Alan D. Romberg takes a look at key U.S. regional relationships in Northeast Asia. This analysis is based on a paper he presented at the Korea Research Institute for Strategy conference (Strategic Balance in a Turbulent Northeast Asia and ROK’s New Approach, Seoul, June 1, 2007) and will appear in the forthcoming issue of Strategic Studies.
When the next president of the United States takes office in January 2009, heâ€•or sheâ€•will face a world transformed from the one that confronted George W. Bush in 2001. In important measure, of course, that is a function of the events of 9/11, which generated a tectonic shift in world politics and American priorities. But it is also a function of advancing trends around the world that would have forced Washington to rethink its national security goals, priorities and relationships in any case.
Nowhere is this truer than in Northeast Asia. As everyone recognizes, the rise of China is a development of historic importance, one for which the Bush administration seemed singularly unprepared as it took office. Relatedly, the political evolution of Taiwan has proceeded on its own course, quite independent of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist plans, and that evolution has challenged Washington to manage its cross-Strait policies, and the maintenance of peace and stability, with increasing deftness and nuance. Japan has experienced a process not only of economic reawakening, but of political transformation. It is not a throwback to the aggressive, militaristic culture of the early 20th century. Nonetheless, it is replete with aspects of a more assertive nationalism that has profound implications for future regional stability. And North and South Korea have gone through transitions that, though very different from one another, also have far-reaching importance for the region and for the United States.
Although this paper details some of the history that has led us to this point, the purpose is not merely to document or analyze these developments for their own sakes. Rather, thegoal is to illuminate how they have shaped American strategic perspectives and to assess their likely impact on the course of future U.S. policy.