America’s “Advantage At Sea” Doctrine
Last Thursday was a very important day for more reasons than one. While the world was watching President Putin’s year-end press conference, the US Navy unveiled its “Advantage at Sea” doctrine. The latter caught the attention of RT for identifying Russia and China as the US’ main rivals, but has since failed to generate any meaningful traction in the Alt-Media Community. That’s a mistake because the document is a must-read in full for anyone who wants to better understand America’s naval strategy across the coming century. After all, the very first words of its foreword ominously read that “Our actions in this decade will shape the maritime balance of power for the rest of this century”, thus emphasizing the supreme strategic significance of this doctrine. There are many aspects of it that can and should be analyzed, but perhaps the most forward-looking among them relates to America’s attempted dual containment of Russia and China in the Arctic Ocean.
Not much is written about this in the text, but it’s still abundantly clear that this region will become the next theater for that hitherto failed strategy to unfold. Both multipolar Great Powers have near-identical interests there in terms of using what Russia regards as the Northern Sea Route and China considers to be the Polar Silk Road as a shortcut for facilitating maritime trade with Europe. They’re also both very interested in the region’s enormous hydrocarbon deposits too. America is therefore naturally compelled to interfere with both of these goals in a bid to delay its fading unipolar hegemony for as long as possible. It makes its intent transparent by writing the following in the text:
“We cannot cede influence in areas of emerging day-to-day competition, including U.S. regional waters and the Arctic. The coming decades will bring changes to the Arctic region that will have a significant impact on the global economy, given its abundance of natural resources and strategic location. China views this region as a critical link in their One Belt One Road initiative. Arctic nations are reopening old bases, moving forces, and reinvigorating regional exercises. These trends will persist in the decades ahead. We must continue to operate forward and posture our forces appropriately.”
The other very few references to the region relate to the geostrategic impact of receding sea ice there, China’s construction of polar icebreakers and other vessels “at alarming speed”, and Beijing’s alleged ambitions to exploit its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) for the purpose of “enabling its forces to operate farther from its shores than ever before, including the polar regions”. There’s also a brief mention of the Coast Guard’s planned acquisition of the “Polar Security Cutter”, but these are the only times that the Arctic or polar regions are mentioned in the doctrine. Nevertheless, they’re sufficient for proving that this is an emerging theater of Great Power rivalry.
What’s so concerning about all of this is that the “Advantage at Sea” doctrine makes a very provocative proposal about the US’ naval posturing across the world, including the Arctic considering its inclusion in the document. The most worrying one involves the observation that “Activities short of war can achieve strategic-level effects”, which is exploited as the basis to claim that “Operating our naval forces far forward—in harm’s way and in contested environments— raises the risks for rivals considering the path of escalation and prevents crisis from escalating into war.” This is supposedly intended to preemptively thwart Russia and China’s “likely attempt to seize territory before the United States and its allies can mount an effective response—leading to a fait accompli”, but it in reality creates the conditions for nuclear war in the worst-case scenario that this reckless move leads to one by miscalculation.
President-elect Biden will therefore inherit what might perhaps be the US’ most dangerous military doctrine ever of deliberately putting its naval forces in harm’s way for the supposed purpose of “preventing (a) crisis from escalating into war.” In other words, it seeks to provocatively insert US naval forces into the center of a crisis with the expectation that no one will dare to fire upon them otherwise they’d risk triggering nuclear war. This brinskmanship is extremely dangerous and can theoretically play out anywhere across the global ocean, but its potential occurrence in the Arctic could very easily come to involve both of America’s nuclear-armed rivals considering that this is the only place in the world where they have very close overlapping interests as was earlier explained. Since the US is thought by some to already be far behind on this front, it might therefore resort to such desperate measures for the purpose of forcing concessions from its rivals or risking nuclear war.
The US Navy’s “Advantage at Sea” doctrine doesn’t auger well for global peace, especially considering the fact that it proposes a policy of what can only be described as de-facto nuclear brinskmanship by deliberately inserting its forces into the center of a crisis with Russia and/or China for supposed “de-escalation” purposes. The Arctic Ocean is the point of convergence between all three parties’ naval interests, which thus makes it the theater in which this policy could have the most destabilizing effect. While it’s true that the US could employ it in the Baltic, Black, or South China Seas, none of those would risk involving its other Eurasian rival and thus provoking a truly global crisis like if this played out in the Arctic. America might even prioritize this if it thinks that its nuclear war bluff could lead to the regulation of military forces there since it’s so far behind Russia in this theater that thus stands to gain the most by reverse-engineering that outcome.