Why the Pivot to Asia Makes No Sense

Asia - Satellite image - PlanetObserver
Asia – Satellite image – PlanetObserver (Photo credit: PlanetObserver)

“America’s Pivot: One Big Contradiction”
Justin Logan

The Diplomat
January 25, 2013

I rarely discuss the topic of China in this space, for a couple of reasons. First, I discuss it at length in other fora, most often in Silicon Hutong and The Peking ReviewSecond, I think there are enough other more pressing topics to debate when it comes to the future of the U.S. Occasionally, though, I need to make an exception, and in this case Justin Logan’s thoughtful critique of our China policy demands I do so.

The Asia pivot fails three critical tests. First, it is a failure to match ends with means. The U.S. military lacks the doctrine, forces, and resources to fight and win even a limited conflict in the region, and appears to lack the will to create them within the current and looming constraints on budgets.

Second, it exposes latent hypocrisy, the failure of our rhetoric to match our reality, and thus it undermines our credibility. We say the shift has nothing to do wit China, when in everyone’s eyes, including those in the Pentagon and their opposite numbers in Beijing, it has everything to do with China. In Logan’s words, “if the success of America’s Asia policy relies on China’s elites believing our official rationale, the policy is in trouble.”

He’s absolutely right. And when we promulgate official rationales for policies that are blatantly at odds with reality, our global influence is shot in the foot.

Finally, the Asia Pivot demonstrates a lack of strategic imagination. Given the challenges America faces both at home and abroad, and given the priorities the government must now face as the nation ages and our infrastructure demands upgrades, global forward engagement of a rising hegemon is simply unsustainable. What is more, it encourages our allies to behave as free riders on a system we are creating.

The wisest choice for the US would be to forgo the neo-containment approach of the Pivot. Instead, we should revert to a posture that allows China enough rope in the region to prove itself a hegemon, thus inciting other countries in Asia to take greater responsibility for their own defense and for the balance of power in Asia.

The current administration is on the firing line for this approach, but this is not a partisan issue. It is, instead, a generational change in strategic focus, and if the current administration does not make the necessary choices, it will be left for successors to clean up the mess.

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