During the past decade a Greater China has emerged and the question of how to prevent China from having too much influence in the rimland of Dutch-American geopolitician Nicholas Spykman (1893 – 1943) is of growing geostrategic importance. This blog has published a number of articles on classical geopolitical theories including those of Spykman. He was the founder of the Yale Institute of International Studies and is regarded as a leading scholar in the field of classical geopolitics. In his Rimland theory Spykman viewed history as being made in the temperate latitudes, where moderate climate prevails. Another important geopolitician and U.S. diplomat, Robert Strusz-Hupé, held the view that history was being made between “twenty and sixty degrees north latitude” in an area including North America, Europe, the Greater Middle East and North Africa, most of Russia, China, and the bulk of India. Like Sir Halford Mackinder the Dutch-American geopolitician believed in the importance of the difference between sea and land power. He wrote for instance:

For two hundred years, since the time of Tsar Peter I, Russia has attempted to break through the encircling ring of border states and reach the ocean. Geography and sea power have persistently thwarted her.

Spykman described at the time Mackinder’s heartland as vaguely synonymous with the Soviet Empire. The empire threatened the rimland mainly in Europe but since 1991 that threat has when the Cold War ended. Instead the rimland of Eurasia from Norway to the Bering Strait is of main importance in geopolitics. With the upheavals in the Greater Middle East since the beginning of the twentyfirst century and the growing tensions in South Asia and the Korean Peninsula it is high time to take a closer look at the growth of China as both landpower and seapower.

Spykman already in the 1940s pointed to the importance of Japan as an ally of the United States:

A modern, vitalized, and militarized China…is going to be a threat not only to Japan, but also to the position of the Western Powers in the Asiatic Mediterranean. China will be a continental power of huge dimensions in control of a large section of the littoral of that middle sea…When China becomes strong, her present economic penetration in that region will undoubtedly take on political overtones.

In 2010 a strategic plan by U.S. Marine Colonel Pat Garrett was considered which argued that the United States could “counter Chinese strategic power…without direct military confrontation”. It was remarkable because it introduced into “the Eurasian equation” the strategic significance of not only Oceania but also the Indian Ocean.

Below some of the main points of the Garrett Plan:

Guam and the Caroline, Marshall, Northern Mariana, and Solomon islands are all U.S. Territories with defense agreements with the United States, or states that would probably be open to such agreements. Oceania will grow in importance as it is relatively close to East Asia and outside the zone China attempts to control. It would thus be strategically wise for the United States to keep bases in Oceania in the future. Maybe it could be a second line for offense when the question of the fixed bases in Japan and South Korea are considered.

Under the Garrett plan, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force could take advantage of Oceania’s geography to constitute a “regional presence in being” located “just over the horizon” from the frontline of a Greater China and the main shipping lanes of Eurasia.

The Garrett Plan also suggested a dramatic expansion of U.S. naval activity in the India Ocean. Here might not be needed an increase of American bases. The United States could maybe rely on facilities in the Andaman Islands, the Comoros, the Maldives, Mauritius, Réunion, and the Seychelles (some of which are run directly or indirectly by France and India, which are allies of the U.S.), as well as on defense agreements with Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. This would ensure free navigation and unimpeded energy flows throughout Eurasia and possibly be used against China in the future.

The plan would ensure that China paid a steep price for any military aggression against Taiwan. It could allow the United States to scale back its so-called legacy bases on the First Island Chain but nonetheless allow U.S. ships and planes to continue to patrol the area. It is however the opinion of this blog that the U.S. basing close to China is not to be reduced and be kept during the build-up strategic bases in Oceania.

In conclusion the Garrett Plan allows the United States to build a hedge against a Chinese advance into Oceania. It would also be a “over the horizon presence” outside the Second Island Chain. Guam is only four hours flying time from the East Asian mainland and only a two-day sail from Taiwan.

This contribution is partially based on the chapter “The Geography of Chinese Power” in the recent book by Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography and the comment on this chapter when it was published as an article in Foreign Affairs. It appeared in 2010 as an editorial staff comment by OPRF MARINT Monthly Report of the Ocean Policy Research Foundation, Japan.

Further contributions will be published here with more detailed information on the possible new base areas in the Pacific and Indian oceans mentioned above.


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