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The Asia-Pacific in the U.S. National Security Calculus for a New Millennium

Authored by Dr. Andrew Scobell, Dr. Larry M. Wortzel.

December 2000

43 Pages


The Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly central to U.S. national security concerns. The drawdown of U.S. forces that began in the mid-1970s has not translated into a decline in U.S. interest or engagement in the Asia-Pacific. The United States continues to have a significant forward presence, steadfast allies, and thriving trade and investment in countries throughout the region.

While most countries there have enjoyed dramatic economic growth rates and unparalleled prosperity in the late 20th century, challenges to peace and stability remain. The United States must continue to monitor carefully the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology, simmering ethnic conflict, on-going territorial disputes, and also be alert to the threats of terrorism, international crime, and drug trafficking. Moreover, the potential for a major theater war remains, as does the prospect of small-scale contingencies.

The authors of this monograph survey the challenges to U.S. national security that confront this diverse and dynamic region, highlighting the particularly volatile situation that continues on the Korean peninsula. Beyond continued U.S. attention to maintaining a robust military presence and steadfast U.S. alliances, they argue that the United States, without ignoring the key dimensions in the U.S. National Security Strategy of “responding” and “preparing now,” should give a greater emphasis to “shaping” the Asia-Pacific region. They contend that the time is ripe for the United States to launch a major “shaping initiative” to help ensure that the positive trends of marketization, democratization, and regional integration continue and strengthen in the 21st century. Building on a bipartisan consensus with careful attention to interagency coordination at home, and in close consultation with allies abroad, the United States, they recommend, should devise a new road map to guide Asia-Pacific policy.

The authors conclude that, due to finite resources, the United States should concentrate in particular on “pivotal” states—those countries that serve as linchpins in the region. They identify several such states and urge special attention to these to help ensure that they evolve along democratic, prosperous, and peaceful trajectories. The authors conclude that the most serious concern remains North Korea. They suggest a cautious, consistent, and pragmatic approach to Pyongyang targeted at fostering evolutionary change with incremental improvements in bilateral relations by the United States depending on positive moves by North Korea.

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