One year ago, in an insightful analysis for the United States Studies Centre, Ambassador David Shear described a “dual crisis” in American policy toward Asia. Under President Donald Trump, he observed, the United States was beset by a “crisis of distraction” caused by political squabbling at home, an obsession with issues of immigration, taxation and other “hot button” topics, and inadequate staffing of the Department of State and other key institutions. At the same time, Trump’s erratic, often irritating, style and his evident indifference to long-standing security relationships was also causing a “crisis of credibility”, undermining confidence in US security commitments and trust in American reliability.
Regrettably, the succeeding 12 months have done nothing to change this assessment. This reality lies behind my assessment of American military strategy and force posture in the Indo-Pacific region, and raises concerns about the prospects of the United States and its allies as they seek to protect and advance their collective interests in an increasingly demanding security environment.
My analysis concentrates on several related issues: the United States’ enduring policy goals in the region; the factors impinging upon those goals, with a specific focus on the military challenges posed by China; whether the Trump administration has a viable strategy for achieving its goals; and what this might mean for America’s future role in the Indo-Pacific.
While the rise of China poses serious challenges for the United States and its allies, I conclude that these challenges are far from insurmountable. If American policymakers can make sound decisions about how to evolve the capabilities, operating concepts and posture of their armed forces, and embed these in sensible policies for the region, a balance of power can be sustained — one that is capable of preserving the foundation of the rules-based order that has underwritten the region’s peace and prosperity for so long. This is not a question of resources or technology; it is a question of American wisdom and will.