Small Wars Journal

To the Horizon: Seven Conflicts of Concern for the U.S. Military

Thu, 06/13/2013 - 3:35am


The conflicts of the last 11 years have provided the U.S. military with new perspectives, advances in weaponry and technology, complex tactics, strategies, and, of course, a new generation of alumni from the warrior class of Americans. As these conflicts in most minds are in the rearview mirror, some believe that there will be a time of rest and peace, while some have the forethought of conflicts to come. Some of these conflicts have already begun. As totalitarian regimes fall, civil movements and non-state actors align themselves to fill the gap. Where militaristic states once ruled with an iron fist, a class of educated political extremists slips into contention via exploitation of the laws of civilized men.

Today’s Army must rise from the ashes of the last two wars, not seeking the comforts of a pre-9/11 Garrison, not forsaking the lessons of the last 11 years, but taking from the victories and regrettable losses. All these lessons can be used as mortar for building a stronger, more resilient Army. The U.S. Army, in its post-war posture, must look at the possibility that a United States with a weakened economy, divisiveness in many aspects of public opinion and the perceived complacency of its fighting force, could be perceived as the perfect prey for former super powers, reemerging empires and non-state actors powered by ideology.

For the U.S. Army to restructure and prepare for the future it must look at large formal armies that are currently using proxies to engage in small conflicts that enforce a larger agenda. It must look at spheres of influence of global movements in “Backyard America” and their transcontinental associations. This paper will discuss seven conflicts (or potential conflicts) that the U.S. military should include into scenarios of training and planning, before it becomes like Sept 12th, 2001 and the United States is scrambling to build its knowledge on “Radical Islam”.

The Seven Conflicts are as follows:

Part One: Asia

  1. Siliguri/Sikkim Corridor: Involves India, China, Nepal and Bhutan
  2. Jammu/ Kashmir Corridor: Involves India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan
  3. South China Sea: Involves China, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Part Two: Middle East

  1. The Hojjatieh Society: Involves Iran, Israel and the United States.
  2. Sinai Peninsula: Involves Egypt, Israel and Palestine.

Part Three: Western Hemisphere

  1. V.I.R.U.S:  Involves Venezuela, Russia and Iran.
  2. The Border: Involves Mexico, U.S., Drug Cartels, TCOs (Trans-national Criminal Organizations), Terror Organizations


Siliguri/Sikkim Corridor       

Country: India

 Involved parties:

  • India
  • China
  • Nepal
  • Bhutan

In the Eastern Himalayas, there is a border conflict called the Sino (China)-Indian Border Dispute. It involves an ongoing conflict between China, Bhutan, Nepal and India regarding the fact that Bhutan and India are the only two countries that China has no resolved land borders with. The areas of contention are the “Chicken Neck” (narrow section of India, north of Bangladesh), west of Bhutan into India and northern section Bhutan and an area north of the India’s northeast states called Arunachal Pradesh. One of China’s goals is to expand through the Chumbai Valley and secure the territory, further indicated by the buildup of the Qinghai Tibet railway towards the Sino-Indian Border, next to Sikkim and Siliguri Corridors. The Chinese Railways Ministry has confirmed that the Railway will be extending its railway network from Lhasa to Zangmu on the Nepal border. [1]


Google Earth (graphics created by author)

Over the years, China has practiced its tactic of gradually expanding its spheres of influence through construction projects (to include mineral excavation and ports of trade). These projects are typically conducted by a government-funded business that attains protective services of the PRC. A relevant example of expansion and intrusion would be the 2007 incident of intrusion by Chinese troops on Bhutanese soil, where unmanned posts were dismantled in the Dolam valley, followed by additional intrusions in 2009.

Because China realizes that forced occupancy is not a preferred strategy against a sovereign nation, especially when China presents itself as a champion of humanitarianism, China is using diplomacy with Bhutan through calculated negotiations. At this time, Bhutan has a closer tie to India, which seems unwavering, but Bhutan has sought China’s support in elections to the non permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council being vacated by India in 2013. [2]

China will have a much more difficult time influencing India through its aggressive actions. China has demanded that the Indian Army remove bunkers located at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China and demanded access to the Fingerpoint area at the Northern most point of Sikkim. China has been showing a more aggressive stance while attempting to gain what appears to be the “Five Fingers” of Tibet’s palm: Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.

