United States’ Greatest Strength May Ultimately Be Butter, Not Guns

United States’ Greatest Strength May Ultimately Be Butter, Not Guns
MaoNo / Pixabay

China and the United States have found themselves in a power struggle across Asia and the rest of the world. While the low-level diplomatic and military games being played out now pale in comparison to Soviet-American tensions in the cold war, China’s emergence as the next Great Power has become closely watched. Many assume the Chinese to be quickly catching up in military, economic, and diplomatic terms, but the recent Typhoon Haiyan demonstrates that a vast gap still exists between China and the United States.

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When Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm in recorded history, slammed into the Philippines, the American government quickly coordinated a massive relief effort. Led by the U.S. military and its carrier groups in the region, massive amounts of vital supplies and medical services were quickly pumped into the storm-ravaged country.

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So far, $86 million dollars worth of aid has been pledged to the Philippines, no small amount for a country struggling with debt and deficits. With over 4 million people displaced, more than a million homes destroyed, and at least 6,000 people dead, the aid has thus far proven to be a crucial lifeline for many Filipino families.

US response to Haiyan coordinated and swift

Within days of Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall, the United States also deployed the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, staffed with some 13,000 military personnel. The George Washington carrier only stayed for a week, but over a 1,000 soldiers stayed behind, along with smaller amphibious land ships. The United States also set up 19 different field hospitals to provide care.

The United States has also deployed the USNS Mercy, one of the world’s most advanced hospital ships, to the Philippines. The ship departed from San Diego in November. Containing a 1,000 bed hospital, 12 separate operating rooms, and over 1,200 staff, the hospital ship is able to provide advanced medical treatment rivaling that of a fully equipped and modernized hospital.

Chinese response pales in comparison

This overwhelming American response contrasts with the minuscule aid offered by Beijing. Given China’s massive wealth, rapidly expanding economy, and desire to assert itself as Asia’s dominant regional power, one wouldn’t be blamed for expecting a large response on part of the Chinese. Instead, only $100,000 dollars worth of aid was initially offered.

After being heavily criticized by the international community, China stepped its donations up to $1.4 million and dispatched its own medical ship, the Peace Ark. Still, China lags behind many private companies and organizations, despite its large wealth and desire to project itself as a regional power.

The lack of Chinese response is providing the United States with a crucial opportunity to reassert its global dominance. In recent years, China has appeared to have an upper hand in the global arena. Asian investors now turn first to China to monitor the regional economy. Chinese aid in Central Asia and Africa has been making headlines, not efforts by Americans. But when push came to shove it was the United States that showed up to help the Philippines dig out.

With the many nations of the world gradually shifting away from outright military combat to economic and political battles, America’s ability and willingness to provide aid could prove to be its greatest weapon. Building and maintaining alliances is proving to be essential, especially in global hot spots like Asia. No matter the current superiority of American weapons and military capabilities, the United States will not be able to contain and buffer against Chinese expansion on its own.

United States can increase pressure on China

By building goodwill and alliances with countries across Asia and the rest of the world, however, the United States can increase pressure on China without requiring a massive increase in military capabilities. This helps save money without necessarily costing readiness or capabilities. And opportunities like Typhoon Haiyan offer a great chance for the United States to show its goodwill and global capabilities.

Further, with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, the United States finds itself in the perfect position of using fears of Chinese expansion and aggression to build up a strong alliance in the region. Already, the Philippines has moved closer to U.S. orbit and Japan has begun to rearm itself. At the same time, other S.E. Asian nations have been increasingly vocal against perceived Chinese expansion.

What may have seemed line a fumble on the part of the Chinese when they failed to adequately respond to the Typhoon may prove to be a crucial move in the larger geopolitical sphere. At the same time, the United States responded with a “shock and awe” campaign that actually worked, showing that sometimes “butter” and not “guns” is the best tool for maintaining global supremacy.

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