assessing us bilateral security alliances in the asia pacific southern rim

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At the turn of the century, the United States’ postwar alliance network remains a key component of its international security policy. That policy is fundamentally based on maintaining military superiority over current and potential rivals in the Eurasian landmass. To achieve this goal, the United States must be able to sustain a force presence in Europe and Asia that can shape the balance of power in both regions during peacetime. During wars or crises, U.S. military forces must also be able to project a decisive level of military capability in either theatre. As an increasing number of states develop ballistic missile forces,1 there has been recent speculation about the future utility of force presence and forward bases. Nevertheless, current U.S. military planning endorses overseas American military presence and basing as critical to ongoing strategic commitments.

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  • 1Assessing U.S. BilateralSecurity Alliances in the AsiaPacifics Southern Rim:Why the San Francisco SystemEndures

    William T. Tow

    October 1999

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  • 3About the Author

    William T. Tow is an associate professor in International Relations with the University ofQueenslands Department of Government. His primary research interests are East Asiansecurity issues, alliance politics, and international security affairs, and he has written widelyon all these issues. He is currently director of UQs International Relations and Asian PoliticsResearch Unit (IRAPRU), serves on the Australian Foreign Affairs Council, and is on theAustralian Member Board, Council for Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (AUS-CSCAP). He also served on the Australian-American Educational Foundations (FulbrightCommissions) National Board of Directors from 1991-1996. He has traveled widelythroughout the Asia Pacific and frequently lectures to academic, government, and publicsettings in the region. Work leading to this publication has been supported by the AustralianResearch Council. Before immigrating to Australia in 1991, he was an assistant professor atthe University of Southern Californias School of International Relations in Los Angeles.

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  • 5Assessing U.S. Bilateral Security Alliances in the Asia PacificsSouthern Rim: Why the San Francisco System Endures

    William T. Tow

    At the turn of the century, the United States postwar alliance network remains a keycomponent of its international security policy. That policy is fundamentally based onmaintaining military superiority over current and potential rivals in the Eurasian landmass.

    To achieve this goal, the United States must be able to sustain a force presence in Europeand Asia that can shape the balance of power in both regions during peacetime. During warsor crises, U.S. military forces must also be able to project a decisive level of militarycapability in either theatre. As an increasing number of states develop ballistic missileforces,1 there has been recent speculation about the future utility of force presence andforward bases. Nevertheless, current U.S. military planning endorses overseas Americanmilitary presence and basing as critical to ongoing strategic commitments.

    Regional security alliances, U.S. military planners argue, promote joint and combinedtraining, encourage allied defense burden-sharing, and allow U.S. military commanders awider array of military options should crises erupt in key regions.2 The effects of ballisticmissile threats should be mitigated, at least over the short-term, by weak combat systemintegration and by concerted U.S. and allied efforts to develop countermeasures againstthem.3 Alliances and U.S. force projection strategies therefore remain an integral part of theshape, respond, and prepare American military strategy.

    Understandably, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has captured the mostpublic attention among the United States alliance postures. That alliance celebrated itsfiftieth birthday while conducting the first regional military conflict in its history againstSerbia. It is no less appropriate, however, to take stock of Americas bilateral alliances in the

  • 6Asia Pacific region, as they too approach their half-century mark. They provide theframework both for the maintenance of approximately 100,000 U.S. military personneldeployed in the region and for the United States continued presence as the regions primarystrategic balancer.4 Allied bases and logistical support in the Asia Pacific provide U.S. forceswith essential strategic depth and mobility. Interoperability with allied forces is a key forcemultiplier that underscores how critical the United States regional bilateral alliances are toAmerican international interests and strategic objectives.

    The most significant of the bilateral security relationships operating in the Asia Pacificare those embedded within the so-called San Francisco System. This term originates fromthe United States creation of a regional bilateral defense network during the Japan peaceconference convened in San Francisco during September 1951. At the conference, separatedefense accords were signed with Australia/New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines. Overthe ensuing two or three years, these accords were supplemented by additional bilateraldefense pacts negotiated with South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.5 The treaties withAustralia (New Zealand is no longer formally affiliated with the U.S. component ofANZUS), the Philippines, and Thailand presently constitute the Southeast Asian/SouthwestPacific or southern rim dimension of this security framework. U.S. defense relations withSingapore are increasingly comparable to those conducted between two formal securityallies and thus are also included as part of the southern rim component.

