30 July 2015

The United States continues to focus strategically on the Asia-Pacific region

American interests in Asia and the Pacific region are attracting increasingly frequent attention. A new report from FOI examines the United States’ strategic involvement in the Far East.

According to a new FOI report “Amerikanska prioriteringar i Fjärran Östern [American priorities in the Far East]”, the United States plans to have refocused 60 percent of its Navy and Air Force units towards the Far East by 2020. The author of the report , which is published in Swedish with a summary in English, is Niklas H. Rossbach, a security policy analyst at FOI. The growing United States presence is not intended to signify any hostile intent towards an emergent China but rather to show its presence in the region. The report takes the view that such a military rebalancing would not, on its own, be sufficient to strengthen United States influence in the region. United States’ dealings with China would be greatly facilitated if it were to have a wide variety of allies and partners in the region and if many different policy areas were to be involved. The United States is therefore seeking to expand cooperation with partners, especially strategic partners, in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The United States is not able to establish new defence alliances in Asia but wishes to deepen its relationships with a number of countries in the region. This means that the old alliance system encompassing five bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia, of which the United States has formed the hub, will be incorporated in a network of partnerships with, for example, India, Singapore and New Zealand,” says Niklas H. Rossbach.

The United States’ policy in Asia is now focused on an extended area stretching from North East Asia to India’s western border. In this way the United States strengthens its influence in the part of the world that is expected to become the global centre of gravity where defence and security are concerned. The economic importance of the region continues to grow and the United States will wish to avoid any trial of strength or escalation in geopolitical tension. The report also concludes that the main priority in the short term should be to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a free trade agreement between nine countries in the region.

It takes time to alter alliances. It will be up to future administrations to implement the strategic plans that have been mapped out. Implementation will face challenges at home; for example what happens if Congress gives priority to other expenditure and decides that keeping tax levels low is more important than new defence policy initiatives? The United States is also engaged in discussing just how extensive its international involvement should be. According to this report the United States’ planned rebalancing of its strategic approach to the Far East can be seen as its third attempt in two decades to respond to the security implications of China’s increasing importance on the global stage.