PhD Papers

Title: US Security Policy in Asia Pacific: Preparing the Next Decade


Introduction. 2

Overview of emerging US national security interests in Asia Pacific. 2

New interests, threats, and challenges. 2

Emerging security requirements. 5

Risks, benefits, and opportunities for new security investment in Asia Pacific. 9

Risks. 9

Benefits. 10

Opportunities for new security investment 12

The strategic positioning of the US security interests in Asia Pacific. 14

China. 15

Japan. 17

Korean Peninsula. 18

Southeast Asia. 20

India and the rest of South Asia. 21

Preparing the Next Decade: Main policy options for US security strategists. 22

  1. Managing the US–Chinese relationship. 22
  2. Multilateralism.. 23
  3. Strengthening and expanding bilateral partnerships through diversification. 24
  4. Balancing the US troop presence in Asia Pacific. 25
  5. Use of unconventional approaches to defense thinking eg space and cyberspace. 26

Conclusion. 26

References. 27



Relations between the United States and the Asia Pacific date back to the late 18th century. Today, these relations have growth to the point where the fastest growing export markets for the US are located in Asia. Moreover, 60 percent of the goods that the US exports abroad end up in this region (Odgaard, 2007). This region is also significant for the US because out of the eight states that are identified as nuclear powers, five are in the Asia Pacific (Pant, 2007). North Korea, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and India take pride in having some of the largest militaries in the world. Incidentally, they are in the Asia Pacific region (Shambaugh, 2004).

The Asia Pacific region also has its share of a dark past. For instance, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam were major conflict zones during the Cold War, which pitted the US against the former Soviet Union. The US also continues to be a major interested party in the outcomes of major conflicts in this region such as the Pakistan-India conflict and the South China Sea territorial dispute because they touch on the country’s security interests. This interest is simply a continuation of centuries-long attempts by the West to exert influence on the Asian continent. Given the growing importance of China in global politics and trade, one may argue that Asia is on the verge of replacing Europe as the most crucial region to the US. The aim of this paper is to investigate how the US security policy in Asia Pacific will shape up during the next decade.

Overview of emerging US national security interests in Asia Pacific

New interests, threats, and challenges

The emerging US national security interests in Asia Pacific are being shaped by the very issues that have driven the country to want to influence the political direction of this region. These issues include protection of American citizens, support for democracy, and expansion of economic opportunity. Since the British maritime power declined during the late 19th century, the US has been keen to maintain a balance of power by preventing the emergence of hegemonic power in the region. Such a power would constrain efforts by the US to dominate maritime operations in the region.

Today, China poses a serious threat of becoming a hegemonic state in Asia Pacific. Its growing influence, power, and assertiveness have become a major concern for the US. It is widely expected that it will rise to the position of regional and indeed pre-eminence during the next decade. It is expected that within the next 15 years, China’s defense spending will be at par with that of the United States (Chanlett-Avery & Vaughn, 2013). These budgets are likely to be directed at China’s aggressive pursuit of numerous territorial claims in the South China Sea. They are also likely to be motivated by the country’s desire to reinforce its anti-access capabilities in disputed areas within this sea. By so doing, China will have started posing a serious threat to the US (Hemmer & Katzenstein, 2002).

Interestingly, China and the United States have continued to establish an environment of economic interdependence in many areas (Kang, 2003). So far, China has continued to reject internal pressure to confront the US more openly by challenging its interests in Asia Pacific. Although the US has far-reaching interests in this region, China also stands to benefit a lot from interdependence with the US. On the other hand, the economic and security interests of the US are likely to suffer a major blow if China’s economic growth was to be reversed. In other words, relations between the US and China are currently characterized by a complex blend of competition and interdependence. Consequently, the US has ended up adopting a strategy that combines aspects of both dissuasion and assurance (Christensen, 2006). On the one hand, the United States continues to forge new areas of cooperation and to encourage China to continue playing a dominant role as a global economic player. On the other hand, the US is always keen to hedge against uncertainties that may arise from China’s long-term intentions. A major concern is that if China perceives the US to be weak, this may lead to a new wave of Chinese assertiveness. The US is also careful not to create the perception that it seeks to weaken China. Such a perception may undermine Beijing’s perception that the external security challenges it faces are benign and short-lived.

A number of factors motivate the US to encourage China to play a more critical role in the Asia Pacific. First, North Korea continues to be a major military threat to the US. At present, the North can succeed in sustaining an invasion of South Korea. This would greatly endanger US interests in the region. This threat is greatly compounded by North Korea’s nuclear programs. Serious concerns also continue to be expressed regarding the stability of the North under Kim Jong-Un, such that the possibility of the regime to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) cannot be ruled out. The US has also been expressing concerns that horizontal proliferation of these weapons is a possibility in the context of the country’s unstable regime. The US faces a scenario in which the most favorable outcomes over the North Korean situation can only be achieved if no divergences with Beijing over the best way forward occur. If divergences occur, the US would most likely end up with an unfavorable outcome given China’s status as North Korea’s ally.

