While the world's attention has been riveted on Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the Middle East, transforming events have also been taking place in East Asia. American interests there are at least as deep, and though the changes are not as dramatic the United States can ill afford to ignore them or leave its reaction in the hands of the fates—or compromises in Washington's bureaucracy.

Not only is the economic strength of Japan and the newly industrializing economies in the region of great importance to the United States, but Asian security issues also offer complex new challenges to U.S. defense planners. On the one hand, the Soviet threat has undergone a profound change; this movement has been manifested in some Soviet force reductions and changed dispositions in Asia, as well as in the plethora of Pacific arms control overtures. On the other hand, American forces must still deal with a sizable Soviet military presence in the region and play more subtle roles not related to the Soviet Union.

In the new post-Cold War era, what is the appropriate U.S. military role in Asia? Indeed what are Washington's security objectives? And, especially in light of the economic pressures that Americans face at home and the growing nationalism and economic strength of many Asian countries, what sort of presence is necessary, appropriate and affordable to carry out that role? How is the United States to share responsibilities—both burdens and power?


The qualities that define Asia are enduring: it is huge, diverse, dynamic and, frequently, dangerous. America's involvement in World War II began and ended in Asia, and since then the United States has fought two major wars there—Korea and Vietnam. Even today the risk of war in Korea remains palpable; fighting in Cambodia continues and is likely to do so at some level despite any eventual agreement.

Traditional rivalries among the nations of the region may have been muted, but they have not disappeared. The most dangerous for two-and-a-half decades, the Sino-Soviet confrontation, has receded. But mutual, long-term suspicions and national competition between Moscow and Beijing have by no means evaporated. The same wary attitudes exist between China and Japan, as well as among other states in the region. Despite collaboration within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand remain potential rivals. Instability in the Philippines could contribute to turbulence in the region. Vietnam, now racked with a host of problems, seeks better relations—especially economic ones—with ASEAN states; yet despite withdrawal of its operational combat forces from Cambodia, Hanoi is still suspected by its neighbors of harboring long-term ambitions for hegemony over both Indochina and the rest of Southeast Asia.

The United States is viewed in Asia as the only nation that can be the key balancing or stabilizing force in the region. By preventing creation of a security vacuum, the U.S. presence relieves others of the need—or opportunity—to establish regional hegemony. The degree to which nations hold this view and the latitude they would allow Washington in playing this role vary, but it is a perspective shared now even in Beijing, Moscow and Hanoi. (Virtually alone, Pyongyang appears to cling to a different vision.)

Having said that, it is not clear just what the United States would actually do in most regional conflicts. In case of attack on its allies or its own forces, the response would be certain. But it is most unlikely, and would surely be unwise, for the United States to engage in military action to separate the various rival claimants to disputed territory.


The major strategic issue is still the U.S.S.R. It is unclear how the United States should cope with the remaining, and in some respects growing, Soviet military capability in the Asian-Pacific area. This issue emerges at a time of revolutionary change in Moscow's security and foreign policies but also amid potential chaos within the U.S.S.R. whose effects could spread abroad.

The Soviets are reducing forces in Asia as they are in Europe, but most of the 120,000 troops being withdrawn from the Far East had been deployed along the Sino-Soviet border (either in the U.S.S.R. itself or in Mongolia). In any case, close to half-a-million troops will remain on station in the region once the drawdown is completed. The United States has only 135,000 forces based in East Asia and will reduce that figure to about 120,000 by 1993.[1] Moreover, while obsolescent Soviet ships, aircraft and other equipment are being dismantled along with SS-20 intermediate-range missiles (in accordance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty), some more modern equipment is being deployed, raising the mobility and firepower (if not the numbers) of the U.S.S.R.'s strategic forces. And although it has only limited seaborne air capabilities, the Pacific Fleet remains Moscow's largest.

Though the Soviets lack the economic and even political capacity to sustain protracted combat in Asia, recent events in the U.S.S.R. are worrisome. Thus, certain American and allied forces remain essential to counter the Soviet deployments; they must not only offset the threat of strategic missiles, but also deal with naval forces (including both ships and ground-based naval aircraft) targeted on the crucial U.S. aircraft carriers.

