Implementing the National Security Strategy: A View from the United States

A Paper for the 2003 NDU-Pacific Command Conference

Honolulu, Hawaii

Michael McDevitt


Enduring Fundamentals


Before discussing the Bush Administrations 2002 National Security Strategy and how it applies to East Asia it is important to first establish a baseline for discussion. The main point is the fact that the National Security Strategy (NSS) is built upon the enduring fundamentals of U.S East Asian security policy.


The first and perhaps most important fundamental is that the United States does not intend to be excluded from Asia. The United States considers access to Asia a vital interest because of a combination of economic, security and societal reasons.  For well over a century, the U.S. has proclaimed that it is a Pacific power. Quoting Colin Powell, “the U.S. is a Pacific Power and we will not yield our strategic position in Asia.”[1]


The second fundamental is America’s enduring commitment to Asian security and stability.  Even though we are not in Asia in a geographic sense, our commitment, as Colin Powell said is an enduring one for both Asia’s sake and our own.[2] This is particularly salient because of the reported concern that some Asians have expressed after learning of discussions surrounding the realignment of U.S. presence in Korea.   Concerns about a U.S. withdrawal are mistaken. The Defense Departments 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directly speaks to importance of Asia to the United States.  In its discussion of U.S. national interests, Asia receives particular attention in the list of regional areas that are “critical” to the United States.  Listed among the enduring national interests of the United States is the requirement to preclude hostile domination of critical areas, “… particularly Europe, Northeast Asia, the East Asian littoral (defined as the region stretching from south of Japan through Australia and into the Bay of Bengal), and the Middle East and Southwest Asia.”[3]


This formulation is interesting because it specifically divides East Asia into Northeast Asia and the littoral states between Japan and India. This was done, I believe, to make certain that it was widely understood that the United States had important interests in Asia in addition to its Japanese and Korean allies and other interests in NE Asia.  


The third fundamental is the rock-solid belief that forward-deployed forces contribute to stability.  The syllogism that best captures why the U.S. remains committed to presence in East Asia is that a capable military presence that is strong enough to “deter forward without massive reinforcement,” creates stability.  Stability, in turn, is the sine qua non for economic development, and economic development creates prosperity.[4]


The fourth fundamental is a belief that balance of power considerations are important to stability in East Asia.  In the introduction to the NSS President Bush writes about, “… creating a balance of power that favors freedom.”  This balance of power will defend the peace when necessary, preserve the peace through good relations with great powers, and extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies.[5]


While the Bush formulation different from prior years, notions of the U.S. role in a balance of power in Asia have been around for years and have been at the heart of U.S. strategy in East Asia.  A few years ago Australian strategist Paul Dibb wrote,  “statesmen in Asia are still inclined to a realist, state-centric perception with a primary concern for sovereignty, national interest and state influence. Changes in relative power continue to be important because a state's relative position is by definition relative to that of other states . . .” in the region.[6] Despite the years since this written this perception remains valid today. The reason that this is so is because as Dibb put it “…nation-states [of Asia] will ensure that no one power is in a position to determine the fate of others.”  They do this by welcoming a strong U.S. military presence in the region.[7]


The importance of balance of power considerations in East Asian strategy is illustrated in all four of the Asian strategy reports issued during the 1990’s. For example, the Department of Defense’s East Asia Strategy Initiative of 1990 clearly spells out that America's security interests include “maintaining the balance of power to prevent the rise of any regional hegemon . . ..”[8] A second East Asia Strategy Report, issued in 1992, repeated this fundamental stance. The report discussed maintaining regional stability and specifically stated that one of the reasons that the United States maintains its military forces in East Asia is to “discourage the emergence of regional hegemon.” The 1995 report, the policy of “preventing the rise of any hegemonic power or coalition” was again addressed. Leading U.S. officials such have routinely characterized the U.S. role by such phrases as a “balance wheel.” Being the key element in an Asian balance of power is a long held and congenial concept to American strategists and policy makers through today. [9]


The final fundamental is the belief that the bedrock of our strategic position in Asia is our alliance structure in Asia, especially with Japan and Korea. This has been true since the onset of the Cold war in Asia in 1950. Access to bases and facilities in these countries permits the U.S. to deter a North Korean invasion and to execute a regional stabilizing military mission. The NSS speaks about the importance of alliances in two separate but related contexts.  The first and arguably the most important from the point of view of the administration, is the participation by Asian allies and friends in the war on terrorism.  Secondly, our alliances enable the mission of maintaining region stability.  As the NSS puts it, “ The war of terrorism has proven that America’s alliances in Asia not only underpin regional piece and stability, but are flexible and ready to deal with new challenges.” [10]


These fundamentals, along with other traditional U.S. interests - spread of democracy, freedom of the seas - remain as constants; an enduring foundation of traditional U.S. security policy that the Bush NSS rests upon.


