Grading the U.S. Rebalance
Image Credit: U.S. Defense Department

Grading the U.S. Rebalance


The end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Libya, and declining U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan and Europe, have given the United States an opportunity to pay greater attention to the Asia-Pacific. This so-called “pivot” or “rebalancing” has been much discussed. But setting aside the hype, what has it actually meant for U.S. policy in the region, especially outside the security realm? The past few months have offered some good indicators – and a chance to offer an early judgment of the successes or otherwise.

To give the U.S. strategy true substance, officials have sought to impart new energy into the five existing formal U.S. bilateral defense alliances in Asia, namely those with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. These efforts have generally yielded positive results, with new security initiatives announced with all these countries. Progress has been greatest in the case of Australia and the Philippines, and perhaps least evident in the case of Thailand. Ties between Washington and Seoul, meanwhile, are arguably the best they’ve been in decades thanks to a new free trade agreement and U.S.-South Korean solidarity regarding North Korea, although the upcoming parliamentary elections could return a less friendly government to power.

The relationship with Japan has rebounded from earlier tensions over U.S. bases and Tokyo’s striving to pursue a more balanced policy between Washington and Beijing. These two large democratic countries have a relationship built on deep bilateral economic and security ties as well as shared democratic values. And, however welcome, the new access agreements to the modest military facilities in the Philippines, Singapore, and Australia can’t compare in terms of military value with the large and permanent U.S. bases in Japan.

At the same time, though, a “broad-based” U.S. defense presence in the Asia-Pacific region means diversifying both the location and type of U.S. military deployments in the region. U.S. officials have declared their goal of making the U.S. force posture in Asia more “geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable.” This has led U.S. officials to seek out new forms of access, such as short-term rotations and exercises with Association of Southeast Asian Nation states, as well as with India.

Partly due to foreign military basing constraints in Japan and South Korea, the administration wants to expand defense cooperation with other Asian partners beyond those having a formal defense alliance with the United States. The focus of this effort has been in Southeast Asia, which complements the large-fixed U.S. bases in northeast Asia and also provides for superior access to the vital shipping lanes that pass through Southeast Asia. Current efforts focus on Singapore (preparations proceed for basing U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ships at Changi Pier), Indonesia (new arms sales and joint training and education opportunities), and Vietnam (expanding engagement to encompass port visits, joint exercises, and defense dialogues). U.S. forces here can also rapidly move either northward to reinforce the South Korean and Japanese deployments or to the west to support Indian Ocean contingencies.

Chris L
August 20, 2013 at 17:37

"shame on America when PRC police boats are sailing the Scarborough Shoal." <—there are several things wrong with this statement, but I'll give just one.  It's shame on THE PHILIPPINES if Chinese boats are patrolling Scarborough.  It's YOUR territory, Flip, don't expect America to risk life and limb to protect YOUR territory.  If you cannot defend your backyard, don't expect Uncle Sam to do it for you.  It's that classic Filipino beggar mentality at work again, like those kids screaming "Hey Joe, gimme money" when I walk near tourist spots in Manila and Cebu, one kid waving happily at you, the other kid dipping surreptitiously into my pocket to filch my wallet.

Please don't bring up that tiring old American military presence in Japan as raison d'etre for justifying the US gov't spending to protect Philippine turf.  As far as America's defense planners can see it, during peacetime, there will be no threat to the free flow of goods in any of the contested territories in the South China Sea (it'd be suicidal for China if she tries to restrict passage).  So absent a cogent set of circumstances, the maritime disputes in that spot of sea shouldn't be of any concern to Uncle Sam.  It means Flips should man up and do something they haven't EVER done: win a war with bigger countries on its turf.  You kicked us out in 1991, don't expect us to go back in there to serve and protect.  It's none of our business, frankly.

Jen Whitten
February 28, 2014 at 10:47

There are two things wrong with your comment. The first is that the US has a mutual defense treaties with the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and Australia not just because it wants to keep them cozy and safe but because it wants to maintain a ‘coalition of the willing’ to resist China’s territorial expansion. So US makes alliances out of self-interest.

The second is your comment “there will be no threat to the free flow of goods”. There already is such a threat. The Senkaku ADIZ not only requires planes flying to China to inform Beijing, but also planes passing through to other destinations. That is an unprecedented interference in free movement through international airspace.

Likewise, Beijing’s requirement that ASEAN members ask Beijing for a permit to fish inside the nine-dash line is an interference in ASEAN’s right to engage in economic activity in international waters, something they have been doing quite legally for hundreds of years.