U.S. deployment of nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) was in large measure a response to this anti-carrier threat. [2] The deployment of American nuclear-powered attack submarines similarly was designed mainly to deal with the rapidly increasing Soviet naval deployments, especially nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). These Soviet capabilities have not disappeared.

In addition, for obvious reasons of geography, the United States is a maritime power, requiring widely dispersed naval and air forces to protect commercial and potentially military lines of communication. It is argued-far more assertively today than in the past when "anti-Soviet" arguments were more fashionable-that the U.S. mission in Asia has for several decades not been primarily related to the Soviet threat, but rather to less well-defined contingencies falling within the scope of the American balancing role. That role remains critical to regional peace and stability and to the preservation of U.S. interests there.

Moreover, American interests in the Persian Gulf have traditionally been protected in significant measure by the Seventh Fleet and by other forces deployed from or through the Pacific. Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines have been important support facilities for U.S. interests in the Middle East.


It would be foolish, however, for the United States to continue on a straight-line course. It would also be naïve to assume this is possible given the current political and fiscal climate.

The Pentagon's Asian strategy calls for a 10-12 percent reduction by 1993. Its intentions for the rest of the decade, however, are purposefully vague. To some extent this vagueness is due to uncertainty about the evolution of the Asian security picture; to some extent it arises from fear of alarming Asian friends with sudden changes. Both reasons are sound. Still, Asians worry increasingly about an American withdrawal from the region, and the vagueness of the plans beyond 1993 feeds their fears rather than reassures them.

Washington will panic its allies if it acts without consultation and care. But that is exactly what the defense budget process will drive the United States to do if it does not get ahead of the curve and plan where it needs to be a decade or more down the road, and how it proposes to get there.

For example, U.S. basing arrangements in the Philippines will undergo significant change. Final agreement on the post-1991 arrangements is under negotiation. If an agreement is possible, its outline is clear: a much lower U.S. Air Force profile in the immediate future and, eventually, perhaps a less robust naval presence as well. This will prove less convenient and, if the United States wants to maintain roughly the same level of operations in the Pacific and Indian oceans as before, more costly. But the adjustments need not substantially decrease the American ability to play an effective stabilizing role.

Maintaining the U.S. base structure in Japan and arrangements for access to logistical, training and other facilities in the Philippines, Singapore and other countries can support substantial forward deployments; they thus serve as a functional replacement for disappearing forward bases elsewhere. In any case, the missions the United States needs to address are not immutable. With respect to the Persian Gulf, for example, regional tensions and conflicts will still require effective access for American forces (as the recent war made all too clear). But the heretofore primary American goal of deterring possible Soviet attempts to intimidate South and Southwest Asian nations and to control access to vital oil resources hardly needs to be a priority concern for the foreseeable future.

In Korea, even now, a combination of budgetary pressures in the United States and growing military capabilities—and political sensitivities—in South Korea argue for a substantial reduction in U.S. deployments over the next five to ten years.[3] The key will be to ensure that the manner of the drawdown does not send erroneous signals to North or South Korea or others, including potentially nervous U.S. allies in Japan, about the firmness of the American security commitment.

In Japan the level of political maturity since 1960 has relieved the security relationship of much of the anxiety found among other allies; but questions are being raised about the value and purpose of the U.S. alliance in the post-Cold War era. These questions can and should be answered to the satisfaction of most Japanese and Americans. But the alliance will need to evolve, and part of that evolution could entail some adjustment in U.S. basing presence.[4]


To deal with Soviet strategic forces and to contribute to regional stability will involve new dimensions in arms control.

The Soviets continue to argue that it is unreasonable and unacceptable for the United States to press for elimination of Soviet advantages as a continental power in Europe (in the agreement on Conventional Forces in Europe) while clinging to American superiority as a maritime power in the Pacific. Senior Soviet military officers have long warned that the arms control process in Europe would eventually come to a halt unless naval forces were brought into the equation. It would be hard to draw a straight line between this rhetoric and the recent evidence of Red Army recalcitrance on conventional and strategic force reduction agreements. But Washington should not dismiss such a general linkage in terms of Soviet military claims that President Gorbachev has yielded too much for too little return.