    Intra-regionally, the Northeast Asian subregion is arguably regarded as more integral tocore U.S. strategic interests than its Southeast Asian counterpart.6 U.S. forces are stationedin Japan and South Korea to protect what are, respectively, the worlds second and eleventhlargest single-state economies. U.S. global interests may face their most formidable challengeduring the twenty-first century from another Northeast Asian powerthe Peoples Republicof China (PRC). Nevertheless, Northeast Asia remains the core of regional geopolitics.Chinese, Russian, and North Korean military capabilities and strategic diplomacy occupycentral positions in U.S. thinking about Asia Pacific security.

    Some American defense observers have labeled this Northeast Asian geopolitical orienta-tion as a built-in emphasis within PACOM [the Pacific Command] on Northeast Asia.The 1991 loss of Clark and Subic Bay bases in the Philippines, they assert, simply reinforcedan American propensity to focus attention on the northern portion of the Asia Pacific regionsince the end of the Vietnam War.7 Indeed, no substantial U.S. force concentrations arecurrently deployed in a Southeast Asian country, although military education, rotatingdeployments, and joint military training constitute an over-the-horizon U.S. strategicpresence. Despite recent political instability in Indonesia and milder socio-political repercus-sions in several other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states emanatingfrom the Asian financial crisis, Southeast Asias security environment remains essentiallystable. Even so, the survival of any single Southeast Asian state would not directly affect thesurvival of the United States or seriously erode Americas economic prosperity. Preciselybecause their position at home remains secure, U.S. policy spokespersons or force plannersfrom PACOM and elsewhere have yet to offer an updated and comprehensive granddesign specifically addressing U.S. geopolitical interests in this subregion. Such interestshave been delineated, however, in recent policy statements offered by U.S. defense officials.

    First, as intimated in the 1995 East Asia Strategy Report, the United States, as theworlds foremost maritime power, must maintain control of Southeast Asias maritimeroutes. These are vital to the flow of Middle East oil and are central lifelines between thegreat industrial powers of Northeast Asia and the Indian Ocean littorals.8 Bilateral alliances

  • 7with Thailand, the Philippines, and Australia, as well as the U.S.-Singapore defense relation-ship, provide the U.S. Seventh Fleet and other components of PACOM with friendly way-stations to sustain a regional naval presence.

    Second, as PACOMs commander-in-chief recently observed, it is not in the interests ofany state (including the United States, despite its maritime dominance in Southeast Asia) tostrive for regional strategic dominance or hegemony.9 In the view of PACOM and the overallU.S. strategic planning community, the bilateral alliances in Southeast Asia provide aneffective balancing mechanism against the possibility of such dominance. In particular, thesealliances are viewed as a way to deter China from converting Southeast Asia into its ownstrategic buffer zone.

    Third, each southern rim ally facilitates U.S. strategic operations in ways that rein-force U.S. access to and influence within the growing economies and markets of SoutheastAsia and throughout the entire Asian region. PACOMs commander-in-chief regularly citesthe United States increased trade interdependence with Asia (now over $500 billion per yearor 35 percent of the total U.S. trade volume) and notes that the Asia Pacific marketplacecontains over 56 percent of the worlds population. In his words, the American interestclearly lies in a secure, stable and prosperous Asia Pacific. 10

    This paper will explore the essential characteristics of U.S. security relationships withSoutheast Asia and with Australia. It asserts that U.S. bilateral alliances in this area,constituting what can be termed the Asia Pacific regions southern rim, work mosteffectively in conjunction with the multilateral security diplomacy initiated by Australia andASEAN to stabilize their part of the world. It takes issue with those who insist that securityalliances must be threat-oriented if they are to survive and be credible. Instead, it underscoresthe order-building characteristics of these alliances and their potential to link bilateral andmultilateral security behavior in constructive ways.

    Southern rim alliance viability is sustained through alliance mutuality. This is definedas those collective or shared interests that cross the boundaries of bilateral alliances toreinforce cooperation throughout an entire alliance network. Alliance mutuality contrastswith the purpose and behavior of U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia (specifically with Japanand South Korea) which are sustained through mutual threat perception. Four key factors ofallia