by Dan Blumenthal and Aaron Friedberg
ASIA STRATEGY WORKING GROUP – American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
On the global shift in wealth and power toward Asia
The new U.S. administration confronts an unusually long and daunting list of pressing foreign policy problems: ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the continuing threat of global terrorism, a brewing crisis in Pakistan, unresolved nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, Russia’s new aggressiveness toward its neighbors, and the lingering aftereffects of a global financial meltdown. All will demand urgent attention and timely action. The president-elect will be lucky if he has a moment to savor his victory, let alone to pause and reflect on the longer-term trends that are reshaping the world.
Yet such reflection is badly needed. As important as they undoubtedly are, all of the issues listed above are being played out against the backdrop of something even bigger: a massive, rapid shift in the distribution of global wealth and power toward Asia. This process has been gathering momentum for more than thirty years; if current projections are borne out, in the next thirty Asia’s rise will fundamentally alter the structure of the international system and the character of great power politics.
It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of what is taking place. The changes now underway are comparable in scale, and potentially in historical significance, to the “rise of the West” – the emergence of Europe as the world’s leader in wealth and military power – or the rise of the United States to global preponderance that began in the nineteenth century.
Such a profound shift will eventually require the reexamination, and ultimately the reorientation, of many aspects of America’s foreign, economic, and defense policies. These changes may be forced by events. Or they could be shaped by a clear and coherent national strategy, a plan of action that looks beyond today’s turmoil, sets broad goals, and identifies the tools and policies that will be necessary to achieve them.
The purpose of this report is to put forward an American strategy for Asia. While it is motivated by an awareness of long-term trends, the emphasis of this report will be on the concrete and practical. We intend not only to identify goals, but also to specify the steps that a new president should take over the next four to eight years to bring them closer to realization.
Our report differs from others on related subjects in two important ways.
First, it is focused rather than comprehensive. Instead of touching lightly on every conceivable subject relevant to Asia, we have chosen to concentrate on those that we believe to be of greatest strategic importance.
Second, our report is more candid than is typically the case about the challenges that are likely to emanate from Asia and, in particular, about those that may result from the rise of China. Our intention is not to be provocative, but rather to be clear. Ritualized “happy talk” about where China is headed will do little, if anything, to alter Beijing’s course. But unwarranted optimism on the part of our leaders may make it harder to maintain public support for the policies necessary to keep the peace and secure American interests, and it could set the stage for future disappointment and overreaction if exaggerated expectations of Sino-American friendship are not met.
We have been reminded in recent years how important it is not to overstate the magnitude and imminence of threats to our nation’s security, but it is at least as important to be clear and honest in acknowledging their existence.