The longest undeclared war was fought just west beyond our waters. Because the protagonists confined the fighting to Vietnam and because the superpowers overseeing the war rooms and those in the frontlines had deliberately avoided using the most powerful ordnance in their arsenal most of the fighting was limited in territory.
Both France and the United States who prosecuted the war at different times are nuclear-capable. Fortunately both were unwilling to unleash a nuclear holocaust. As for North Vietnam, the warfare technology available to the Vietcong and the essentially guerrilla warfare tactics they employed to drive away a nuclear superpower then fearful of igniting a global conflagration should other nuclear powers join the fray guaranteed a territorially limited conflict.
The undeclared war had however dragged on for decades and involved nations from the Western Hemisphere due in part to remnant historic imperialism and foreign policies that included intervention and regime change, ironically from self-declared western democracies.
While Laos and Cambodia in the inner Asian mainland were eventually brought into the fray and were considered sideshows due in part to shared and porous borders, the Philippines where one superpower decided to stage and store their war material was essentially cauterized from the violence.
The Americans used us as a satellite and we willingly allowed them starstruck, blind and enamored as we were with all things American such as Hollywood and democracy. But that we played a major role cannot be denied.
The South China Sea was a formidable barrier — a safety buffer against imperial expansionism. Expansionism has however changed from the western models that we’ve read about and studied in fifth grade history classes. Rarely is expansionism simply about taking territory anymore as it was when larger armies would defeat smaller ones through wars of attrition. The modern world is no longer a global chessboard where the winning side takes in more squares, eats up and dissipates the defenses of the opposing side, and eventually subdues the monarch.
For those familiar with the oriental game of Go, expansionism follows a new and more complex strategy where the objective is not to subdue and down the opposing king but simply to render the opposing side powerless either by taking strategic pieces away, creating strategic borders that render the other side’s assets inutile and useless, or simply controlling the territory without necessarily possessing it. The chemistry of options depends on a player’s unique personality and that makes Go more complex.
In Go, unlike chess, aggression and challenges are unnecessary. Deeply oriental, thoughtful and in ways Confucian, Go explains today’s Asian expansionists. “Boots-on-the-ground” is old. Western expansionist models, the centrality of force and attack, the kind we still pander to and prepare for are passé, anachronistic where these pale against the inscrutability of the Asian counterpart.
In the middle of the last century, barely half a decade from an unresolved shooting war in the Korean Peninsula involving in the background nuclear-capable superpowers from the U.S.S.R., to China and the United States, another conflict erupted on the eastern coast of mainland Asia. Given the powers behind both, these serial shooting wars were proxy wars that involved ideologically conflicting political systems both of which were expansionist if not fundamentally imperialist. Democracy versus communism have imperialists on both sides, perhaps democracy more than the latter. Both the historical French Indochina and the antediluvian Philippine Islands are examples.
Analyze today’s redefined expansionism. Purifying uranium is an act of war. Launching these on a test rocket more. Maritime accidents between protagonists much more. Same as international election hacking, the imposition of extradition between territories, even overseas development assistance. Add the virtual invasion of undocumented foreign gaming operators in our midst.