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Needed: New Asia-Pacific strategy report


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POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

Choosing Asia as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first overseas trip has gotten the Obama administration off on the right foot in dealing with this vitally important region. What's needed now is a clearly articulated vision of America's future role in Asia and a well thought out strategy for getting us from here to there.

This was one of the central conclusions of a report on “;The United States and the Asia-Pacific Region: Security Strategy for the Obama Administration,”; produced by the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS and four Washington-area think tanks and co-chaired by James Kelly, Pacific Forum president emeritus, and Kurt Campbell, DEO of the Center for a New American Security. The report, which had been offered in draft form to the Obama administration's transition team and incoming Asia specialists, was officially rolled out in Washington, D.C., last week (and is available at http://www.pacforum.org as Issues & Insights 09-1). We were among the report's primary authors.

Clinton's trip reinforced and started the ball rolling on a few of the recommendations: the need to re-emphasize the centrality of Washington's Asian alliance network, a re-validation of a constructive engagement policy toward China, a recognition of ASEAN's and especially Indonesia's growing importance, and serious consideration toward signing ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, among others. But the overall vision statement and accompanying Asia-Pacific security strategy remain on the to-do list.

The report contains dozens of specific recommendations, some of the more important of which are summarized as follows:

» Reassert strategic presence: Asia-Pacific nations need to be reassured of America's continued commitment to the region. This can be done by articulating a clear Asia-Pacific vision and security strategy that explains both to the American people and to our regional friends and allies why it is in our national security interest to sustain a military presence and remain fully engaged in the region even during a period of dwindling defense resources and competing priorities. Actions must then match the words.

» Reaffirm and reinvigorate alliances: As North Korea continues its single-minded pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, our security umbrella and extended deterrence over Asia must by credibly reaffirmed. The Obama administration should also follow through on Bush administration “;transformation”; commitments and develop and implement joint visions with our allies through genuine consultation, while broadening and deepening these relationships, including in nontraditional security areas.

» Maintain strong bilateral ties. America's bilateral alliances should remain the foundation for its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region; they remain indispensable to managing traditional security challenges and provide the basis upon which to deal effectively with new nontraditional security issues. Strong bilateral relations must be based upon constant, open and genuine consultation.

» Articulate a clear, pragmatic China policy: Clinton's visit set the right tone. Washington needs to promote cooperative, constructive Sino-U.S. and cross-Strait relations while avoiding “;zero-sum”; approaches in dealing with China and Taiwan.

» Prevent nuclear proliferation: Countering proliferation and promoting nuclear disarmament are flip sides of the same coin; both responsibilities should be taken seriously. Serious attention needs to be paid to the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the development of effective regional export control. Direct dialogue with Pyongyang, employing a special envoy, must still be conducted within the context of the Six-Party Talks.

» Support regional multilateral efforts: Showing up at regional gatherings is an important first step, as is expanding the U.S.-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership and efforts to cooperate on nontraditional security challenges. Signing the TAC opens the door for participating in the East Asia Summit to demonstrate support for East Asia community building. Various trilateral dialogues involving the U.S. and Japan (with South Korea, China, Australia and India respectively) should be considered or enhanced and other formulations, including China-Japan-South Korea should be supported if they contribute to greater regional interaction.

» Promote open and free trade: Free trade and open markets are key pillars for stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region, especially as we seek cooperative ways to deal with the ongoing global financial crisis. The Obama administration should encourage free trade agreements and similar frameworks that ensure greater interdependency and economic growth, avoid protectionism and find a creative way (short of renegotiations) to pass the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

» Strengthen American soft power: The Obama administration should broaden and deepen diplomatic, economic and cultural engagement, invest in professional competence/capacity building, provide leadership in addressing climate change and energy security and rebuild America's public diplomacy capabilities. President Obama's election has already helped to restore faith in America among many of our Asian friends and allies but future actions must reinforce this sense of optimism.

» Counter radical Islam: This is not just, or even primarily, a military duty; it requires a multi-pronged approach that includes providing intelligence and law enforcement assistance, developing regional information-sharing technologies and networks, strengthening legal systems and training counter-terrorism forces, even while addressing such root causes as poverty and inadequate education.

The beginning of a new administration brings with it an opportunity to renew policy, to re-frame problems, and to build new political foundations. The above-referenced study identifies a number of specific recommendations aimed at helping the Obama administration seize the moment in the Asia-Pacific region. Its cornerstone is the reassertion of a U.S. vision offering clarity about American purposes there and a division of responsibility in advancing shared interests in stability, prosperity and freedom. The authors urge the Obama administration to seize upon these recommendations and early on produce its own definitive Asia Pacific Strategy Report to underscore both the U.S. determination to remain engaged and the means by which America and its allies, partners and friends together can promote and preserve regional peace and stability.