[...] Obama administration’s “rebalancing to Asia” has generated a great deal of discussion about how it impacts the defense acquisition budget but [...]

[...] Obama administration’s “rebalancing to Asia” has generated a great deal of discussion about how it impacts the defense acquisition budget but [...]

papa john
June 28, 2012 at 03:45

We have much much money than China in terms of population wealth. You chinese act like a yesterday beggar, today has some money in his pocket, then keep talking about money talk. What is wrong about borrowing some money to buy a gun and shot a guy, who keep talking about "no money, no talk"?

June 27, 2012 at 23:53

We must keep in mind that the need to contain China during the Cold War was created by Mao's policy of exporting his "revolutionary ideas" and by his openly anti-détente posture.
The encircling was gradually loosened as China ostensibly  switched side.
Indeed, history MAY repeats itself…or it may not if the threat to re-encircle China could have a positive effect in taming the bellicose attitude of Chinese military and their lobbies. Then there may be no need for any permanent foreign military base on anybody soil.
Nothing new indeed, same message. Just that somebody pretends not to understand it.

June 27, 2012 at 18:26

Stating that “Pax Americana is borrowing from China” is pure distortion of reality. The reality is that “Socialist” China, which Constitution proudly claims that “man exploiting man has been abolished”, is investing heavily in “In God we Trust”. From that angle, China is indeed NOT living in 20th century.  
Another reality is that the “People” Republic of China has a growing index of inequality that has exceeded capitalist champion US. The reality is that the vast majority of these people are not allowed to have access to the free Internet and can not to read the present lines.
The reality is also that CCTV and other state media are adopting a new tone that is reminiscent of the 15th century “Heavenly” Court of the Ming dynasty.

Oro Invictus
June 27, 2012 at 01:09

@ Leonard R.
Leonard, it should be noted that the vessel that collided with the Philippines’ one is suspected to have been a Hong Kong commercial vessel which did a “hit-and-run” rather than a mainland vessel spurred on to purposefully collide with the Philippines’ vessel in some nationalistic fervor or government-mandated assault. At this time, there is really no concrete evidence to suggest any wrongdoing by the PRC in this particular incident at all; while tragic, it should be viewed in isolation from the dispute over Scarborough Shoal.
 Now, I’m not saying that I think the PRC has a claim to Scarborough, as I think this whole dispute over the shoal is patently ridiculous and a self-defeating display of childish ineptitude on the parts of the PRC government; still, one must ensure they do not debase themselves by spreading misinformation, as it is just as wrong to begin claiming fault on the PRC government’s part when they almost certainly had no hand in the incident you referenced.

June 27, 2012 at 00:57

Stop hallucinating.
China is also not stuck in the 19th or 20th century.
Hubris,Manifest destiny and Exceptionalism is history and delusion in 21st century for Pax Americana.
Get use to the idea that Pax Britanica is long dead and Pax Americann is dying and borrowing from China to prolong its imperial lifespan..

June 27, 2012 at 00:50

Britain is the lapdog of America.
Philippine was at that material time a semi colony of America in 50s and 60s and with Thailand,Pakistan,Australia,New Zealand and Britain form part of the encirclement of China.
Now called Five Power Defence Arrangement to check on then Sukarno Indonesia and China.
N.E Asia was form by direct American troop occupation in S.Korea,Japan and Taiwan.
Pivoting and rebalancing is an old story under a new guise.
Only this time no money no talk. and no muscle to sustain  Pax Americana.

June 26, 2012 at 10:45

See the hubris of the Chinese. They think China is Asia still stuck in the era of Middle Kingdom I see. Backward, for a people of the 21st Century. 

I remember how backward they were when the west came and defeated handily their proud Empire.

June 26, 2012 at 10:28

SEATO was pushed by the Philippines not Britain. It is in support of Truman's Administration in forming an anti-communist block.

So, I don't get where Britain is in all these.

Jen Whitten
February 28, 2014 at 10:31

FPDA – Five Powers Defense Arrangement – UK, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia. The FPDA was agreed in the 60′s during Malaysia’s “Konfrontasi” with Indonesia, the idea being that the FPDA would jointly defend Malaysia or Singapore if they were attacked. The FPDA still exists although I’m not sure the UK still has the power projection ability to defend Malaysia or Singapore any longer.

