood with a big, tough older brother. He need fear no one, no matter how inappropriate and unfair his actions, he knows, just as the entire neighborhood knows, that to stand against him is to find yourself in a fight you can't win. America has now, by dint of its unequivocal commitments to Israel in every possible scenario, sacrificed control of its own middle east policy, and it is Israel, rather than the US leadership, that will ultimately determine if America goes to war in the Persian Gulf yet again.
So now we find ourselves facing this same situation in the Far East. Japan staring down China over a remote atoll, threatening war and refusing to negotiate in the UN, knowing that if they miscalculate and war breaks out, the US will find itself in the thick of the fighting. At this point, how many other US client states will see the lesson of Israel and use the power of the American military to drive their own interests, even if those interests run counter to American policy? When the most powerful military force in the world is no longer controlled by its own leadership, but rather can be unleashed at the whims of the government and military leadership of various smaller nations, Americans should think very hard about their approach to international relations. And the world should be very afraid.