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  • Complex Patchworks:U.S. Alliances as Part of Asia's Regional Architecture
  • Victor D. Cha (bio)
Keywords

United States, Alliances, Security Architecture, China

[End Page 27]

Executive Summary

This article examines the significant role of existing U.S. bilateral alliances in the complex interplay of emerging regional security architectures in Asia.

Main Argument

The continued relevance of the U.S. bilateral alliance system in Asia appears most tested by questions of regional architecture. International relations and areas studies scholars have rushed to a judgment that the alliance system is failing both to think creatively about regional architecture and to integrate China's rise in Asia. The future of security cooperation in the region, however, may not be as dim as people surmise. This article argues that a definite architecture is emerging and evolving in Asia that the U.S. and its allies support. This architecture is not dominated by China, nor is it characterized by U.S. diminution; rather, it is inclusive of the major powers in the region. Nonetheless, this regional architecture must overcome a clear security dilemma to realize its positive potential. The dilemma is that U.S. alliance–initiated regional efforts are seen as latent efforts to contain China, while regional- or China-initiated proposals are seen as attempts to exclude the U.S. By encouraging a fluid network of security architecture, however, this problem can be mitigated to avoid zero-sum solutions. The picture of the institutions that connect the U.S., its allies, and China in the region is much more complex than bilateral vs. multilateral. Instead, this architecture is a "complex patchwork" of bilaterals, trilaterals, and other plurilateral configurations. The complexity of this geometry is a useful tool for muting regional security dilemmas.

Policy Implications

  • • The U.S. bilateral alliance architecture is an integral component of Asia's emerging regional architecture.

  • • The emerging Asian architecture, composed of bilateral, trilateral, and other multilateral relations, is fluid and results-based; it is not a single overarching institution like that found in Europe.

  • • The U.S. and China are both able to operate within this architecture to achieve positive-sum gains. [End Page 28]

What is the future of the U.S. alliances in Asia in a post–Cold War security environment? The bilateral hub-and-spoke system, which served the United States and its allies so well during the Cold War, appears less suited to deal with the complex constellation of problems today, including global financial turmoil, growing skepticism about free trade, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Asia the alliance system's relevance appears most tested by questions of regional architecture. International relations and area studies scholars have rushed to a judgment that the U.S. alliance system is failing both to think creatively about regional architecture and to integrate China's rise in Asia. The future of security cooperation in Asia, however, may not be as dim as people surmise. There is a definite architecture emerging and evolving that the United States and its allies support. This architecture is not dominated by China, nor is it characterized by U.S. diminution; on the contrary, it is inclusive of the major powers. Nonetheless, this regional architecture must overcome a clear security dilemma to realize its positive potential. The dilemma is that U.S. alliance–initiated regional efforts are seen as latent efforts to contain China, while regional- or China-initiated proposals are seen as attempts to exclude the United States. This problem, however, can be mitigated to avoid zero-sum solutions by having a fluid network of security architecture. The picture of the institutions that connect the United States, its allies, and China in the region is much more complex than bilateral vs. multilateral. Instead, this architecture is a "complex patchwork" of bilaterals, trilaterals, and other plurilateral configurations. The complexity of this geometry is a useful tool for muting regional security dilemmas.

"If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it": Asian Security Architecture during the Cold War

Previous U.S. disinterest in regional architecture at the end of the Cold War stemmed from an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. Initially, there were concerns that regional initiatives were meant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 27-50
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-02
Open Access
No
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