Andrew Rhodes wrote this essay while a student at the U.S. Naval War College. It won the Strategic Research Paper category of the 2019 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Essay Competition.
In the early 20th century, the visionary Marine officer Earl “Pete” Ellis compiled remarkable studies of islands in the Western Pacific and considered the practical means for the seizure or defense of advanced bases. A century after Ellis’s work, China presents new strategic and operational challenges to the U.S. position in Asia, and it is time for Washington to develop a coherent strategy, one that will last another 100 years, for the islands of the Western Pacific. It has become common to consider the second island chain as a defining feature of Pacific geography, but when Ellis mastered its geography, he saw not a “chain,” but a “cloud.”