The George Washington University in August 2013 published the report Balancing Acts: The U.S. Rebalance and Asia-Pacific Stability By Robert G. Sutter, Michael E. Brown, and Timothy J. A. Adamson, with Mike M. Mochizuki and Deepa Ollapally
Beginning in the fall of 2011, the Obama administration has issued a series of announcements and taken a series of steps to expand and intensify the already significant role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. Explicitly identifying the Asia-Pacific region as a geostrategic priority for the United States, the Obama administration is paying a higher level of attention to the region across a wide range of issue areas. This represents a significant shift in U.S. policy.
The United States has had powerful national interests in the Asia-Pacific region since World War II and was deeply engaged in the region – militarily, economically, and diplomatically – throughout the Cold War. The post-Cold War administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were actively engaged in Asia.
Although commentators in China and some observers elsewhere have suggested that the rebalance was designed to contain China, this is a simplistic (and, in the case of China, partially contrived) reading of the new policy. U.S. policymakers are certainly aware of China’s economic rise and its growing military power, but the rebalance has been driven by a much broader set of strategic, economic, and political considerations. Following more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has been trying to place more emphasis on Northeast, Southeast, and South Asia – parts of the world that will be of growing strategic and economic importance in the first half of the 21st century. In geostrategic terms, the rebalance is the Obama administration’s grand strategy for U.S. foreign policy.
The new U.S. policy is also based on the need – widely felt throughout most of the Asia-Pacific region – for strategic reassurance in the face of a rising and increasingly assertive China. The rebalance is also driven by a desire to reassure U.S. allies, friends, and other countries in the region that the United States has not been exhausted after a decade of war, that it has not been weakened by economic and political problems at home, and that it is not going to disengage from Asia-Pacific affairs.
The fundamental goals of the new U.S. policy are to broaden areas of cooperation beneficial to the United States with regional states and institutions; strengthen relations with American allies and partners, including great powers such as China and India as well as important regional powers such as Indonesia; and develop regional norms and rules compatible with the international security, economic, and political order long supported by the United States.
The rebalance is a region-wide, multidimensional policy initiative. In regional terms, the shift includes a stronger emphasis on Southeast Asia and South Asia to complement traditionally strong American attention to Northeast Asia. In policy terms, the rebalance entails three sets of initiatives – security, economic, and diplomatic elements.
The United States is shifting substantial military capacities from other theaters of operation to the Asia-Pacific and restructuring its regional security arrangements to generate more widely dispersed U.S. forces across the region. This has included high-profile new military deployments to Australia and the Philippines, and has been accompanied by expanded security arrangements with regional partners which emphasize greater military integration.
The rebalance also entails economic initiatives which aim to expand bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation between the United States and the region. Much of the discussion has focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free-trade agreement that presently involves the United States and 11 other countries, but does not currently include China.
Given the rise of Asia, the U.S. rebalance toward Asia is a reasonable reflection of changing geostrategic realities; it makes strategic sense. The rebalance has more promise for advancing U.S. interests, especially economic interests, than U.S. policy efforts in most other parts of the world. The Obama administration is committed to the rebalance, and this is likely to continue through the end of the president’s term in office. Given Asia’s continuing importance in the first half of the 21st century, U.S. grand strategy is likely to continue focusing on the Asia-Pacific region after President Obama leaves office.
Many countries in the region want strategic reassurance from the United States, and they favor a robust, multidimensional U.S. presence in the region.