- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Introduction (Strategic Asia 2003-04)

Richard J. Ellings and Aaron L. Friedberg

Asia is in better shape than during the Cold War, but it remains fragile and prone to crisis—and this condition will hold for the foreseeable future. Security risks in Asia stem from unprecedented, rapid change in the balance of power, legacies of past wars, rising nationalism, strategic competition, radical Islamist terrorism, the nature of the North Korean regime, uncertainty about China’s future, and other causes. Providing some stability to the region is the domestic focus of the major powers on economic reform and development, and their increasing embrace of globalization. Most important to the region’s stability, however, and out of its own interests, the United States continues to: 1) serve as the flexible, off-shore balancer through this period of upheaval; 2) protect freedom of the seas from the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca to the Pacific; 3) open its economy to encourage trade and investment in the region; 4) otherwise encourage globalization and democratization; and 5) provide leadership in building and supporting effective institutions, organizing coalitions, and acting unilaterally when necessary, to deal with threats to regional security. The United States will continue to need to adjust its policies, alliance relationships, and deployments appropriate to the changes in Asia ahead.