The dispute will likely be cut short by India’s strong stance, Bhutan not compromising its sovereignty and China’s claim to Bhutan as a greater Tibet.

Although China has not started the anticipated railway construction, it has begun its study on whether or not it can complete the Tibet Railway, which currently falls 500 km short of the Siliguri Corridor. This is projected to be complete by 2017. This corridor is known as “India’s Chicken Neck”, which joins India’s Mainland with its seven states in the Northeast.

China plans to extend its railway to four strategic points in “Nathu La (Sikkim), Chumbai Valley (China, India-Bhutan), Kodari (Nepal) and Nyangtri (Arunachal Pradesh). Additionally, China has built all weather roads and advanced communication networks along these border areas joining neighboring South Asian Countries. China has increased its geo-political weight in South Asia; it has stirred India at an alarming level.[3]

These concerns are accompanied by the growing Maoist insurgency, described as India’s single biggest internal security challenge that the country has ever faced. [4] These Maoists have gained inspirations from Nepal, where it has the largest political party. The Maoists have a strong presence along the Siliguri Corridor. Radical Communists and other separatist groups are trained and sheltered in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma. Reportedly, those groups could cause distraction in the form of small conflicts, while India gets attacked by Pakistan in Kashmir-Jammu, China in Arunachal Pradesh and the “Chicken Neck.”

Ultimately, the roads, railway and communication networks that China is creating seem eerily familiar to Russia’s construction of roads and railways, which led up to the Russian-Georgian Conflict in 2008. China with its expanded sphere of influence along these border provinces and countries provides China with a second line of defense and a more obtainable goal of reaching the Bay of Bengal and cutting off India from its Northeastern States. This all is detrimental to India’s overall security.


Jammu/ Kashmir/ Wakkan Corridor   

Country: India

Involved parties:

  • India
  •  Pakistan
  • China
  • Afghanistan


Google Earth (graphics created by author)

There is much speculation on the future of Afghanistan upon the end of U.S. combat operations. Some predict a reemergence of the Taliban, reasserting the “You have the watches, but we have the time” scenario. Some speculate that Trans-continental Criminal Organizations (TCOs) will continue coordination with corrupt leadership within Afghanistan, but will operate more overtly and at a higher capacity. Others assess that neighboring nations will attempt to exploit valuable natural resources and other avenues of commerce that have lain dormant in this country for decades.

It is abundantly clear that China is fronting Pakistan in a much larger strategy in the region, extending to the Gulf and the Middle East on one side, and the Central Asian States on the other. In between, however, there is India to deal with- the Kashmir issue, India’s acceptance among the Afghan people in a historical relationship, similar Indian relations with Central Asian States and their people, as well as no-friction exchanges and trade and economic relations with the Gulf and the Middle East. This is a huge diplomatic, political and economic ensemble.[5]

There have been many small conflicts and land grabs between Pakistan, China and India in this area. The main question is: Why? The answer is: It all centers on China.

China has set itself as the #1 owner of mineral rights in Afghanistan. The PRC has made significant plans to expand out into the West, in hopes of edging the United States out of contention as the Super Power. China’s plans in Afghanistan are centered on 4 main projects:

  1. Mineral Excavation (Iron Ore, Copper and rare minerals).
  2. Building an Oil pipeline from Herat to Bayiman to Badakshan into China’s Xinjiang Province.
  3. Reopen the Silk Road.
  4. Open a land trade route through Pakistan via the Karakoram Highway.

One looming issue is held above all: Security. What will be the security situation within Afghanistan after the U.S. ends combat operations in 2014? China has signaled it will not contribute to a multilateral fund to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces…but it could directly train Afghan Soldiers. They’re concerned that there is going to be a security vacuum and they’re concerned about how the neighbors will behave.[6]

In order for China to see these projects through to fruition, it needs to conduct significant construction in the Pakistan-owned Kashmir, Jammu-Kashmir, Wakkan Corridor and the Karakoram Highway (otherwise known as Gilgit-Baltistan/ Jammu and Kashmir). It is now been revealed that the Chinese workers in Gilgit- Baltistan are no ordinary labourers. They are from the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Logistics Department, engineers and soldiers involved in construction. Technically, they belong to the PLA and the PLA is on active duty on foreign soil. …The PLA activity in Gilgit-Baltistan lays bare the much touted deceptive proclamation that not a single Chinese soldier will be placed on foreign soil.[7] This entire area is interconnected and the nucleus of a large problem for Southwest Asia.

