Washington's Asia Policy

By Shuja, Sharif M. | Contemporary Review, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Washington's Asia Policy


Shuja, Sharif M., Contemporary Review


Sharif M. Shuja

Editor's Note: This is the first of several articles which will examine the role of the great powers in Asia. Later articles will deal with Japan and China.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States of America has irrefutably claimed the mantle of the world s most powerful nation.

Now that the world is redefining the nature of post-Cold War security and economic relationships, various pressures exist to move toward greater multilateralism in Asia as in the rest of the world. US relations with Japan and South Korea are virtually certain to play a major role in the creation of these new international structures. The reality of the emerging New World Order requires the need for more multilateral co-operation, as opposed to the USA's acting alone. Washington will in future depend upon Japan and Korea. Arguably, the USA will require collaboration with these states to maintain peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.

While discussing the motives and policies of the United States towards Asia, this article argues that the USA should now intensify efforts to draw Japan into what the two governments have described as a 'global partnership'. Such a partnership would be central to the kind of collective leadership that the USA should be trying to promote in the post-Cold War world. This seems to indicate that the ultimate objective, a Japan capable of acting as a partner on the full range of global issues, is very much in US interests.

The US and Two Koreas

Korea remains a major politico-strategic issue in Washington's Far East Policy for three main reasons. First, the deep distrust and hostility of the leaderships of both North and South Korea generally have barred the way to serious efforts at reconciliation and reunification. Second, a divided Korea generally has suited the powers; only more recently have some of the powers begun to give the matter renewed attention. And, third, the potential consequences of another Korean War are very dire. The first reason underlines the central importance of confidence-building in any approach to the Korean problem. Since much of the thinking among the powers tends to revolve around ways to defuse tensions and to formalize the status quo, the second and third raise the question of what attitude the powers should take towards the goal of reunification.

Since 1950, the perceived US objectives in the Korean Peninsula have been to maintain the status quo with the two Koreas in rough balance, by fostering Republic of Korea (ROK)-US relations. Prevention of another war remains the paramount interest of the USA and the other major powers in the Korean Peninsula, and their diplomacy has been diverted to defusing conflict between the North and the South. However, Washington's underlying real 'significant commitment to Korean reunification', such as it is, stems from interests that are less evident and seldom addressed candidly. The core long-term interests of the United States in Korea appear to have focused on preserving peace and stability with a minimum of cost and risk to the USA. If Korea can be reunified peacefully under the leadership of a moderate government, it might free the United States from its sometimes onerous duties in Korea. (See Contemporary Review, February 1999, p.62.)

One of the historic US interests in the region has been to prevent the rise of a hostile power or group of powers able to dominate Asia. In the first half of this century, this meant playing balance of power politics to prevent domination of the region by Japan, Russia, or the imperial powers. In the second half of the century, it meant essentially containing Soviet or Chinese communism. This historic US interest existed independent of the USSR and has always given US policy toward Korea an important regional dimension.

Second, and related to this, is Korea's inherent strategic importance as the fulcrum of major power interest in Northeast Asia and the relative lack of change over the years in the objective conditions on the Korean Peninsula. …

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