                                                     Enabling the Strategy


The conference organizers asked that I assess the success the USG has had in gaining and sustaining support within the Asia-Pacific region for the policies that flow from the NSS. To do this I have elected to use the “check-list” of tasks written in the NSS as a way to organize my assessment. Recall, the strategic objective that the NSS aims to accomplish is a “balance of power that favors human freedom.”  The strategy’s aim is not just to make the world and the region safer, but to make the world and the region better.


To accomplish is strategic aim the United States is pledged to defending the peace, preserving the peace and extending the peace.  This will require that the U.S. undertake eight specific tasks. They are listed on page 1 of the NSS as: 


·        champion aspirations for human dignity;

·        strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends;

·        work with others to defuse regional conflicts;

·        prevent our enemies from threatening us, our allies, and our friends, with weapons of mass destruction;

·        ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade;

·        expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy;

·        develop agendas for cooperative action with other main centers of global power; and

·        Transform America’s national security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century.[11]


To keep this paper to a manageable length, and to not stray too far from my areas of competence, I intend to focus on assessing only those tasks that relate to security issues.


                                        Support for these Objectives


It is however, worth observing that a cursory assessment of this very ambitious set of tasks suggests that the administration is moving in a positive direction on all counts, despite its preoccupation with Iraq.  


Popular support for many of these tasks by the governments and peoples of East Asia is reasonable to predict, mainly because they all fall within the scope of traditional American policies, and because they speak to the aspirations of millions of people in the region.  For example, fostering and encouraging democracy, being foursquare behind free trade and open markets, being willing to be candid, and often assertive about human rights shortcomings, and more recently freedom of religious expression, are long standing US policy goals.


As the NSS puts it: “No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.”  In assessing the NSS, the dean of U.S. diplomatic historians, John Lewis Gaddis, argues that the Bush Administration believes, “…the ultimate goal of the U.S. strategy must be to spread democracy everywhere. The United States must finish the job Woodrow Wilson started.  The world, quite literally, must be made safe for democracy....” [12]


Supporting and encouraging democratic institutions and when the opportunity was presented assisting in building “democratic infrastructure,” as the NSS puts it, in East Asia has been long standing and generally successful US Asian policy; as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, the former Trust Territories, and Thailand illustrate.


Looking back, the wars in Korea and Vietnam were really all about this objective.  While the US did not succeed in Vietnam it did illustrate a serious commitment to this high principle, and it did, if many Southeast Asians are to be believed, buy time for Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to work toward putting the infrastructure of democracy and market economies in place.  While the result may be less than the ideal today, there is no question that the peoples of those countries are immeasurably better off than the side that defeated democracy; witness Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.


Or, take for example the task of championing aspirations for human dignity, which parenthetically, I think is a particularly felicitous formulation.  What this means is that the United States must stand firmly for: “the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.”  According to the NSS these principles will guide America’s decisions about international cooperation and how the United States allocates aid and other assistance.  I believe that the administration is doing this, and these policies while not always popular with foreign governments are popular with individual citizens.[13]


                             The Global war on Terrorism in East Asia


The National Security Strategy also has some innovations, as Gaddis points out. One such innovation is its emphasis on the importance of cooperation among great powers.

This relates directly to the second task. It states the need to “strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and to work to prevent attacks.”[14]


In terms of strengthening alliances to combat terrorism, there is no question that the relationship with Australia, already very close, has grown even closer, with Australian forces fighting side by side with Americans in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq, while its ships continue to join coalition maritime forces in the Gulf and Northern Arabian Sea.  Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty to declare that that the September 11 attacks was an attack on Australia itself. Sadly, Australia also endured its own experience with terrorist induced mass causalities following the bombings in Bali.


