Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Is There a U.S. Strategy for East Asia?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Is There a U.S. Strategy for East Asia?

Article excerpt

There is a general consensus in East Asia that the United States is a benign hegemon but not necessarily a reliable one. In the absence of a specific adversary, U.S. security policy is frequently at the mercy of special interests and the pulling and hauling of domestic politics between the Executive branch and the Congress. In East Asia, U.S. strategy for the most part is divided between separate Northeast and Southeast Asian environments, although some overlap exists because of the importance of the South China Sea as a trade route. America's most important bilateral relationship with Japan is experiencing a significant enhancement through the recently ratified New Defense Guidelines which provide a larger role for Japanese assistance to U.S. forces. On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, although the United States has access to ports and airfields in several states, these are not sufficient in the event of a major regional military crisis.


No one quarrels with the assertion that the United States is the world's single most powerful country at the close of the twentieth century. America's triple threat -- the dollar, the Pentium III chip, and the B-2 -- is unequalled in the capacities of other states. While the United States sees itself as a benign giant, believing that its prosperity and security benefit not only Americans but the world at large, others are not so sure. As Michael Mandelbaum, a national security specialist at Johns Hopkins University, put it: "If you are the 800-pound gorilla, you're concentrating on your bananas; and everyone else is concentrating on you." [1]

So, when the Clinton Administration comes up with the principle of humanitarian intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo to justify the use of the armed forces to protect persecuted minorities within a country, other countries wonder whether Washington plans on extending this principle to enforce "international values" of humanitarian treatment and human rights elsewhere. Russia looks at Kosovo and thinks of Chechnya; China worries about Tibet and Taiwan. Humanitarian intervention seems to violate a basic principle of realist politics: that the internal affairs of states are their own business. With America leading the way -- no matter how noble the cause -- it appears to much of the rest of the world that the U.S. integration of financial, military, and technological power permits Washington's whims to trump all others' security practices.

On the other hand, as the international historian Paul Schroder has remarked: "If you look at history, the periods of relative peace are those in which there is a durable, stable, and tolerable hegemon, who does the adjusting and preserves the minimal necessary norms and rules of the game. And that hegemon always pays a disproportionate share of the collective costs, even forgoes opportunities for conquest or restrains itself in other ways to make sure the system stays tolerable for others." [2]

To gain the willing participation of other states in its vision of international order, the United States must demonstrate "strategic restraint", which conveys to partners its commitment to limit its use of power and stay within the rules and principles of the post-war order. [3] It should be willing to accept the idea that weaker states have the right to press their interests upon the more powerful. A willingness to consult smaller states reduces the probability that they will feel the need to balance against the strong. Consultation prior to action is the key principle. Limiting unilateral actions is crucial for a benign great power -- hence, the Bush Administration's allied coalition in the Persian Gulf War and Clinton's efforts to work through NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in the Kosovo intervention. Although U.S. dominance sparked complaints in Europe and Asia, it has not triggered counter-hegemonic balancing. As G. John Ikenberry puts it: "Fundamentally, American hegemony is reluctant, open , and highly institutionalized -- or, in a word, liberal. …

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