For their part, U.S. naval officers and civilian defense officials have resisted with considerable vigor even a hint of naval arms control for two reasons: first, there is a sense that the United States needs what it has—and has what it needs—in terms of naval superiority. As a major maritime power, the United States must maintain that control to protect its security and economic prosperity. Second, they have said-at least until recently-Moscow's concessions in ground force reductions in Europe, as well as in nuclear forces, are a function of domestic pressures in the Soviet Union and will therefore continue in any case.

The American stance also derives in part from fears that once measures to limit the navy are contemplated, the fleet's basic strength might be threatened. The concern is understandable, but sells short American negotiators. Confidence-building measures, for example, could enhance the navy's security. One can argue that modern intelligence methods limit the potential gains from such CBMS as prior notification of major naval exercises or invitations to observers. One could also argue that the United States might compromise its security by having potential adversaries on hand to judge, for example, the effectiveness and operational procedures of fleet exercises. But these considerations need to be weighed against the sense of confidence that such steps would give each side about the intentions and capabilities of the other, and the potential to reduce the risks of dangerous misunderstandings and to promote further arms control measures.

High-level, military-to-military dialogue on doctrine and deployments in the Pacific would also be useful. There is already a history of such talks in Europe but nothing focused directly on Asia. Given the importance of the region to the United States and the Soviet Union, this gap ought to be closed in some fashion.

Arms control, including CBMS, is not an end in itself. To be successful it must either reduce the prospects for conflict—purposeful or accidental—or it must lower the costs of maintaining at least as favorable a situation as now exists for all parties to it. But in attempting to achieve these ends, and in light of the evolving strategic and fiscal realities, it is important to entertain new ideas.

One area where this is of particular relevance-indeed the only class of naval ships whose numbers are dictated almost solely by the U.S.-Soviet confrontation-is in the submarine force. The Soviets developed a substantial nuclear-powered attack submarine fleet starting in the late 1960s, both as a challenge to American aircraft carriers and, as Moscow moved to its "bastion defense" strategy, to protect ballistic missile submarines in waters relatively close to Soviet shores, especially in the Sea of Okhotsk.

It is stabilizing, some argue, for the Soviets to have a reliable and survivable second-strike capability such as its SSBN fleet. So, submarine protection of that fleet is not inherently bad for the United States. But American defense experts estimate that the Soviet nuclear-powered attack submarine fleet is perhaps twice the size necessary to perform that mission; the rest will be available to threaten our aircraft carriers and other principal surface vessels, both naval and merchant.

An unintended consequence of the extensive Soviet nuclear submarine construction program has been to stimulate an American response in kind, presenting the Soviet ballistic missile submarine fleet with a significant threat that Moscow finds disconcerting. To reduce the threat that each side perceives, agreement on substantial cuts in attack submarines would appear to have promise. Given Soviet predominant numbers, these reductions could not be on a one-for-one basis. But the economic benefits as well as the strategic gains from mutual reductions should not be ignored.

Such considerations also suggest there would be substantial benefits from mutually denuclearizing all naval forces except for sea-launched ballistic missiles, which fall under the agenda of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

The military rationale for deploying nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles-on submarines or on surface vessels-is not so clear-cut as it once was. Conventional weapons are politically more usable than tactical nuclear weapons in any case, and precision-guided weapons, including conventional SLCMs, constitute an increasingly credible deterrent. This conclusion has been underscored by the dramatic effectiveness of these weapons against Iraq.

From an American perspective the case for the elimination of naval nuclear cruise missiles would be especially strong if the Soviets removed the nuclear threat to American aircraft carriers-from land-based naval aircraft as well as from ships—which sparked deployment of U.S. nuclear SLCMs in the first place. Even this would not remove all nuclear threats to the fleet, but it would be a major step forward. Thus land-based naval weapons should be included in any maritime denuclearization regime.

