On 10 May 2016, the American destroyer USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef. China responded to the incursion by scrambling two fighter jets. The latest incursion is part of a continued effort by the United States to enforce “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. The Chinese have been rapidly expanding their influence in the South China Sea in recent years. On Fiery Cross Reef the Chinese have constructed a 10,000-foot runway, capable of launching fighter jets, cargo/surveillance aircraft, and even bombers. The US is concerned that military outposts like Fiery Cross Reef will be used to block international shipping in the South China Sea.
The larger outposts in the South China Sea also pose a military threat to neighboring countries and US assets in the region. Before the buildup of islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese military had limited access. The island of Hainan, located 650 miles from the Spratly Islands, was the closest military location. The Chinese H-6G bomber has a combat range of 3,500 miles, whereas the J-11 and Su-27 fighter jets have an 870-mile combat range. While the bombers have always had the necessary range to strike targets in the South China Sea, the fighter jets were limited in their ability to protect the bombers. With Chinese possession of a runway capable of launching both bombers and fighters in the region, neighboring countries and US naval forces are at a far greater risk should conflict erupt.
Further west, the US has angered Russia over a recent deployment of troops to Georgia. Around 650 American troops have deployed to Georgia to take part in an international training exercise. Accompanying these soldiers is a mechanized company of Bradley IFVs (infantry fighting vehicles) and M1A2 Abrams tanks. The exercise is the largest Georgia has ever hosted. The goal for the training event is to improve interoperability between Georgia and American and NATO forces. While not currently a member of NATO, in recent years Georgia has begun shifting its focus toward the military alliance and hopes it will be admitted in the future.
In 2008, Georgia was invaded by Russia under the guise of aiding the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The conflict was brief—lasting five days—but it left a lasting impression on the Georgians. Following the Russian withdrawal, Georgia began shifting toward NATO. Admittance to NATO would have profound effects for the small nation. Because of the security agreement in NATO, should any member nation come under military attack, the alliance will respond in a united force. Russia has firmly stated it opposes Georgia’s admittance into NATO, but given its recent history of aggression against neighboring countries it may be too late to keep Georgia from joining.