Asia, America, and the Transformation of Geopolitics
The U.S. and Western victory in the Cold War emerged from a strategy of national building and reconstruction that sought to create strong polities and economies in Western Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. These efforts in Asia resulted in extraordinary economic growth that gave citizens of Asian countries a stake in the stability and success of their countries, while giving governments the resources to build national administration, national infrastructure, and effective national military and police forces. From Japan to Indonesia, this drained the motivation for ideological extremism while endowing governments with the administrative, police, and military capacity to suppress the residues of that extremism. It also led them to focus on domestic economic development at the expense of military and territorial expansion. In the 21st century, however, major changes have occurred in U.S. relations with the region, driven in part by major changes in U.S. priorities. Whereas U.S. Cold War national security policy protected both Japan and China from each other, in the new century the U.S. has focused on consolidating the U.S.-Japan alliance and explicitly targeting China as a potential enemy. Whereas the Cold War aligned U.S. and Japanese military, economic, and political interests, the post-Cold War period has seen a paradoxical consolidation of the U.S.-Japan military relationship, while the major regional political and economic issues are increasingly managed by a U.S.-Chinese bicondominium. In U.S. policy the role of the military and the emphasis on spreading democracy (and allying with democracies) has risen, while emphasis on economic development and on building regional institutions has declined, at considerable cost to U.S. influence in much of the region. Moreover, the half-century of increased globalization may now be at risk. Since the geopolitics of Asia’s last half-century has been driven by the Asian economic miracle — the success of Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, and China; the failure of the Soviet Union, North Korea, Burma, and others to keep up; and the belated but immensely consequential participation of India — any risk to the process of globalization on which the Asian miracle depends in turn puts at risk the stability of key countries, for the region’s continued emphasis on peaceful development rather than geopolitical conflict, and the standing of the United States. These trends will likely bring major but indeterminate change. A continued focus on military issues and the Taiwan conflict could lead toward a new Cold War. On the other hand, resolution of the Taiwan and Korea conflicts, together with a strengthening of Japanese right-wing nationalism, could lead to a reversal of alliances. U.S. public reaction against potential failures in Iraq and elsewhere could lead to loss of budget support for a forward policy and an inability of Washington to mute Japan-China tensions. A severe setback for globalization could renew domestic instability in key countries and reignite old geopolitical conflicts. Or continued globalization and a rebalancing of the U.S. relationship with Japan and China could ensure peace and continuation of the Asian economic miracle.