President Barack Obama's recent swing through Asia reaffirmed the importance of alliances and a long-term U.S. policy of rebalancing to Asia. But it failed to halt the perception that international order is increasingly in the hands of regional bullies.
A disturbing trend appears to be gaining momentum. Syria's strongman Assad crossed red-lines by using chemical weapons against his own people. North Korea's drive to acquire nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles is unrelenting, even while official press spews vitriol towards South Korea's democratically elected leader. China's is pursuing tailored coercion in its near seas, including using oil rigs as the new battleships in persistent grey zone contests. the manner in which in announced an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea last November and its refusal to clarify a nine-dashed-line claim covering the vast majority of the South China Sea; whether one contemplates No one has a good answer about what to do with respect to Russia's might-makes-right annexation of the Crimea and subterfuge in supporting insurgency in the rest of Ukraine. Whether one focuses on one or all of these recent developments, it is easy to discern a dangerous pattern of global fragmentation. The international community, though not moribund, is seemingly helpless in its attempt to encourage good behavior and enforce common rules of the road.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States championed the creation of a liberal world order. That order focused on access to the global commons, adherence to agreed-upon rules, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Order revived postwar Europe and enabled the Asian tigers, including the miracle on the Han. But as the United States adjusts to relative decline, at least compared with many dynamic economies across the Indo-Pacific region, Washington is no longer in a position to mobilize others around a single approach that reinforces the existing system.