Another factor is the proneness of the Asia Pacific to natural disasters (Heller, 2005). These natural disasters have in numerous instances been used by the US as a humanitarian imperative for action by China, the most powerful state in the region. At the same time, the challenges that weaker states encounter in the wake of such disasters tend to impact negatively on their stability and hence internal political legitimacy. This provides a political imperative for the US and China to meddle in the affairs of such states. Terrorism is another major factor that drives the US and China into adopting a cooperative approach in Asia Pacific relations. Terrorism poses a threat to many states in Asia Pacific as well as the US and China. One of the best ways through which the US can win this war is by forging economic and political ties with China. Such ties are essential in efforts to pool resources and exploit logistical resources in a bid to outmaneuver all terrorist networks in the region.

Finally, the leading economies in Asia, including China, Japan, and South Korea, are highly dependent on share maritime, space, and cyberspace resources (Ikenberry & Tsuchiyama, 2002). Additionally, they are becoming increasingly powerful in terms of technology adoption (Kim, 2004). If these countries were to become adversaries, their shared operational domains may be interrupted. Both the US and China are in a position to influence the future of this relationship. However, uncertainty over the utility of these shared capabilities arises in regards to the possibility of both cooperative security and the intensification of rivalry and conflict.

Emerging security requirements

In the past, the US has continued to enjoy comprehensive capabilities in terms of economic and military instruments (Stubbs, 2002). These capabilities have been instrumental in helping the US advance its national interests and influence the strategic political environment in Asia Pacific. However, the American economic and military power has been declining over the years. Despite this decline, it continues to possess distinct advantages over potential adversaries for years to come. In the meantime, the US must make improvements on its military capabilities to avoid creating the impression that it has become weaker.

Given China’s growing assertiveness, the diplomatic role of the US in the Asia Pacific also needs to be reassessed (Stuart & Tow, 2013). Fortunately for the US, major maritime states in the region, primarily South Korea, Japan, and India, are willing to align themselves more with the US in the wake of China’s growing power. By expressing their opposition to state-controlled economies and authoritarianism, these states tend to find it more comforting to associate with universal democratic and governance norms. These views tend to be strengthened by the traditional perception of the US as the biggest crusader of democracy and the rule of law in the contemporary world as well as China’s continued domination of the economy by the state.

In recent times, a new trend has emerged whereby the security requirements in this region are becoming increasingly dispersed in both geographical and functional terms (Obama, 2010). To begin with, Northeast Asia has become a hotbed of aggression. In the rest of the region, China’s hand is being felt mainly in the form of visible power and ambitions. This phenomenon has created an environment of uncertainty for the future of US security interests. To prepare adequately for this uncertainty the US must contemplate introducing new military capabilities to enable it to deal with potential adversaries. In South East Asia, there is a growing requirement for forces that are capable of sustaining peaceful engagements touching on a wide range of missions such as disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. Such missions are essential for the US because they help build transparency, partnership capacity, and overall state confidence.

In light of the evolving security environment, the US Department of Defense is compelled to come up with strategic plans aimed at enabling the country respond to a wide range of threats. An in-depth understanding of aspects of deterrence, assurance, dissuasion, and defeating aggression is imperative for top US military strategists (Christensen, 2001). These strategists must know how to shift from one option to the other depending on the desired outcomes. Such ability must go hand in hand with an accurate appreciation of the security and political environment of the Asia Pacific region. Nevertheless, conventional knowledge may also be applied as well. For instance, dissuasion and assurance strategies are typically adopted in non-crisis situations. In contrast, efforts to defeat aggression and to deter actions of enemies are normally resorted to during crises. In both instances, however, the best-case scenario is one where the military succeeds in peacefully shaping the decisions and actions of partners, allies, and adversaries. During the pursuit of deterrence and defeat objectives, the ability of the United States to portray more military capabilities than adversaries is critical.

The US military is faced with the need to continue persistently engaging with strategic partners in Asia Pacific in the pursuit of both assurance and dissuasion objectives. Allies in this region are in growing need of assurance that the US will continue abiding by its existing security commitments. This is expected to create an environment of solidarity against threats and perceived enemies. It will also continue reducing the likelihood of the escalation of an all-out military crisis. Similarly, dissuading China from adopting coercion tactics and aggression by North Korea will go a long way in cementing the much-needed impression of solidarity with the people of this region.

