Promise and Peril on the Pacific Rim
By MERRICK CAREY
MERRICK CAREY, a former intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve, is
chief executive officer of the Lexington Institute, a public policy foundation
based in Arlington, Va., and a frequent contributor to Sea Power Magazine
and The Almanac of Seapower.
The Asia-Pacific region--which stretches from the West Coast of the
United States to the East Coast of Africa--encompasses 105 million square
miles, nearly 50 percent of the Earth's surface. It contains 56 percent
of the world's population and generates 34 percent of the Gross World
Product; within its boundaries are the world's six largest militaries.
For the United States alone, the region is the market for roughly $50
billion in annual trade, 35 percent of the nation's total trade and nearly
double the shares of Europe and Latin America.
There have been numerous ground wars in the area, but the watery expanses
of the Asia-Pacific region have been a peaceful American lake for over
two generations, thanks largely to U.S. naval power.
The prospects for even longer-term peace and security in the region,
though, depend in large measure on whether the Asia-Pacific region, more
strategically important as each year passes, avoids the dangers to stability
that increasingly threaten to rupture what remains a fragile global center
Among the Asia-Pacific's 43 countries and 30 territories, perhaps no
other grouping of nations is more critical to long-term stability than
East Asia--the nations of China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and
their neighbors to the south. This axis, expected to be the world's largest
importer of petroleum by 2020, surpassing North America, mirrors both
the opportunities and the pitfalls that lie ahead for the region, and
for the world at large. As the past year has illustrated, political,
cultural, and philosophical differences continue to threaten what has
nevertheless been unparalleled progress in recent decades toward economic
integration, political reform, and security cooperation.
China seems to be on a slow but steady path away from Communism to a
free-market economic state, but its long-term intentions as a global
power remain a riddle. Will China become the partner it claims it wants
to be, or will it choose a more confrontational and hegemonic approach
to achieve the greatness it so obviously desires? Will economically bankrupt
and reclusive North Korea, with its enormous military structure and demonstrated
thirst for long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction, join
the march toward "globalization," or will it be the protagonist
in a bloody but ultimately futile conflict with South Korea (and, therefore,
with the United States)? Will other countries in East Asia overcome the
social and political strife that threaten to tear apart some of the region's
nascent democracies, or will such nations as Indonesia--the world's fourth
most populous state--spin out of control and stunt the region's growth?
Progress and Stability
As the past year has demonstrated, there is ample evidence to support
the case for continued progress. It is largely up to the nations in the
region to determine whether they move forward or are held hostage by
confrontation and conflict, but the dominant U.S. role in the area--both
diplomatically and in military affairs--is critical to ensuring that
a stable environment can be maintained.
"The U.S. presence in East Asia has been, and will continue to
be, critical to the region's stability and prosperity," according
to the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century. The
commission, cochaired by former Senators Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Warren
Rudman (R-N.H.), said in the first of its three reports on the future
of American defense policy that, "Clearly, a reduction of U.S. commitment
and engagement in East Asia, especially if it is simultaneously abrupt
and deep, will increase the likelihood of instability as states struggle
to define a new regional balance of power."
In addition to deterring conflict, the presence of 100,000 U.S. troops
in the region has served the equally important purpose of providing an
environment for other countries to focus their energies on political
and economic progress--largely by cultivating bilateral and multilateral
relationships with the region's key players, including potential adversaries.
The benefits have been numerous. To begin with, the Asian economic downturn
of 1998 that threatened to spread like wildfire through global markets--but
did not, thanks in part to the strength of the U.S. economy and to international
loans--appears to be cycling back around. According to the Pacific Economic
Cooperation Council, the Pacific Rim at large is on the road to recovery,
with all but three of its 19 major economies projected to return to growth
The People's Republic of China (PRC), whose actions are watched as closely
as any other in the world, has shown signs that it remains committed
to economic reform. Ten years after Tiananmen Square, when student protesters
were fired upon by Chinese troops, the political landscape has improved
somewhat. Indeed, much of what the protesters were seeking--better jobs,
an end to inflation, greater academic freedom, punishment for corrupt
government officials, and freedom of the press--has been provided through
continuing democratic pressures and the (perhaps reluctant) acquiescence
of the PRC leaders in Beijing. With multiparty democracies sweeping East
Asia in recent decades, the PRC no doubt feels more than a little surrounded.
Relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK--i.e.,
North Korea) and the rest of the world have inched closer to normalization
in recent months than they have been since the Korean War. In exchange
for the DPRK's pledge to suspend its long-range ballistic missile program,
which has been advancing at a much quicker pace than Western intelligence
officials predicted just a year ago, the United States agreed to lift
some of the sanctions (on trade, banking, and travel) that have contributed
to the crippling of the North Korean economy. South Korean, Japanese,
and American officials hope the lifting of sanctions will lead to long-lasting
agreements that will bring Pyongyang into the global fold.
The United States and other countries also are improving relations with
Vietnam, and with Indonesia, which had a disastrous year when popular
rebellion led to a scorched-earth policy in East Timor. Indonesia's acceptance
of an outside peacekeeping force in East Timor, however, may bring stability
and, later, independence to that troubled state.
