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.
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…