Does a Sino-Russian naval presence off NATO seaboards sound frightening to you? It shouldn’t — there’s nothing new nor especially worrisome here. It represents normalcy in a world of geostrategic competition — the kind of world that’s making a comeback following a quarter-century of seaborne U.S. hegemony. The United States wants to preserve its primacy, along with the liberal maritime order over which it has presided since the end of World War II. Challengers such as China and Russia want to amend that system while carving out their own places in the sun of great naval power. Irreconcilable differences over purposes and power beget open-ended strategic competition.
To Chinese and Russian eyes, surrendering control of offshore waters to the U.S. Navy looks like surrendering control to the Royal Navy and fellow imperial powers a century ago.To Chinese and Russian eyes, surrendering control of offshore waters to the U.S. Navy looks like surrendering control to the Royal Navy and fellow imperial powers a century ago. Historical memory is especially acute for China, which lost control of its seaboard and internal waterways to waterborne conquerors. But Russia endured traumas of its own: It watched the Imperial Japanese Navy demolish the Russian Navy during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. China and Russia hope to banish such memories while turning Spykman’s logic of nautical supremacy to their advantage. If successful, they’ll stiff-arm the United States in Asia while projecting power into NATO waters.