Pivot Out, Rebalance In (Page 2 of 3)

According to one analyst, even Chinese writers see the United States employing several tools to contain China, including military power, defense alliances, the trans-Pacific Partnership, and efforts to drive wedges between China and its neighbors through diplomacy and arms sales. Yet, the Chinese don’t believe the United States will succeed in achieving many of its core goals given such obstacles as the existence of a multipolar world, the inevitable persistence of its terrorism quagmire, enduring regional challenges in Iran and North Korea, its enduring economic weaknesses, strains on the U.S. defense budget, a wary Russia seeking to constrain U.S. global influence, and China’s own growing power, which means that Asian countries cannot afford to antagonize Beijing by joining a U.S.-led containment strategy. Given these natural counterbalancing factors, Chinese analysts argue that Beijing doesn’t need to directly confront the United States, but can focus inward on improving its internal situation and developing its military and other strengths while relying on a policy of engagement and hedging toward Washington.

Worries regarding North Korea were also common at the conference. The fear was that the United States and other countries have rewarded Pyongyang’s past bad behavior so often that they no longer fear the U.S. response. North Korean negotiators were, in this view, selling Americans the same concessions time and again as they continued to develop their nuclear and other potential power while waiting for the upcoming changes in leadership in Beijing and Moscow that might open new opportunities for them.

Relations between the United States and South Korea were generally considered excellent under the two current national governments. With U.S. support, South Korea under President Lee Myung-bak has made economic progress and achieved elevated international status by holding several major international conferences. But South Korea and perhaps the United States will soon have new presidents, which might result in a regression of the bilateral relationship to its traditionally troubled mean.

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U.S. strategists still consider Japan the most important U.S. ally in the Asia-Pacific region. These two countries have a relationship built on deep bilateral economic and security ties, as well as shared democratic values. The United States benefits tremendously from its military bases in Japan. Among other benefits, they provide a foundation for the strong security cooperation between the two countries, which wouldn’t be possible without the U.S. bases. 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. Unfortunately, Japan is struggling economically and divided politically, which constrains its ability to play a major global security role as an international security provider and major foreign aid donor.

Australia was seen as an important military ally, with the potential to continue exporting security globally as well as within Asia. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard renewed the alliance in November 2011, when they announced an agreement to place 250 U.S. Marines in Darwin, marking the first stage of a rotation plan that will see as many as 2,500 U.S. Marines rotate through Darwin as well as other augmentations to the U.S. military presence in Australia.

But the Pentagon’s budget cuts may force Australia to change its grand strategy. Australians have traditionally relied on another great power for their protection as well as a means to minimize their defense spending. The United States has been playing this role since World War II. Likewise, the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is a niche force that requires the assistance of more senior coalition partners, now the U.S. military, on foreign missions, especially regarding the provision of enabler capabilities.

But the recent U.S. defense budget cuts are compelling Australia to assume more of its own security burdens at a time when Australia’s military budget is also under pressure. Possible tensions could arise if the U.S. and Australian militaries expect greater support from the other in the future since both are reducing their capabilities.

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