U. S. Interests and
Flashpoints of East Asia
In terms of foreign policy, the United States has focused traditionally on European affairs. For much of its history, this Eurocentric orientation made sense: until recently, most Americans had come from Europe, and the United States traded primarily with European nations and the region was widely acknowledged as the most strategically important area on the globe. As the United States enters the new millennium, however, no region is more important to U. S. interests than the Asia-Pacific region.
This chapter examines the United States' burgeoning national interests in the Western Pacific and its basic security policy toward the region. It also provides an overview of the three flashpoints judged most likely to spark military conflict in the region—the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea—and U. S. policy toward each of these trouble spots.
The United States has fundamental, enduring interests in the Western Pacific. With several states bordering the Pacific Ocean and one state (Hawaii) surrounded by it, the nation itself is a Pacific power. Roughly one-half of the world's population lives in the region, and an increasingly large number of Americans (over 7 million) trace their ancestry back to the Pacific Rim. The United States has fought three major wars against aggression in Asia during this century, and the world's three largest nuclear powers rub shoulders in Northeast Asia. Perhaps what is most significant is that a majority of the world's economic activity now is conducted in the Asia-Pacific region. A U. S. Department of State study has concluded that “the East Asia and Pacific region is the world's most economically dynamic area. ” 1