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The Future U.S. Military Presence in Asia: Landpower and the Geostrategy of American Commitment

Authored by Dr. Larry M. Wortzel, Major General Robert H. Scales.

April 1999

31 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The United States strategic framework in the Pacific has three parts: peacetime engagement, as described above, which includes a forward presence; crisis response, which builds on forward-stationed forces, the "boots-on-the ground" and, if necessary, fighting and winning any conflict that might develop. The mechanisms to carry out this strategic framework are embedded in the regular contacts and engagement activities that the United States carries out with friends and allies in the region. What the future will look like in Asia will be determined largely on what happens on the Korean Peninsula. It could be changed by such eventualities as a resurgent, expansionist, or nationalistic Russia. But the dialogue that is taking place among strategists in Seoul and Tokyo needs to be broadened to include the United States. It also must become a public debate. The "tyranny of distance" requires a United States military presence, and the governments of Korea and Japan must involve their own voters in a civil debate, setting forth the case for a new security structure. This is important not only for domestic political reasons in Asia, but because the American people need to know that there is a civil debate about the subject among their allies, and that the alliances that have kept Asia safe, peaceful and prosperous for 55 years are still useful, welcome, and healthy.


After lunch with a member of Congress, during which we discussed views in the Congress about the U.S. military presence in Asia, I remarked to Major General Robert H. Scales, Commandant of the Army War College, that it seems prudent to examine alternative strategic futures for U.S. security in the Asia-Pacific. In some parts of the Congress, I noted, support for a continued forwardstationed presence was waning; articles were appearing from American academe critical of that presence in Japan and Korea; and in the event of some form of reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, the continued stationing of U.S. forces there could be called into question. As we sketched out a potential future U.S. presence in Asia, stretching from Alaska through Hawaii to Guam, General Scales remarked that this would be a terrible outcome that would undermine the peace and stability of the region. U.S. forces in Asia, he argued, are stationed in places where there is a nexus of vital U.S. interest and historical zones of conflict.

In the months following that discussion, separately or together, the authors pursued this topic with security thinkers from military strategy institutes in Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia. In some cases we traveled to those places. The arguments herein also were considerably improved by comments from General (Retired) Robert Sennewald, Professor Robert Scalapino, and Professor Arthur Waldron, for which the authors thank them.

The result of these explorations into the future strategic landscape in Asia is this monograph. Its thesis is simple, and reflects not only the considered beliefs of the authors but the consensus of many military strategists in the Asia-Pacific: A forward-stationed U.S. military presence in the region, even in the event of Korean reconciliation, is vital to U.S. interests and to maintaining peace and stability. A “virtual” or “fly-by” presence does not do the job. Should the United States isolate itself and withdraw militarily from Asia, it would be disastrous for the stability of the region and for the security of the United States. However, just as it is up to security thinkers in the United States to make that case to the American people and the Congress, it is important that the governments of the nations where U.S. forces are stationed make the same case to their citizens in a public dialogue.

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