Japan’s contributions have also been unprecedented. The Koizume government has utilized the opportunity to remake at least some aspects of its Self-Defense Force policies.  The anti-terrorism legislation his government passed allows Japan to provide food, fuel, and supplies to both Diego Garcia and the Indian Ocean regions. Moreover, it  allows warships, including AEGIS equipped destroyers, to be included in this deployment. It also allows for the sea-born movement of supplies. For example, a JMSDF  LST recently transported the equipment of a Thai engineering unit bound for Afghanistan to the Middle East. These efforts are significant steps toward a gradual revision of Tokyo’s self-imposed prohibitions against collective self-defense, which I believe, is also an unstated U.S. policy objective. These moves also reflect a general shift in public opinion in Japan toward much greater support for the U.S.-Japan alliance and for stiff measures against terrorist activities.



The attacks of September 11 and subsequent bombing in Bali brought home the realization that there are stateless terrorist groups who are willing to use any means possible, including the most powerful weapons available, in order to inflict mass destruction on the U.S. and it allies. These attacks illustrate that traditional concepts of deterrence, based on massive retaliation, have little meaning if the enemy is stateless, has infiltrated into the fabric of politically weak or fragile (but not hostile) nations, and is willing to commit suicide to achieve its goals.


The fact that most of the nations of East Asia have to one degree or another responded positively to the Administrations post 9/11 call to be “with us or against us” in the war against terrorism should not be construed as a wholesale reordering of individual national judgments of self-interest or domestic political factors. With the exception of Australia, perhaps the Philippines, and, to a lesser degree Japan, none of the nations of East Asia appears seized with an overarching commitment that transcends regional or domestic issues.


On reflection this should not be a surprise.  All the nations of East Asia are to one degree or another beset with serious economic downturns that in some nations could lead to internal stability or at least bring down the government. Many face serious security concerns, close to home, that existed before 9-11 and will persist into the future.  While their is a general appreciation of the implicit dangers that radical Islamic inspired terrorism could inflict on many of the regimes in the region, this has not been of sufficient concern to elevate the fight a against terrorism priority number one.  Rather, assisting the United States in the fight against terrorism will have to compete for priority with the full range of other issues and is unlikely to result in many democratically elected governments that adopt unpopular or politically risky responses solely to assist the United States.


Central to executing this NSS task in Asia is the appreciation that, with its 206,000,000 Muslims (95% of whom are in Indonesia and Malaysia), Southeast Asia might succeed Afghanistan as a home for Al Qaeda and its network of allied organizations.  This has motivated Washington to rethink its approach to Indonesia.  Indonesia has always been important for the United States, but the fate of the secular government in Indonesia is even more critical now given the war on terrorism.


The United States has increased direct assistance to Indonesia for political reform and stabilization, more effective police and intelligence programs, and to strengthen moderate, mainstream Islamic organizations that are appalled at global terrorism.  There is greater realization in Washington as well that continued ostracism of Indonesia's armed forces, despite their dismal record of human rights abuses, is not the best way to bring about change in the military.  Education programs for the TNI in counter-terrorist related fields has been funded this year, the first military education program since 1991.


Our willingness to assist the Philippines in its drawn out struggles with Islamic militants and terrorists reflects a dramatic upturn in U.S. relations with Manila.  President Gloria Arroyo gave unreserved support to the United States after 9/11 even offering use of the former bases if necessary in counter-terrorist operations.  It was immediately apparent that parts of the southern Philippines that were virtually under the control of a criminal/Islamic gang, the Abu Sayyaf group-which had already had contacts with al Qaeda operatives-represented a major threat.  U.S. military assistance to the Philippines over the past year to help eradicate Islamic terrorism in the South, and improve the AFP's ability to re-establish security and government control, has been welcomed. 


It must be said that our closer relationship with Manila also reflects the geo-strategic reality that access to Philippines facilities is much more important than most judged 12 years ago, because of contemporary worries about defense of Taiwan and access to training facilities for U.S forces stationed in Japan. At a minimum, gaining temporary access to airfields on Luzon seems to be a recognized priority.


Our security relationship with Singapore continues to evolve.  The access Singapore provides for supporting our forward presence is important, particularly at Singapore's new naval base at Changi.  Implicit in U.S. arrangements with Singapore over the past decade has been an understanding on both sides that Singapore could rely on the United States in the event of a serious threat to its security.  Post 9/11, this understanding has deepened, and Singapore has become a key ally and confidant in the shared contest against Islamic terrorism.


