The Mabini Dialogue Series of the Foreign Service Institute hosted Dr. Satu Limaye as he examined the US rebalance to Asia both as a perspective and as a policy of the Obama administration at the Amb. Francisco L. Benedicto Room, Carlos P. Romulo Library, on 18 March 2015.
According to Dr. Limaye’s lecture “Assessing the US Rebalance: Has it Achieved its Objectives?” the United States has been rebalancing or pivoting toward the Asia Pacific for the past 150 years. Its engagements—alliance commitment, economic role, and strategic interests—have been steadily moving to Asia.
US engagement in the region, he said, will continue given its economic dynamism and the tilting of balance of power. He also emphasized that most of the rebalance is in the private sector. The extent of such engagement was the focus of East West Center’s “Asia Matters to America” project, a mapping study of the importance of Asia to the United States based on volume of trade, investment, immigration, tourism, and exchange student programs, among others.
Dr. Limaye argued that the US rebalancing policy has six major components, namely, modernizing alliances, creating new partnerships, engaging multilateral institutions, trade and investment, the Transpacific Partnership, and the promotion of human rights and democracy. Most of these component shave been pursued by the US since 1945. The innovations can be seen in the inclusion of the Indo-Pacific lateral, a heavy focus on Southeast Asia including Myanmar, and commitment to multilateral institutions such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM).
The sustainability of the US rebalance policy given defense cutbacks, partisan politicking, and sequestration will be an important factor in assessing its success. The United States is also challenged to manage competing mechanisms, i.e., whether to calibrate the Asia policy to follow an alliance-first or China-first track. The value of multilateral institutions was also assessed. Although these are important in institutionalizing US presence and engagement in the region, these institutions are not solutions to security problems which should be handled bilaterally. The emerging complex web of interactions among security forces in the region is also seen as an important trend.
Dr. Limaye ended the discussion on a positive note. He argued that the US is basically balanced across the region—balanced in terms of focus on issues and between the supply and demand for US presence. He noted that the US is not too engaged, and not too unengaged.