In private conversation, the idea of eliminating nuclear SLCMs from U.S. and Soviet surface vessels finds a substantial number of American adherents, even in defense circles. Submariners, however, worry about intrusive verification requirements. Not only is the case for nuclear SLCMs eroding, the potential for effective verification may be growing. In the end, if the United States cannot devise acceptable procedures to verify the absence of nuclear SLCMs on submarines, then it should at least proceed with denuclearization of the surface fleet. Despite the difficulties involved, the Soviet submarine-based SLCM threat to U.S. carriers is sufficiently serious to merit a genuine effort to do away with it.

To sum up: the United States, as a maritime power with global interests and responsibilities, should maintain a sizable and effective naval force, including specifically in the Pacific. It is precisely for this reason, to ease the problem of retaining that capability in the face of growing political and economic challenges, that some form of carefully limited naval arms reduction negotiations and other cooperative efforts with the Soviets should be examined carefully.


With or without arms control, and beyond Soviet contingencies, the United States will need the military capabilities required to defend other interests in the region. In broad terms, the U.S. security role is one of deterrence, requiring maintenance of access and influence. But what does this mean in practice?

At one level, it can be argued that the American contribution to regional stability can only come in the context of continued forward deployments; any reduction of U.S. military presence would be seen as a diminution of U.S. capability and commitment. Such perceptions are as important as "hard facts," and the risk of unintended consequences must always be a conscious concern of policymakers. With respect to basing arrangements in particular, it is only realistic to recognize that what America takes out, it will not be able to put back, except possibly in times of crisis.

American forces have been forward deployed in the Pacific since the end of World War II. They reached a peak of about 238,000 during the Vietnam War, but have now declined to 135,000. U.S. forces in the area are primarily air and naval units (including marines), with the only substantial army contingent being the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. Though always open to reinforcement, this deployment pattern accurately reflects the American post-Vietnam strategy-to rely on its allies in the region to bear the brunt of any ground combat, while the United States would supplement their forces with the American air and sea power that the regional allies could not adequately supply.

Only six percent of U.S. forces are forward deployed in the Asian-Pacific theater, and only 16 percent are "dedicated" to the region. Given the space they are responsible for, they should not be proportionately reduced along with other cuts around the world. Indeed, with the political evolution in Europe, there is no need for such proportionality.

It is essential to retain enough of a presence in the region to assure mutually suspicious nations there that the United States is not withdrawing or contributing to the creation of a security vacuum. This concern is likely to grow as the military power of regional players grows, including their capacity to develop nuclear and other advanced weapons technologies. The sense of security that Asian nations have felt and the contribution this has made to their political, economic and social development has been of enormous benefit to American national interests. It is worth a great deal to the United States to preserve that sense of security and the developments it fosters, including by maintaining both a force presence and a nuclear umbrella over those who feel the need to be protected by it.[5] It is also important that regional nations bear their fair share of the burden.


Since the Korean War, the United States has continuously stationed forces on the peninsula. Those forces have been reduced over the years, but their continuing presence bespeaks the seriousness of the North Korean threat and of the American commitment to back South Korea in meeting it. The obvious fact is that the combined capability of U.S. and R.O.K. forces has successfully deterred war in the 38 years since the armistice was signed.

But the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the North has not only periodically engaged in commando-type raids, it has cold-bloodedly murdered South Koreans. For instance, much of the R.O.K. cabinet was killed in a bombing in Rangoon in 1983 and scores of civilians died in the sabotage of a Korean airliner in 1987. Huge tunnels continue to be detected under the demilitarized zone that separates North from South. The D.P.R.K. maintains two-thirds or more of its one million-man force (750,000 of whom are in ground units) poised in offensive positions close to the DMZ, heightening the advantages it would have in case of surprise attack. Of particular concern has been the recent discovery of an unsafe-guarded nuclear facility believed to be part of a clandestine D.P.R.K. nuclear weapons program.[6]

Over the years, the R.O.K. has developed a formidable military force of its own—some 650,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops, 550,000 of whom are ground forces. Even in air and naval power, where South Korea still depends on the United States to fill the gaps, the South's forces are impressive.