While China is no ally in the traditional sense, in the war against terrorism, the characterization ally does apply because terrorism is a problem that continues to plague Beijing.  This shared interest is one of the reasons is why Sino-U.S. relations have improved.  China certainly hopes to have long-term stable relations with the U.S. for obvious economic, if for no other, reasons.  Before 9-11 Chinese security analysts were in the midst of a debate focused on attempting to determine if the Bush Administration had concluded that China was along-term security threat.  China is perhaps the East Asian state most negatively affected by America’s anti-terrorism coalition because the US has moved to strengthen relations with Central Asia nations, Russia, and Pakistan. None of which, prior to 9-11, was in China’s interests.  Now post 9-11 Beijing hopes its own expertise in Central Asia, its familiarity with Islamic terrorism and its links to Pakistan will keep the Sino-U.S. relationship on its currently stable footing—as does Washington.


                          “Work with Other to Defuse Regional Conflicts”


The assessment of this task is mixed mainly because one of the potential flashpoints in the region—conflict over Taiwan—is uniquely limited to the three parties involved. No other country in East Asia wants to get in the middle of this intractable situation.  All nations hopes for a peaceful resolution and they all dread the prospect having to choose between China, who will always be in Asia, and the United States, who while not “of Asia” is the country capable of balancing the growing political weight and military potential of China. 


As a result U.S. security policy aimed toward defusing the Taiwan situation has been unilateral rather than multilateral. Nonetheless, it has evolved dramatically over the past two years. The biggest change was President Bush’s introduction of strategic clarity about U.S. intentions should China attack Taiwan. In my judgment, this was a necessary and important stabilizing step in the wake of Beijing’s introduction of impatience and caprice into its stated rationale for using force against Taiwan. (The third “if” in Beijing’s February 2000 White Paper.)


Strategic clarity is also involved in making certain that Taipei understands that a firm defense commitment was not license for Taipei to provoke Beijing and drag the U.S. into conflict. The combination of these two policy actions plus the growing economic linkages between Taiwan and mainland have worked to make the atmosphere surrounding this potential crisis much less foreboding—at least for the short term.


On the other hand, one of the negative consequences of a much more explicit defense commitment to Taiwan is the fact that both China and the U.S. conduct increasingly ill disguised contingency planning about how best to prevail in a Taiwan crisis. As a result the prospect of conflict hangs like a black cloud over an otherwise “candid, constructive and cooperative” relationship with Beijing.


Moving on to the other unresolved East Asian conflict—Korea, the United States is working hard with other trying to resolve North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue.  The trouble is all of the other parties want the U.S. to be more unilateral. However, all of North Korea’s neighbors are share the view that North Korea should not become a nuclear weapons state.  And they all agree, at least conceptually, that this is by definition a multilateral issue.  The problem is that North Korea refuses to be drawn into multi-lateral dialogue where they fear they would be isolated. North Korea wants bilateral discussions with the United States, which Washington refuses to agree to do.


Despite the urging of the other regional players, the US argues that bi-lateral discussions with North Korea over nuclear weapons have not succeeded in the past and there is no reason to expect they will in the future—especially since Pyongyang has a track record of violating every agreement it has made on this subject.  Further, the U.S. argues, until North Korea abandons its nuclear pretensions there is no possibility of any serious dialogue, because the Administration refuses to reward “bad behavior.”


While this is a morally righteous position, it does not move the ball forward in trying to deal with a North Korea who is willing to keep escalating its provocations.  The biggest problem is the prospect of loose plutonium.  Twelve years ago, policy makers would have been terribly worried about a North Korea with 6-10 nuclear weapons.  But they could be comforted by the fact the problem, was confined to the Korean peninsula where 40 years of history suggested it could be deterred.


Today, however, the issue is far more threatening because most observers are convinced that Korea would be willing to sell plutonium, or perhaps a nuclear weapon, to an undeterrable terrorist. Most observers also believe there are terrorist groups eager to buy such material. Reading the NSS, this seems to be a textbook case for preemption because NK has only one reprocessing facility, and if the Yongbyon reprocessing plant was destroyed it would set back North Korea’s ability to produce weapons grade material for several years.


