Could Japan Drag America into War with China?

Several earlier posts on this blog have highlighted the risk that China and Japan might come to blows over a few tiny, uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. One pathway to war is inadvertent escalation as a result of both nations sending jet fighters over the disputed territory. As noted in an an article in yesterday’s New York Times:

In the past several months, both China and Japan have sent civilian maritime vessels to the waters around the uninhabited islands. On Jan. 10, China ordered a surveillance aircraft to fly near the area. In response, Japan scrambled F-15 fighter jets to take a look, and in response to the Japanese, the Chinese dispatched J-10 fighter jets.

The tit-for-tat moves have raised concerns that an accident could occur and lead to a dangerous cycle of retaliation.

Under a longstanding security treaty with Japan, the United States is obliged to defend the country, including the uninhabited islands, a position that Mrs. Clinton referred to at the news conference. She also repeated that Washington recognized that the islands were administered by Japan.

For its part, China insists that the islands belong to China, a claim that it says is supported by historical documents.

If war should break out, the US is on record as saying that its mutual security treaty with Japan extends to these islands, meaning the US would have to fight a nuclear-armed China.

Martin Hellman

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To learn more about the level of nuclear risk, visit my related web site.

To read the earlier posts on this dispute, search this blog for occurrences of Senkaku.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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2 Responses to Could Japan Drag America into War with China?

  1. Charles Perry says:

    Perhaps the UN could make a declaration that the dispute should be resolved in international court. Failure to do so will result in UN security forces allied against the aggressor in any armed conflict.

    Idealistic, yes. Possible, yes.

  2. Jonah Speaks says:

    Philippines recently sued China in the Law of Sea Court under the U.N. Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China claims Manila’s lawsuit “would only complicate the issue” while continuing to denounce Manila’s “illegal occupation” of a different set of disputed islands.

    China should be urged, softly at first, loudly if need be, that if China cannot or will not send lawyers to win its claims in court, then it has no right to send navy ships and fighter planes. Such militaristic conduct, if continued, risks war. It is both uncivilized and unnecessary to send in the military to “defend” any just claims China may have. If China’s claims are just, China should be successful in international court.

    The same goes for other nations’ disputed claims on the various islands in the East and South Asian and Pacific region. Take it to international court, or bargain and settle out of court. Bargain with the clear understanding that if bargaining fails, then international legal facts and principles must prevail, not military might.

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