December 03, 2013

Wanted: Asia-Pacific Strategy Guidance for the Interagency...and Congress

Thanks to the CNAS team for letting me share some brief thoughts on your new blog.  While many think tanks in Washington have become more about the marketing of ideas and less about the research of ideas lately, I am glad to be able to count on think tanks like CNAS to continue the tradition of independent analysis that has enriched the policymaking process in town the last half-century.

It is no surprise that after a decade of operations in the Middle East it will take a considerable effort from our government and think tanks to begin to shift our time, energy, and resources to the new questions that will define American security in the next decade. One area that I believe deserves considerable intellectual rigor is the Asia-Pacific. While the news from this region may not capture the headlines with the same tenacity that that Middle East and North Africa tend to receive, the long-term trend lines in economics, military power, governance, and energy policy all stand to ensure this region will be ripe for both great power competition and cooperation. I commend the Obama Administration for instigating an effort to shift our attention there, but I believe strongly that this effort will only be successful if Congress is able to conduct a ‘rebalance’ of our own to ensure the region gets the sustained oversight and necessary resources that will be required. 

But while the Obama administration has adopted the right “logic” for our renewed emphasis on the region, they have been short on formalizing the “grammar,” or the details, of how they plan to execute this effort. This past summer I sent a bipartisan letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice encouraging the White House to do just that - conduct a formal, interagency strategy-review for the Asia-Pacific. I was pleased to see that a recent report by CNAS’s Dr. Ely Ratner echoed our letter’s recommendation, concluding that “White House guidance is sorely needed to ensure that military and operational planning is appropriately in sync with diplomatic and political goals...The National Security Staff should prepare a formal strategy for the U.S. rebalancing to Asia, signed by the President, to provide a single official source on U.S. interests, strategy, and priorities in the region.” 

Like Dr. Ratner, I believe an Asia-Pacific Strategy Review is required not only so that departments and agencies across the U.S. Government can have the authority to think and act creatively within a robust interagency system, but also to communicate to the Congress the breadth of resources that will be required to implement this strategy. Unfortunately, the Administration continues to reject such a proposal and instead has allowed the rest of the U.S. Government and officials in Asian capitals to try and parse policy from a disparate collection of speeches, interviews, and articles. With questions lingering both here in Washington and in Asian Capitals about the Administration’s commitment to ‘rebalance’ our attention to the region, now is the perfect time to conduct such a review and build some positive momentum in the region for the remaining three years of the President’s term. 

Rep. Forbes is Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee and Chairman of the Congressional China Caucus. He is currently co-leading a bipartisan Asia-Pacific Security Series for the House Armed Services Committee. 


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