Last week, I facilitated a class debate on U.S. policy toward East Asia for a class I teach at NYU called the "Rise of East Asia." (Click here to read the summary of the class from spring 2010 and here to read the summary from the class from summer 2009.) This semester's class was smaller than previous semesters but the debate was nonetheless fascinating. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the debate was a widely shared view that the United States cannot lead the world alone. Rather the United States must lead in cooperation with other countries--a strategy of cooperative security if you will. In that light, the students stressed the need for relations between countries to be on equal footing and therefore they questioned the tradition of looking at U.S. foreign relations in hierarchical order.
Below are the impressions of Elizabeth Matsumoto, who participated in the debate:
"Rise of East Asia" Class Debate on March 30 2011
On March 30 2011, President Obama's 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) provided the backdrop for a carefully worded but intense debate among six NYU SCPS students in Professor Devin Stewart's "Rise of East Asia" class. There were varied opinions but also overwhelming agreement on U.S. priorities in national security, a concern that preoccupied the better part of the debate, followed by recommendations for American policy in East Asia, a region defined as ASEAN, China, Japan, the Koreas, and Australia.
The goal of the debate was to prepare an in-class National Security Strategy by consolidating excerpts from the Obama document with newly derived conclusions. The class began by focusing on grand strategy, or the all-encompassing mission statement that could best be classified as a philosophical approach to national security. Obama's grand strategy focuses on "renewing American leadership," a reaction to the military emphasis of the Bush era. Evidence that this renewal involves the dual process of being strong at home, by rebuilding the economy, education system, while being influential abroad became readily apparent in a preliminary study of the document.
Class reaction was overwhelmingly positive to the Obama Administration's grand strategy, characterizing it as "a step in the right direction." The group also called for a policy of engagement that would "create more international organizations, and cooperation," that prioritized American leadership and "enlightened self-interest." The best means of pursuing leadership was also briefly debated, with an emphasis on collaboration, or co-leadership as the optimal means of engagement.
Class also argued that co-leadership on important global matters should be initiated while cautiously balancing security and openness, given that "safety and prosperity are bound by events beyond our borders." The Grand Strategy was subsequently revised to the following statement: "The United States should cooperate in redefining the international order, to support an inclusive community of nations with global responsibility." Class also stressed the grand strategy remain compatible with the general aim of engagement abroad: to give incentives to nations to act responsibly, while conveying they may face consequences if they do not.
With the grand strategy established, the class then began the task of defining the Interests of National Security. First came the security of the United States, its citizens and the "human rights of all people," an important clause directly correlated to the grand strategy’s notion of an "inclusive community." Next was international prosperity, an aim intertwined with rebuilding a strong economy, powered by "fiscal responsibility, education, and innovation" at home. Debate on whether to retain values, or ethical policy followed. Given the overarching ethical aim of the grand strategy, the class concluded this section redundant. An international order promoted by a participatory American leadership was also listed under the interests section of the document.
With a comprehensive security policy finalized, a discussion of U.S. allies in Asia followed. Talks began with a ranking. Japan's strategic importance placed it in the number one slot, followed by traditional allies South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand. In light of recent events, the class also noted the Great Tohoku Earthquake in Japan has strengthened the U.S.-Japan alliance, but emphasis on fostering more equal partnerships with not only America's allies but other willing nations was of growing importance.
This last policy suggestion tied well with subsequent discussions. Class recognized the significance of engagement with China, Asia's largest emerging power. Involvement in regional institutions ASEAN, APEC, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP), and EAS (East Asia Summit) was also highlighted as a key step towards multilateralism. Furthermore, in alignment with Obama’s call for a more "positive, constructive, and comprehensive relationship with China," and to "encourage continued reduction in tension between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan" U.S. bilateral relations with Taipei was ranked below other policy priorities.
As discussion continued, the term "allies" also came under debate. If the chief aim of national security was to foster inclusiveness, some questioned the need to classify a few select nations as allies. The possibility the U.S. military presence in Japan and South Korea was polarizing, and could potentially undermine claims to inclusive cooperativeness was also briefly deliberated. As the debate drew to a close, emphasis was repeatedly placed on greater involvement in regional institutions, both existing ones such as the Six Party Talks, APEC, ASEAN, EAS, and TPP. There was also agreement a Northeast Asian Alliance analogous to ASEAN would be an impactful starting point.
- Elizabeth Matsumoto
Photo "Woolworth Building" by laverrue.