28 January 2015

The Challenge of Maintaining American Security Ties in Post-Authoritarian East Asia

Andrew S. Erickson and Ja Ian Chong, “The Challenge of Maintaining American Security Ties in Post-Authoritarian East Asia,” The National Interest, 29 January 2015. 

Washington must address the challenges associated with political transition to better mitigate the various risks associated with the liberal democratization of its East Asian partners. 

The United States faces challenges trying to maintain robust security partnerships with politically liberalizing societies where Washington was perceived complicit in suppression of legitimate indigenous interests. This mixed legacy can inspire electorally empowered publics to raise new complications for continued U.S. presence and influence. Washington must understand and mitigate attendant risks. To explain why and how, we draw on in-depth conversations and interviews with a wide variety of interlocutors in the societies discussed.

New domestic dynamics in politically liberalizing societies demand revisions to relations with Washington, complicating a range of U.S. interests, including forward deployment, ensuring freedom of navigation and maintaining regional stability. Yet, these societies often wish to maintain substantive security cooperation with Washington. Hence, their “ambivalent alignment.” Today, these developments are most readily apparent in East Asian societies, complicating “rebalancing” efforts. Over time, the legacy of American complicity in single-party dominance and even authoritarian rule may likewise affect the U.S. position in other key regions such as the Middle East.

Washington must actively address challenges associated with political transition to better mitigate the attendant volatility and risks associated with such processes. American policy makers have to recognize how American security ties influence the politics of liberalization and consider measures to preemptively dampen fallout that may follow from attempts at using perceptions of the United States for partisan mobilization. The U.S. military, in particular, should minimize negative social effects associated with numerous personnel operating from a given area. These concerns are especially salient in areas where the United States has a long relationship with a previously dominant regime. …