In the next decade, the vulnerabilities of some states in the region will continue to be a priority area for the US. Many weaker states in this region count on the US military presence to deal with the problem of violent extremists and the growing threat of relatively powerful neighbors (Goh, 2006). In the absence of military engagement by the US, China and Japan may tilt the outcomes of territorial disputes with these weak states in their favor, thereby threatening US military and economic interests in the region. Such a situation would gradually lock the US out of Asia Pacific politics. The ideal situation would be one where China is given assurances wherever possible through multilateral and bilateral security arrangements in efforts to fight common problems such as terrorism and counterfeit products.

According to Jisi (2005), all these security requirements call for a continuation of forward deployment of military forces by the US. Going forward into the next decade, these forces will demonstrate persistence in terms of setting the stage for better contingency capabilities and more effective deterrence and defeat-oriented objectives. The military forces will also enable the US to act not just as an observer but also as a participant in shaping military requirements, procedures, and doctrines in the region. In such a scenario, it becomes easier for strategic partners and allies to be identified with a greater level of accuracy and precision. Such a selection process would ideally be based on competencies, possible contingencies, and political considerations.

The US has been networking with allies and partners in an ongoing project of positioning itself politically to enable it not only tap into the region’s economic opportunities but also maintain military superiority (Frankel & Kahler, 2007). All indications are that this project will certainly go on during the next decade. This undertaking is essential in efforts by the US familiarity with the region’s immediate security environment. It is also a valuable venture that contributes to efforts to increase the overall understanding of different levels of maritime awareness by individual Asia Pacific states. In the process, the US military may exploit its wide-reaching experience to point out threats that these states may not be aware of. Indeed, it is sometimes the case that weaker states in the region have tended to neglect glaring security threats because they are simply too preoccupied with domestic socio-economic and political challenges.

Continued US presence in the region automatically complicates the military planning activities of adversaries who may be keen to exploit the structural and military weaknesses of some states. In this case, it may be necessary for the presence to be dispersed in different parts of the region as a way of further complicating such military planning efforts.  Such an approach disperses possible targets while at the same time providing redundancy. It also enables the US to create “hot spots” for de-escalation and crisis avoidance. Whenever need arises, such hot spots may take the form of direct or indirect engagement with enemy forces. The military planners must be careful to deflate the risk of an all-out war by ensuring that the engagement only creates a sense of urgency on both sides to resolve the crisis.

Risks, benefits, and opportunities for new security investment in Asia Pacific


In the quest for dissuasion and deterrence of threats in Asia Pacific, the US is confronted with a number of risks. These risks relate to the military capabilities of potential adversaries. The ability by the US to persist in its pursuit of efficiency in planning will greatly help to reduce these risks. If the US reduces the amount of resources being channeled towards resolving security concerns in the region, the risks may increase. This move may create the impression that the US has become significantly weaker militarily. Therefore, at the outset, it is imperative for the US to continue sustaining the existing defense budgetary allocations for Asia Pacific particularly in light of the role of China as an emerging role as a global economic power.

Today, ballistic missiles pose a serious risk to US military bases in this region. China is in possession of missiles that can significantly interfere with carrier operations and make deterrence efforts in Western Pacific extremely difficult (Blair & Hanley, 2001). China has demonstrated its commitment to pursue military and diplomatic instruments for counter-intervention during crisis and counter-containment in time of peace. This puts China in a position where it can easily coerce its neighbors in the region. In such a scenario, it is highly likely that China may develop a tendency to undermine US security interests while in the pursuit of its own national interests. In other words, China’s position as a competitor in Asia Pacific security issues poses a serious risk for military and diplomatic strategists in the US.

The nuclear programs of North Korea also pose a major risk to US security interests in the region. The weapons of mass destruction North Korea is alleged to be stockpiling may easily be transferred to third states or terrorist networks. Moreover, Pyongyang may use these capabilities as a tool for provoking the US and imposing constraints on the present US security strategy for the Asia Pacific. As long is regime instability continues to prevail in the North, the continuing operations of US military bases in the region, particularly South Korea and Japan, will continue to be a risky undertaking.

Moreover, in the event of simultaneous wars in the region, the US may put some of its forces at risk of being overwhelmed primarily because of shortcomings in force structure planning. Such an eventuality may greatly squeeze available US resources, leading to the possible abandonment of some of the frontiers of war. The contingencies of the Central Command may derive Pacific Command (PAPCOM) of the much-needed resources, especially forces, to efficiently execute all plans in case of simultaneous wars. The relationship between defense spending and force posture requirements in Asia Pacific needs to be carefully managed to ensure that confidence in the ability by American to sustain its current security commitments and military presence in the region is not undermined.