China held a trilateral discussion involving officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban. China’s biggest concern lies with where the Taliban might attack, sabotage and possibly collect zakat (taxes) against China’s efforts in Afghanistan, NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and PAK-controlled Kashmir. If this activity is not resolved prior to the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan, then the world very well could see another formal state military take over the governance, security and overall management of Afghanistan by 2020.

If this is China’s move, it will not be a very timid movement to its completion, although it will be multi-phased and strictly circumstance-based. China uses its Side-Principal Rule to get its desired results. The “Side-Principal Rule” dictates avoiding an enemy’s strength and not exposing oneself to any danger.

Using a determinable chaos analysis approach, a scenario where China gains dominance over Afghanistan (even Pakistan-controlled Kashmir or NWFP) could be accomplished in the following manner:

  1. A Chinese government -contracted excavation company is approved to start work in Afghanistan and requires armed security.
  2. The Chinese government provides a civilian security group.
  3. The excavation company’s security detail comes under attack by the Taliban, because business agreements were made under a government appointed by the Karzai regime.
  4. The Chinese government requests that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) assist the security group.
  5. Two trends develop: ANSF members (likely Taliban-affiliated members) attack the Chinese security group and ANSF conducts illegal taxation of Chinese workers.
  6. The Chinese security group is a government funded entity, so the Chinese government works out an agreement stating China will provide military liaisons to the ANSF for oversight and training purposes. The Afghan government will agree in exchange for increased funding.
  7. Number of Chinese military liaisons or attaches increase and expand into provincial government positions.
  8. The focus to increase Chinese oversight is most prevalent in the provinces that China conducts its business interests, primarily Herat, Bayiman and Badakshan with an increased presence in Kabul and Kandahar.
  9. As China’s sphere of influence slowly expands in the three previously mentioned provinces, China creates “anchor facilities or communities” within Afghanistan.
  10.  China, by this time, will have created infrastructure to support their workers and fulfill the needs of transportation. China will have to either tax or decrease funding for Afghans, in exchange for use of the lines of communication (LOCs) that China created.
  11.  A large highway, communication and railway system (Super Corridor) will have already begun construction or will be in its approval process in Xinjiang, China leading into Badakshan, Afghanistan.
  12.  China will slowly and methodically claim “strategic land” (example: pushing the border over a mountain ridge or inward to claim a lowland mountain pass) in Badakshan.
  13.  Small conflicts between Afghans and Chinese security forces occur, due to illegal land claims, taxation, defunding, non-state actors and TCOs losing their accessibility to a market used for their own funding.
  14.  China increases its numbers to security forces and the type or amount of assets into theater. The introduction of fixed-wing and rotary-wing assets will enable China to patrol LOCs and approaches to China’s “anchor communities”, contested lands and interests within Afghanistan, with little threat to platforms.
  15.  Calls for China to withdraw or reduce its activity are almost non-existent, due to China being on the United Nation’s Security Council (with veto power), their newly established economic ties to other powerful countries and the International Community’s perception that Afghanistan has not shown that it can govern and secure its own people without high levels of corruption. Added leverage will come from China expressing that it attempted to bring commerce, stability and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
  16.  China creates significant oversight and influence over Afghanistan.

Among China’s goals in Afghanistan is their desire to reopen the Silk Road. This would consist of creating a route from China to the ports in the Indian Ocean. The trade route would have to either go through Highway 1 (east-to-west road) of Afghanistan into Iran or through the Karakoram Highway of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir into Islamabad through to Karachi, Pakistan. The projection made by China has very serious implications on territorial issues for India. Bilaterally (China-Pak) converting Pakistan-owned Kashmir into a part of Northern Pakistan, addresses the 1963 China-Pak agreement according to which Pakistan ceded approximately 5,400 sq. kms of Pakistan-owned Kashmir to China, through which the China-Pakistan Karakoram Highway runs.[8]

Both of these scenarios come with an uncertainty about what the security situation might be. Additionally, will China be able to maintain it? While concerned about the impact of Islamic extremism on its Xinjiang Province, it appears to have got Pakistan to persuade its Afghan allies in the Taliban and in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb e-Islami not to attack Chinese Nationals or interests in Afghanistan.[9]  If the “risk to reward” ratio is too great, China might abandon this venture all together.