South Korea's economy is galloping ahead in one of the world's most impressive performances. The R.O.K. political system may not be a Jeffersonian democracy, but it has made an impressive transition in recent years from military-dominated authoritarianism to an increasingly stable, pluralistic society. On the other hand, not only is the North Korean economy stagnating, but Pyongyang has suffered enormous diplomatic setbacks with the establishment of Soviet-South Korean relations, the collapse of eastern Europe, and even China's step-by-step movement toward the R.O.K. Taken together, these developments demonstrate clearly—even, one must assume, to Pyongyang—that the trendline of history is running against the D.P.R.K. As a result, new opportunities may be opening up to convince the North Koreans that they need to accommodate both to the world at large and most particularly to the reality of the South. This may be reflected in Pyongyang's acceptance of North-South prime-ministerial talks and in the opening of negotiations to normalize relations with Japan. Moreover, though still unacceptable, the North's arms control proposals in recent months have displayed somewhat more realism and flexibility than in the past. How serious the D.P.R.K. will ultimately be, however, remains an open question.

The United States has a role in maximizing these opportunities. On the one hand, it should maintain security relations with the R.O.K., firmly adhering to its treaty commitments. This will require preserving whatever level of presence is necessary, in combination with the South's own forces, to provide adequate deterrence and, if need be, to defend against Northern aggression. In our view, however, this can be done with progressively lower American troop levels.[7]

Beyond the drawdown of 7,000 Americans already scheduled by 1993, we believe that in light of South Korea's increasingly strong army American ground forces could be reduced further—perhaps by as much as half—over the next five years. Continued deployment of American air force units at roughly current levels, however, will be militarily essential. In fact, recent experience in Iraq argues that U.S. air power has now assumed an even more decisive role in defeating armor in large formations.

At some point, progress in the North-South dialogue, or domestic R.O.K. politics, may require elimination of the U.S. force presence. But that is a distant prospect. Meanwhile, the remaining U.S. ground and air forces will serve both as a political symbol—to North and South Korea—of the steadfast U.S. commitment and as a "tripwire" calling forth an immediate American response to a D.P.R.K. attack.

The other side of the coin, however, is that the United States should reach out to North Korea in support of Seoul's policy of drawing the D.P.R.K. into the world community. Washington should move beyond the low-level, relatively sterile conversations that have taken place between American and North Korean diplomats in Beijing over the past two years (more than a dozen such meetings have occurred so far). It is time to discuss at a higher level and with specificity the steps that would lead to the establishment of normal relations.

The United States has laid particular emphasis on resolution of concerns over the North's nuclear program as a key element in normalization. But Washington has resisted linking that call with the D.P.R.K. demand for removal of American nuclear weapons deployments in the South and for a U.S. pledge not to use nuclear weapons against the North. Eliminating the North's nuclear program should be a priority and, in principle, these issues should be treated separately. The North does, after all, have an obligation to accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, and the question of U.S. deployments is a matter between Washington and Seoul. Still, the actual presence of any nuclear weapons in South Korea is not necessary to maintain a nuclear umbrella over the R.O.K.; in fact, such a presence would likely become a political football in U.S.-R.O.K. relations over time.

Thus solutions should be sought that would result in the North's accepting full-scope safeguards, the removal of any American nuclear weapons that might be in South Korea, and the establishment of relations between Washington and Pyongyang. The final formula, of course, must be consistent with both sides' basic principles and interests, including Seoul's. Whatever nuclear assurances Washington provides to Pyongyang should be conditioned on the North's own assurances neither to commit aggression against South Korea nor to acquire nuclear weapons. Reiteration of Soviet and Chinese nuclear non-first-use pledges—making them specifically applicable to Korea—would also be desirable. Working out a solution encompassing these elements may be difficult, especially since Pyongyang's willingness remains to be determined. But, with some compromise, it should not be impossible.

Meanwhile, working closely with the R.O.K., the United States should encourage the North and South to adopt confidence-building measures within the Joint Security Area and along the entire DMZ and eventually beyond. North-South discussion of deployments and exercises that are particularly provocative to the other should be included on the agenda.


