Is Scarborough Shoal Worth a War?

By Pat Buchanan

Scarborough Shoal
Scarborough Shoal
Pat Buchanan
Patrick J .Buchanan

USA –  -( If China begins to reclaim and militarize Scarborough Shoal, says Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III, America must fight.

Should we back down, says Aquino, the United States will lose “its moral ascendancy, and also the confidence of one of its allies.”

And what is Scarborough Shoal?

A cluster of rocks and reefs, 123 miles west of Subic Bay, that sits astride the passageway out of the South China Sea into the Pacific, and is well within Manila's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Beijing and Manila both claim Scarborough Shoal. But, in June 2013, Chinese ships swarmed and chased off a fleet of Filipino fishing boats and naval vessels. The Filipinos never came back.

And now that China has converted Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef into artificial islands with docks and air bases, Beijing seems about to do the same with Scarborough Shoal.

“Scarborough is a red line,” says Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International studies. To allow China to occupy and militarize the reef “would clearly change the balance of power.”

Really? But before concluding that we must fight to keep China from turning Scarborough Shoal into an island base, there are other considerations.

High among them is that the incoming president of the Philippines, starting June 30 2016, is Rodrigo Duterte, no admirer of America, and a populist authoritarian thug who, as Mayor of Davao, presided over the extrajudicial killing of some 1,000 criminals during the 1990s.

Duterte, who has charged Aquino with treason for abandoning Scarborough Shoal, once offered to set aside his country's claim in exchange for a Chinese-built railroad, then said he might take a jet ski to the reef to assert Manila's rights, plant a flag and let himself be executed to become a national hero.

In a clash with China, this character would be our ally.

Indeed, the rise of Duterte is yet another argument that, when Manila booted us out of Subic Bay at the Cold War's end, we should have dissolved our mutual security pact.

This June, an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague will rule on Manila's claims and China's transgressions on reefs that may not belong to her. Beijing has indicated she will not accept any such decision.

So, the fat is in the fire. And as the Chinese are adamant about their claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands and virtually all the atolls, rocks and reefs in the South China Sea, and are reinforcing their claims by creating artificial islands and bases, the U.S. and China are headed for a collision.

U.S. warships and reconnaissance planes passing near these islets have been repeatedly harassed by Chinese warplanes.

Vietnam, too, has a quarrel with China over the Paracels, which is why President Obama is being feted in Hanoi and why he lifted the ban on arms sales. There is now talk of the Navy's return to Cam Ranh Bay.

But before we agree to support the claims of Manila and Hanoi against China's claims, and agree to use U.S. air and naval power if needed, we need to ask some hard questions.

What vital interest of ours is imperiled by who owns, or occupies, or militarizes Scarborough Shoal? If U.S. rights of passage in the South China Sea are not impeded by Chinese planes or ships, why make Hanoi's quarrels and Manila's quarrels with China our quarrels?

Vietnam and the Philippines are inviting us back to our old Cold War bases for a simple reason. If the Chinese use force to back up their claims, Hanoi and Manila want us to fight China for them.

But, other than a major war, what would be in it for us?

And if, after such a war, we have driven the Chinese off these islets and destroyed those bases, how long would we be required to defend them for Hanoi and Manila?

Have we not enough war guarantees outstanding?

We are moving NATO and U.S. troops into Eastern Europe and anti-missile missiles into Poland and Romania, antagonizing Russia. We are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and, if the neocons get their way, we will soon be confronting Iran again.

Meanwhile, North Korea is testing nuclear warheads for long-range missiles that can reach the American homeland.

And no vital U.S. interest of ours is imperiled in the South China Sea.

Should Beijing insanely decide to disrupt commercial traffic in that sea, the response is not to send a U.S. carrier strike group to blast their artificial islands off the map.

Better that we impose a 10 percent tariff on Chinese-made goods, and threaten an embargo of all Chinese goods if they do not stand down. And call on our “allies” to join us in sanctions against China, rather than sit and hold our coat while we fight their wars.

This economic action would send China's economy into a tailspin, and the cost to Americans would not be reckoned in the lives of our best and bravest.


Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.

  • 7 thoughts on “Is Scarborough Shoal Worth a War?

    1. It is not actually the rocks and the reefs which are at stake in here. It’s the freedom of navigation. Let’s say for argument sake, the US has not move a finger from what is China is trying to do right now. The repercussion is China will try to move as closely as possible to strategic areas to make sure that the US cannot retaliate if the shits hit the fan. It’s a game of chess and China is trying it’s best to checkmate the US before we could clearly grasp the real intention behind those moves. If you ask me what’s at stake and what the US will gain in protecting those parcels of island, I would say the FUTURE……

    2. The U.S. will not go to war with China, as it would create massive unemployment here. You see, our business leaders have sold America out. They have moved all of our manufacturing over to China, and if our imports stopped, textiles and a whole lot of other common goods would dry up. The jobs that distribute those goods would dry up too!
      If a war with China must be fought, we’ll get someone else to lead it while we supply them.

      1. Your statement show how clueless you are. Business leaders didn’t sell America out. They left because of leftist unions *Supported by Dem political machines”, and the 40% Corporate tax rate imposed by a Dem majority Congress, so we could give every ghetto rat a free cell phone (Makes the drug deal easy to complete).

    3. Patrick J. Buchanan is spewing ignorance and stupidity like Hillary Clinton, Obama and the dimocraps; The SAME degree of ignorance and STUPIDITY gave us World War 1 and World War 2. China and Russia DO NOT respect namby-pamby cowardly butt kissers. Look at what happened when Reagan stood up to Russia, the wall fell down; I follow the advice of “SPEAK SOFTLY, But CARRY A BIG STICK”. Yeah I have a CCW and It’s A:WAYS there when I go out; I’m friendly and polite, but you had better NOT attempt to rob me or bully me.
      Obama has turned this country into a third world excuse for a world power by destroying our military. He is nothing more than a cowardly Muslim TRAITOR.

      US ARMY 1966-1969 / Navy Brat from Birth

    4. I had always thought that Pat Buchanan was a Neocon, but Neocons don’t talk like this. To actually wonder what vital interest it is to US!! Nobody since FDR has thought like that. And remember, FDR is the last President to win a war. He died just before it ended, but his policies won it.

    5. Weakness is provocative. This should be clearly evident with steadily increasing aggressiveness of China, Russia, and Iran with the weak and ineffectual Obama in charge. The continued appeasement/capitulation at every opportunity can only lead to one of two possible outcomes: either we reach a point where we can longer appease/capitulate and war must be fought anyway at a time when we are weaker with few allies willing to stand with us or we continue the appeasement/capitulation to a point of ultimate surrender. By seeking to avoid war at any cost, we not only guarantee war but greatly increase the cost. Only a fool would support such a policy but this is a Pat Buchanan column so I’m being redundant.

      1. You are correct sir. We now have a president who asks “Is Georgia worth a war?,” then “Is Ukraine worth a war?” as Putin tries to restore Russian pre-collapse borders. This type of reasoning would have asked “Is Hawaii worth a war?” in 1941.

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