America’s continued presence in Asia Pacific has a potential to bring about numerous economic benefits. The economic opportunities available in this region have been a major driving force behind America’s centuries-long interest in Asia Pacific. Security-wise, the US stands to benefit a lot in terms of global military dominance by influencing the political destiny of the region. This is because the Asia Pacific plays a critical role in international trade. Moreover, this region is home to many leading economies, including Japan, China, and India. Given the growing perception that Asia is turning out to be the most important region for the US, the ability to dictate regional security arrangements must be viewed as a major tactical advantage (Rice, 2008).

In Japan, the US has identified the strategic imperative of setting up a military base in Okinawa. This base is strategically located because it can be used as a host for deterrence missions in Northeast Asia while at the same time influencing maritime operations in Southeast Asia. By using this base, the US military may greatly reduce the likelihood of resource shortfalls in the event of two simultaneous armed conflicts. Going forward into the next decade, the US military is faced with the challenge of identifying similar aspects of strategic positioning aimed at enabling America take advantage of all the benefits that come with its continued military presence in the region.

Fortunately, public opinion for partnerships with different Asian countries has largely been favorable. This has enabled the US to forge military alliances with many countries, including South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore. All these countries have already expressed their readiness to expand defense cooperation with the United States. At the same time, India’s response to America’s forays into the region indicates that defense cooperation may increase radically in the foreseeable future. All these efforts are beneficial in a political environment where the US is increasingly wary of China’s growing assertiveness. In 2012, the US gave host-nation support amounting to $765 million and $2.37 billion to South Korea and Japan respectively (Chanlett-Avery & Vaughn, 2013). America hopes to benefit immensely from strategic partnerships with these two Asian countries. The main area of strategic advantage arises from the enhanced position of the US in its quest to have its existing force structure retained in these two countries.

At the same time, the US has been expanding the scope of trilateral cooperation that brings on board Japan-Australia and US-Japan-South Korea relations. Similarly, allied military services seeking to have a foothold in the region have been actively enhancing their existing capabilities mainly by pursuing closer relations with US counterparts. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) operating from Okinawa is in the process of evolving into different Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) that will be undertaking military drills in Okinawa, Australia, Hawaii, and Guam. In the meantime, ground forces operating in Australia, Japan, and Korea have been seeking to enhance their amphibious and expeditionary capabilities. The same trend has been unfolding in regards to ground, air, and naval forces across Asia Pacific.

Opportunities for new security investment

An assessment of all contingencies is necessary if the US is to identify all emerging opportunities for security investment accurately. Although additional resources in the form of deploying more troops, more hardware, and rigorous training, it is imperative to focus on how the existing resources can be used more efficiently to deal with changing security requirements. All efforts to add more resources into the region should be geared towards promoting America’s capabilities. In the present time, numerous opportunities to enhance these capabilities exist.

One of these opportunities relates to logistical constraints (Xinbo, 2005). Currently, the airlift capabilities of the amphibious-ready group (ARG) stationed at Sasebo in Japan are insufficient for use in time of war. This constraint can be turned into an opportunity for military strategists to request the US Department of Defense to reduce spending on high-speed vessels and direct these resources into airlift capabilities. After all, it beats logic to invest heavily in high-speed vessels in peace time only to have them grounded in time of war for lack of maneuverability in high-threat contexts. In future, similar logistical challenges are likely to be raised by geographically distributed forces situated not just in Japan but also other locations such as South Korea.

New investment in critical ammunition for use by US military forces in the event of a protracted tactical war is also needed (Xinbo, 2005). Presently, the US military counts on forward-deployment of ammunition in Hawaii, Guam, and the West Coast of the US. There is an even bigger problem because forward-deployed forces must rely on equipment that would take weeks to transport from continental United States to military bases in Asia Pacific. The US should invest in structures that would hasten the process of acquiring such equipment.

The question of replenishing pre-positioned equipment for use by the Pacific Command should also be highlighted. In dealing with this issue, military strategists need to look at likely scenarios, one of them being the simultaneous occurrence of multiple armed conflicts. An assessment of missile defense capabilities of allied forces may need to be carried out to determine precise requirements in terms of investment in new security apparatus.  In these efforts, the ability to coordinate the activities of the Central Command and those of the Pacific Command in replenishing supplies and enhancing battlefield recovery capabilities should be emphasized.

