“Locked and loaded” for ship collisions: is the US Navy too arrogant to give way?

Not one, but two United States Navy maritime collisions have occurred in less than two months in the “freedom of navigation” sea lanes the US government proclaims of the seas in the Far East.

On August 21 the American USS John S McCain warship collided with a Liberian-flagged commercial vessel Alnic MC which damaged the military ship off the coast of Singapore. The Navy announced that “there are currently ten sailors missing and five injured” as a result of the mishap. President Donald Trump in a Twitter statement conferred his “thoughts and prayers…with our US Navy sailors aboard.”

Some three times the Navy vessel’s size, the oil and chemical tanker Alnic MC measures in at 183 meters long and has a deadweight of 50,760 tons. The shipping lanes off Singapore’s coast are among the busiest in the world, carrying a quarter of the world’s oil and commodities. Early reports showed that the merchant vessel was not loaded with oil cargo and thus avoided a major oil and chemical spill which would have been a bigger disaster.

This accident comes as the investigation for an earlier collision involving the USS Fitzgerald, a ballistic missile (BMD) ship, has yet to be concluded. The collision which occurred in mid-June claimed the lives of seven sailors, as well as injuring three crews and Commander of the ship Bryce Benson.

In total this year, the US Navy, the largest and often considered the “most sophisticated and powerful” in the world, have been involved in four collisions and accidents. In January the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser run aground off the coast of Japan where it spilled more than a 1000 gallons of oil. In May the USS Lake Champlain guided-missile cruiser hit a South Korean fishing vessel, and in June the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer collided with a Philippines-registered cargo ship off the coast of Japan.

In its reaction to the latest fatal US Navy accident, China’s state news ran a spread with the headline “the South China Sea should not be Bermuda Triangle for the United States.” In a statement, it also opined that “the US Navy has behaved arrogantly in the Asia-Pacific region. It lacks respect for huge merchant vessels and fails to take evasive action in time, thus resulting in serious accidents.”

And as always, when the competencies of American sailors should be questioned, the blame will always fall on others. For instance, American cybersecurity firm Votiro said in a statement that “I don’t believe in coincidence, both the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald were part of the 7th Fleet…there may be a connection…China has capabilities, maybe they are trying things, it is possible.”

Accidents in this part of the world should not be surprising: the US Navy’s confrontational maneuvers in Chinese waters

USS Fitzgerald after it collided with Philippine-flagged container ship in Tokyo Bay in June 2017, claiming 7 lives.

Early last year the United States conducted the so-called freedom of navigation (FON) program in the South China Sea which infuriated Beijing, interpreting it as reckless provocation of China’s claim in the highly disputed seas. The US Department of State has in its official statement that the FON operations are designed to deter “unilateral acts of other states (that) restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight…in high seas uses.” Furthermore, the FON program are conducted “on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent…with the Law of the Sea Convention.”

Reacting to the FON operations, China’s Defense Ministry continues to condemn Washington’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, warning of “an increase in the intensity of air and sea patrols…according to the extent of the threat that its national security is facing.”

It should not be sidelined that the United States is not and refuses to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement signed by 167 states. UNCLOS is the de-facto body for setting and respecting sea borders among nations, and thus has jurisdiction over the use of international waters as well as maritime disputes. The United States, being averse to international treaties, blatantly avoids any jurisdiction over its sea vessels, and most especially on the conduct of its Navy around the world, from performing dangerous patrols to the immunity of its servicemen abroad.

Indeed, the United States continues to believe that all the world’s oceans are their backyard; that there should be priority accorded only to US warships and that all other vessels should give way to American warships wherever they are in the world. A ship the size of a typical oil tanker is impossible to miss and remain undetected aboard sophisticated US Navy vessels. That fact that these military vessels are designed to detect ballistic missiles in space and yet are unable to detect nearby and very large vessels should be a cause of concern for how Washington’s military machine operate beyond the continental United States. To be sure, the task of “policing” the world will always be America’s sole responsibility; that these military vessels in busy international shipping lanes are in a hurry to delivery democracy around the world.

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US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change accord should not be a surprise

 

Early last month, US President Donald Trump announced that the United States will be withdrawing from the 2015 Climate Change accord, which was signed by 195 countries in December 2016 to help address global warming.

Trump cited that the climate deal imposed unfair environmental standards on American businesses, calling it a “draconian” international pact. Although many met this announcement as a surprise and an insult to international cooperation, how Trump and the United States in general acted with arrogance should not be a surprise.

To cite America’s involvement in the affairs of other countries, for instance its unwelcome and illegal involvement in Syria, as the only example of its braggadocio is an understatement. Many have forgotten that Washington is non-signatory to other major international accords. In other cases it has been hostile and has repealed landmark international deals for its aggrandizement, immunity and benefit.

For one, the United States is not party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which governs the rights and obligations of nations on the use of the world’s oceans. UNCLOS is signed by 162 countries, including the European Union, yet the US refuses to ratify the treaty because it “infringes on its sovereignty as a state” and hence it should remain “independent from any international interference on international maritime matters.

Despite that, while the US is not party to UNCLOS, it is using that jurisdiction in order to subvert the interests of other nations, such as in the case of the South China Sea, when it actively lobbied for the Philippines, its ally in the region, to use UNCLOS to claim the country’s stake against China in the disputed waters.

