Managing the Global Impact of America’s Rebalance to Asia

Last updated November 18, 2014

President Barack Obama announced in late 2011 that he had made a “deliberate and strategic decision” for the United States to “play a larger and long-term role in shaping [the Asia-Pacific] region,” making the U.S. “presence and mission in the Asia-Pacific a top priority.” Echoed in speeches and statements by other senior U.S. policy officials, this “pivot” or “rebalance” toward Asia has become a hallmark of Obama’s foreign and defense policy, though its roots lie in previous administrations, and this strategic approach could endure for years or decades to come. The principal drivers behind this rebalance are Asia’s growing economic and strategic importance, as well as increased military spending in the region led by China and Russia, trends that are likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Policy makers need to recognize, however, that any rebalancing toward Asia transcends the policies of one administration or the fortunes of one nation (e.g., China), and that it will have a profound impact on other parts of the world that are also vital to American national interests. The challenge is to minimize any extra-regional disruptions the rebalance may cause and to maximize its global benefits. This requires, in turn, a comprehensive assessment of America’s rebalance to Asia from a global perspective.

For this eighteen-month project, IFPA conducted an integrated, cross-regional study of the Asia rebalance and its global impact, including: 1) a baseline assessment of the true manner in which the pivot is being implemented, beyond the rhetoric, in terms of its impact on military posture, procurement, and security cooperation activities, both in Asia and elsewhere; 2) a comprehensive examination of how the rebalance is viewed by key security policy officials and experts in strategically important regions and at associated regional security organizations outside of Asia; 3) an analysis of how and to what degree defense initiatives pursued via a rebalance toward Asia might actually help to improve security conditions in these other regions; and 4) an evaluation of the contributions that key regional powers, security organizations, and/or looser coalitions of the willing from outside the Asia-Pacific region could themselves make to the successful implementation of the rebalance, and how such success would, in turn, benefit their own national and regional security goals.

The project entailed::

  • A thorough survey and assessment of relevant literature and documentation on the issues (see selected readings)
  • Interviews and roundtable discussions with senior U.S. interagency officials and military commanders with responsibilities for developing and implementing rebalance-related initiatives
  • Similar exchanges with senior U.S. officials and commanders responsible for security operations in key strategic regions outside of Asia that may be affected, positively or negatively, by the rebalance
  • Research trips to Europe for interviews with senior policy officials and subject matter experts in key NATO countries and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), NATO, the European Union, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM); to the Middle East and the Arab Gulf for interviews in Israel, selected Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Turkey; and to the Asia-Pacific region for visits to the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), Japan, South Korea, and Australia
  • The integration of research findings from these trips with previous project research and analysis, culminating in a final monograph-length report download at right).