The U.S. alliance with Japan is closely tied to concerns in Korea, as well as to the defense of Japan itself. It also is a key element in the U.S. ability to project its power effectively throughout the region. But the alliance is not simply a military pact; rather, it is an essential ingredient in the overall U.S. relationship with Japan. It undergirds the U.S. ability to play not only a security role but also a constructive political and economic role in Asia—a role that is vital to American national interests. The "cap in the bottle" imagery invoked by a senior American military officer in Japan (suggesting the U.S. presence in Japan was to contain that nation's military ambition) was destructive of confidence. But the U.S.-Japan alliance does, in fact, ease the concerns of Japanese themselves and other Asians about the future of Asian security. Above all, it helps dispel the impression that the United States might withdraw from Asia, leaving a vacuum that Japan might fill.

Moreover, by remaining so obviously engaged through the alliance, the United States not only enhances its own efforts but also facilitates an effective Japanese economic and political role throughout the region. Though Japan's trade and especially its investment is generally welcomed, there is already unease over Tokyo's potential dominance in the region. Even Japan's economic involvement would become more problematic if Washington were seen to be leaving the field to Tokyo.

U.S. withdrawal would also raise serious concern over Japan's possible remilitarization. Tokyo's military budget is already, in absolute financial terms, the third largest in the world. Japanese Self-Defense Forces are modern, capable and obviously expandable. But it is important to note that Japan does not possess either offensive or nuclear capabilities. Absent a rending of the alliance, this will—and should—remain the case. In the meantime, although Japan's defense budget will continue to grow, the rate of that growth will drop from almost six percent annually to three or four percent. At the same time, Tokyo's support of U.S. forces will rise to about 50 percent of total costs, encompassing virtually all yen-based expenditures. American frustration over trade problems should not obscure the significance of this contribution or risk the harmony in U.S.-Japanese relations by making unreasonable demands that Tokyo do something qualitatively different on defense. Nor, at the other extreme, should it cause one to yield to some nineteenth-century notion of power blocs, seeking good relations with China, for example, to balance off Japan.

The Gulf War raised in a sharp way the issue of an appropriate role for Japan in collective security efforts beyond financial contributions. Japan should contribute personnel to U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping efforts in whatever way is politically feasible. Whether this includes assigning personnel from the Self-Defense Forces—even noncombat personnel—is obviously sensitive within Japan and throughout the region. But this issue needs to be faced squarely if Japan is to be taken seriously as a major international political force.

Southeast Asia.

Earlier perceptions that Southeast Asia is strategically vital to the United States have changed as tensions among the United States, the U.S.S.R., the P.R.C. and regional powers have abated. Today the U.S. role in Southeast Asia is one of denial and reassurance, of being a stabilizing presence, more than anything else. U.S. concerns to keep open the sea-lanes to the Middle East are also a factor, though it is not entirely clear who could prevent the United States from reopening the "choke points" should they be blocked off.

The more salient issue is not whether the United States should maintain a presence, but at what level and how. The only "permanent" U.S. facilities are those in the Philippines, and now those are becoming less assured. Philippine as well as U.S. interests dictate an arrangement less vulnerable to the baggage of the former patron-client relationship and the vagaries of everyday politics. The United States can probably maintain access to some important logistical and training facilities, but nothing like in the past. The American F-4 air wing stationed at Clark Air Base will be removed, its designated replacement F-15 wing diverted to Alaska, and the remainder of the U.S. presence at Clark circumscribed.

Subic Bay Naval Base, which has been very important to U.S. ability to operate in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, may be available somewhat longer. But planners would be foolish to depend on that as a continuing option beyond the late 1990s, at least on the current basis. Various kinds of access, as at Clark, may be possible for some years to come, but the unpredictability of Philippine politics makes even that less than a sure bet.

