A Geopolitical Game of Cat and Mouse

I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog. I rooted for Rudy in his movie. I cheered for the road runner as he sped past Wile E. Coyote. And of course I always held my breath for Jerry in the Tom & Jerry cartoons as a kid.

But there is a much larger geopolitical game of Cat & Mouse going on in the world, and I find myself a bit confused as I can’t figure out who’s playing the underdog, who’s playing the cat, and who’s playing the dog, or coyote, or bully. But we as a nation are playing one of those roles.

It was widely reported recently that the US Navy sent a warship within 12 nautical miles of the Subi Reef, which was one time merely a reef that was submerged during high tide in the Spratly Islands. As part of their fight for dominance over all of the South China Sea, the Chinese military has begun building artificial islands out of just about anything it can, even building a landing strip long enough to land fighter jets on this one in particular.

If the idea of building an island out of a reef sounds like some kind of science fiction reserved for the supervillain in a James Bond movie, it’s really not all that unusual. The tiny island of Singapore has been turning its trash and refuse into biomass and using it to increase the size of its own island for over a decade, so this is hardly anything new.

What is new, however, is the idea of doing this in the middle of waters previously shared for commercial fishing and military movements by the Philippines (a strong US ally), the Republic of Vietnam and Taiwan (another strong US ally).

More of a global game of chess than cat and mouse, China is attempting to extend its influence in a region that the US has been strategically boxing in through military alliances, and trying to find its own breathing room.

And the actions of the US Navy sending a warship dangerously close to these waters China is attempting to claim brings back other instances of military encroachment on another front.

Yes, of course I’m going back to Russia.

It was not very long ago that President Obama was filming a reality TV series in Alaska (seriously, I can understand too much golf, but how does a President have time to film a reality TV episode) when Russian warships did the same exact thing, sailing perilously close to the Alaskan coastline.

And of course we did nothing.

This only came after Russian bombers and fighters encroached US and NATO airspace several hundred times in the previous year, one of those being a Russian bomber equipped with a nuclear payload flying over the English channel.

At the same time world news was reporting the US Naval warship sailing provocatively close to the disputed Chinese island, US news was reporting another Russian encroachment. The Russian spy ship Yantar has been slowly trawling the ocean off the eastern seaboard en route to Cuba, following the route of the underwater fiber optic cables used to relay internet telecom messages.

This created quite a bit of anticipation, as the Yantar is equipped with two self-propelled deeply submersible craft, capable of reaching those cables and cutting or tapping into them. Defense analysts cited that Russian activity has greatly increased along all of the underwater cable routes to levels not seen since the Cold War, and as those cables carry some $10 trillion worth of transactions daily, it has quite a few people on high alert.

So it seems that while we constantly poke one sleeping giant (China) with an extremely provocative military stick, we completely ignore that the other, a very much awake giant (Russia), is poking us with their own.

And it’s the reasoning behind this that has me baffled. Are we admitting an alliance between Russia and China, responding to Russian aggression by acting as the aggressor toward China? Are we admitting that Russia would overpower us if it came down to armed conflict, and choosing instead to pick a fight with China? Or have communications between the highest echelons of our defense strategy completely broken down, in a mom-not-talking-to-dad type of environment?

Whatever the answer may be, it doesn’t look like any of them will lead to a happy ending. In the global game of cat and mouse, in which the general public is only privy to seeing small glimpses of news reported in the open source, we are left to wonder: Who’s playing the cat, who’s playing the mouse, and what is the cheese they’re fighting over?

Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), is an award-winning author of The Pactand “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war and the host of “The Green Beret MBA” on  iTunes.

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