But it is not that simple because the U.S. is disadvantaged by geography. If Seoul were 100 kms south of the DMZ, a military option would be more attractive. But it is not, and Seoul cannot be moved, so preemption is hard to seriously consider without both Seoul and Washington willingly accepting a risk of another Korean War. Since Seoul seems to be adamantly opposed to any military action, should the United States feel compelled to act, it could destroy the alliance with the ROK and seriously damage all other US interests in the region.


As a result the US faces its third iteration of policy toward North Korea in the last two years.  The first was replacing the Perry process, which focused narrowly on talks with North Korea about missiles while holding fast to the Agreed Framework, with an policy that became known as a comprehensive approach.  It included the Agreed Framework, but sought to expand disarmament to include conventional forces and all WMD.


The second evolution came last summer. Once North Korea acknowledged its nuclear weapons ambitions, a willingness to talk anywhere anytime was superceded by a precondition of forswearing nuclear programs before talks. As North Korea has continued to shed restraints on its nuclear program the list of preconditions understandably grows more specific, i.e., return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and don’t reprocess the spent fuel.


Whether a third iteration will be either a successful multilateralization of policy as the administration hopes, or a willingness to set aside moral aversion about rewarding bad behavior and embarking on a Perry-like approach, as the rest of region wishes, or a willingness to risk preemption because the threat to America is so grave, which the region adamantly opposes, remains to be seen. Recall the NSS says, “We cannot let our enemies strike first.”[15]


“Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends, with Weapons of Mass Destruction.”


A brief thought or two about this task.  Clearly, the efforts just addressed regarding North Korea apply here—Japan clearly feels threatened by North Korea nuclear developments and missile systems. In addition, two other aspects of this task deserve comment. These are non-proliferation efforts based on intelligence cooperation, and ballistic missile defense.


Within the region, information gained through intelligence, often cooperative, is the primary tool against arresting the flow of dual use materials that could be used to make WMD, especially chemical and biological weapons.  North Korea China and Pakistan have all been involved over the years.  So long as nations are willing to try and secretly conduct this trade, discovering violations, willful or simply a matter of poor enforcement, means that intelligence cooperation will be the first line of defense. In this case all of our friends and allies benefit from America’s obsession with this threat.


The other means by which this task is implemented is through cooperation aimed at shooting down ballistic missiles that could deliver WMD.  The administration is pressing ahead with a comprehensive missile defense system that will eventually include the capability to deal with both the shorter-range regional missile threat and with intercontinental systems.  Because shorter-range missiles fly at a slower speed than ICBMs they are an easier target to hit. Systems in development, or in the case of Patriot PAC-3 already in production, show promise of being able to protect regional allies and US forces stationed in the region in the not too distant future.


Cooperation with Japan on missile defense has been an important. In recent weeks Japan has become even more interested in this cooperation because of North Korea’s destabilizing actions. North Korea activity has had a decided impact on Japanese public opinion and perceptions of Japan’s vulnerability, and raised concerns about a North Korean WMD attack. U.S. spokesmen have been quick to publicly reassure the Japanese that both the U.S. nuclear umbrella is strong and intact and the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan is firm.


“Transform America’s national Security Institutions to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities of the Twenty-First Century.”


This is the last of the eight tasks laid out in NSS I will address. This is an important  feature of the strategy for East Asia because it provides top-level reinforcement from the White House for defense transformational concepts that have already been spelled out in various official Pentagon documents.   The best sources for defense department thinking is not the NSS but documents such as the QDR and the Secretary of Defenses Annual Report (ADR) to the President.  To appreciate how transformation will be manifested in East Asia an understanding of what operational capabilities a “transformed” U.S. presence in the region might possess is a good place to start. In other words, what U.S. forces in the region actually be able do as they transform. According to the Defense Departments Office of Transformation, the “attributes” or capabilities of a transformed U.S. military will include:


·        First, and perhaps most importantly, a more expeditionary force, one that is mainly based in the United States, but also has bases or operating hubs that are forward in regions vital to the United States.  This expeditionary military will be able to project decisive military power regionally and globally from either the United States or from forward bases or hubs. The forward operating bases are important, because these forces are expected “to deter forward.”

·        A more thoroughly networked force that will seamlessly interoperable at the Joint Task Force  level.

