Hotel Okura Executive Luncheon Meeting
New Politics in Washington & The U.S.-Japan Relationship
Dr. Kurt Campbell is Senior Vice President and Director of International Security at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
The following is excerpted from a speech Dr. Campbell gave at the Hotel Okura Executive Luncheon Meeting on August 2, 2001.
The strategic attention and creativity of American foreign policy during the last part of the first Bush administration and the entirety of the Clinton administration was largely devoted to three challenges, all in Europe. They were the still unfinished, painful process of transformation of the Soviet Union into Russia, the reunification of Germany and the associated tasks of changing the organizational structure and mission statement of NATO, and picking up the pieces from Marshal Tito’s failed experiment in Yugoslavia; a difficult, crisis-filled experience that is far from over.
Looking forward ten years, however, the three challenges that will most likely animate future American foreign policy are all found in Asia. At the top of the list is the U.S. approach to the major strategic changes already underway on the Korean Peninsula. These changes will have huge consequences for the major players in Asia: the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.
Second is how the United States should deal with a rising China and how we focus our energies. The real country that is powerful behind the scenes in Asia today is not the United States. It is China. Given the expectation that China will dominate Asia affairs, it is critical for the United States to have a clear conceptualization of the relationship over the next 15 to 20 years.
The third issue on the strategic game plan for the United States is to make a list of countries that are important to the United States but Americans don’t appreciate. At the top of the list is Indonesia -- a country with enormous political implications. Clearly we have seen some positive steps recently, but Indonesia still hangs by a thread in terms of ultimate stability. Indonesia is going to require much more strategic attention from all the major countries in the region.
Inattention to Asia
Looking back to the latest presidential election, there was almost no real attention to Asia. There are three main reasons for this. First is the widely held assumption that the American public is completely disinterested in foreign policy. A second reason is the rough consensus between Republicans and Democrats around three central components of Asian policy: the need to strengthen bilateral alliances; the desire to increase trade and investment in Asia; and the need to engage China. The third, and most persuasive, reason is that most candidates had powerful reasons not to focus too much on Asia and on China specifically.
For Vice President Gore, it was very hard to find a region in which he had taken more missteps across the board. As for President Bush, he recognized early on that the divisions within the Republican Party on China policy were vast. One wing, dominated by well-known and elite members of the Republican Party, believes that China has great economic and commercial potential. The other wing, made up of younger, more vocal members of the party nourished by the ideological right, says quite the contrary: China is not the next great market of the United States; it is the next great enemy.
The new administration
Enough time has passed since Bush came to power that we can make some initial judgements about his performance and what can be expected in the coming months. Clearly, there is now a recognition that Asia is "where it's at," a sentiment reflected in statements, particularly from people like Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, that we need to focus more intensively on Asia. In the coming months and years, therefore, Asian friends are going to quickly learn that only thing more challenging than being ignored by the United States is being engaged by the United States.
There has also been an interesting inversion of priorities. When the Clinton team held talks with Asian governments, the focus was on economic and commercial aspects; military and strategic issues were discussed behind the scenes. The last six months have seen a 180-degree reversal of that approach; strategic and military issues are discussed much more openly, while economic and commercial discussions take a back seat.
A third issue is the change of emphasis from China to Japan. The Bush administration is making it quite clear to our Japanese friends that they are first and foremost. This strategy is not lost on our Chinese friends. They clearly see that the United States has de-emphasized them in its regional thinking.
There has also been a movement away from multilateral institutions and interaction, and toward bilateral or unilateral activity. While the public perceives the change as a very dramatic move, this is likely overstating the matter. Either way, the trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
At the top of Bush’s list in Asia, however, is national missile defense. The first trip of senior officials to Asia was not to discuss trade or the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It was to advise our friends of the direction that the United States is going to take with national missile defense.
Finally, the most interesting cultural aspect of the Bush administration is its attempt to do everything differently from the Clinton administration [LONG DASH] to disparage every single thing Clinton did. If Clinton hopped on one foot then Bush would hop on the other. There is a sense that Bush believed a complete transition was necessary, if for no other reason than to make clear the total illegitimacy of the previous regime.
Causes for concern
In Asia, there is very strong public support for the Bush team; behind closed doors, there is more anxiety about the United States than I have seen for some time. That anxiety resides in a variety of inspirations. One is the tremendous power of the United States, and the view that we tend to exercise that power indiscriminately. There is also a concern that the United States is pursuing an isolationist agenda. There is no truth to that allegation, but it is true that on many issues the Bush administration is very much isolated; on a range of international movements and issues the United States is not actively involved, and this is a legitimate cause for concern.
There are also questions about internal discord within the Bush team. Bush chose to restore the power of the agencies and departments largely because Clinton did it the other way. One of the reasons why there was so much centralization of power in the Clinton White House, however, was that a variety of new factors in the international system requires that several agencies be equally informed on issues. This enables them to take coordinated action. Previous administrations have dealt with this by bringing agencies together. The Bush team is running into situations where it becomes difficult to convey consensus and tackle problems without a powerful centralized voice. But because Clinton did it that way, Bush took the opposite route.
Fundamentally, China policy is going to be extraordinarily difficult over the next five to ten years. This is unavoidable because there is no consensus in Washington, and there will not be a consensus. The trick is going to be how to manage a policy in the absence of consensus. We cannot factor China out of the strategic calculus of the region, but there must also be an appreciation that no country in Asia wants to be seen as a tool with which to contain China.
Another point of concern is the substantial decrease in trust and confidence between Japan and South Korea. It looked as if we were on the verge of a new age in which these two critical bilateral relationships for the United States would take on certain trilateral characteristics. But that period has passed. I would not rule out a crisis between Japan and South Korea. The relationship will be hard to rebuild, and the United States has to acknowledge a direct role in this effort.
With regard to U.S.-Japan relations, the real difficulties are the unexpected developments -- incidents in Okinawa, a submarine rising unexpectedly, or coming into harbor. Unexpected events are likely to play a dramatic role in this relationship in the future. There is a fundamental paradox for us in the United States: this relationship is both the most important relationship we have in the world today, and, at the same time, it is deeply unstable. Maintaining such a relationship is an enormous challenge; it requires dedicated public servants trying to develop consensus between our two countries.