Any analyst of security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region must avoid falling prey to two fallacies. The first misapprehension is that military might can be separated from economic security. The second error is that the Asia-Pacific region, and even less Southeast Asia, can be hived off from the other regions of the world. For roughly the same reason these common assumptions are mistaken, security increasingly requires multidimensional responses.
These illusions can be illustrated by enumerating three complex global challenges that defy strictly military solutions or regional responses.
First, climate change is a wicked, global problem that will bedevil not just current generations but many to follow. Second, political violence and terrorism, although offering a more traditional security challenge than climate change, is equally resistant to simply military instruments of power and difficult to restrict to a single region such as the Middle East. Third, the developed countries of the Asia-Pacific region are particularly vulnerable in the cyber domain. Countries such as the United States and Singapore are far more dependent on the internet, the Internet of Things, and social media than Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
Even where threats are more centered states in the Asia-Pacific region, the implications are global in scale. Clearly, the challenge of preventing nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula should not be reduced to simply a Northeast Asian issue. Furthermore, the erosion of the liberal world order appears to be baked into many of the international policies of Russia and China. Even while both countries offer to assist in containing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Moscow and Beijing are also busy pursuing unilateral changes to the status quo with respect to regional claims, the use of irregular or political warfare, and the exercise of coercion short of the threshold that might trigger a military response. In the South China Sea, China has paved over rocks to create military outposts, despite the clear judgment of July 2016 rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The China challenge is not just some bilateral issue for Washington and Beijing, but a common challenge, especially for like-minded countries in Southeast Asia and across the Indo-Pacific region.
There is no quick nostrum for managing these and other challenges. A good starting point will be for each of us to have our own house in order, with sustainable economic growth and strong defenses. For the United States, especially since withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, there is an urgent need to develop an alternative geo-economic strategy. For the time being, Washington will be seeking bilateral trade and investment deals to engage the region. Meanwhile, the region should continue working to harvest important chapters from TPP for broad agreement at the APEC summit in Vietnam this November. In Southeast Asia, the United States seeks to work with allies and partners on preserving a favorable balance of power.
About the Speaker:
Patrick M. Cronin is a Senior Advisor and the Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Previously, he headed the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) at the National Defense University, where he simultaneously oversaw the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs.
Dr. Cronin has a rich and diverse background in both Asian-Pacific security and U.S. defense, foreign, and development policy. Prior to leading INSS, Dr. Cronin served as the Director of Studies at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Before joining IISS, he was Senior Vice President and Director of Research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He has also served as the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Director of Research at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Among Dr. Cronin’s many publications are the following relevant and recent CNAS reports: Networking Asian Security: An Integrated Approach to Order in the Pacific (June 2017) (co-author); Beyond the San Hai: Implications of China’s Emerging Blue-water Navy (May 2017) (co-author); Averting Disengagement: A Geoeconomic Strategy for the Trump Administration in Southeast Asia (April 2017) (co-author); Counterbalance: Red Teaming the Rebalance in the Asia-Pacific (November 2016) (Co-author); Power and Order in the South China Sea: A Strategic Framework for U.S. Policy (November 2016); Sustaining the Rebalance in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Next Administration (May 2016); and Dynamic Balance: An Alliance Requirements Roadmap for the Asia-Pacific Region (May 2016) (co-author).