Asia’s Middle Eastern Shadow

President Obama During the First U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, July 2009. Source: The White House: A Dialogue with China

TEL AVIV – In 2010, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced America’s eastward shift in global strategy. The United States’ “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region was required not only because of the security threats posed by the rise of China, but also as a consequence of America’s long and costly obsession with the Middle East.

The Middle East has long confronted the US with formidable challenges, which ultimately exceeded America’s imperial capacities and sapped public support. But the real question now is whether America is still able and willing to uphold its global pretensions. After all, Asia is no less a demanding theater than the Middle East. Indeed, dealing with it might require reconciling the pivot to Asia with an ongoing presence in the Middle East, if only because the two regions have much in common.

Richard Weitz Talks US-China Relations

Vice President Joseph Biden delivers remarks at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue Joint Opening Session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium at the US Departement of State in Washingon, D.C.

As the latest issue of the Pacific Forum’s Comparative Connections journal suggests, the success of the US’s realignment to Asia will certainly depend on its rapport with China. And yet, a lot has changed since Hillary Clinton’s article first popularized the ‘pivot to Asia’ idea. (See America’s Pacific Century.) That’s why Richard Weitz’s recent visit to the Center for Security Studies (CSS) was a fortuitous one. It provided us with the opportunity to ask him three questions about this major shift in US foreign policy.


Pacific NATO?

NATO Ministerial meeting. Image by Secretary of Defense/Flickr.

The Atlantic Alliance is about to enter a tumultuous period of change both in Europe and the wider world. How we all conceive of our place in that world will be critical to the Alliance.

This dawning reality was brought home to me Friday when I had the honor of debating NATO’s emerging security challenges with the Norwegian ambassador to NATO and his colleagues on the Norwegian Permanent Delegation. Given changing energy patterns and the melting of Arctic ice, Norway will find itself on a new ‘front-line’ as the High North becomes a source of exploitation and friction. Moreover, with yesterday’s re-election of Shinzo Abe as Japan’s prime minister and the possibility of renewed tensions with China, a most profound question was also apparent: what, if any, is NATO’s Pacific role?

Time for an Alliance Caucus

Image by Flickr/buddawiggi

The post‑World War II “hub-and-spoke” alliance structure has served the United States and its allies well for the past six decades. Yet the transnational nature of current Asia-Pacific security challenges highlights the limitations of bilateral US‑ally relationships to handle regional security threats, traditional or not. Success demands that the US and its allies work with each other in a networked manner. This is not to suggest “NATO for Asia,” but it is time for an informal Alliance Caucus.

A Caucus of the US and its regional allies (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the ROK, and Thailand) could provide – initially as informal knowledge-sharing gatherings alongside international forums – an opportunity to creatively address concerns relevant not just to the US and its allies, but to the region as a whole.

This proposal is not without precedent. The UN has a multitude of caucuses, informal and formal, where likeminded countries coalesce around shared visions of specific interests. East Asian governments for years have sought a caucus in APEC; they now seek a similar group in the G-20.

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