Student or Learner
Does " defining aggression down" mean "affirming aggression down"? That is, in the context below, it deems that China's land reclamation is an aggression?
The question of “aggression” also deserves attention. In 432, Athens was acting foolishly, but strictly speaking was not violating the terms of its previous peace with Sparta. The Spartans ignored this technicality when they voted “that the treaty had been broken and that war should be declared” (1.88). Today, China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea is a powerful parallel: land reclamation is explicitly legal under international law, yet (because of sovereignty disputes) it has become common to call Chinese land reclamation aggressive (even though all the other claimants also reclaim land, though at a smaller scale). Calling this and other such acts aggressive—for example, sending oil rigs or fishing boats to “disputed” waters or defending territorial claims with water cannons—is defining aggression down. If China were to make a new territorial claim, threatening or invading a territory unambiguously lawfully possessed by another state, that would be an aggressive and illegal action deserving of censure. China has not done this. Short of this, it makes no strategic sense to worry about drawing red lines across disputed islands. Defining aggression down was a mistake in 432 BC and is still a mistake today.
It means lowering the threshold for what is considered aggression.