Other important areas of new investment include counter WMD capabilities, attack submarines, and anti-submarine defense. The US may easily be outmaneuvered by China because of a lingering imbalance in its submarine fleet stationed in the region. There is a pressing need to catch up with China, which has in recent times invested heavily in attack submarines. According to Medeiros (2008), this issue must be prioritized if the US is not to fall further behind China by 2020 when its nuclear attack submarines will be rested at a rate that is twice that of constructing new replacements. Efforts to enhance the combined capabilities of allied forces should also be taken. In some partner states such as China, there is a tendency for national defense budgets to prioritize costly indigenous programs instead of address immediate requirements such as maritime domain awareness, sustainment, and command and control (Twining, 2007).

The potential for allies and partners to enhance capacities for joint operations also creates many opportunities for new security investment. To illustrate this point, one may give the example of the recent agreement signed between South Korea and Japan to facilitate cross-servicing and sharing of military information. Such an agreement will provide impetus for more extensive joint military exercises bringing together the US, Japan, and South Korea. It would even be better if such joint exercises were directing towards ensuring that the redundancy of the Pacific Command is enhanced in various ports and airfields with a view to enhance access arrangements.

On the part of the US military services, under-incentivized operations pose a major challenge. The under-resourced service operations fail to make optimal use of private and non-governmental sector. Better outcomes may be realized if these sectors were properly utilized in enhancing defense cooperation. The US has an opportunity to increase reliance on more reliable mechanisms such as military-to-military discussions, avoidance of incidents at sea, crisis management, and engagement with authorities that specialize in outer space and cyber matters.

The strategic positioning of the US security interests in Asia Pacific

The US has a challenging task of ensuring that its security interests and objectives in the Asia Pacific region are safeguarded. In this process, US military policymakers and strategists must take care not to neglect or undermine the strategic interests and aims of allies and partner states. Such an undertaking requires carefully conceived efforts to merge operations in a manner that serves the interests of all the states involved. Therefore, the US needs to have an in-depth understanding of the defense strategy and operational direction of the most politically significant states in the region. This section contains an analysis of the following states and regions: China, Japan, Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia, India, and the rest of South Asia.


The United States is a leading interested party in the development process of China. As China continues to grow economically, the level of interdependence with the US will continue to increase. Moreover, by growing economically, China will ultimately become a crucial contributor to problem-solving in matters of security at the global level. China will soon start expressing concerns regarding major security concerns such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The US is also interested in becoming a beneficiary of China’s growing political clout in the region. China is the most powerful state that is party to several multilateral platforms in the region such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation). In these platforms, China has already assumed numerous responsibilities of ensuring that the goal of unity and prosperity in Asia Pacific is realized.

In recent years, China has increased its defense spending. It is also making major inroads in terms of enhancing its military capabilities. These factors have greatly contributed to its assertive behavior by making numerous territorial claims in the South China Sea. This behavior poses a serious threat to US interests in the region. This necessitates the establishment of new security arrangements aimed ensuring that the strategic equilibrium that has persisted in the region for a long time is not altered.

China’s counter-containment strategies have also caused concerns in Washington. It is opposed to strategies being adopted by the US to dominate regional security environment. China is also keen to enhance its counter-intervention strategies by propagating information, economic, and diplomatic leverage against aspects of the US political system that may enable the country intervene in the South China Sea or any other regional crises in which China may be involved. The objective of these counter-containment efforts is to disorient US alignment with key regional powers that may influence the trajectories of diplomatic and military engagement.

Although it is possible for the US to contain China’s military developments, a number of challenges are bound to be encountered along the way. One of them is the relations that China has maintained with its neighbors in the region. So far, China continues to engage in normal and predictable economic relations with these neighbors. Although this cooperation is critical to the sustainable economic success of many states in the region, it limits the availability of opportunities for partnerships between these states and the US. Another challenge is that some misinterpretation may exist regarding the nature of competition of influence pitting China against the US. Against this backdrop, China’s counter-containment efforts seem to be premised on the perception that the US seeks to contain it just the way it sought to contain Russia during the Cold War.

In the process of advancing its military capabilities during the last two decades, China has been keen to analyze the US military capabilities that enabled the country to effectively project its power during different wars such as the Iraq War in 1991 and the recent counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has led the country to undertake measures aimed at widening its range of military operations. Consequently, China has introduced nuclear power capabilities as well as long-range precision bombers and aircraft carriers.


Japan is a major US ally and a source of access to Asia-Pacific. Japan is the third largest economy in the world. The US is Japan’s fourth largest trading partner. Japan has won recognition for its leading role in funding the United Nations, and other leading international organizations. The country is also among the largest hosts of US forces stationed overseas. This explains the crucial role of Japan as a staunch US ally and as a core component of a network of like-minded network of nations that seek to share interests and values at both regional and global levels.