Yet, with all of the efforts that have been made thus far, China will likely continue forward with its future partnerships with Pakistan and Afghanistan, even though it will likely become a turbulent one. Specifically, if China continually ignores India’s sovereignty, it could potentially set all of its plans on hiatus. China has not agreed to exchange maps of the western and eastern sectors, the most strategic sections… Evidence exists with the Indian side that China is encroaching upon more Indian land surreptitiously, especially in the western sector.[10] As India increases its work with its allies to combat global terrorism and developing stronger relationships with nations that have strong armies and diplomatic ties, this will make China more cautious in its global strategy of expansion. 


South China Sea     

Country: China

Involved parties:

  • China
  • U.S.
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam
  • Malaysia
  • Brunei
  • Philippines
  • Japan

Europe is a landscape; East Asia a seascape. Therein lays a crucial difference between the 20th and 21st centuries. …over the span of the decades, the demographic and economic axis of the Earth has shifted measurably to the opposite end of Eurasia, where the spaces between major population centers are overwhelming maritime.[11]

Over the past decade, China has effectively expanded throughout the world, seeking ports, mineral-rich lands and maritime lanes, through aggressive measures and illicit activity. The framework of National Statism has been implemented, so to bring China out of the economic doldrums of its Communist roots. (National Statism is a form of national government that controls the social, political and economic elements of a country. This is a model of governance that takes aspects from socialism and communism and gives it a more expectable title.)

The expansion and territorial claims has brought China to the realization that the country needs to have a substantial modernization of its maritime paramilitary forces as well as naval capabilities to enforce its sovereignty and jurisdiction claims by force if necessary. [12]

In the South China Sea, China has become the aggressor against nine other states, as it attempts to gain control of the South China Sea, even reaching as far 200 nautical miles off of sovereign coasts, which is easily within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) designated by the United Nations. The “nine-dash line” is an outline of China’s South China Sea claims, which encompasses about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square km area. This vague boundary was first officially published on a map by China's Nationalist government in 1947 and has been included in subsequent maps issued under Communist rule.[13]

 China’s claims are based off of a mix of historic rights and legal claims, while remaining deliberately ambiguous about the meaning of the “nine-dashed line” around the sea that is drawn on Chinese maps. …China claims that it supports freedom of navigation, its insistence that foreign militaries seek advance permission to sail in its two-hundred-mile EEZ.[14]

Although, this conflict is more relevant to the Marine Corps and Navy, the U.S. Army should still maintain awareness of the possibility of the conflict making landfall. China is assessed to have two South China Sea goals: Controlling the Pratas, Paracel, Spratly Islands and Scarborough Reef. Gain access or control of the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Makassar straits.

These straits see half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage…and a third of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca…is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal.[15] If a naval battle occurs for control the islands, it can shortly be followed by occupying the islands and then total control of the straits.

The possibility of a clash between the United States and China is highly likely if one overreacts while China protects its EEZ claims and United States conducts military activities within close proximity to those EEZ claims. The United States holds that nothing in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) or state practice negates the right of military forces of all nations to conduct military activities in EEZs without coastal state notice or consent. China insists that reconnaissance activities undertaken without prior notification and without permission of the costal state violates Chinese domestic law and international law.

China routinely intercepts U.S. reconnaissance flights conducted in its EEZ and periodically does so in aggressive ways that increase the risk of an accident similar to the April 2001 collision of a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter jet near Hainan Island. The large growth of Chinese submarines has also increased the danger of an incident, such as when a Chinese submarine collided with a U.S. destroyer’s towed sonar array in June 2009. Rising U.S.–China mistrust and intensifying bilateral strategic competition would likely make managing such a crisis more difficult.[16]

