America-Australia-Asia Pacific

The current fundamental perspectives and priority issues in American foreign policies as they relate to Australia ans the Asia-Pacific.

29th May 2009

In 1835, 13 years before the settlement of Americas West Coast, the U.S. Navy merged its Pacific and East India Squadrons marking the beginning of a continued U.S. military presence in the Western Pacific. In 1844, China under the Treaty of Wanghia granted the United States trading rights and in 1846, the United States attempted to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan. Negotiations at that time failed, but on March 15th 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry concluded the Treaty of Kanagawa, which began opening the Japanese markets to U.S. goods in 1858, and provided a haven for shipwrecked American sailors. The Treaty of Kanagawa also included the provision for protecting American whalers and the establishment of 2 coaling ports for U.S. steam ships sailing from San Francisco to China’s Pearl River delta – America’s first Asian “base.”

Today, the Asia-Pacific region is the geopolitical center of the struggle for world power. Approximately one-third of the world’s population produce about quarter of global output and global exports. Asian manufacturers control large shares of global production chains, and Asian governments and government institutions continue to hold close to two-thirds of the world’s foreign exchange reserves. According to Cossa, Two-way trade with the United States alone exceeds one trillion dollars, and accounts for 30 percent of total U.S. merchandise trade. (Cossa, 2009) By these standards the Asia-Pacific region has become a major force in the global economy.

Until late in the 20th century Asia was viewed as an important economic region for US prosperity; today it is seen as critical. U.S. relations with particular regions may or may not have their own independent features although frequently the extent of American activity is determined by their perceived importance within the larger vision of American priorities as a whole. According to the Security Strategy for the Obama Administration in the Asia-Pacific “ongoing shifts in geopolitical power from West to East make the Asia-Pacific region more important to the United States today than ever before.” [Cossa, 2009] Pursuit of economic advantage has largely replaced ideology as the driving force of foreign and military policies. In the Asia-Pacific, this means intensified economic and interstate competition is fueling military tensions and insecurity. According to Dr. Joseph Gerson, regional insecurity in the area is seen in issues such as the nuclear weapons programs of Japan, North and South Korea, and Indonesia, and the high-tech arms race among the newly industrializing Asian ‘tigers’. [Gerson, 1997]

In his report, Engagement and Enlargement: Report on U.S. National Security Strategy, President Clinton asserted that there were three main objectives for U.S. security strategies. These were: To enhance security by maintaining strong defense capabilities and promoting cooperative security measures; to open foreign markets and stimulate global economic growth; and to promote democracy abroad. Referring to the Asia-Pacific region, he added, “now more than ever, security, open markets and democracy go hand by hand in this vigorous region.” This would suggest that, the U.S. has a threefold interest in Asia as U.S. policy makers believe that peace and stability in Asia and the Pacific are fundamental prerequisites for U.S. security.

Regional order in the Asia-Pacific is defined by complex balance of power struggles focusing on the U.S., Japan, and China but also involving Russia and the region’s lesser powers. Because of this, the 1998 East Asia Security Report outlined five major objectives to a multifaceted U.S. regional security strategy:

The continued enhancement of the alliances with Japan and some other countries; the maintenance of comprehensive engagement, including the U.S. military presence in the region; the promotion of a stable, sound, lasting relationship with China; stemming and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by multilateral fora like the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Northeast Asian Cooperation Dialogue to advance transparency, reduce tensions, and improve confidence between regional powers.

The U.S. views its relative security alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Thailand as the foundations of its regional security policy. This is a key component of their military strategy in Asia, and a way to continue a leadership role in regional security affairs. During the “Meeting of the Minds”, the U.S. and Australia again reaffirmed their alliance, on March 25th 2009, promoting cooperative relations between the countries across a multitude of bilateral, regional, and multilateral issues. The Philippines, a long time, close friend to the U.S., early in 1998 concluded a Visiting Force Agreement, an important step in strengthening the security relationship between them in the post-bases era. The U.S. and Thai militaries maintain close relations, and the U.S. military enjoys access to strategic air bases in Thailand. The alliance with the ROK remains a crucial component of U.S. security policy in the region given that the Korean peninsula is the only place in Asia where the Cold War still exists, especially in light of its threat to retaliate against the halt to unconditional aid from the South, including the threat to carry out a ‘satellite launch.’

