U.S. Strategic Objectives in East Asia

By Binnendijk, Hans | Strategic Forum, March 1996 | Go to article overview

U.S. Strategic Objectives in East Asia


Binnendijk, Hans, Strategic Forum


Workshop Summary

* The central objectives of U.S. strategy for the East Asia-Pacific region are to foster political stability, maintain access to regional markets, ensure freedom of navigation, and prevent the rise of any hostile hegemon. The United States seeks to ensure that no Asian nation's economic strength is translated into military power hostile to the United States. Forward deployed U.S. forces are a principal means of securing such an outcome.

* If the United States is to maintain a force presence once the North Korean threat is gone, it is essential to begin now to construct a new intellectual framework, build solid public support, and recast the U.S. long-term commitment in terms of power projection capability.

* The United States needs to harmonize its economic and security interests, with the clear understanding that emphasizing short term economic concerns over longer term security concerns risks achieving neither sustained economic growth nor enhanced security.

* China's growing economic power will eventually produce commensurate military power. This is potentially troublesome because Chinese leaders currently view the United States as an obstacle to national reunification and to China's playing a defining role in regional affairs. While China will probably not use military means to force reunification unless Taiwan moves to establish independence, tension in the Taiwan Strait will likely persist for years.

* The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is unlikely to survive long term, but a sudden collapse would risk conflict, pose staggering economic and political problems for the Republic of Korea (ROK), and alter the regional strategic equation. It is essential to strive for as soft a landing as possible.

* The United States and Japan need to review the basis for cooperation on Taiwan and Korea contingencies. The most important immediate task is to coordinate policies in advance, and then to create a mechanism to coordinate contingency planning.

Fundamental Strategic Objectives

The central objectives of U.S. security strategy in the East Asia-Pacific region include fostering political stability, maintaining access to regional markets, ensuring freedom of navigation, and preventing the rise of any hostile hegemon. More specifically, the U.S. central objective should be to ensure that no Asian nation's economic strength is translated into military power hostile to the United States. Current tensions in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Korean peninsula could be a starting point for peer competitor rivalries. Over time, such rivalries might expand to include conflict over resources, markets, jobs, and environmental issues.

U.S. Approach to East Asia Policy

While U.S. economic and security interests in the region are increasing, U.S. leverage is decreasing. Nevertheless, the United States will continue to possess major strengths: global military capability, the value of access to the U.S. market, the carrots of investment and technology transfer, and the desire of virtually all regional powers for a continued U.S. military presence. Our military presence/capability in the region is the most influential of these points of advantage.

The United States can, however, more fully exploit these strengths by carefully reexamining present priorities. In relations with Japan, for example, it is necessary to determine whether economic or security concerns should be emphasized. Similarly, U.S. relations with China would be better served if it were possible to rank order our expectations for China's policies on Taiwan, non-proliferation, human rights and trade.

Asian countries, China in particular, want to be taken seriously and treated with respect. In a region made up of increasingly confident, prosperous, outward-looking countries, the United States faces a more difficult leadership challenge now that the Cold War is over. …

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