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Obama drops Asia-Pacific ‘pivot’ from U.S. security vision

President focuses on anti-terrorism battle in Middle East, North Africa



President Barack Obama laid out a sweeping vision for U.S. foreign policy on Wednesday but made no mention of what has been a signature tune of his administration’s diplomacy: the “pivot” to Asia.

The concept was that by winding down U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, American military and diplomatic resources would be freed up to focus on the Asia-Pacific regions after a decade of relative neglect.

Yet in Obama’s speech, delivered a day after he outlined plans to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, there was not a single reference to that touted shift in regional focus. That was partly due to the purpose of the address — to push back against critics who contend that Obama’s approach to global crises, such as in Ukraine and Syria, has been too cautious and has emboldened adversaries.

He offered a broader perspective on the role that the United States should play in international affairs, still leading on the world stage and eschewing isolationism, but less ready to embark on military adventures.

Yet Obama made clear that the threat of terrorism that has preoccupied Washington since the 9/11 attacks remains an abiding concern. He said as the U.S. reduces its Afghan presence, it can do more to address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.

It is a far cry from the tone Obama struck in another keynote foreign policy speech he delivered in Australia in November 2011, when he declared that in the Asia-Pacific of the 21st century, “the United States of America is all in.”

Despite his administration’s intent to devote more attention to Asia, this rebalance has struggled for airtime. The civil war in Syria, escalating violence in Iraq, nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Ukraine crisis all compete for Washington’s attention.

Asia was not entirely neglected in Wednesday’s speech, which Obama delivered to graduating officers at the elite U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Allies in the region may draw some comfort from Obama’s pointed references to China’s economic rise and military reach, and its conduct in maritime territorial disputes.

“Regional aggression that goes unchecked — in southern Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military,” Obama warned.

Though stressing the importance of coalition-building before the U.S. intervenes overseas, Obama did express a willingness to use military force when necessary if the security of U.S. allies is in danger, comments that could reassure security partners like Japan and the Philippines.

Obama also reiterated Washington’s backing for Southeast Asian nations as they try to negotiate a code of conduct with China to help resolve disputes in the South China Sea, which is riven by competing territorial claims. His comments come as dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese vessels are engaged in a standoff around a Chinese offshore oil rig.

But U.S. support for such a code of conduct since 2010 hasn’t helped much. Negotiations have moved slowly, and they could become tougher as disputes multiply and tensions escalate. Seeking to maintain its leverage, China remains reluctant to negotiate with a regional coalition instead of individual nations.

Obama even conceded Wednesday that Washington “can’t try” to resolve problems in the South China Sea when the U.S. Senate has not ratified the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations on the high seas.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Well, you have to hand it to Obama for being more honest than many of his predecessors

    Obama even conceded Wednesday that Washington “can’t try” to resolve problems in the South China Sea when the U.S. Senate has not ratified the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations on the high seas.

    At least Obama recognizes international law (publicly, at least).

    He offered a broader perspective on the role that the United States should play in international affairs, still leading on the world stage and eschewing isolationism, but less ready to embark on military adventures.

    And this is hopefully indicates a shift policy wise from a foreign policy platform that he has allowed neoconservatives connected to his administration to unduly influence.

  • SiDevilIam

    Obama may drop the Asia-Pacific ‘pivot’ but Russia’s Putin, is picking up where Obama left.

    THE ASIA-PACIFIC military
    buildup: RUSSI A’S RESPONSE
    Anna Kireeva,

    MGIMO-University (Moscow State Institute of International Relations)

    Petr Topychkanov,
    Carnegie Moscow Center

    Russia’s pivot to Asia has received considerable attention in
    2014, primarily for the economic implications of a stronger
    Russia-China relationship. However, of far greater importance
    from a geopolitical perspective may be Russia’s military
    reorientation to Asia. For years, Russia has watched with
    increasing concern the appearance of new territorial disputes
    in East Asia, the growing confidence of China in asserting its
    military influence in the region, and the signs of an emerging
    Asia-Pacific military buildup that has the potential to radically
    change the balance of power in the region. In this monthly report,
    we cover the growth of military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific,
    analyze why both China and the United States may be forced
    to re-think their military roles in the region, and summarize
    Russia’s potential military response – both conventional and
    nuclear – to the escalating arms race. The post-Cold War order
    in Asia-Pacific, which emphasized the military dominance of
    the U.S. as the ultimate guarantor of security, may be shifting in
    response to new military and economic trends. Russia’s ability
    to understand and respond to these trends may determine its
    positions as a full-fledged Euro-Pacific power. More to follow…