Japan’s security policies are firmly pegged on its alliance with the US. This alliance dates back to 1960 when the two countries signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. To this day, the two countries continue to promote the respective strategic interests that inspired the signing of this treaty. Nevertheless, Japan’s security strategy has been evolving in response to the changing security environment. For instance, in 2010, Japan launched the National Defense Program Guidelines aimed at not just enhancing military cooperation with the US but also forging new alliances with other maritime powers such as Australia and India. These guidelines also emphasized the need to come up with strategies for deterring North Korea as one of the ways of protecting the country’s maritime sovereignty.

Japan is also concerned about the growing need to defend the First Island Chain because of China’s recent military activities near this area. Based on the emergence of these threats, it is in the interest of Japan to forge greater dialogue with the US on emerging regional security concerns. Considering that Japan is constrained in terms of defense spending, the ideal option is to promote aspects of interoperability and joint operations with US forces with a view to enhance deterrence.

Evidently, the US can count on Japan to support its interests in the region for purposes of achieving mutual benefits. The US only needs to hedge against the risks posed by this cooperation in terms of Chinese and North Korean missile capabilities and the growing threat to US military bases in Japan. China may continue adopting mercantilist strategies in the wake of a military crisis. Such challenges are likely to drive Japan into accepting a US request for forward deployment of forces in its Japanese base. Already, Japan and the US have cemented cooperation in many areas of joint command and missile defense requirements accompanied by increased levels of interoperability with the objective of defeating possible adversaries.

Korean Peninsula

South Korea, sometimes referred to as the Republic of Korea (ROK) is the thirteenth largest economy in the world and a major trading partner of the United States. South Korea upholds democratic values, a feat that makes it a formidable US ally in Asia Pacific. Unlike North Korea, South Korea has managed to establish a reputation for commitment to the rule of law and human rights. The US-South Korea alliance was conceived at the height of the Cold War. However, Unlike, Japan, South Korea has adopted a three pronged security strategy. The first aspect entails deepening of economic, political, and military ties with the US. The second aspect entails the promotion of growing economic with its powerful neighbor, China. The third element brings into perspective efforts to establish multilateral relations at both regional and global levels.

The origin of security cooperation between South Korea and the US may be traced back to the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953 (Ong, 2005). Today, the threat posed by North Korea continues to be the primary driver of US-South Korean alliance. Numerous provocative actions by the North Korean military have heightened threat perceptions in South Korea, thereby leading to continued support for strategy alliances with the US. In fact, this phenomenon has greatly contributed growing public support for military relations with the US. This state of affairs is expected to remain as long as the North Korean threat persists.

South Korea also seems to perceive China as a security threat in the long-term (Goldstein, 2001). These concerns are driven primarily by leniency on the part of China in reprimanding North Korea for engaging in militarily provocative behavior against South Korean interests. In regards to the conflict with the North, South Korea’s bargaining power is greatly curtailed by China’s position as an economic powerhouse. For instance, it provides South Korea with the largest export market. At the same time, China continues to maintain considerable leverage over the fledgling and highly unstable government of North Korea.

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) remains the most heavily armed zone demarcating two opposing ground forces in the world. Although the ability by the North to sustain an invasion has degraded considerably in the recent past, the country has already deployed thousands of artillery equipment within Seoul’s range. Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is home to 20 million people, including over 20,000 American expatriates (Bush, 2009). North Korea’s long-range missiles also have the capability to impact negatively on Japan. The presence of biological and chemical weapons in North Korea further complicates the security situation in the region. This threat creates a major driving force for Japan, South Korea, the US, together with their allies and partners to come together to form a formidable defense pact. The role of South Korea is critical in ensuring the success of such a pact.

Against this backdrop, the US, South, Korea, and Japan conducted naval exercises in mid-2012. These exercises proved to be promising for South Korea. Since then, South Korea has started viewing Japan’s strategic stance as being more malleable regional power than that of China. This reality also seems to be easily reflected in popular public opinion in South Korea. According to Acharya (2009), most citizens seem to think that forging tighter defense ties with their Japanese neighbor is the best way of dealing with China’s rise.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a strategic location for US interests in Asia Pacific. The ASEAN member states provide a major trading bloc that the US is keen to target in the future as a launching pad for both economic and security interests. The growing importance of Southeast Asia arises from the fact that its sea ports provide a gateway to the entire Asia Pacific region. To emphasize this point, it is necessary to point out that 70 percent of global maritime commerce is conducted through the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca (Wishnick, 2002). This region is also significant because it is rich in hydrocarbon resources. These resources are a major driving force of territorial clams and conflicts among several states.