The United States’ awareness of China’s interest in owning the South China Sea routes has been further increased by the military buildup made by China. Beijing is the only capital of the world, ready to use force in the struggle for the sake of expansion. China has not only developed the industry, but also outfitted its area of interest with military equipment. China has placed 38 new diesel and nuclear submarines in the region, purchased four destroyers from Russia and built another dozen on its own, and has launched a network of ground-based ballistic missiles to destroy naval targets. Only one other country has done this before: the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is no wonder that the Americans are very concerned with the regular quarrels between China and its allies. The proximity to the Malacca Strait poses a threat to the smooth supply of Washington’s main allies in the region—Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.[17]

China’s continuing efforts to expand can only be followed by its neighbors also conducting such a military buildup and posturing. This is apparent in the U.S. military’s enhancement of Australian defense cooperation. Unless somehow the ten members in dispute in the South China Sea come to concrete borders and zones, in the future we just might see a purer form of conflict, limited to the naval realm.[18]

Next:  Part Two: Middle East

  1. The Hojjatieh Society: Involves Iran, Israel and the United States.
  2. Sinai Peninsula: Involves Egypt, Israel and Palestine.

[1] “China extending Tibet Rail link to Sikkim,” Zeenews Bureau (Feb 14, 2011): 1.

[2] Rahul Bhonsle, “Indian Bhutan China Strategic Circle,” (July 16, 2012): 2.

[3] Kashav Prasad Bhattarai “China, Bhutan, Nepal and India: Strategic Reflections on Quadrilateral Relations,” (August 22, 2012): 3.

[4] Kashav Prasad Bhattarai “China, Bhutan, Nepal and India: Strategic Reflections on Quadrilateral Relations,” (August 22, 2012): 3.

[5] Bhaskar Roy, “China declares open season on India?”Indian Review of Global Affairs (09 September, 2010): 1.

[6] Sanjeev Miglani, “China steps up Afghan role as Western pullout nears,” Reuters (June 3, 2012): 1.

[7]Bhaskar Roy, “China declares open season on India?”Indian Review of Global Affairs (09 September, 2010): 2.

[8] Bhaskar Roy, “China declares open season on India?”Indian Review of Global Affairs (09 September, 2010): 2.

[9] G. Parthasarathy, “China leaves footprint on alien Afghan soil” The Pioneer (17 Aug, 2012): 1.

[10] Bhaskar Roy, “China declares open season on India?”Indian Review of Global Affairs (09 September, 2010): 3.

[11] Robert Kaplan “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict” Foreign Policy (Sept/ Oct 2011): 1.

[12] Bonnie S. Glaser “Armed Clash in the South China Sea (Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 14),”Council on Foreign Relations Press (April 2012): 1.

[13] David Lague, “Analysis: China's nine-dashed line in South China Sea” Reuters (May 25, 2012): 2.

[14] Robert Kaplan “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict” Foreign Policy (Sept/ Oct 2011): 2.

[15] Robert Kaplan “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict” Foreign Policy (Sept/ Oct 2011): 5.

[16] Bonnie S. Glaser “Armed Clash in the South China Sea (Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 14),”Council on Foreign Relations Press (April 2012): 1.

[17] Ilona Raskolnikova “China has territorial claims to nearly 20 countries” Pravda (July 17, 2012): 2.

[18] Robert Kaplan “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict” Foreign Policy (Sept/ Oct 2011): 9.



Categories: strategy - Pakistan - India - China - Asia - Afghanistan

About the Author(s)

D. Stiegman is a US Army Veteran. He has served as an Infantryman, Instructor and Intelligence Analyst over 13 years. He has operated in Asia, Europe and North America, with deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan. Now, he teaches at a college, advises on security issues and volunteers in the Search and Rescue services.


D Stiegman

Fri, 07/05/2013 - 1:02am

In reply to by Vitesse et Puissance

If your scroll down in the comments you will my response to a previous reader's comments. That should cover most of your concerns. As far as throwing a bunch of dirt in the air and trying to figure out where it's going to land, is not what I am trying to do. I am just telling you "There's dirt in the air." What you should cover and what to do when it lands is all on the reader.

