The U.S. Navy has recorded 19 “unsafe and/or unprofessional” actions between its vessels and those of the two other major powers, though the bulk of those encounters has been with Chinese warships.
Eighteen of the 19 have involved vessels and warplanes of the People’s Liberation Army Navy since 2016 while just one has involved a Russian ship, CNN reports, citing information in a Navy document.
“We have found records of 19 unsafe and/or unprofessional interactions with China and Russia since 2016 (18 with China and one with Russia),” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, told the network.
Another official familiar with the encounters said they spiked in 2017, the first year of President Trump’s current term, and have fallen off since. At least three involved Chinese fighter planes getting too close to U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft.
“Our continued presence in the region highlights our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and demonstrates that the US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” Christensen added.
CNN also reported that the U.S. Air Force has had at least one unsafe encounter with Chinese forces during the same period.
In addition, the Navy said it had 50 unsafe/unprofessional encounters with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf during the same period, with the most (36) occurring in 2016 and 14 last year. There have been none with Iran in 2018.
Analysis: Are you seeing a trend here? We did and it became evident very quickly.
The unsafe and unprofessional encounters regarding U.S. warships and Iran reached their peak during the final year of the Obama administration then dropped off significantly during Trump’s first year and grinding to a halt altogether this year.
Unsafe encounters with China have also dropped off, though the number of them was not nearly as high as those involving Iran.
The incidents with Iran were very obviously due to the Obama administration’s deference to Tehran as the former administration pulled out all the stops — including paying Iran billions — to make the ‘nuclear deal’ that was widely panned by the current administration. The reason why Iran has ceased its provocations is because the Trump administration has made it clear that U.S. warships will defend themselves in international waters against anyone, and that includes Iranian ships.
China, meanwhile, is also learning that President Trump is not backing down in ways some analysts say President Obama did.
While there are clear differences in leadership style and foreign policy, there are legitimate disagreements over which approach makes more sense in an age where nuclear weapons exist. Iran doesn’t fit into that equation, but of course China does.
But should fear of war prevent the United States from operating in international waters in ways that are only meant to secure and defend our interests? Not at all. In fact, the surest way to avoid conflict, some have said, is to always be prepared for it.
The message from the Trump administration to our enemies is about as clear as it can get: We will defend ourselves and we’re not backing away from challenges.
A more aggressive U.S. posture brings with it higher risks of miscalculation by Beijing. The alternative, however, is not an option because any reduction in U.S. Navy presence or posture in the Indo-Pacific will only cause such behavior to spike again.