IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

US & Asia’s Security Structure

Asia is experiencing major changes in its security architecture. The rise of the Asia-Pacific region may well prove to be the single most transformative geopolitical shift of the 21st century. The phenomenal development and growing might of China have not only disturbed America but also its partner states since a powerful China could only challenge the US global status. In 1900, former US Secretary of State John Hay declared: “Mediterranean is the ocean of the past, Atlantic the ocean of the present, and Pacific is the ocean of the future.” Over 100 years later, his words appear more prophetic than ever. President Obama announced a new policy of “strategic pivot” rearticulated as a “rebalancing” in 2011. In the beginning, this strategy was called as “pivot to Asia” but later was retitled as “rebalancing” since the word “pivot” showed temporariness.

Now one has to see whether this policy of “rebalancing” would succeed or fail. From the outset there have been some questions about the “sustainability” of the rebalance as support for rebalance is substantial, but questions remain about its implementation. “The costly cancellation of President Obama’s trip to the region during the US government shutdown last fall (2014) fueled that skepticism, which has only grown as urgent foreign policy challenges.” There are other unfolding events, i.e. Ukraine and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) crises are impacting Asia’s view of the rebalance. The US’ regional allies are worried because US leadership has been “required” in the Middle East and Europe. And in the aftermath of Ukraine, there are calls for a pivot to Europe as call for more American troops to be sent to NATO’s eastern frontiers are heard.

Also; one has to identify where the US is overweight and underweight in its international commitments. The US is overweight in Europe and somehow in the Middle East, and underweight in Asia-Pacific. The rebalance exists. But it struggles for oxygen, in part because of the broader strategic baggage carried by the President Obama. Moreover, substantial parts of the rebalance will take time to unfold as it is not designed to address allies’ and partners’ demands for instant gratification and constant assurance but to contain rise of China. Moreover, US allies like Japan want its territorial issues resolved by the US and not just come to Asia-Pacific militarily to guarantee security in the wake of any possible attack from China. But it is very important to note here that if one looks at the pages of history, China has neither been colonial power nor been aggressor in the region lately.

There are lots of reasons which point toward inability of the US to attain its objectives in Asia-Pacific, like emerging contours of multi-polarity, the inevitable persistence of its terrorism quagmire, enduring regional challenges in Iran and North Korea, the gradually widening economic clout, resurgent Russia seeking to limit the US worldwide power and China’s growing power. This means that Asian countries would find it difficult to join a US-led containment strategy. Such counterbalancing factors point toward mid to long term difficulties of the US to achieve its aim of dominating the Asia-Pacific region. Again, China’s strategic community anticipates how to counter the US “rebalancing” to Asia? An outstanding strategic plan has been made, i.e. “March West” that asks China to shift its attention from the hot antagonism in East Asia and rebalance its geographical focus “westwards” to the huge part from Central Asia to the Middle East, where the US is turning away from.

Moreover, the US strategy of “rebalancing” focuses more on military side while China’s counter strategy mainly focuses on economic prosperity. Under “Asia-Pacific Dream” announced by President Xi Jinping with series of economic linkages, i.e. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor under “One Belt One Road” policy, China’s counter strategy seems more prudent and workable in the future. There are already signs of the US shrinking economy as it witnessed “shutdown” last year (2014). Again, the question arises whether the US is ready to sacrifice economic cooperation with China? Is the US capable of resolving issues of its allies (Japan) with China? Is NATO ready for yet another adventure against mighty China having taken into account NATO’s inadequacy and commitment with this region. Other elements that challenge NATO’s possible adventure in the region include as to what extent countries like Australia, Japan, India, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand could comply with NATO’s role and possible backlash. Since NATO left Afghanistan without restoring peace and declaring victory, how could countries of Asia-Pacific rely on an organization that lacks sufficient funds and will to sustain its operations outside.

Published by: Pakistan Observer, July 2, 2015

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.


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