Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Post-2014 Afghanistan and Its Impact on Northeast Asia

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Post-2014 Afghanistan and Its Impact on Northeast Asia

Article excerpt

After the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2010, where world leaders agreed on a timetable for Afghanistan's security forces to take over responsibility for the war, and following Pres- ident Barack Obama's speech in June 2011 announcing a timetable for ending US involvement, it became clear that US engagement in post-2014 Afghanistan would take place on very different terms. Then came the announcement and actual imple- mentation plan for the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which had a strong impact on the regional and international debate about the post-2014 security sit- uation in and around Afghanistan. It meant, quite simply, that if only limited international forces are going to remain in Afghanistan, others, in particular its regional neighbors, have to step in and need to be prepared for post-2014 scenarios.

Once the decision was made to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, the Obama administration began a campaign to high- light the significance of Asia for world politics and for the United States. In the fall of 2011 President Obama announced that Asia would be a top priority for US security policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized that "the future of politics will be decided in Asia" (Clinton 2011). Official US rhetoric emphasized "the pivot or rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific." In fact, this shift was actually a restatement of an interest that had long existed. Hence, the rebalancing might best be characterized as a continuity and expansion of policies that had been in place under former administrations. What is new is the increasing economic interest of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration's decision to begin negotiations about the Trans- pacific Partnership in 2010 was a clear sign of his willingness to set a new benchmark for relations with Asia-Pacific allies.

International developments also put the US drawback from Afghanistan into a different perspective for its Asia allies. One was the Obama administration's reservations about using force against Syria after the Bashar al-Assad regime crossed what had been marked as a "red line" in its use of chemical weapons against regime opponents. Second was Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, which the United States protested but did not otherwise contest. Last but not least of these developments was the still unclear political situation in post-2014 Afghanistan. Many Asian allies of the United States, primarily Japan and the Philippines, raised concerns about US willingness to back them in territorial disputes and in moments of crisis. Consequently, Obama's trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines in April 2014 was meant to address and ease these concerns. Obama further wanted to reassure his Asian allies that the US administration was in fact still serious about its geostrategic inter- est in their region.

Although the causality between the US drawback from Afghanistan and the rebalancing toward Asia may be questioned, what is apparent is that Obama intended to fortify US foreign policy after the costly experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reemphasis on the Asia-Pacific region is one specific aspect of this new orientation, particularly the increasing US interest in strengthening relations with core allies in Asia such as Japan or South Korea. The US drawback from Afghanistan and the rebal- ancing to Asia, in combination with increasing US cautiousness about actively intervening in international crises, is being care- fully watched by US allies in the Asia-Pacific. As a result, "Afghanistan" and in particular the "post-2014 situation in Afghanistan" clearly now have a different and wider meaning, with an impact on other countries' political practices. This lat- ter aspect is crucial for our inquiry. We understand the US announcement of the withdrawal from Afghanistan as geopolit- ical imagery, and we are mainly interested in analyzing how this imagery has affected political practices in China and South Korea. …

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