06 September 2011

Asian Alliances in the 21st Century

Dan Blumenthal with Randall Schriver, Mark Stokes, L.C. Russell Hsiao and Michael Mazza, Asian Alliances in the 21st Century (Arlington, VA: Project 2049 Institute, 2011).

Asia will become the epicenter of geopolitical activity in the 21st century and the budding U.S.-China security rivalry, conditioned by deep economic interdependence, will shape the region’s future. The United States has played a major role in this ongoing geopolitical shift. Washington’s post-World War II Asia policy enabled a majority of Asian nations to economically develop and transition from closed to relatively open and stable societies. Asian countries achieved these goals by embracing the “liberal order,” characterized by democratic capitalism, built and maintained by the United States.

While these achievements are foremost the result of Asian efforts, U.S. policy deserves credit on three counts. First, U.S. military forces have both commanded the global commons—which includes the sea, air, space, and cyberspace—allowing for rapid and decisive power projection in the distant Asia-Pacific theater, and have been forward deployed in Asia, providing the security umbrella under which Asian nations could develop. Second, the U.S.-led economic and normative order was open and widely accepted by many nations. Finally, when necessary, American presidents applied pressure on Asian leaders to move away from dictatorship and political decay toward political development and democracy.

Yet these very successes for Asians and Americans have also brought forth an irony, and new challenges to the international order. Perhaps the greatest benefactor of American policy over the years—certainly since the normalization of Sino-American ties—has been the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Beijing benefitted from America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union as well as Washington’s decision to maintain its military predominance after the Soviet Union crumbled. Yet China, unlike its Asian peers, does not appear content with the American-made and -dominated international order. Beijing’s illiberal modernization and dissatisfaction with key aspects of the world order could imperil Asia’s relatively long peace. Simply put, PRC leaders may use the country’s newfound clout to undermine the geopolitical order. Indeed, China’s dissatisfaction and new ambition are beginning to define a security competition with the United States that in turn will reshape Asia’s future. …

For the book-length CMSI report cited here, see Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray, Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’s Mace’ Capability,” Naval War College China Maritime Study 3, August 2009.