The U.S.-Japan alliance is of particular importance to U.S. security interests. It is regarded as the foundation of U.S. engagement in Asia and the ‘linchpin’ of the U.S. security strategy in Asia. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the strongest of the military alliances in the region and the center of the U.S.-led military network of alliances. Japan provides the U.S. with major military bases and finance and as such, is essential for a large-scale U.S. military presence in Asia.

One of the purposes of the current American administrations Asia policy is to reaffirm the US alliance relationships in Asia. It has been said that, “(T)throughout this period, the United States has been consistently engaged and demonstrated its continued commitment to regional peace and security. This continuity lies at the heart of U.S. policy.” (Asia-Pacific, 2009)

U.S. National Security Interests

•          Defense of the U.S. homeland, territories, citizens, allies, and interests

•          Regional stability and the absence of any dominant power or group of powers that would threaten or impede U.S. access or interests

•          Regional prosperity and the promotion of free trade and market access

•          A stable, secure, proliferation-free global nuclear order

•          Promotion of global norms and values, such as good governance, democracy, and individual human rights and religious freedom

•          Ensuring freedom of navigation, which is an essential prerequisite for regional stability and the protection of American interests

In the past, this would have referred to its security ties with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, but current US alliance relationships in the region are in a state of transition. Some allies are becoming more important than others and new strategic relationships are being forged. Regardless of their relative positioning, the nations comprising the Asia-Pacific region need to be reassured of America’s continued commitment to the region. As such, numerous U.S. pronouncements have been issued in an attempt to emphasize the U.S. intention to stay engaged in the region because it is in America’s interests to do so.

The following are among the issues currently under proposal for the current administration and its policy makers:
Articulate a Realistic and Pragmatic China Policy and Support a Stable Peace in the Taiwan Strait: It is likely that such a policy would include a commitment to continued prosperity and stability in China. It would also need to offer an increased dialogue on military modernization and maritime security issues and concerns. As Thomas J. Christensen, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs noted that, U.S. officials believe a “strong U.S. presence in Asia, backed by regional alliances and security partnerships, combined with a robust policy of diplomatic engagement, will help maximize the chance that China will make the right choices moving forward.” This ‘shaping’ must be done transparently and in context to the broader Asia-Pacific strategy that reassures allies. Continued engagement in bilateral dialogue and cooperation on finance and trade related issues, and encouraging bilateral cooperation on climate change and energy security would also need to be addressed.

Sustain Military Engagement and Forward Presence: The United States must maintain a forward deployed military presence in the region that both reassures friends and reminds others that America aims remain the primary guarantor of regional peace and stability. Opportunities that allow them to make greater contributions to regional security, including on nontraditional contingencies such as humanitarian relief operations could benefit this.

Actively Participate in Multilateral Efforts: The bilateral nature of its alliances should not be viewed as a constraint on U.S. multilateral engagement with the region. Trilateral security dialogues are under discussion between the United States, Japan, and South Korea and between the United States, Australia, and Japan, which are focused on expanding the areas for alliance-based cooperation. A quadripartite strategic dialogue among the United States, Japan, Australia, and India has been under consideration but appears unlikely to some concerns that it could appear as “anti-Chinese.”

Engage More Actively in Regional and Multilateral Fora: The U.S. needs to counter current perceptions of U.S. indifference toward Asian multilateral institutions. This would involve more than merely showing up. U.S. involvement in multilateral initiatives, including the U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Enhanced Partnership and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia- Pacific, need to be revalidated and expanded. The United States also needs to more clearly articulate its support for the East Asia community-building process in general especially toward the East Asia Summit.

Prevent Nuclear Proliferation and Promote Nuclear Stability and Disarmament: One of the most important developments affecting regional security over the last decade has been in relation to nuclear weapons. While nuclear disarmament remains the long-term goal, proliferation remains the short-term objective. Proliferation threatens U.S. homeland security and regional stability in Asia, and is therefore a primary concern of U.S foreign policy. Suggestions to halt WMD proliferation have included: the pursuit of strategic dialogues with Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea; an arms control agreement with Russia safeguarding continued nuclear reductions anticipating future participation by other states; and the promotion of an effective nonproliferation regime and treaty implementation in the Asia-Pacific.