Leonard R.
June 26, 2012 at 08:44

There is a lot the US could do for Beijing. For one thing, it seems to be the refuge of choice for CCP dissidents and rejects. Can we foresee a day when Bo Xilai or his son could occupy elected office in New York or California?  
Unfortunately, the CCP is not a rational entity that you can make deals with. Once you understand there are perhaps a billion miserably poor people in the PRC, it all becomes clear.
The chains of command in the CCP are fractured. In the past week, Chinese crewmen murdered four Filipinos in Manila's sovereign terri9tory. At the same time, Beijing talks about bilateral negotiations. But, it has put a city in Hainan in charge of Manila's sovereign territory. We can all expecct municipal police boats sailing the Scarborough Shoal soon. 
Does one hand know what the other hand is doing in China? I think not. And that is why any talk of agreements with Beijing is utterly foolish. You cannot make deals with these people. That's why it is long past time to walk away from the table. 
And shame on America when PRC police boats are sailing the Scarborough Shoal. 

John Chan
June 26, 2012 at 05:42

Small nations like Japan, Philippines, Vietnam and SK encroaching China’s resources unrelentingly is greedy and thuggish, and they are breaking international rule of laws, they must be reined in by the sheriff, otherwise those thuggish nations will ruin the peace and prosperity of Asia in addition to that alien invader from the North America.
Since there are so many thugs roaming in the Asia-Pacific disturbing the peace and prosperity of Asia because they are jealous, resentful and fearful, it would be irresponsible for China not to build up her navy, air force, and second artillery to stop those thuggish nations from breaking international rule and laws.

June 26, 2012 at 03:36

All these 3 countries are export-oriented, especially China with virtually no consumption market. Where will they export their products to, Robert? TPP will help China play by the rules of the road.

Jen Whitten
February 28, 2014 at 10:27

China isn’t in the TPP.

June 25, 2012 at 18:51

The very fact that this article mentions that the U.S. needs to avoid giving the impression that it is using the nations in China's periphery as pawns implies that this is precisely what the U.S. is doing. Also, TPP is dead on arrival, as the China-South Korea-Japan trilateral free trade agreement makes it redundant. TPP is nothing more than a multi-lateral political straitjacket that the U.S. intends to place on China in exchange for some relatively small economic benefits.

June 25, 2012 at 15:21

China must understand that we all live in this is a 21 century and not in the little Middle Kingdom (Qin dynasty) of yours. China must comply and live under the International Rule of Laws just like any other countries. China is a big country but it does not mean you are more special than other nations. China must shread the world domination ambition mindset and scale back your own greed.  If you want other nations to respect your own sovereignty than you must respect others (Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, and others) sovereignties. China must restore illegal occupations of Tibet, Ughurs, Paracel islands to rightful owners. You can turn other way and play hardball, I warn you all chinese, when you push others too far, others will find any mean (all options are on the table) to take you out as their disposal. You Chinese and North Korean are Nuclear Weapons holders in Asia but it does not come with respects. You two (chinese + Korean) must learn to behave yourselves, have some manner and must act maturely and be a responsible partner in the region and the world peace, security, stability if you want respect.
China recent erratic behavoirs:
Rammed ships against Japanese Coast Guard.
Shooting unarmed Vietnamese fishmen.
Cutting exploration cable in Vietnamese territorial waters.
Stabbed Korean Coast Guard to death.
Rammed ships against Filipinos fishmen (kill one and 4 went missing).

June 25, 2012 at 14:22

2 things

1.concinving china to agree to a us backed security for east asia is not ever gonna succeed think think there is no need to explain why.

2. interestin contrasts between us and china,
in the us if u only watched the political ads and such you would not blame china for thinking the US aims to contain and ultimately defeat china.
in china if you only watch the official statements and speeches you would think the chinese want nothing more than to cooperate with the US.
of course the images are only on the surface, i suspect that under the retoric both sides are fairly simular in their views towards each other.

June 25, 2012 at 11:59

A broke and hungry  and declining Pax Americana rebalancing is not a matter of choice.
No money less or no talk.
Pax Britanica laid the basis of semi colonial regimes in SEA as symbolised in 1960s by SEATO and still existing Five Power Defence Arrangement(Singapore,Malaysia,Australia,New Zealand and Britain)
Pax Americana laid the basis of a colonial or semi colonial regimes with military occupation of S.Korea ,Japan and Taiwan and .
Pax Americana and then Pax Britanica (a puppet of Pax Americana) combined in the 50s and 60s to prevent the emerging challenge to the White(Pinkie) declining European and American hegemony with obedient and semi colonial govts in East Asia to then surround control China and Sukarno Indonesia and protect Australia.
Fortunately Pax Britanica is long over the cliff and Pax Amricana is fast declining.
Hence the word "rebalancing" which is basically weakening and no money to "lord" around any more.
Rebalancing and pivoting is a dying man language of a debtor.
Harry Potter will be proud.

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