The US is interested in enabling states in this region to enhance their defense capabilities as a way of shielding them against the China’s assertive behavior and growing affinity for coercion. In this undertaking, the US faces numerous competing interests, meaning that the diversity of security challenges, opportunities, benefits, risks, and areas of investment must be put into consideration. Despite this diversity, security perceptions across Southeast Asia are more or less the same. For instance, all ASEAN member states share the strategic imperative of strengthening integration and cohesion as outlined in the 2008 ASEAN Charter. Moreover, all states in this region are preoccupied with internal security challenges ranging from maritime security to insurgencies. Lastly, all these states acknowledge that China’s increased assertiveness compels them to seek engagement with the US while at the same ensuring that Beijing is not provoked.

India and the rest of South Asia

Today, India plays a critical role as a crucial trading partner of the US. India’s political power structure that is founded on liberalism makes the country more or less naturally inclined towards the propagation cordial relations with the US. On this basis, India is viewed as a formidable ally in the quest by the US to exert greater influence on a global scale. The US would want to see China play a greater role in the security situation in the Indian Ocean since this would enhance the flow of goods within the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. Such a move would enhance America’s hold onto strategic security arrangements in the region given that India has continued to expand security cooperation with ASEAN, Japan, and Australia.

During the Cold War, India-US relations were largely frosty. However, since the turn of the present century, the US has started cooperating with India on numerous military exercises. In 2005, the two countries signed a defense pact. A year later, they signed another agreement on maritime security cooperation. Today, China is on the lead in terms of joint military exercises conducted in cooperation with the US military.

Unfortunately, a similar success story cannot be told in regards to China’s neighbors; all of them continue to encounter numerous domestic challenges especially in the area of security. Pakistan faces the problem of terrorism, some of which has been overflowing into India. In contrast, Sri Lanka has traditionally avoided getting aligned to the US. However, since 2008, the country has been supporting US security interests in the region. Bangladesh has been struggling to shrug off the tag of ties with Al Qaeda. Recently, the country has achieved numerous milestones in terms of cementing bilateral relations with the US. As for Nepal, the strategic influence of India should not be overlooked. At the same time, the country continues to develop a stable relationship with Beijing as part of efforts to achieve success in various aspects of its own political process. For other smaller South Asian states such as Maldives, ties with the US are driven by domestic challenges such as natural disasters and terrorism. The most important thing for the US, though, is that Pacific Command’s engagement with states in this region is highly unlikely to be opposed during the next decade.

Preparing the Next Decade: Main policy options for US security strategists

Five policy options stand out in regards to the current position of the US in Asia Pacific based on the existing security arrangements. The first option entails managing the troubled China-US relations. The second area of focus is multilateralism. The third option entails strengthening and expanding bilateral partnerships through diversification. The fourth option is troop rationalization in South Korea and Japan in response to changing security threats. Lastly, this paper examines the possibility of using unconventional approaches to defense thinking. US security policymakers and strategists need to weigh these options and set the right priorities while preparing for the next decade.

1.     Managing the US–Chinese relationship

During the next ten years, the US will face a very big challenge of improving its diplomatic relations with Beijing. The difficulty arises because the use has to maintain a delicate balance between dissuasion and assurance. This undertaking is also complicated by the interconnectedness of these two leading economies. In pursuing dissuasion and assurance strategies, the US is attempting to hedge against unforeseen future intentions that may be made possible by the country’s expanding military capabilities. Unfortunately, efforts by China to expand its military capabilities are counterproductive to America’s quest for deeper diplomatic relations.

Going forward, the US must look for effective ways of managing tension and competition with China over resources in the region (Friedberg, 2005). It must capitalize on areas where China has already agreed to cooperate such as the maintenance of open and safe sea lanes in South China Sea. It may also be beneficial for the US if China was encouraged to participate in regional organizations. This is an excellent of mitigating the fear in Beijing that such organizations are being promoted as a way of curtailing its progress. For instance, presently, trade volume between the US and ASEAN member states is higher than the one between the US and China.

The US must tread carefully in the Asia Pacific region by adopting a low-key approach when launching joint military exercises with Southeast Asian countries. These countries have already expressed concerns that Beijing might be angered by such a show of allegiance to the US, something that may lead to a deterioration of China’s provocative behavior. Alternatively, Beijing may demand to be accorded a similar status in these states, which may be accompanied by threats of economic sanctions in the event of non-compliance.

Lastly, military-to-military dialogues constitute a major component of the overarching goal of fostering cordial, lasting US-China relations (Medeiros, 2013). Essentially, such dialogues should be undertaken against the backdrop of the notion of crisis management. Platforms for such dialogues may prove to be very helpful in the event of incidents at sea. The military and political leadership must get used to the idea of using hotlines to quell tensions between the two countries.