    …and I am Sid Harth

  • SiDevilIam

    Asia as a whole, and the Asia-Pacific region in particular,
    is playing an increasingly important role in world
    politics and economics, because it is there that the
    center of economic growth and geopolitical processes
    in the world is shifting. It is Asia-Pacific that has the
    greatest potential to define the contours of the global
    system in the future, because it includes countries with
    huge economic and political influence. First and foremost
    of these is China, which enjoys the greatest potential
    to become a new dominant power not only in
    the region, but also in the world.
    For Russia, especially against the backdrop of its
    strained relations with the West as a result of the
    Ukrainian crisis, Asia-Pacific is becoming increasingly
    important as a way of enabling Russia to diversify its
    foreign political and economic ties and to establish itself
    as a Euro-Pacific power. The involvement of Russia
    in regional integration processes in Asia-Pacific is
    capable of providing impetus to Russia’s Asian Pivot
    and contributing to the development of its regions in
    Siberia and the Far East.
    At the same time, despite a long period of successful
    economic development, the security situation in
    Asia-Pacific is far from stable. Against the backdrop of
    regional conflict countries are actively expanding their
    military capabilities. What are the implications of this
    for regional security and what steps should Russia take
    in this regard?
    Growth of milita ry capa bilities
    in the Asia-Pacific reg ion
    The growth of military capabilities in key countries in
    Asia-Pacific is associated with changes in the strategic
    environment and the shifting balance of power in
    the region. For most of the post-war period of development
    in the region, the United States had absolute
    military superiority there, which was largely secured
    by the system of military-political alliances established
    during the Cold War. It is often described as the system
    of “hub-and-spokes” due to the central role played
    by the U.S., which provides security assurances to the
    states of the region in the event of military confrontation
    with third countries.
    The U.S. is also the architect of the post-war liberal
    economic order, under which many East Asian countries
    were able to achieve a huge economic breakthrough
    known as the East Asian economic miracle.
    Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other “Asian Tigers” –
    despite their rapid economic growth and a gradual

  • SiDevilIam

    (graphic-missing here)

    strengthening of their military capabilities – were not
    considered by the U.S. as potential military rivals, because
    their development was based on the existing regional
    order and they did not seek to realign it.1
    The key characteristic of China’s rise has been its increasing
    military capabilities, as its booming economic
    growth has been accompanied by an increase in defense
    spending for over 30 years now. This, in turn, is
    a major factor in changing the balance of power in the
    region. At the same time, China’s desire to realign the
    regional order under its own auspices, from its standpoint
    of being the dominant power, creates objective
    preconditions for conflicts with the states that support
    the status quo. It also primarily determines the Sino-
    American struggle for influence.2
    The buildup of military capabilities in Asia began to
    take shape, first of all, as a buildup in naval forces by
    the largest Asian countries – China, Japan and India
    that consider it to be the key source of their military
    power and their influence in Asia.3 Modernization of
    the naval forces in Asia-Pacific countries began in the
    1980s in parallel with an increase in defense spending,
    from an 11 percent share of the global total in the
    mid-1980s to a 20 percent share in 1995. Asia-Pacific
    defense spending now accounts for 24 percent of all
    defense spending globally.
    With all this going on, the successful economic development
    of the region has led to Asia-Pacific countries
    being able to build up their military potential in parallel
    with economic growth and modernization of their
    naval forces. So, the region in fact is seeing a competitive
    modernization of the navies in the Asia-Pacific, and
    since 2011, according to the International Institute for
    Strategic Studies (IISS), Asian countries have now begun
    to spend more on defense than European ones.4
    The US is st ill the dominant
    milita ry power in the reg ion
    The “Pivot to Asia” policy, adopted in 2011 by the administration
    of U.S. President Barack Obama, reflects
    the desire of the world’s strongest power to remain
    dominant in this strategically high-priority region,
    in the military sphere. Military measures for
    Top 15 defense budgets 2013, $ billion
    Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies
    South Korea
    1 Ashley J. Tellis. Uphill Challenges: China’s Military Modernization and Asian Security, in Ashley J. Tellis and Travis Tanner (eds) China’s Military
    Challenge. Strategic Asia 2012-2013. The National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle and Washington D.C., 2012, pp. 4-9.
    2 Ibid, pp. 10-13.
    3 Vijay Sakhuja. Asian Maritime Power in the 21st Century: Strategic Transactions, China, India and Southeast Asia. Singapore: ISEAS, 2011,
    pp. 9-12.
    4 Geoffrey Till. Asia’s Naval Expansion: An Arms Race in the Making? The International Institute for Strategic Studies, New York: Routledge,
    2012, p. 31.

