20 April 2014

Far Eastern Promises: Why Washington Should Focus on Asia

This cogent article by two experienced experts is a must read! It should help inform U.S. Asia-Pacific policy moving forward, and could help inspire the formal Asia-Pacific Strategy that Washington so badly needs. For key policy recommendations, consider especially the following paragraph:

“In Asia, economics and security are inextricably linked, and the United States will not be able to sustain its leadership there through military might alone. That is why the successful conclusion of the TPP — which will require intense negotiations overseas and on Capitol Hill — is a cardinal priority. The agreement would immediately benefit the U.S. economy and would create a long-term trade system in Asia that could not be dragged down by protectionism. To give the United States added leverage in the negotiations, Congress should quickly reinstate fast-track trade promotion authority. Under that system, after negotiating the TPP and other free-trade agreements, the White House could present them for up-or-down votes in Congress, which would not be able to amend or filibuster the deals. The Obama administration should also leverage the U.S. energy boom and accelerate the export of liquefied natural gas to Asia to enhance the energy security of its allies and partners there and to send a strong signal of U.S. commitment to the region’s development.”

However politically difficult to achieve in practice, I believe that the abovementioned recommendations from the authors will be particularly important to the ultimate success of America’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance. For that reason alone, it should be in the Administrations interest to expend considerable political capital and shoe leather on Capitol Hill and beyond to further these objectives.

Kurt M. Campbell and Ely RatnerFar Eastern Promises: Why Washington Should Focus on Asia,” Foreign Affairs, 19 April 2014.

The United States is in the early stages of a substantial national project: reorienting its foreign policy to commit greater attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region. This reformulation of U.S. priorities has emerged during a period of much-needed strategic reassessment, after more than a decade of intense engagement with South Asia and the Middle East. It is premised on the idea that the history of the twenty-first century will be written largely in the Asia-Pacific, a region that welcomes U.S. leadership and rewards U.S. engagement with a positive return on political, economic, and military investments.

As a result, the Obama administration is orchestrating a comprehensive set of diplomatic, economic, and security initiatives now known as the “pivot,” or “rebalancing,” to Asia. The policy builds on more than a century of U.S. involvement in the region, including important steps taken by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations; as President Barack Obama has rightly noted, the United States is in reality and rhetoric already a “Pacific power.” But the rebalancing does represent a significant elevation of Asia’s place in U.S. foreign policy.

Questions about the purpose and scope of the new approach emerged as soon as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered what remains the clearest articulation of the strategy, and first used the term “pivot” to describe it, in a 2011 article in Foreign Policy. Almost three years later, the Obama administration still confronts the persistent challenge of explaining the concept and delivering on its promise. But despite the intense scrutiny and short-term setbacks faced by the policy, there is little doubt that a major shift is well under way. And whether Washington wants it to or not, Asia will command more attention and resources from the United States, thanks to the region’s growing prosperity and influence — and the enormous challenges the region poses. The question, then, is not whether the United States will focus more on Asia but whether it can do so with the necessary resolve, resources, and wisdom.