·        A force that exploit the fact that the U.S. is likely to have to fight in exterior positions and turn what has historically been a disadvantage into positive leverage by combining “close in unmanned sensors” (in order to detect enemy attempts to hide or deceive) with precision firepower that comes from a distance.

·        A force that exploits increasingly persistent airborne Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) airborne systems that can maintain a steady position in the air over a particular point of the battlefield and “stare” continuously at targets.

·        Greatly reduced time between the time an enemy target is detected and a weapon actually arrives on the target.  In military parlance this is known as much tighter sensor-shooter timelines.  It is necessary to reduce this time delay in order to maximize the capabilities discussed in the third and fourth points above.

·        A military wide commitment to information superiority  and information operations

·        A dramatic increase in the use, and dependence on, unmanned capabilities (UAV, UCAV, UUV, and robotics). 

·        Have an officer corps that is intellectually prepared to deal with important new trends in warfare such as; networking components, precision effects, sensor reach, networked forces, a full spectrum maneuver force, and assuring access.


In terms of security policy for East Asia, nations in the region should be reassured that a transformed military does not mean a military that is withdrawn from East Asia.  Far from it, the QDR places great importance on forward-deployed U.S. forces. Of particular significance, the QDR states that forward forces must be capable of, “... swiftly defeating an adversary’s military and political objectives with only modest reinforcement.”  This requirement, stated without reference to specific numbers or types of forces is a reflection of a transition to a new way of rationalizing U.S. presence in Asia. During the Clinton Administration the USG choose to use a specific number of forces as a surrogate for capability and commitment--in this case the 100,000-person floor. It is clear now, two years into the Bush Administration, that it is more interested in capabilities not numbers. DOD believes that stationing a proper mix of military capability is in East Asia is the best way to deal with a full range of possible contingencies.  The particular number is incidental. In other words, a “capabilities based” approach to maintaining regional stability.


Another important new concept, being executed today by the Commander of Pacific Command, and his subordinates, is a focus on promoting security cooperation with friends and allies in order to create a “favorable balance of military power” to improve deterrence and prevent aggression and coercion. In fact, a principal objective is to ensure access, interoperability with allies and friends, and intelligence cooperation. This is because there are so few U.S. bases in Asia and the distances are so vast.  As a result, the U.S. is placing a premium on securing additional access and infrastructure agreements in the region.


A word about U.S. presence in Korea. If press reports are correct, Korea is likely to be an example of how some of the U.S. forces in the region are transformed.  As I understand it, consultations are underway that could result in changing the mission of U.S. forces in Korea from a single-minded focus on deterrence on the peninsula, to one that would also include regional or even global stability.   This would be accomplished by a redeployment and realignment of forces: moving U.S. Army headquarters from downtown Seoul, and the 2nd Infantry Division to well south of the DMZ, where it would be reconfigured into a force that could conduct off peninsula missions.  Today this force is not expeditionary, and is a result is effectively “marooned” in South Korea.  Since one of the primary attributes of a transformed U.S. military is its expeditionary nature it is not surprising that this discussion is underway.


This change would necessarily also involve restructuring the U.S.-ROK alliance so that Korea could become more like Japan in terms of how U.S. forces are actually used.  In Japan, U.S. forces are essentially dual tasked.  They are responsible for defense of the host nation as well as wider regional or even global responsibilities. In other words, in a Korean context, U.S. forces would be required to both defend Korea and at the same time to use Korea as a “hub” for the deployment of U.S. forces off the peninsula for other missions.


This has major ramifications for the ROK government. Is the ROK military really intellectually prepared to assume the leading role in the defense of the ROK, and more to the point is Seoul also ready to permit Korea to become a deployment hub?


Putting this concept into a larger context, it is an example of the evolution in U.S. strategic thought about East Asian presence, away from a fixed floor of 100,000 military in the region to a more sensible capabilities based approach. The big issue is not whether this is a good idea, but whether it is good idea just now. The timing is bad. Talking about adjusting U.S. presence in the face of a North Korean crisis may send wrong signals north and will surely create concerns throughout the region.


