Our Interests or Theirs? The US Doesn’t Need Asia

In the policy and think tank worlds, we’re told Obama’s “pivot” to Asia is essential for America’s national interests and that, indeed, continued U.S. military presence throughout the Asia Pacific region is vital for both the U.S. and its allies. U.S. allies need to be reassured of our protection racket and Washington must compete with a rising China for regional hegemony…or else!

Robert Kelly, Asia expert and professor of international relations at Pusan National University in Korea, disagrees. In a recent post over at the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog, Kelly reiterates a point he has been “banging away at for a while“…

that the pivot is an elite project that only activates the US foreign policy community and think tank set; that most Americans know little about Asia, perceive it mostly as an export platform for cheap stuff at Walmart, and do not really care that much; that the pivot is wildly over-rated in Asia as a some major strategic shift of the US against the Middle East; and that America hardly ‘needs’ Asia as Asian commentators love to intone.

…Always remember that Asian states need the US a lot more than the U.S. needs them. US regional allies need it to hold back China, and even China needs Americans to buy all their exports and provide a savings safe-haven. Sure, Americans benefit from cheap Asian exports and lending, but that is a lot less important. Almost all of Asia’s growing economies are so deeply based on exporting to the West that a cut-off would lead to economic chaos and political turbulence. This is one of the many reasons why Asian exporters should rebalance toward local consumer demand. But so long as Asia’s mega-exporter oligarchs persists with the ‘tiger’ model of export dependence, the U.S. has enormous leverage. Where would Sony, Samsung and so on be without the American consumer?

Hence in both security and economic affairs, the relationship is highly asymmetric, and those who tell you otherwiseare trying to cover the weaknesses of many Asian states and their desperation for U.S. attention with bravado that America ‘needs’ Asia. As I have been trying to argue on my blog for awhile, if Asians do not want the US in Asia, it is no big deal for US security, and it is an economic blow far worse for them than it is for America.

Elsewhere, Kelly writes that “U.S. alliances shouldn’t be charity.”

America is too broke for that; global hegemony and endless war are corroding American domestic liberalism far too much for freebies; and unburdened allies who don’t feel a sense of limits in dealing with the US can easily pull us into unwanted trouble (see: Israel or the endless infantile scrapping between Korea and Japan).

…If we have to have a $13 trillion dollar debt and the NSA listening to all our phone calls, then we can push allies to do a lot more. Hegemony is not healthy for the US at home, and I see no reason for America to become a prussianized semi-imperial state for foreigners’ defense…

More than anything else, America’s expansive foreign policy is to blame for systematic civil liberties abuses and bigger government here at home. Domestic encroachments on liberty are part and parcel of having a limitless national security state. So, no…we don’t need a surge in Asia.

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