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The Next US President: Asia’s Impact on America’s Future

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The Next US President: Asia’s Impact on America’s Future

Insights from Admiral Dennis Blair

The Next US President: Asia’s Impact on America’s Future
Credit: Admiral Dennis Blair

The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia. This conversation with Admiral Dennis Blair – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Combatant Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command – is the sixth in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

Admiral Blair, your strategic thinking at the highest echelons of U.S. military and national security decision-making has contributed to strong U.S. leadership as a Pacific power. The next U.S. administration faces myriad foreign policy challenges, many of which are in Asia. How should U.S. presidential candidates articulate the importance of Asia’s impact on America’s future?

Asia is the biggest concentration and combination of both opportunity and danger for America in the world. With successful policies and actions, we can boost our wellbeing through investment and trade interactions with almost half of the world’s economy; we can make progress on global issues like climate change and halting the spread of nuclear weapons; we can support the continued spread of universal values of democracy and human rights in a region with over half the world’s population. If we are not successful, regional instability could lead to war, the U.S. could be pushed out of the Pacific; climate change could continue unchecked, leading to massive suffering; or nuclear weapons could proliferate. We have to get Asia right for a bright American future, and for the world’s. We don’t have to do it alone; there are like-minded countries in the region, like Japan, who are ready and willing to work with us.

From a military perspective, how has the U.S. rebalance to Asia been effective? And how might it be further sustained under a new U.S. presidency?

Yes, it has been successful. Despite overall decreases in the U.S. defense budget, American military forces in Asia have been sustained in numbers and increased in capability. The military component of the U.S. rebalance to Asia is not only about China, but much of it is about China, a country that has been increasing its defense budget by about ten percent for 20 years. Recently military-to-military relations between the United States and China have actually improved. China’s pursuit of its ambitions in Asia has been by non-military means, not by military aggression. A new president needs to keep up the current policy of maintaining a military force balance while working with China on common challenges and insisting on respect for U.S. interests as part of a multilateral diplomatic approach to settling the disputes in the South China Sea.

The new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines come at a critical juncture in Asia’s geopolitics. How should the next White House strategically implement them?

The New Defense Guidelines set a goal of “seamless, robust, flexible and effective bilateral responses,” and they widen the focus of the alliance to geographic areas around the world and to new functional areas of space and cyberspace. The White House, both now and after 2016, should pursue very active bilateral and multilateral policy coordination, planning and exercises when things are quiet and rapid effective bilateral operations when threats arise or crises occur. 

Based on your former capacity as DNI, how can intelligence-sharing with Asian allies be better equipped to mitigate Islamic State’s recruitment efforts in Asia?  

Our Asian allies and partners have the best information on activities within their own borders, while the United States with its global reach has a worldwide intelligence view. Combining these two points of view, and sharing information both ways gives the U.S. and its allies and partners the best chance of thwarting the Islamic State’s activities in Asia.

What three key leadership qualities are essential for the next U.S. president to advance U.S. strategic interests in the Asia Pacific? 

First, presence – he or she needs to put in the time in Asia to know the leaders and the people there; second, vision – he or she needs to communicate America’s vision of a secure, prosperous and democratic Asia; third, resolve – he or she needs to make clear that America will defend its important interests in Asia. 

Mercy A. Kuo is an advisory board member of CHINADebate and was previously director of the Southeast Asia Studies and Strategic Asia Programs at the National Bureau of Asian Research. Angie O. Tang is Senior Advisor of Asia Value Advisors, a leading venture philanthropy advisory firm based in Hong Kong.