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East Asia Strategic Environment Reviewed
by Dr. Subhash Kapila Bookmark and Share

East Asia is a critical strategic region in the global security architecture. The region was and continues to be the playground of all the major military powers of the world.

During the Cold War period from 1945 to 1991 the United States was the predominant power both in terms of military power and strategic reach and power projection. Its strategic superiority in terms of 'force multiplier' effect was magnified by its web of bilateral military alliances with South Korea, Japan, Philippines and its military commitments to defend Taiwan In this constellation, the United States was the only nuclear power and it was committed to provide a 'nuclear umbrella' against any nuclear threat by the other side. The United States to achieve superior operational response times maintained a sizeable forward military presence in US military bases primarily in Japan and South Korea. 

Ranged against the United States constellation in East Asia during the Cold War was to begin with, their ideological adversaries comprising the Former Soviet Union and China until they parted ways and China became a quasi-strategic ally of the United States. China started gravitating back towards Russia by the mid-Eighties when it started realizing that in the United States perceptions it had lost its strategic utility value to the Americans. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Former Soviet Union led to the emergence of the United States as the unipolar superpower. Both also happen to be nuclear weapons powers with global reach to strike mainland USA.

In the global strategic realm it is unnatural for a strategic environment to continue for long under the domination of a single power and hence toward the late Nineties both Russia and China started moving towards each other to form a strategic nexus to challenge or balance the military superiority of the United States in East Asia.

The strategic environment in East Asia has been changing swiftly in the first decade of the 21st Century and on review in 2007 presents the following picture:

  • Russia and China have moved strategically more closer to each other and a strategic partnership has emerged between them. Both are united to challenge the unquestioned strategic predominance of the United States in East Asia.
  • Russia and China along with the Central Asian Republics have established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which is gradually acquiring the contours of a military alliance with a very wide strategic spread.
  • China with its stupendous economic growth has been able to carry out a significant military modernization and military upgradation of its military machine and strategic assets. It now has the strategic assets and the strategic reach to strike mainland USA.
  • Russia in the last two years or so has resuscitated its strategic strengths made possible by its rising oil revenues. It has embarked on modernizing its strategic assets and testing advanced strategic weapons.
  • The United States has for the last eight years been tied down in the Middle East militarily. It has been virtually sucked into a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Consequently, the United States has stood distracted from the strategic affairs of East Asia and not been able to focus on East Asia in a manner that it should have done if it wants to ensure its strategic predominance.
  • United States military partners in East Asia, namely, Japan and South Asia are estranged and have differing strategic perceptions.
  • South Korea's relations with the United States are a cause of concern.

Reviewing the above mentioned developments, the major conclusion that strikes the mind is that in the newly emerging strategic environment in East Asia, the United States seems to be at a strategic disadvantage.

In the emerging Cold War in East Asia once again and which is not going to be on ideological lines but more of a sheer power struggle in which a raw military and political calculus will predominate, the United States can strategically ill-afford to continue to neglect East Asia.  

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