East Asia

The China Challenge

Published January 30th, 2011 by tcarpenter

Dealing with an increasingly assertive China is likely to be the biggest challenge the United States will face in the coming decades.  It will be difficult to contain and manage the growing differences between the two countries, but it’s essential to get the relationship right.  If disagreements get out of hand, the consequences could be extremely bad, not just for the two countries, but for the global economy and world peace.

My latest thoughts on this difficult and complex relationship can be found in this article.

North Korea Behaving Badly Again

Published November 27th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Those of you who are worried about the latest spike in tensions between North Korea and South Korea should read the excellent piece by my colleague Doug Bandow in the National Interest Online.  Among other things, Doug questions why nearly six decades since the end of the Korean War, the United States is in the middle of a parochial spat between two small nations half-way around the world.  He shows why North Korea’s neighbors should be perfectly capable of handling that obnoxious little troublemaker on their own.

The security commitment to South Korea is yet another example of U.S. global obligations that are both obsolete and dangerous.  The sooner we get our troops out of harm’s way, the better.  We have far more pressing problems much closer to home–including the soaring (and spreading) drug violence next door in Mexico.

South Pacific Realism

Published April 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Last month, I spent nearly three weeks in Australia and New Zealand.  In addition to delivering some speeches on U.S. foreign policy, especially the future of America’s role in East Asia, I held a number of meetings with defense and foreign ministry officials in both countries.  Three important insights emerged from those meetings.  First, although Australia and New Zealand have crucial economic ties with China, they are also increasingly nervous about Beijing’s growing power.  Second, despite repeated assurances from U.S. officials and nongovernmental foreign policy experts from America that everything is just fine and that Washington will keep military forces in East Asia and take care of the region’s security problems (as it has since the end of World War II) forever and ever, the Aussies and Kiwis look at our enormous federal budget deficits and have major doubts about those assurances.  Third, since they believe that U.S. military retrenchment is likely at some point, they want both India and Japan to play larger security roles in the region.  Otherwise, they fear that China will become totally dominant.

I found their thinking far more realistic than the drivel that passes for foreign policy analysis in the U.S. government and most American think tanks.  My reflections on the meetings and my analysis of East Asia’s security situation and the choices facing America’s allies can be found here and here.

How Not to Handle North Korea

Published October 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I have a new article in the National Interest Online about the speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his recent visit to East Asia.  His comments inadvertently underscored why U.S. foreign policy is such a mess.  In one speech, he 1) made the North Korean nuclear crisis more dangerous, 2) greatly reduced the chances that China will exert itself to help solve the crisis, and 3) gave U.S. allies Japan and South Korea a green light to continue underinvesting in their own defense while free-riding on U.S. efforts.  Other than that, it was a brilliant speech.

Gates is reputed to be the foreign policy “adult” in the Obama administration.  If that’s true, we’re all in deep trouble.

Hillary Gets One Right

Published February 18th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton or her foreign policy views.  In the past, she has far too often been an advocate of U.S. military intervention in situations that have nothing to do with the security or well being of this country.  Her support for meddling in the civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s were prime examples, as was her later endorsement of the congressional measure authorizing President George W. Bush to use force in Iraq.

But she has made the correct decision regarding her first trip abroad as secretary of state.  Instead of going to Europe, as most of her predecessors did, or going to the Middle East–a region that gets far too much attention from American foreign policy officials, she chose to go to East Asia.  Secretary Clinton is in the middle of that trip, having already made a stops in Japan and Indonesia.  Next, she travels to China and South Korea.

East Asia is already a crucial region for the United States, both diplomatically and economically, and it is likely to become more so in the coming decades.  My colleague, Leon Hadar, makes a strong case for giving that region a higher priority on the U.S. foreign policy agenda instead of obsessing over every development in the Middle East.  It’s refreshing to see signs that the Obama administration may be developing a more rational set of priorities.

The only other step Secretary Clinton should have taken was to put India on her itinerary.  In many respects, that country should be as important as China–perhaps even more so–to the United States.  Nevertheless, her first move as the steward of U.S. foreign policy has been a competent one.