Michael Heazle and Andrew O’Neil
A common conclusion among the authors in response to questions about the nature of US leadership and its sources of authority is that US authority stems ultimately from the legitimacy granted to US power and influence by other states in East Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific; an attribute of US leadership clearly demonstrated by the great concern any prospect of US withdrawal continues to create in the region. So while America’s economic and military power have been the material enablers of US authority in Asia and elsewhere, it has been the acknowledged legitimacy and appeal of US leadership that has made it enduring and thus more than only hegemonic.
Ian Hall and Michael Heazle
This chapter examines the notion of a ‘rules-based order’ in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the sources of its legitimacy and authority, and the type of leadership a distinctly ‘liberal’ order requires. It argues that a basic, liberal state-based international order was established after 1945, and that the more expansive application of liberal principles that has since been promoted by some Western states has received a very mixed reception in the region. The chapter outlines the basic structure and elements of the 1945 order and the principles inherent in liberal understandings of what that order ought to look like in the contemporary international system. It draws out some of the implications of these understandings of order for current tensions in the broader Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Why does the United States seek military superiority in Asia? This chapter compares evidence from US Asia strategy during the Obama and Trump administrations with general indicators of a primacy strategy. It finds little evidence to support the claim that the United States seeks primacy in Asia, and proposes that for the United States, military superiority is an issue of force structure planning, involving long-term capability development. The ability for the United States to prevail in plausible conflicts against Asia’s next-strongest power is essential for a range of grand strategies that are more modest in scope and intention than one of primacy. The distinction is important because if President Trump or any future US administration does decide to seek primacy in Asia, it would mark a significant break from, not continuation of, US strategic and foreign policy traditions in the region.
Over the course of 2016, leading US government officials endorsed a ‘networked security’ concept for American alliances in Asia, encouraging the formation of multilateral ties amongst long-standing US security allies, including Australia and Japan. The concept was premised on some fundamental realities about Asia in the twenty-first century: relative power is shifting in China’s favour, the United States and its partners are resource constrained, but the power distribution within alliances is more symmetric than in the past. US primacy is eroding in relative terms, but it nonetheless retains regional advantages, and China is not yet poised to replace it. Donald Trump’s astonishing election as President of the United States has, counter-intuitively, only bolstered the case for security networking. American primacy under Trump may be less predictable and less effective than it has been in the past, but this damage to American regional hegemony is not necessarily permanent. As American partners craft their own strategies at this uncertain time, security networking can allow them to safeguard their interests in pragmatic and flexible ways.
After the Second World War, the United States established a remarkably successful hub and spokes system that has persisted for more than half a century. Today, for the first time in recent memory, the hub and spokes system is in question not because of the spokes, but because of the hub itself. Without the hub, this ordering system would inevitably collapse and would be replaced by an alternative system. Two often discussed alternatives – a Chinese-led order and an unled order – would be so damaging to the interests of Asia’s liberal states that they should be avoided at all costs. Instead, it is preferable that the region’s states bind themselves together, transforming the US-led order into a Pacific Order. Doing so would require urgency from Asia’s leading liberal states, but the alternatives are dire. To safeguard their own interests, Asia’s spokes must become hubs.
From Japan’s perspective, US leadership legitimacy depends not only on the reaffirmation of existing treaty commitments and the level of actual military presence, but also on the extent to which the United States is willing to take on the risks and costs of enforcing shared rules and norms in the region and beyond. During the Obama administration, the United States enhanced its forward military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region to deter aggression, but refrained from directly deterring China’s paramilitary unilateral actions in the South China Sea. The United States thus was seen to exhibit a more hegemonic style of leadership that involved selective and shared rule enforcement rather than its more traditional primacy-based leadership role characterized by greater US responsibility in underwriting the rules and norms that underpin the region’s liberal order.
This chapter examines Japanese perceptions of US primacy and the US-led order. It traces debates over American post-war leadership during early periods of uncertainty, noting both views against embracing US power and the more mainstream perspective that ongoing US leadership, and the primacy it is founded on, are essential for Japan’s own national and security interests. It argues that Japan’s contemporary policy responses are driven by this perception of the US role. It also argues that the US–Japan alliance has focused primarily on regional challenges, with Japan’s intention being to integrate American and Japanese security postures and interests as closely as possible to manage and deter regional threats, in particular China. The chapter further argues that Japanese governments have ‘securitized’ Japan’s Asia diplomacy. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the ‘Trump effect’ on Japan’s strategic thinking, that is, the serious challenge posed by Donald Trump’s unorthodox thinking and unpredictability to Japan’s ambition of maintaining a liberal, rules-based order in East Asia.
China’s rise has triggered a major debate in Australia about the decline of its US ally and the implications for Australia’s strategic position and options. ‘Declinists’ perceive US leadership to be in significant decline while China’s rise is assessed to continue largely unabated. This introduces both the prospect of not only some form of US-Sino power sharing arrangement, but also a need to rethink Australia’s strategic posture. ‘Sceptics’ consider arguments about American decline and China’s rise to be vastly exaggerated, arguing that Australia faces an ‘illusion’ of choice. The ANZUS alliance is the key pillar for organizing Australia’s force structure and capability requirements. Consequently, sceptics argue that Australia does not need to fundamentally reassess its strategic posture and options. The results of the survey of Australian perspectives demonstrate that the ‘moderate’ centrist position is most compelling. China’s power is growing but the US still has significant influence in the Asia-Pacific. This increases the potential for a multipolar Asia.
Since 2007, Australia and Japan have steadily broadened and deepened their security relationship. When considering the drivers behind this development, analysts have argued that it is the presence of the US that makes the bilateral security relationship between Australia and Japan matter. In 2014–16, assumptions underpinning this security relationship in Australia and Japan were exposed when Japan bid unsuccessfully for Australia’s Future Submarine contract. As the competitive process unfolded, it became clear that Australia and Japan held dissonant views about each other’s worth and motivations. In particular, policy makers and commentators in each country disagreed about the desirability and rationale for upgrading their security relationship to an alliance. This chapter assesses the implications of these different perspectives and what they tell us about the actual foundations and prospects for bilateral security policy ambitions in the Asia Pacific and beyond.