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The Pivot to Asia

Can it Serve as the Foundation for American Grand Strategy in the 21st Century?


Douglas T. Stuart


This monograph begins with a discussion of the instruments of national power that were available to the Obama Administration in support of the pivot to Asia strategy. Since the United States was much stronger in terms of military resources than it was in terms of diplomatic, informational, and economic resources, the Obama Administration opted to build its pivot strategy on the foundation of the so-called San Francisco network of military relationships with regional friends and allies. The San Francisco system is impressive in terms of its military capabilities, its flexibility, and its adaptability, but it is also burdened with some defects. The most serious flaw is that it is geostrategically top-heavy, with two anchor points in Northeast Asia (South Korea and Japan) and a much less developed infrastructure of bases and troop concentrations throughout the rest of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Dr. Douglas T. Stuart notes that the vast size and complexity of the IAP region has made it impossible for the United States to pursue a one-size-fits-all pivot strategy. Rather, the Obama Administration has had to develop policies that resonate with the specific interests and concerns of each regional friend and ally. Washington has had mixed success in its efforts to recruit support among IAP governments.

This monograph focuses on U.S.-China relations, with particular emphasis on debates among representatives of two schools of thought:
• “Containers,” people who are inclined to focus on worst-case scenarios and favor the explicit or implicit containment of China. This group is criticized for risking a “self-fulfilling prophesy”; and,
• “Adapters,” people who argue that Washington must make room for China, both in the region and in the world. These individuals are criticized for “self-deluding optimism.”
Dr. Stuart also discusses the arguments of “Game Changers,” those who challenge the assumption that China will continue to rise as an economic and military power.
The final section of this monograph looks beyond the Western Pacific, noting the growing importance of India and Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence into Central Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
Dr. Stuart also discusses the problems that the Obama Administration has been forced to confront in other countries that have complicated efforts to keep the U.S. focus on the pivot strategy in the IAP region.