  • SiDevilIam

    (Graphic missing here)

    South Korea-North Korea, and Japan-North Korea. Add
    to that the recently strained relations between China
    and some South East Asian countries involved in territorial
    disputes, and it’s easy to see why the region is
    seeing a competitive modernization of military capabilities
    in almost every nation.
    What is going on in the region is not an arms race,
    but rather a military buildup with a wary eye on one’s
    neighbors, fuelled by growing nationalist sentiments.
    The highest priority spheres are those that enable
    countries to successfully control the maritime space,
    that is, their naval and air forces. According to an estimate
    by IHS Jane’s, attempts to change the status quo
    in East Asia are related primarily to the actions of China
    as the geopolitical center of the region. At the same
    time, the rest of the region (Japan, South Korea, India,
    Australia and leading ASEAN countries) is also becoming
    increasingly less satisfied with the current situation
    and policies of China, which in turn forces them to build
    up their own military capabilities in response. All this
    together results in an exacerbation of long-standing regional
    conflicts (for example, that on the Korean Peninsula)
    and territorial disputes, and heightens the tension
    of the security situation.10
    Japan, South Korea, India and Australia can be called
    the most significant military powers in the region, with
    the exception of the U.S. and China. All of these countries
    are now actively modernizing their armed forces.
    For example, Japan, perceiving an aggravation of the
    territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea as a
    threat to its security, has started to build up its military
    capabilities in the southeastern direction.
    In response to the strengthening of the military capabilities
    of China and the aggravation of the situation
    concerning the disputed islands, Japan in August 2013
    launched the helicopter-carrying destroyer Izumo,
    which was the largest ship commissioned by Japan
    since the World War II. Japan possesses a large fleet
    of modern
    ships, including destroyers, which makes its
    Navy the most powerful in Asia (with the exception of
    the U.S.). Despite the fact that Japan does not have an
    aircraft carrier, its vast fleet of deep-water helicoptercarrying
    destroyers, experts believe, gives it a significant
    advantage over China, which is only just beginning
    to develop in this sector.11
    In 2013, for the first time in the last 10 years, Japan’s
    defense budget has seen an increase to $48.13 billion
    10 Tate Nurkin. Briefing: Tense Tensions, Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 2014, pp. 1-10; East Asian Strategic Review 2013. Tokyo: The National Institute
    of Defense Studies, 2014, pp. 29-35, 147-171.
    11 Vijay Sakhuja. Asian Maritime Power in the 21st Century: Strategic Transactions, China, India and Southeast Asia. Singapore: ISEAS, 2011, p. 71.

  • SiDevilIam

    (Graphic missing here)
    nuclear relationship is much less clear. Officially, these
    two strategic allies do not recognize that a relationship
    of mutual nuclear deterrence exists between them.
    However, it may be assumed that Russia’s nuclear forces
    are intended for the containment of China to some
    extent. According to the 2010 Military Doctrine of Russia,
    “Nuclear weapons will remain an important factor
    for preventing the outbreak of nuclear military conflicts
    and military conflicts involving the use of conventional
    means of attack (a large-scale war or regional war).”17 A
    regional war can mean a probable conflict with China,
    because a war with the U.S. and NATO would be largescale
    rather than regional. As a result, China can be the
    only probable participant of a regional war with Russia,
    “when the very existence of the state is under threat.”18
    Ba llist ic miss ile defense in
    There is a close relationship between missile and missile
    technology proliferation and the development of
    regional (as well as global) missile defense systems. The
    establishment of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems
    in Asia-Pacific is being motivated by the missile
    programs of North Korea and China; in the Middle East,
    by Iran and a number of Arab states; in South Asia, by
    China and Pakistan. Regional BMD systems are being
    established as a reaction to the growing missile potential
    of these countries.19
    The U.S. plays the key role in the proliferation of missile
    defense technology acting either as a direct participant
    in establishing systems and as a source of
    technologies (for example, Australia, Japan, South Korea,
    and Taiwan); as a partner in joint missile defense
    development programs (Israel); or as a role model and
    potential military technical partner (India). According
    to the Pentagon, “As we enter into bilateral discussions
    of missile defense in East Asia, an additional goal is to
    share BMD information among countries on a multilateral
    basis in order to help each country improve its own
    Russia has its own independent BMD development
    program under the Air and Space Defense Forces.
    China has also initiated a program of its own. The U.S.
    All estimates are approximate and are as of January 2014.
    Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2014.
    World nuclear forces, 2014 (total inventory)
    Russia (8,000)&
    USA (7,300)
    France 300
    China 250
    UK 225
    Pakistan 100–120
    India 90–110
    Israel 80
    North Korea 6–8
    17 The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, approved by the Russian Federation Presidential Edict on February 5, 2010. http://carnegieendowment.
    18 Alexei Arbatov, Vladimir Dvorkin, The Great Strategic Triangle, Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2013.
    19 Petr Topychkanov, Natalia Romashkina, Regional Missile Defense Programs, in Missile Defense: Confrontation or Cooperation, ed. by
    Alexei Arbatov, Natalia Bubnova, and Vladimir Dvorkin, Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2013, pp. 280-317. http://carnegieendowment.
    20 Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, Department of Defense of the United States of America, [S. l.], February 2010.

