The United States and Asia

Courtesy Reuters

A seismic shift is under way in the Asian-Pacific region, a shift in the structure and balance of political and economic power. This transformation has fundamental implications for America’s future position in the region. For more than four decades U.S. engagement in Asia was based on two pillars: a Cold War commitment to Asian security and America’s extraordinary economic power. Both of these foreign policy premises are now gone: the Cold War ended suddenly and dramatically; American economic hegemony has waned more slowly but with no less drama.

Should America attempt to conduct its relations with the region as in the past, its capacity for effective leadership will rapidly shrink; the foundations of the style and type of leadership America previously exercised no longer exist. As the political leverage of military power decreases, economic power will count for more. The United States must come to terms with the fact that its relative economic weight in a region that has seen an unprecedented era of economic progress has substantially declined. The economic power of Japan and many other Asian nations has increased enormously. No other recent event demonstrated this point more vividly than President Bush’s controversial mission to Japan in January 1992.

At the same time American security interests in Asia seem in better shape today than at any time in nearly a century. After three major wars and a long standoff with the Soviet Union, the Asian-Pacific region is stable. The Soviet Pacific fleet that appeared so formidable just a few years ago is now rusting at its moorings in Vladivostok and Cam Ranh Bay. There is no major threat to regional security, except perhaps the still unresolved division of the Korean peninsula, and for the first time since before Pearl Harbor U.S. military forces in the Pacific have no readily identifiable opponent.

Any future American military presence in the Asian-Pacific region will thus translate into far less, in terms of political influence and leadership capacity. Washington

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