Augmented transit rights and even arrangements for home-porting in Singapore or perhaps elsewhere may be less efficient than what the United States has enjoyed heretofore, but they may have to suffice. This would require more support ships and other logistical supplements to keep our fleet on station. But in the end quality, readiness and positioning will count far more than numbers. And though major reductions in the fleet are not advisable—certainly not a total withdrawal—the fact is that no one can challenge U.S. control of the seas, and the United States could safely provide a level of comfort in the region with less than is there now if, as is likely, the budget process so dictated.[8]

In Southeast Asia, it is important to end the Cambodian tragedy and integrate that nation, along with Laos and especially Vietnam, into the economy and polity of the region, creating stable structures of relations and interests that will work to dampen future confrontation. An active American role in this process, including a robust program of trade, aid and investment, will not only be of value in and of itself but will reassure U.S. partners of American interest in their viability. Southeast Asians are likely to favor a U.S. presence for some time to come. But especially as they continue to develop their own security cooperation, and as—and if—localized tensions abate, their perception of what is necessary or desirable may change, thus reducing the American burden.

Some have suggested that America's interest in access and stability can be better served through multilateral security arrangements. These could at least be the locus of multilateral arms control discussions, including not only CBMs but perhaps even agreements to modulate the flow of arms to the region. Moscow has supported this approach and has insistently pressed for inclusion in Asia-wide forums, making several proposals of its own for conferences and even new institutions.

Many Americans, especially in the current administration, resist such ideas because they could give the Soviets a way to undermine U.S. security relations in Asia. Thus, they have opposed recurrent Soviet proposals for a security conference in Asia, an "Asian Helsinki" or CSCA, modeled after the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Instead, they have promoted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) process as the vehicle for providing a sense of structure and collective focus for the region.

In our view, Washington should now promote creative mechanisms for involving the Soviet Union in global and regional economic groupings as a way of stabilizing the Soviet economy and placing Moscow's policies in a more benign and constructive context. But this is quite a different proposition from giving the Soviets, or anyone else, a substantial voice in determining the security arrangements that the United States and others work out. Not only the United States but most regional countries agree there is no need for a security conference to do that. Indeed, arms control works best in a two-sided situation, when it is clear what is being measured against what. In multipolar settings, and especially where there are complex sets of overlapping rivalries, such efforts are likely to be both infeasible and undesirable beyond a limited number of confidence-building measures.

In all likelihood, some aspects of both approaches—CSCA and APEC—will eventually be adopted, and they may well serve a useful purpose as forums to exchange views or promote economic and political cooperation. This could even extend to cooperation on such shared concerns as piracy and drug smuggling. But their prospects and, in current circumstances, their utility with respect to resolving basic security issues are still doubtful.


The future power of China is a long-run concern of several Asian nations. The P.R.C. is the only indigenous nuclear power in East Asia, and over time one can expect China to become a considerable military factor. In the future, Beijing could become an increasing threat to U.S. interests. But for the present, the principal U.S. objective should be to establish a political framework and set of economic relationships that will maximize cooperative and constructive ties between China and its neighbors, as well as with the United States. While no guarantee, this would at least minimize the possibility that future P.R.C. power will become an instrument for aggression or intimidation.

Though Chinese military planners adamantly refuse to accept the idea at this point, it will be necessary to impress upon them that what they do will have a direct bearing on what others do. This has particular reference to Japan, where the perception of a powerful and potentially intimidating China will shape the debate over Japan's own military future. Settlement of outstanding territorial disputes will be a benchmark for all to view about the way China conceives the use of power. One can hope that something will come of expressed P.R.C. willingness to set aside competing territorial claims in the South China Sea and to pursue cooperative economic development of the resources there. But China has yet to indicate a willingness to compromise on its claims, and the emerging Chinese navy lurks in the background as a possible instrument for imposing P.R.C. sovereignty once and for all.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the American security relationship with China went through various phases, generally, though not steadily, on an upward trend. This was brought to an abrupt halt in the wake of the Tiananmen tragedy of June 4, 1989, when virtually all military connections were suspended, including the sale of military equipment and the further liberalization of technology allowed to be transferred to the P.R.C.