2.     Multilateralism

Multilateralism will facilitate progress in the US security agenda in the region by creating a safety net for partnerships, engagements, and joint military exercises. Multilateral organizations are founded on the idea of shared interests. It is easier for the US to come in as a partner in a region where collective interests have already been defined than in a situation where every state is reluctant to reach out to the outside world, beyond its domestic challenges. Fortunately, the existing multilateral arrangements in the region are in a flux. New interests are being introduced, new members are coming in, and occasionally, some members are going out. This phenomenon gives the US an opportunity to invest in efforts to integrate and strengthen the institutional foundation of these institutions to form a single political-economic bloc similar to the European Union.

If an EU-like organization crops up in Asia Pacific, the US would have a formidable platform on which to table its security agenda and sustain it in terms of implementation in the long run (Chanlett-Avery & Vaughn, 2013). The union would also create an excellent platform for interacting, engaging, partnering, and generally paving the way for the emergence of a common frontier in the fight against regional threats such as North Korea. Moreover, if properly executed, the creation of such an institution would greatly reduce the hegemonic influence of China in the region.

3.     Strengthening and expanding bilateral partnerships through diversification

One may argue that the most obvious alternative to multilateralism is bilateralism. In most cases, this strategy is driven by the goal of diversification (Tow, 2001). It is also driven by the realization that different states are in the pursuit of national interests that may not necessarily be accommodated in a multilateral framework. This strategy may also be beneficial for the US because it increases maneuverability in regards to the choices that the US military may make. Moreover, this option would translate into the continuation of bilateral relations that the US has traditionally been pursuing, for example, relations with Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and India. It may be imperative for the US to rethink these partnerships in light of the emerging security environment, such that political and military strategists are able to think about not just increasing the number of allies and partners but also the breadth and quality of these partnerships.

It would be foolhardy for the US to abandon the existing bilateral military relations with South Korea and Japan in the name of creating a foundation for an EU-style multilateral framework in the region. Instead, efforts to create such a framework should be directed at harnessing the strategic potential of countries where the level of strategic cooperation has not reached advanced stages of shared military and logistical capabilities such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

4.     Balancing the US troop presence in Asia Pacific

A major challenge for the US in terms of its relationship with its staunch allies in Asia Pacific is troop rationalization. The most important thing in this regard is to delink military capabilities from troop numbers. For decades, the US has maintained a constant number of troops in these two countries. At the same time, the security environment has been changing considerably. In the coming decade, ruling elites in South Korea and Japan expect troop numbers to increase in response to emerging threats. The US must change this perception for it to succeed in its overall defense strategy in the region.

Instead of worrying about troop numbers, the elites in this region should be concerned about changing training tactics of the US military and advancements in military technology. The United States continues to claim the leading position in these two aspects. Going into the next decade, the US must demonstrate its ability to employment the latest technologies to deter enemies. This calls for extensive collaboration with allies and partners across the region. This collaboration should be directed primarily towards proof of troops’ abilities to defeat adversaries and to neutralize multiple threats in coordinated fashion.

5.     Use of unconventional approaches to defense thinking eg space and cyberspace

The regional alliances that America forges must not limit their strategies to traditional security threats and opportunities for military engagement. They must look beyond the benefits, risks, opportunities, and constraints posed by conflicts that are modeled around territorial and proliferation issues. In today’s era of cyber and space technology, new approaches must be embraced in efforts to deal with conventional challenges. Conversely, access to space and cyber technology by adversaries in the region may pose a threat to US interests. During the next decade, it may be necessary for political attention to be directed at the need to forecast the possible implications of unconventional approaches to deterrence and power projection.

In May 2010, the United States established the US Cyber Command. This command is designed to work along the lines of the policy option that stresses the importance of unconventional approaches to defense thinking. Unfortunately, the impact of this new approach is yet to be felt during collaborative military exercises with US allies and partners in the Asia Pacific. The US Pacific Command must be on standby to take advantage of the new opportunities arising from the ongoing initiative of establishing a code of conduct for outer space.


In conclusion, the United States has achieved many feats in its quest for military supremacy in the Asia Pacific. These efforts have gone a long way in cementing US security interests not just in the region but also around the world. The country’s long-standing interests will continue to be even more sought-after during the next decade. The US Department of Defense will have to narrow down its list of priorities to five strategic options: managing the US–Chinese relationship, multilateralism, the strengthening and expanding of bilateral partnerships through diversification, balancing the US troop presence in Asia Pacific, and the use of use of unconventional approaches to defense thinking. The US will also need to continue promoting the existing military partnerships with Japan and South Korea in order to contain the threats posed by China’s assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.



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