March 18, 2024

The ‘Lost Decade’ of the US Pivot to Asia

Source: The Diplomat

Journalist: Mercy A. Kuo

The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Richard Fontaine – CEO of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. and co-author, with Robert Blackwill, of Lost Decade: The U.S. Pivot to Asia and the Rise of Chinese Power (2024) – is the 406th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Identify the key factors that led to the failure of the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” policy.

In “Lost Decade,” we looked at a perplexing question. The pivot to Asia, first articulated in 2011, won support from political leaders and policymakers, Republicans and Democrats, and successive administrations. So why did it not produce more results? There are several reasons.

For too long, Washington underestimated the China challenge, believing that a combination of incentives and discouragements would induce Beijing to support rather than undermine the international order. That sapped some of the urgency necessary for a major pivot. In addition, crises emerged in other places – from wars in the Middle East to Russia’s invasions of Ukraine. And by declaring an Asia-first foreign policy, the Obama administration attempted a grand strategic shift in the absence of cataclysmic events that might force a reassessment. In the history of American foreign policy, it has generally required such an upheaval – or the emergence of a major new threat, like the Soviet Union or international terrorism – to turn the great ship of state.

The final reason why the United States did not pivot to Asia, and why it did not adequately respond to the rise of Chinese power, is, however, the simplest: It was more than successive administrations could manage. Moving military assets away from Europe and the Middle East, overcoming domestic opposition to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, divesting legacy weapons systems in favor of arms tailored for a China contingency, sustaining intense diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific – each step proved too hard, in the event, to get done.

Read the full interview from The Diplomat.


  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012–19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009–12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy ad...