31 August 2012

Cultivating Tomorrow’s Asia Hands

This spot-on analysis by the influential Eric Sayers is a must-read for policy makers and aspiring Asia hands alike!

Eric Sayers, Cultivating Tomorrow’s Asia Hands,” PacNet 54A, 30 August 2012.

Discussions about the US “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific region have focused on the rhetoric and resources surrounding the effort. But after more than a decade of America’s aspiring foreign policy practitioners choosing and being directed to language training and graduate programs focused on terrorism and the Middle East, we also need a successful rebalancing of our human capital to the Asia-Pacific region to posture the United States for success. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at the annual CNAS conference: “We have now built an unbelievable cadre of people that can tell you every aspect about how to do post-conflict reconstruction. What I am hoping for and what I believe will be necessary […] is to build a similar cohort of people that are deeply, profoundly knowledgeable about Asia.”

While it is difficult to quantify the challenge the US faces after a decade of focusing on the Middle East, I can attest that amongst my cohorts in Washington, there is a stark imbalance of Asia-focused experts age 25 to 35. This is true across the foreign policy spectrum: in think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, graduate programs, at the State and Defense Departments, and on Capitol Hill. Part of this can be attributed to a decade of intense focus on the Middle East by the US government and other international organizations, creating droves of career paths focused on the region. This in turn prompted graduate programs to align themselves to meet this demand, creating a new generation of terrorism, post-conflict reconstruction, and Middle East experts; NGOs that focused on the region to gain a new notoriety; and think tank centers and fellowship positions to support the intellectual thrust. …

Whether we have an Obama II or Romney I administration next January, the US effort to refashion its time, energy, and resources to the Asia-Pacific region will continue. Resourcing this effort will not just require new diplomatic and military resources, but also a cadre of Asia Hands with deep knowledge of the region. The years ahead present a great opportunity for aspiring foreign policy thinkers to choose a career path focused on the Asia-Pacific region.