  • SiDevilIam

    If the international divide continues to
    grow, the entire system of disarmament and
    nonproliferation will begin to collapse

    NATO allies have begun to deploy a common system
    under the framework of the Phased Adaptive Approach
    to missile defense in Europe. Russia is also likely
    to cooperate in the BMD field to some extent with its
    Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) allies
    (as it already has in the sphere of air defense).
    This trend will establish the direction for long-term
    global military-technological development. It is difficult
    to predict the prospects for competition between
    defensive and offensive weapons. It is clear, though,
    that for U.S.-Russia strategic relations, offensive nuclear
    systems will continue to be of decisive influence,
    though the importance of defensive weapons
    will relatively increase, whether by agreement of the
    two powers or not. Even though China could neutralize
    missile defense by accelerating the buildup of its
    nuclear missile potential, the role of U.S. missile defense
    and Russia’s Air and Space Defense Forces in
    their strategic relations with China will also become
    more significant.
    In the regional context, the prospects are less certain,
    especially considering the U.S. involvement in the BMD
    programs of its partners around the world. Here, BMD
    systems could significantly reduce the damage incurred
    by missile attacks and predetermine the victory of one
    state or the other. At the same time, the development
    of BMD systems and the subsequent buildup of nuclear
    offensive capabilities can, under crisis conditions, make
    the probability of pre-emptive strikes from each side
    more likely. This could increase the level of damage incurred
    in a war on one or both sides (especially in the
    case where nuclear weapons are used). In addition, the
    likelihood of escalation and the involvement of great
    powers in local conflicts would also increase.
    At present, there is an increasingly pronounced dividing
    line between the countries that have joined their
    efforts in the area of BMD development (the U.S. and its
    allies, Israel and India) and those that actively collaborate
    in the development of offensive missile systems
    (sometimes in conjunction with nuclear technology).
    Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria belong to the latter
    Currently, Russia and China oppose the expansion of
    global and regional BMD systems and, instead, focus on
    upgrading their offensive missile weapons, gravitating
    either together or separately to the second group of
    states. At the same time, Russia has traditionally paid
    a great deal of attention to its defensive systems and
    is accelerating their development (in the framework of
    the Air and Space Defense Forces). After a long delay,
    China has now also embarked upon this path. If the international
    divide continues to grow, and China, Russia,
    and the U.S. fail to agree on missile defense cooperation
    and the strengthening of the Missile Technology
    Control Regime (MTCR), the entire system of disarmament
    and nonproliferation will begin to collapse. In that
    case, the danger of regional armed conflicts and their
    escalation will increase significantly.
    The North Korean nuclear
    program as the great unknown
    Looking back at the history of the North Korean nuclear
    program and of North Korea’s relations with the international
    community in the context of this program, it is
    possible to make at least two conclusions.
    First, Pyongyang is struggling for survival, sparing
    no expense. Such logic makes understandable North
    Korea’s efforts to build up its nuclear capability as a
    means of resisting the external pressure brought upon
    the country.
    Second, no progress will be made without fundamentally
    reconsidering the paradigm of relations with
    North Korea currently used by the U.S. and its allies.
    Starting from the early 1990s, contrary to the opinion
    of many experts (including Russian specialists), Washington
    was expecting the imminent collapse of North
    Korea and thus the end of its military nuclear program,
    which had grown to industrial scale after starting in the
    mid-1980s. For that reason, Washington was delaying
    fulfillment of the agreements reached with Pyongyang
    in 1994 within the context of the “Framework Agreement.”
    As the expectations of North Korea’s collapse
    did not materialize, the U.S. has tried to use pressure,
    isolation and sanctions in order to obtain concessions
    and “make North Korea behave.” However, this only
    urged North Korea forward in its race for the nuclear
    The death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011 seemed to
    open new possibilities to solving the Korean issue. As