Donald Trump & North Korea & China: Strategy Shift Signaled by Diversion of USS Carl Vinson

At this moment, Carrier Strike Group 1 of the U.S. Navy, led by the USS Carl Vinson, was supposed to be sailing from Singapore to Australia. Instead, it is sailing toward the Korean peninsula, headed for the Sea of Japan. On Sunday, around the same time the Carl Vinson arrives at its destination, Vice President Pence will land in Seoul to begin his ten-day visit to Asia.

President Trump’s strategy for countering North Korea’s ballistic-missile threat is thus evolving before our eyes.

First off, it’s important to note the downside of Strike Group 1’s diversion: It means the abandonment of group’s previously planned Australian port call. Australia is a top U.S. ally whom the Pentagon wants to expand its military presence in the Pacific. Sending a carrier fleet to Australia is a good way to help advance that agenda. After all, when its carriers come to town, the U.S. Navy puts on a big show for foreign dignitaries, and provides a career highlight for young sailors. So there are costs — diplomatic and financial — to Strike Group 1’s diversion. If it were simply a calculated show of force, it might not justify those costs. Yet it is something more than that.

For a start, Carl Vinson’s trip to Korea means traversing some interesting waters. Its most efficient route would have it passing directly between the Paracel and Spratly island chains of the South China Sea. China sees the militarization of those islands as the means to control vast regional trade flows and thus dominate the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Correspondingly, a U.S. carrier strike group in those waters will infuriate Beijing.

Trump — or at least defense secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster — know this. And they know message that Strike Group 1’s diversion will send the Chinese: “Pressure North Korea with economic or political restrictions, or you can expect the U.S. to get in your face.” It’s a clever move…

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