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Obama's Military Commitment in East Asia Fraught With Risk




U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (C) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) delivers remarks on the Defense Strategic Review at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Also pictured is Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (L). President Obama vowed Thursday that the U.S. military would maintain its "superiority" and bolster its presence in Asia despite planned cuts to the defense budget. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (C) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) delivers remarks on the Defense Strategic Review at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Also pictured is Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (L). President Obama vowed Thursday that the U.S. military would maintain its "superiority" and bolster its presence in Asia despite planned cuts to the defense budget. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday Barack Obama affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to increased military engagement in the Asia-Pacific, stating, “budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region.” But what are the risks of the Pentagon’s new armed forces commitment in East Asia? The U.S. announced in recent months the placement of troops in Australia, a naval presence in Singapore, and increased cooperation with the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. It now needs to manage these alliances carefully, so as not to provoke China in particularly volatile areas like the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ Secretary for Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario asserted the U.S.’s commitment to supporting his country’s “minimal credible defense posture.” In doing so, incidents such as a Philippines naval vessel ramming a Chinese fishing trawler, as occurred last October, now have the propensity to escalate into a more serious confrontation.

Additionally, the U.S.’s approach to the region will need to be managed carefully in light of numerous political transitions, including the possibility of a presidential leadership change in the U.S., a leadership transition in China, the volatile political succession in North Korea, as well as elections in South Korea. Prioritizing dialogue with China in particular will be critical in ensuring the continued stability of the Asia-Pacific, which must be the U.S.’s overall priority in light of the importance of its trade and economic interests in the region. (You can read China Daily's take on Obama's announcement here.)

You can read my additional insights on this topic in my recent CNN.com op-ed, “The risks of America’s Asia strategy.” 

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