Last Friday, the United States released its updated Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21). One of the biggest critiques of the first Cooperative Strategy concentrated on the difficulty of fitting China and Russia into the “cooperative” frame. China continues to expand its navy and has obviously undertaken a set of assertive actions in the East and South China Seas. Russia has, in recent years, invaded Georgia and Ukraine, effectively annexing parts of both countries. How does it make sense to include either of these countries under the tab “cooperation?”
The Cooperative Strategy is effectively a strategy for defending the liberal international economic order. The 2015 version (and its 2007 predecessor) is at its best when it envisions the operational employment of the U.S. maritime services in pursuit of basic oceanic maintenance. Most notably, this includes fighting against people best characterized as “enemies of all mankind” (including pirates, thieves, and terrorists), and dealing with humanitarian disasters.
The document is less effective at characterizing great power conflict in the maritime space. Even when two countries both allow the possibility of positive sum cooperation at sea, conflict can arise over the precise distribution of spoils, as well as concerns over vulnerability. And some countries do not place a high value on the reliability of maritime security.
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