America's Asian Alliances

By Little, Debra R. | Parameters, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
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America's Asian Alliances


Little, Debra R., Parameters


Edited by Robert D. Blackwill and Paul Dibb. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2000. 143 pages. $17.95.

As this generation of leadership seeks to reexamine America's established ties in Asia, this book is a useful tool. Nine distinguished strategists present systematic and concrete prescriptions for strengthening America's Asian alliances. The book is a collaborative effort between Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. It offers an examination of US relations with Japan, Korea, and Australia--each alliance conceived in circumstances of a bygone era--and provides an analysis of the contemporary regional security environment.

Unlike the new and largely peaceful Europe, the Asia-Pacific region is fraught with old instabilities, new risks, and opportunities. America's Asian alliances face an arc of potential instability, from the divided Korean peninsula in Northeast Asia, to the nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan on the South Asian subcontinent, to an unstable Indonesia in Southeast Asia. The United States and its allies must also address the rise of Chinese power, as well as continue efforts to halt the spread of nuclear and high-tech conventional weapons, maintain access to energy resources, and expand the world's free-trade system.

In the first chapter, Australian Paul Dibb provides a snapshot of Asia's strategic environment. He argues that despite the fashionable view that geography and geopolitics are no longer relevant in the post-Cold War era, Asia retains many of the geopolitical elements of the Cold War. In his assessment of the next five years, he argues that the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region needs to adjust to the lack of a clear enemy by developing a "new common security concept." Rather than being threat-based, the alliance emphasis in the Asia-Pacific region needs to focus on shared interests in the maintenance of regional stability.

The second chapter, by Phillip Zelikow, examines the evolution of America's role in Asia, and his argument will undoubtedly be met with cheers from Asia-watchers. He debunks the standard narratives that tend to reinforce the notion that the history of American foreign policy toward Europe equates to the history of American foreign policy for the rest of the world. Zelikow provides a very useful comparison of the distinctive character of US engagement in Asia to its policy toward Europe. He concludes with the warning that the erratic character of US policy toward Asia may carry great risks given the unstable equilibrium in the region.

Australian Stuart Harris and American Richard N. Cooper address the US-Japan alliance using a cost-benefit framework to foreshadow where differences on bilateral or regional issues could develop in traditional areas of tension.

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