Bad timing aside however, these sorts of changes are coming because in the long run they will enable the United States to maintain stability in the region and act as an effective balancer to the steady growth of China’s military capabilities. No Asian nation has the ability to fill this role—including Japan


                                     The National Security Strategy and China


No discussion of the NSS as it applies to East Asia without a mention of China. Today the U.S.-China relationship is probably as good as any time since 1989.  Clearly, the USG hopes that today’s  “candid, constructive, cooperative” relationship will continue well into the future.

But, like all of Asia, the long-term implications of the so-called “rise of China” are very much on the minds of strategic planners and thinkers in the Department of Defense. With today’s China no one quite knows what to expect.  America’s only historical experience with a rising power in Asia is with Japan during the first part of the 20th Century, and that did not turn out well. One of the lessons from that experience was that dealing with an Asian nation who could project decisive military power throughout the region was very difficult, and by implication, if such a prospect looms in the future it ought to be “dissuaded” or militarily balanced.

When it comes to long term thinking about China, it appears that strategic competition is still very much on the mind of this Administration, the rhetoric of candidate Bush, which dubbed China a “strategic competitor” appears to be a more accurate characterization of how the U.S. is thinking about hedging regarding the rise of China.

The evidence of this judgment is readily apparent. The National Security Strategy is the most authoritative source since, if press reports are correct, the President was personally involved and actually wordsmithed the document.  Citing a few lines from what the NSS has to say helps make the point:

“We welcome the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China, but the democratic development of China is crucial to that future.”

In other words regime change, or at least political evolution, seems to be a necessary precondition for a peaceful China.  The NSS goes on to say that:

“In pursuing advanced military capabilities that can threaten its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, China is following an outdated path that, in the end, will hamper its own pursuit of national greatness.  In time China will find that social and political freedom is the only source of that greatness.”[16]

In all fairness, administration uncertainty about future role China will play in East Asia is also actively encouraged by many of the counties of Asia who, based on a longer history with China, are persuaded that it is important that the U.S. play a role in balancing China. They constantly remind influential visiting Americans of this desire.

Further evidence of thinking about China is found in the Secretary of Defense’s August 2002 Annual Report to the President and to Congress (ADR). Under the heading Current Security Trends, the ADR holds that: “In particular, Asia is gradually emerging as a region susceptible to large-scale military competition.” It goes on to say, “Maintaining a stable balance in Asia will be both a critical and a formidable task.  The possibility exists that a military competitor with a substantial resource base will emerge in the region.”  These lines are particularly telling because they were written a year after the current warm post 9/11 relationship with China began. Some worry about a potentially antagonistic China that would be economically and militarily strong in the 2020-2030 time frame.  In other words, China will be a peer competitor in the region.[17]

While many China specialists, who have insight into China’s massive internal problems, belittle the notion of China as a regional peer competitor in two or three decades, the fact remains such an outcome is not outside the cone of plausible futures.  After all, China today is the military hegemon on the continent of Asia and its economic gravitas is becoming a regional magnet in perception if not in reality.

It is important to place the notion of regional peer competitor in the context of American strategic thought since the demise of the Soviet Union. It has become an article of strategic faith for many strategists that the U.S. should “never again” permit itself to be in the position of being in a contest with a nation that is so strong that the political and strategic outcome is in doubt. This is especially true regarding nuclear weapons. The NSS makes this point clear. “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling the power of the United States.” Or, as President Bush bluntly said in his June 2002 West Point speech, “ America has, and intends to keep, military strength beyond challenge.”[18]

Finally, China itself has signaled a desire to compete, over what could be dismissed as a theological dispute, if it were not so potentially destructive to U.S. strategy.  China continues to attempt to undermine the foundation of the U.S. security strategy in Asia  – our bilateral alliances  – with its own “New Concept of Security.” I believe the U.S. is involved in a long-term “ competition of security concepts” with China over how best to organize for regional stability.

China is working hard to realize its vision. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), its strategic partnership treaty with Russia, its “smile diplomacy” with ASEAN, and its close relationship with the ROK are all examples of a very aggressive diplomatic agenda.

This is the first time since the founding of the PRC that China has become proactive in trying to reshape its external regional security environment (as opposed to trying to spread revolution).  This process will undoubtedly collide with our interests in the region. What the impact of China’s attempts to undermine the very basis of our security strategy for the region is difficult to predict.  It is hard for me to imagine it going beyond rhetoric and diplomatic competition, but it will nonetheless certainly introduce edginess to the long-term relationship.


