The Unraveling of Island Asia? Governmental, Communal, and Regional Instability

By Bruce Vaughn | Go to book overview

10

The United States and the Region

WILLIAM TOW

As Island Asia’s dominant power, the United States has become far less optimistic about that region’s future as a new administration assumes office in Washington. During President William J. Clinton’s last years in office, the vision of a “Pacific Community” that he proposed with such optimism at the beginning of his presidency was supplanted by dour assessments about Asia’s economic future, growing political instability in several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states and throughout the South Pacific, the specter of a renewed “China threat,” the potential loss of American regional allies, and a general trend of American strategic retrenchment from the Asia-Pacific theater. One widely cited US Defense Department study has offered a number of “black” scenarios unfolding by the year 2025. It speculates that with the end of dominant American strategic presence in Asia, Chinese hegemony, Indo-Japanese strategic collaboration, and Southeast Asian fragmentation could prevail and precipitate great power confrontation and even nuclear war. 1

In contrast, when writing about American security interests in the Southeast Asian sector of Island Asia over twenty years ago, Robert Pringle argued that avoidance of US exclusion or isolation from Asia was central. A US “balancing role,” for example, was deemed the most effective strategy for keeping Southeast Asia an area where no great power believed

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