The struggle for power in the Indo-Pacific

U.S. Navy

Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Division return to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Dubuque (LPD 8) in an amphibious assault vehicle after training with Indonesian marines during Marine Exercise (MAREX) 2010 on Jun. 22, 2010. MAREX is designed to provide training to the Indonesian military and build relationships that help maintain regional stability.

Article Highlights

  • The Indo-Pacific will determine the future of global peace and prosperity for decades to come.

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  • The Indo-Pacific is and will remain the most dynamic region on earth. Indeed, global trends are pulling America eastward

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  • With the end of combat engagement in the Middle East, America is being drawn farther east, to the Indo-Pacific region.

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The struggle for power in the Indo-Pacific

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"Asia will be clearly a priority and we will adjust our operations accordingly.” So stated Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the new Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy, in one of his first public appearances since taking over the top position in the Navy in September 2011. Just days later, his words were repeated by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, on his first official visit to the region. As American forces withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, and continue to drawdown in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers in Washington, D.C. are turning their full attention to the challenges of maintaining American influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

"In more ways than one the Indo-Pacific will determine the future of global peace and prosperity for decades to come." --Michael AuslinThe Indo-Pacific is and will remain the most dynamic region on earth. Indeed, global trends are pulling America eastward. During the decades after World War II, the Cold War, the United States naturally considered Europe to be the nation’s primary national-security concern, despite U.S. involvement in proxy wars around the globe. After the Soviet Union peacefully dissolved in 1991, Washington’s focus moved to the Middle East, spurred by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The following decade saw American involvement in that region slowly deepen, as al-

Qaeda and Islamic terrorism generally impinged more and more on U.S. interests, culminating in the global war on terror from 2001 onward. Now, with the end of combat engagement in the Middle East, America is being drawn farther east, to the Indo-Pacific region.

Obviously, during each of these periods, Washington remained engaged around the world, dealing with multiple crises in the Middle East during the Cold War and confronting Chinese assertiveness during the 1990s and in the months just
before 9/11. But during each of the post-WWII periods, there was a broad national consensus on the key threats to America’s safety and the key opportunities for its prosperity, and Europe and the Middle East dominated national-security thinking throughout. In the coming Indo-Pacific era, the U.S. will not abandon its commitments to the Middle East, and will have to deal with a potentially nuclearcapable Iran, possible European economic collapse, and continued terrorist threats. But the new U.S. consensus will undoubtedly center on the opportunities and threats that Asia poses to America’s future.

Michael Auslin is a resident scholar  at AEI.

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