Counter Radical Islam: Despite the U.S. war on terrorism the proposed approach to radical Islamic terrorists suggests focusing on quietly helping friends to combat violent groups by providing intelligence and law enforcement assistance, developing regional information-sharing technologies and networks, strengthening legal systems. It is also however suggested, equipping and training counterterrorism forces.

Broaden the Agenda/Strengthen American Soft Power: America’s military and diplomatic effort remains crucial to their engagement with Asia, assuming that they do not overlook other opportunities to enhance their standing in the region, by helping other nations improve their ability to tackle shared economic, environmental and security challenges, support of education and health programs, and leadership in regional and global fora.

Cooperate on Non-traditional Security Challenges: to deal with non-traditional security challenges such as climate change and energy security are essential. Multilateral efforts to address these problems may require separate bilateral discussions with China and India if any success in managing the consequences of climate change is to be achieved.

Promote Open and Free Trade: since these greatly affect stability and security in the Asia-Pacific — and American prosperity. Encouragement should be given to Asian nations to expanding free trade agreements that allow for greater interdependency and economic growth. The relative balance of the world’s economic power has been gradually moving in favor of Asia and will likely continue to do so once the global recession eases.

Develop a Clear Vision and Statement of Purpose: The ability of the United States to protect and advance its interests will depend significantly on the reassertion of active leadership. Whether accurate or not, a number of states in the region have come to see the United States as preoccupied with the global war on terrorism with a specific regional focus on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the greater Middle East. The U.S will have to reassert active leadership and engagement in the region and reaffirm U.S. commitment. Following the vision set out by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in his remarks to the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31, 2008, he defined the United States as “a Pacific nation with an enduring role in East Asia,” one standing “for openness and against exclusivity” and committed to “mutual prosperity.” Noting that American territory in the Pacific Ocean extended from the Aleutian Islands to Guam, Secretary Gates defined the United States as a “resident power” in the region. The U.S needs to show its commitment to creating a stable regional environment that supports economic, political, and human development throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Preserve and Reinvigorate U.S. Alliances: The U.S. bilateral alliance structure remains the foundation of regional stability and prosperity and the starting point for U.S. security engagement with the region. These alliances allow the United States to maintain a significant forward-deployed presence in the region with bases structure in Japan and South Korea, reinforced by access agreements with non-allied Asian friends. Operating from bases in Asia, U.S. forces are able to extend their operational reach to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. The political willingness of the United States accept new challenges—while still engaged in two conflicts and a worldwide campaign against violent extremism, in addition to the ongoing economic crisis—will is likely to put even greater emphasis on cooperative approaches, such as the establishment of ad hoc coalitions of the willing. The impact such coalitions have on the traditional alliance network is largely unexamined.

Maintain Strategic Equilibrium while Integrating Rising Powers: Chinas role and influence in the region is increasing, Japan is becoming more multidimensional in its involvement, India is developing and looking eastward, while Russia seeks to reassert itself and to regain some of the economic position lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile the Republic of Korea in Northeast Asia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia are striving to make their own marks on the region while dealing with their own difficulties relating to democratic growth. For the present, it is not in U.S. interests to be seen as trying to disrupt or delay any of these trends but rather to encourage and mold them to enhance and promote regional prosperity and security.


National Archives and Records Administration,

US Pacific fleet,

Agreement between the government of the unites states and the government of the republic of the phillipines regarding the treatment of unites states armed forces visiting the phillipines

Cossa, Ralph A. (2009), ‘How to Get Asia Right: Recommendations for the Obama Administration’,American Foreign Policy Interests,31:1,3 — 11

Yahuda, M. (1996), The international politics of the Asia-Pacific, 1945-1995, Routledge, New York pp. 109-113, 141-157

Cossa R.A., Glosserman B., McDevitt M.A., Patel N., Przystup J., Robert B.,s(Feb. 2009) The United States and the Asia-Pacific Region: Security Strategy for the Obama Administration Center for a New American Security, Washington, DC

U.S Department of Defence (2008), The United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region 1988

Baylis J. Smith S. Owens P. (2008), The Globalisation of World Politics pp80-81 Oxford University Press New York.

Gerson J. Dr. (Jan. 2007), Asia/Pacific Peace and Security, Foreign Policy in Focus Volume 2 Number 10, International Relations Center, [online]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s