Barring a total turnaround in Soviet foreign and security policy, there would seem to be little inclination in Washington or Beijing to return to the heyday of triangularity when the United States and the P.R.C. indulged in games of baiting the "polar bear." Still, China will be a major force in the region and beyond. It is, of course, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

An important question remains: How can the United States fine-tune its relations with the P.R.C. in the absence of fundamental movement by Beijing toward policies compatible with U.S. values? For one thing, the People's Liberation Army may well be a significant player in ongoing debates about the future course of China's political and economic reform and its foreign policy. Thus, as a general matter, isolating the Chinese, including cutting off all ties with the PLA, is not wise. In the long run, the United States will need to reconsider military exchanges with China, including high-level visits, information exchanges, port calls and possibly, over time, even some further military sales. In the near term, clearing up the pending agenda of suspended military cooperation will need to be addressed, however discomfiting that may be. As in the past, whatever the United States does with China in the military sphere will need to take account of its possible impact on the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait.


The Asian-Pacific region not only will remain vital to U.S. security and well-being, it will grow in importance. It will be the U.S. responsibility, along with its friends and allies, to assure that the current benign environment is maintained. Even more, to the extent possible, America needs to work to reduce tensions that still exist, the most dangerous being in Korea.

The American public will not support the same defense establishment that it did at the height of the Cold War. Nor should it. Those who argue for modest cuts in ground forces and status quo in the navy may be correct in saying we have what we want, and we want what we have. Certainly the need for caution is strong. North Korea remains unpredictable and potentially dangerous; a precipitous U.S. withdrawal could undercut regional stability; and the Soviets have neither destroyed the bulk of their weapons nor given up their drive to remain a major power in the world. Moreover the future shape of Soviet domestic politics has not been settled.

But we also believe it is necessary to be more forthright in addressing U.S. budgetary problems and in discussing the consequences of those problems with America's friends and allies. A restructured but assured presence in Asia and the Pacific, undergirded by a stronger financial and economic base, will serve everyone well for many years to come. This will require a more dynamic policy, one that is more forward looking and that seeks to help shape the inevitable changes in the region and in the world rather than resist them. It will also require more imagination and boldness in considering what U.S. security interests truly are, and strong leadership in fashioning a strategy to meet them.

[1] This plan is presented in the Pentagon's extensive response to the Nunn-Warner amendment to the FY 1990 Defense Authorization Act. It outlines the rationale for a continued military presence in the Asian-Pacific region over the coming decade. See A Strategic Framework for the Asian Pacific Rim: Looking Toward the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Defense, April 1990.

[2] The purpose was to diversify U.S. naval nuclear weapons, thereby complicating the Soviets' targeting problem and reducing their concentration against carriers.

[3] The Pentagon has already announced a drawdown over the next three years of 2,000 air force support personnel and 5,000 army personnel from the 43,000 U.S. forces currently in Korea.

[4] U.S. forces based in Japan are about 55,000, including 7th Fleet personnel home-ported there. Current plans call for a reduction of 5,000-6,000 of those forces by 1993.

[5] While it has been convenient to maintain part of this umbrella on board ships, there are other ways to deploy it. Cruise missiles on U.S.-based aircraft and even long-range missiles (SLCMs and ICBMs) targeted in a "tactical" mode come to mind.

[6] Despite its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1985 under Soviet pressure, North Korea has not negotiated a full-scope safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Though not foolproof, IAEA inspections would provide at least some level of assurance against a weapons program. Should Pyongyang actually "go nuclear," this would be extraordinarily destabilizing not only with respect to the situation on the peninsula, but throughout the region. In its effort to prevent this, the United States should continue to press both Beijing and Moscow to use leverage with Pyongyang to accept safeguards. Both say they have tried, but it is not clear how much real muscle they have put behind those efforts.

[7] Concern for turmoil during a leadership transition in North Korea needs to be factored into this calculation, but it need not paralyze the process of adjustment.

[8] This raises the larger issue of whether the navy should rely more on reserves, as the other services do. While that issue goes beyond the scope of this essay, it is one the United States and the navy will have to confront in the evolving strategic and, especially, budget environment.

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  • WILLIAM J. CROWE, JR., U.S. Navy (Ret.), former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (1985-89), is professor of geopolitics at the University of Oklahoma and Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • ALAN D. ROMBERG is the C. V. Starr Fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article grew out of discussions at a Council on Foreign Relations study group.
  • More By William J. Crowe Jr.
  • More By Alan D. Romberg