Shadow Government

Memo to Obama: Don’t forget about Asia

By Aaron Friedberg Henry Kissinger once described his time in government this way: Sometimes it feels as if you were in one of those movies, sitting on the track in front of an express train. The train is bearing down on you. You know what to do if you did not have ten other things ...

By Aaron Friedberg

Henry Kissinger once described his time in government this way:

Sometimes it feels as if you were in one of those movies, sitting on the track in front of an express train. The train is bearing down on you. You know what to do if you did not have ten other things that needed doing first. You are praying that the train somehow will miss and you will not get hit.

When he takes office next Tuesday, Barack Obama is going to find trains bearing down on him from all sides: conflict in Gaza, unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist threats, a brewing confrontation between India and Pakistan, Iran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons, and an unresolved global economic crisis of unprecedented proportions.

With so many urgent problems to contend with, the new administration will have precious little time to devote to a more distant, but fast-approaching challenge that may yet turn out to be the biggest of them all: the ongoing shift in world wealth and power towards Asia and, in particular, the rise of China. Here’s a report, released this week, that’s designed to help. In it, my co-author Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute and I (drawing on the conversations of an outstanding working group) describe the key features of “An American Strategy for Asia.”

As regards China, we argue that, even as it continues its long-standing policy of economic and diplomatic engagement, the United States is going to have to step up its efforts to maintain a favorable balance of power in East Asia. Towards this end we advocate the further strengthening of our existing bilateral alliance and quasi-alliance relationships, the creation of new multi-lateral mechanisms for promoting strategic cooperation among Asia’s democracies, and some significant improvements in U.S. capabilities to offset China’s ongoing military buildup. We conclude that: “The United States and its regional friends and allies have among them more than ample resources to ensure their security. But if they fail to deploy them in an effective and purposeful way, they will find themselves on the wrong end of a rapidly shifting balance of power.” 

While it struggles to meet other, more immediate challenges, the Obama administration must find the time, energy and, hardest of all, the resources, to deal with this one as well.

Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1987, and co-director of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Center for International Security Studies.

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