Another noteworthy case is Washington’s hostility towards the International Court of Justice (ICJ) treaty, which is the principal judicial court of the United Nations (UN). The US government’s refusal to sign the treaty stems from its avoidance of liability if and when US military personnel and political leaders misbehaved overseas, thus giving them immunity from persecution.

In addition to avoiding the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United States has been actively undermining the global standard of justice, including when it threatened to withdraw from peacekeeping missions in Europe and South East Asia if US personnel were not given complete immunity from persecution. This is under the auspices of the relatively recent American Servicemember’s Protection Act (ASPA), which was passed by the Congress and signed by former President George Bush in the early 2000s. In addition, the US actively sought to sign bilateral agreements with other nations which required countries not to surrender American nationals to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

In the realm of nuclear arms control, the United States also withdrew from the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, which imposed limits on the US and Russia (then the Soviet Union) regarding the deployment of defensive weapons. The treaty was signed in order to reduce the need to develop new anti-ballistic missile systems putting each country vulnerable and denying them any advantage of a first-strike nuclear capability. Despite Russia’s opposition, the United States withdrew from the treaty in June 2002.

As for the landmark Paris Climate accord, the US government’s refusal to be part of the global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions that will lead the world to its human-induced destruction speaks volumes about America’s behavior against being a responsible nation. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty also includes halting contributions to the UN Green Climate Fund (to help poorer countries adapt to climate change policies) as well as refusing to report on its carbon emissions.

The reaction across the world was expected, with major powers in Europe expressing their “regret” about Washington’s decision, and while Trump spoke of “renegotiating the treaty to benefit America”, leaders in France, Germany, and the UK said the Paris Climate Treaty is non-negotiable.

South China Sea: How the Philippines is being used as geostrategic pawn by the US

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It turns out that vis-à-vis the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines not only lacks in understanding their neighbor, but also exposes Filipinos as being ignorant to how it is being manipulated by Western powers, particularly the United States, to counter China’s undeniable influence in the region and to the rest of the world.

A month has passed since The Hague ruling regarding the arbitration case concerning the Philippines’ right to be heard in its claims to the disputed seas. What most Filipinos do not know is the fact that this ruling put before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea only covers the legal status of the maritime dispute, as opposed to whether the said ruling decides on who owns anything.

Even the tribunal to which the Philippines initiated its arbitration case is not the body that represent the position of the United Nations. As the spokesperson of the UN Secretary General said “the UN doesn’t have a position on the legal and procedural merits of the case or on the disputed claims.”

The reaction from Beijing is understandable and unsurprising, at least from realists observing the issue: it has fiercely rejected the jurisdiction of The Hague ruling on an otherwise sovereignty dispute, and reminded others that the United States is not even a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea (UNCLOS) and thus compromises Washington’s real intentions on the maritime dispute.

An editorial appearing in The Greenville Post made the correct assumption on the matter stating “many observers, in Beijing and abroad, pointed out that the ruling was clearly political, and that out of five, four judges were citizens of the EU, while one (the chairman) was Ghanaian but also a long-term resident of Europe.”

Also widely unknown to Filipinos is Washington’s clearly stated pivot to Asia policy, which asserts an increased military and political pressure to be pursued against China. This interventionist policy, announced in 2011 when Obama was about to be reelected to office, requires a sustained effort to increase diplomatic and military pressure against what the United States sees as opposing its hegemonic status, including in the South China Sea. As a leading academic in the Philippines correctly asserts “What’s happening is that our political elites are clearly encouraged by the US to provoke China, and there is also the big influence of the US military on our armed forces. I would say that the Philippine military is very vulnerable to such type of ‘encouragement’. So the US is constantly nurturing those confrontational attitudes.”

Even the Philippine government’s ties to the United States during the Cory Aquino administration deserves scrutiny to help understand why the UNCLOS issue was put forward during the time of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency. Although it ultimately failed, it was Cory Aquino who supported the renewal of maintaining US military bases in Subic and Clark. For his part, Aquino III also supported the highly contentious Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) military exercises with the United States. Thus, the timing of putting forward an illegitimate case against China on the South China Sea issue (which the Philippines now calls as West Philippine Sea) should not be surprising and also that  that the Aquinos have been a willing pawn in playing Uncle Sam’s warmongering stance in the region.

Some realist scholars in the Philippines admit that through the decisions made by the previous Arroyo and Aquino III administrations, the United States has successfully inserted ‘anti-terror’ forces in the Philippines which of course is a guise to counter Beijing’s growing interest in the region, a region where some $5 trillion dollars of trade passes annually.

As for the resources stored in the South China Sea itself, Washington’s aim is to ensure that the weakest nations get to control this region, particularly its allies in East Asia. As an observer accurately asserts “We (Filipinos) are totally dependent on foreign companies for the exploitation of our natural resources…Foreign multinationals would greatly profit from the natural resources of the China Sea, if a weak and dependent country like this one (The Philippines) were to be put in charge of them.”

To conclude, undeniably the Philippines’ memory is chillingly short-sighted. Its present guarantor of ‘peace and security’ the United States invaded it a century ago and has made the country an economic, diplomatic, and military puppet ever since. None of these shameless history have ever been put forth by China against the Philippines in the past. Will someone please stand up and remind the Filipinos about their unfortunate history with Uncle Sam?