June 11, 2024

A Real Pivot to Asia Is Critical to U.S. Interests, Blackwill and Fontaine Argue in New Book

“Washington’s collective inability to respond adequately to growing Chinese power across the 2010s stands as perhaps the most consequential U.S. policy omission since 1945,” argue Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill and Richard Fontaine in their important new book, Lost Decade: The US Pivot to Asia and the Rise of Chinese Power. The authors assert that the period from 2011—when the United States announced its planned “Pivot to Asia”—“to roughly 2021, when the Biden administration started a partial and belated shift of focus to Asia, represents a lost decade.”

Designed “in part to deal with rising Chinese power,” the Pivot to Asia declared a change to the United States’ strategic orientation: “Asia would henceforth serve as its priority region, and the United States would refocus its military, diplomatic, and economic emphasis on the Indo-Pacific.” More than a decade after the policy’s announcement, Blackwill and Fontaine conclude that the United States “did not, in fact, pivot to Asia.” Today, they argue, a renewed pivot is critical. The book lays a path for policymakers to focus U.S. foreign policy on the Indo-Pacific while maintaining vital commitments in Europe and the Middle East.

Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security, maintain that “even after a lost decade, the Pivot remains America’s proper strategic orientation, and one that should ground U.S. foreign policy . . . given Asia’s crucial economic and diplomatic importance, and China’s abiding threats to international order.”

Blackwill and Fontaine conclude that, while the Pivot’s strategic logic was strong, its execution highlights “how America’s attempt to maintain global commitments while shifting attention and energy to Asia proved controversial, complicated, and painful.” Domestic concerns, continued conflict in the Middle East, and commitments to traditional European allies made it difficult for the United States to fully shift its strategic focus as planned. Partly as a result, “China’s power is greater than ever” and “America’s position in Asia today is weaker than when the Pivot was announced.”

The authors underscore “that a well-resourced, fully implemented pivot to Asia remains critical to the enduring challenge posed by China” and argue that policymakers should fully understand what the Pivot to Asia aimed to achieve—and where it fell short—to muster the resources, alliances, and resolve necessary to protect U.S. vital national interests and democratic values.

The authors set out a series of clear policy recommendations designed to inform a successful, latter-day Pivot. These include:

  • strengthening U.S. alliances in the Indo-Pacific;
  • de-risking economic ties with China;
  • increasing the U.S. defense budget and boosting U.S. military assets and power projection in Asia;
  • shifting military resources from Europe and the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific; and
  • making European allies central to U.S. China strategy.

“Though much time has passed since the initial effort took shape, the United States and China remain closer to the beginning of their long-run, indefinite rivalry than to the end,” the authors conclude. “A substantial pivot of U.S. focus, time, and resources to Asia would increase the likelihood of American success in this generation’s defining competition.” U.S. political leaders, Blackwill and Fontaine write, should “make the necessary moves before they are forced upon them, and demonstrate that a democratic America can, in fact, shift its strategic focus and policy attention to Asia, even in a world of competing priorities.”

Read more about Lost Decade: The US Pivot to Asia and the Rise of Chinese Power and order your copy here.

Praise for Lost Decade

“Getting Asia right is the single most important issue for American foreign policy. This bracing book must be read by anyone who wants to understand or shape policy. Agree or disagree, this is a perspective that must be reckoned with.” — Dr. Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary

“An important and well-researched explanation of the flawed assumptions that underpinned US policy for far too long.” — General H.R. McMaster (ret.), former U.S. National Security Advisor

“Lost Decade raises grand strategic questions about how the United States should deal with China that foreign policy thinkers and practitioners must address. Happily, it provides specific answers that are likely to attract bipartisan support, including a policy ‘to-do list.’ Even China watchers who disagree with the authors’ assumptions and conclusions will find this a valuable read.” — Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department

For media inquiries, please contact Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org.