Vitesse et Puissance

Tue, 07/02/2013 - 2:15pm

As William Tecumseh Sherman said when John Bell Hood invaded Tennessee, "If (he) goes North, I'll give him rations". Nothing could improve America's geopolitical prospects better than Chinese entanglement in Afghanistan. And this article states not a word about Russia's response to such an adventure. Does the author just expect the Russians to sit idly by while the Chinese declare themselves champions of the Great Game ? And what of the US response, if any ? Structurally, it would seem flawed to expect India to face China alone in this contest. Because the Chinese are the cagey players that they are, one may expect them to move slowly and subtly. And while we need not fold our cards and leave the table, it may be appropriate to let some other power call the hand.

D Stiegman

Sat, 06/15/2013 - 4:11pm

I agree that there is a matter of reality to perception that exists when dealing with China and how the international community sees it. If China can bully their way through their neighbors territory or at least present that threat, then it can likely convince them to accept business deals that typically include the development of ports or lines of communication. China has a strong intent to be such a dominant force as far as resources and position within the international stage, they believe they will be unimpeachable. Then how many submarines or destroyers won’t matter.
As far as China and AF-PAK: I think that it won't be such a terrible thing for China to develop AF-PAK. When China experiences some of the same troubles that the US has experienced, decides to leave, it will leave another vacuum in Afghanistan. Only this time it will likely be Pakistan and it will be by force and to likely begin a war between the major ethnicities with an even more dangerous possibility of involving India and god forbid Russia. Far-sighted, but desires are constant and strong.

Move Forward

Sat, 06/15/2013 - 9:23am

This article reflects well on your own and other capabilities of Soldiers in the MI field. Found much of it fascinating in its depth and insight. However, a couple of comments regarding the overblown and unlikely-employed threats that seem to be driving the Pacific pivot and AirSea Battle. You made this observation in your article:

<blockquote>China has placed 38 new diesel and nuclear submarines in the region, purchased four destroyers from Russia and built another dozen on its own, and has launched a network of ground-based ballistic missiles to destroy naval targets. Only one other country has done this before: the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is no wonder that the Americans are very concerned with the regular quarrels between China and its allies. The proximity to the Malacca Strait poses a threat to the smooth supply of Washington’s main allies in the region—Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.</blockquote>

David Axe published this article recently outlining how the Chinese sub threat is overhyped.

From that article note Axe's following quote:

<blockquote>Considering the imbalance between large, sophisticated, ASW-optimized U.S. submarines and their smaller, less flexible, surface-attack-focused Chinese rivals, a census of the two nations’ undersea boats can create a false impression of near parity: 60 Chinese subs versus 70 U.S. ones. But if the American vessels can hunt the Chinese vessels almost with impunity, it almost doesn’t matter how many submarines Beijing possesses.

Even if numbers really did matter, the trends aren’t in China’s favor. Beijing might match the United States in submarine production rates, but it can’t possibly keep up with the combined sub acquisitions of Washington and its closest Pacific allies. Japan is in the process of adding six diesel attack boats to its current force of 16. Australia aims to double its fleet of six diesel boats. South Korea is also doubling its six-strong undersea fleet. Six years ago, Vietnam purchased six Kilos from Russia.</blockquote>

This illustrates what China and the PLAN must realize. That it cannot begin to compete militarily against the combined resources of all allies in the region.

Your points about the various straits are well taken. However, this is a great argument for the ability of Soldiers and Marines to be inserted near these Straits to monitor and defend them with host nation government cooperation in the event of war. From such locations, SOF could forcibly enter commercial vessels, even if occupied by limited PLAN forces. They then could be replaced by regular Army and Marine forces to effectively halt substantial Chinese commerce, particularly of oil going to China.

Combined capabilities of US and allied stealth air and sea power coupled with abilities to mine ports, halt oil tankers, kill PLAN surface vessels from above and below would be a powerful deterrent to China. This deterrent exists sans any need for excessively elaborate, expensive, and dangerous deep penetration of China that could provoke nuclear war.

Why would China risk this and massive economic disruption over a few inconsequential islands and a Taiwan they heavily trade with, not to mention the greater trade with Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the U.S?

As for conflicts between China and India, is that anything the U.S. likely would get involved in? Even if China asserts a greater presence in Afghanistan after we leave, given our past experience there, would we make any attempt whatsoever to intervene? Doubtful, and not necessarily dangerous. Let it become their problem for a change if it gets to that. Their concerns for security there and ours likely would align.

Looking forward to your observations about the Middle East and elsewhere.