East Asian Security: The Case for Deep Engagement

Courtesy Reuters

It has become fashionable to say that the world after the Cold War has moved beyond the age of power politics to the age of geoeconomics. Such clichés reflect narrow analysis. Politics and economics are connected. International economic systems rest upon international political order.

Consider East Asia 20 years ago. The United States was withdrawing from Vietnam, and many observers predicted that widespread instability would follow a broader American withdrawal from the region. Compare those gloomy predictions with the stable and prosperous East Asia of today.

There are a number of reasons for East Asian prosperity, including high savings rates and successful macroeconomic policies. But among the important and often neglected reasons for East Asia's success are American alliances in the region and the continued presence of substantial U.S. forces. Our national interests demand our deep engagement in the region. We back up that engagement with our steadfast commitment to sustain a forward military presence of about 100,000 American troops in East Asia, of whom 36,000 stand by our ally the Republic of Korea, while 47,000 demonstrate our commitment to regional security and the defense of Japan. The U.S. presence is a force for stability, reducing the need for arms buildups and deterring the rise of hegemonic forces.

Political order is not sufficient to explain economic prosperity, but it is necessary. Analysts who ignore the importance of this political order are like people who forget the importance of the oxygen they breathe. Security is like oxygen--you tend not to notice it until you begin to lose it, but once that occurs there is nothing else that you will think about.

East Asia is currently the world's most dynamic economic region. Asia and the Pacific (excluding the United States) are expected to account for about one-third of the world's economic activity at the start of the next century. Instead of looking back 20 years to 1975, we should look forward 20 years. Will there be a political order and security framework that will sustain this impressive

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