                                                         Concluding Thoughts

Because the National Security Strategy as it applies to Asia is so firmly rooted in the long tradition of U.S Security policy toward Asia it is not likely to be difficult to translate most of its precepts into effective policy; provided the U.S. makes wise choices regarding the dangerous the North Korean nuclear issue. Certainly, other issues, the war in Iraq, transition of presence in Korea will all demand attention. 

By wise choices I mean carefully balancing the desire for a multilateral solution against the advice of all the Northeast Asian states to deal directly with Pyongyang. Should North Korea start reprocessing, while refusing to become a party to multilateral discussions, the clock will start ticking for Washington.  The U.S. will have to choose between agreeing to North Korean demands to meet bilaterally, militarily preempt, or putting in place the very challenging option of trying to interdict any nuclear weapons related exports from North Korea. If this last option proves to technically feasible, and if China and Russia agree, this might be a way keep the nuclear issue confined to the peninsula.

While preemptive destruction of the reprocessing facility at Yongbyon is militarily doable, living with the consequences, should North Korea then respond, possibly triggering an escalation to war, is more a much more difficult issue. To bet that North Korea will not respond because they have so much more to lose requires a very high tolerance for risk. It is unlikely that any government in Seoul would accept such a gamble. To act without the blessing of our ally would probably doom the alliance, and perhaps undercut our entire position in Asia.

Other issues, such as the transformation of military presence in Korea will take careful diplomacy to reassure friends, allies as well as those whish us ill, that the United States is committed to maintain a strong military presence in East Asia.  Changing the metric of presence from a fixed number to a balance of capabilities can be sensibly accomplished without endangering stability.

Support for the war on terrorism is remains strong throughout most of Southeast Asia.  What the impact the war in Iraq will have on cooperation from Indonesia and Malaysia remains to be seen.  It probably depends on how the war is actually conducted and what the United States does in the aftermath of war. But so long as these secular governments have there own reasons to work about Islamic extremism it seems reasonable to forecast that quiet cooperation against terrorists will continue.

Finally, there are several geo-strategic reasons why the NSS approach to East Asia will be successful, mainly because, at the end of the day, nations will want the reassurance of U.S. presence as a hedge against a powerful and assertive China. These reasons include:

·        Distance. The US  is therefore less likely to be a challenge to them next door or close to home.

·        The traditional U.S. role in the region has been aimed at preventing or thwarting aggression.  In this sense it is a status-quo power.  Clearly the NSS concept of preemption, or preventative war, if exercised against North Korea, could change this perception.

·        Many states in the region benefit from US power--they receive security, economic and other advantages, and they want this situation to continue.

·        Many states share the values that often drive US policy (democracy, human rights, etc)

·         There are few effective options to resist U.S. power, even if nations desired to do so.  In the military realm, the United States is dominant and intends to remain so.  This includes “control” of the worlds "commons"--the sea, air, and space.

The only reason why the United States should not be able to execute its strategy and the policies that flow from that strategy is if it so badly overplays its hand that being in a Chinese sphere of influence appears preferable to nations of the region.



[1] Colin Powell, Speech before the Asia Society, New York, June 2002.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Quadrennial Defense Review 2001, Department of Defense, September 30, 2001

[4] Ibid.

[5]“The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” The White House, September 17, 2002, pg 1 of Introduction.


[7] Paul Dibb addresses this entire point with great clarity in Toward a New Balance of Power in Asia, Adelphi Paper No. 295 (London: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 6–7.


[8] A Strategic Framework for the Asia Pacific Rim, Department of Defense Report to Congress, April 1990, p. 1.


[9] A Strategic Framework for the Asia Pacific Rim, Department of Defense Report to Congress, September 1992.


[10] NSS, pg 29.

[11] NSS, pg 1.


[12]John Lewis Gaddis. “A Grand Strategy of Transformation,” Foreign policy Magazine, _________.

[13] NSS, pg 3.

[14] NSS, pg 1.

[15] NSS, pg __.

[16] NSS, pg 27.

[17] Donald Rumsfeld, “Annual Report to the President and the Congress,” Department of Defense, August 19, 2002, pps 11-12.

[18] NSS, pg 30; George Bush, “Remarks by the President at the 2002 Graduation Exercise of the U.S. Military Academy. West Point, NY, June 1, 2002.