In short, there have been several success stories. But there also are
negative forces at work in the region that, if they remain unchecked
by the United States and its allies, could paralyze East Asia's moves
toward peace and prosperity and create major problems for the world at
PRC Modernizes For "Unrestricted War"
Although well on its way toward economic and--to a lesser extent--political
reform, China also is beginning to embark on the most extensive military
modernization program in the PRC's 50-year history. Some worry that this
modernization effort could, over the next 15 years, result in the emergence
of the first "peer competitor" to the United States since the
fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
It still lacks adequate numbers of ships and jet aircraft to successfully
invade Taiwan--perhaps the region's foremost flash point--but Beijing
does have the world's largest standing army and is working to improve
nearly all elements of its armed forces: conventional naval and air forces,
land-based missiles, nuclear weapons, and new and unconventional means
of warfare--the key to combat success in what Chinese military analysts
have called "unrestricted war."
China's naval forces are considered to be relatively weak, but have
demonstrated in the past the threat they could pose to Taiwan, and to
the region, should they realize their long-term plans for advanced submarines,
surface vessels, anti-ship missiles, and other weapon systems.
Since late 1998, China has taken advantage of the region's preoccupation
with economic issues to move toward its long-term goal of taking control
of the entire South China Sea. Beijing has reinforced its military presence
on Mischief Reef, roughly 135 nautical miles from the Philippines, which
it first occupied in 1995. It also appears to have stepped up its naval
presence within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone with
frigates, supply ships, and a research vessel.
China-watchers worry that these developments signal future plans to
seize the Spratly or the Diaoyu Islands. "With the Philippines considered
the weakest in the region militarily, the presence of the U.S. Seventh
Fleet is all the more important to keep China's designs on the South
China Sea and its critical sea lanes in check," according to Asian
security expert Barbara Stewart. The "gapping" of U.S. carriers
and the continued shrinking of the U.S. submarine force will make it
much more difficult to maintain that presence, of course.
Full Order Book on Warships
China's pursuit of enhanced maritime power is part of a larger naval
buildup in the region. Trade officials predict that China, Japan, Taiwan,
South Korea, Australia, and other countries could add between 200 and
300 ships to their naval inventories over the next 20 years, with the
bulk of them designed for blue water operations far from their own shores.
China also plans to purchase up to 200 high-tech jet fighters over the
next decade, and to develop and deploy short-range missiles that would
primarily threaten Taiwan, at least in the short term. A U.S. Department
of Defense report concluded that China's buildup of ballistic and cruise
missiles will give Beijing an "overwhelming advantage" over
Taiwan by 2005. The missiles, deployed largely in eastern and southern
China, would "pose a significant threat to nonhardened military
targets, [command and control] nodes, and Taiwan's military infrastructure," according
to the February 1999 DOD report to Congress. China is believed to have
already sited more than 100 of the missiles directly across from Taiwan,
and could deploy up to 600 more in the next several years.
These land-based missiles are the same as those test-fired by the People's
Liberation Army during military maneuvers in 1996 at the time of Taiwan's
national elections. China's threatening moves prompted the United States
to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait, sending a clear
message that U.S. forces in the region would not sit idly by if China
tries to intimidate Taipei with the threat of military invasion.
In recent months there has been concern that there could be a repeat
of the 1996 incident, which took U.S.-PRC relations to an all-time low
and the likelihood of armed conflict to an all-time high. Communist Beijing's
goal of reunification with the democratically elected government in Taipei
turned hostile once again in July 1999 when President Lee Tang-Hui of
the Republic of China (ROC) declared Taiwan to be a separate "state" deserving
of diplomatic relations with other countries.
Viewing this shift in policy as a sign of ROC plans to seek independence,
Beijing upped its military rhetoric, threatening Taiwan with military
invasion should it seek to change the long-standing "one China" policy
adhered to by Beijing and Taipei as well as Washington.
In response, the United States again deployed two aircraft carriers
(USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation, and their battle groups)--this
time to the South China Sea, where they conducted military exercises.
The deployment "was a nice way to let our friends and potential
adversaries know that the U.S. Navy remains committed to maintaining
peace and stability throughout the region," a senior U.S. military
official said at the time.
The brandishing of Chinese missiles has helped fuel a rallying cry in
Taiwan and among Taipei's American supporters for U.S.-supplied missile
defenses to help protect the island from a Chinese invasion. The Clinton
administration has treaded softly on this issue, out of fear of further
antagonizing Beijing, and has agreed to bolster Taiwan's defenses in
less overt ways. One example: the United States agreed last year to sell
Taipei an early-warning radar system to monitor PRC missile and aircraft
launches, but deferred action on the ROC's requests for active missile
defenses, such as Aegis radar-equipped missile ships, to supplement Taiwan's
U.S.-provided arsenal of Patriot antimissile systems.
Differences of Opinion
The Republican-controlled Congress has pushed a harder line, and proposed
the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act of 1999, which seeks to authorize
the sale or transfer of active missile-defense systems and other equipment.
The Clinton administration opposes the legislation, contending that it
would antagonize Beijing and initiate a dangerous arms buildup. China
already has threatened to increase its sales of missile technology to
North Korea, Iran, and other hostile states if the United States builds
missile defenses in East Asia.
Beyond the issue of hardware, however, the U.S. government has quietly
expanded its strategic ties with the island in recent years. Authorizing
the type of extensive dialogue not seen since the 1970s, the Clinton
administration has worked more closely with Taiwan on the policy level. "The
discussions have turned from procurement to policy," according to
a Taiwanese military official. "It's things like: 'What are your
aims? What do you think? What do you see happening in the next five years?'
We never had that sort of conversation before. ... We share with the
United States the action plan if we were attacked."
In addition to its buildup of short-range missiles, China made strides
last year in its long-range ballistic-missile program, conducting its
first successful flight test of the Dong-Feng-31. The missile, which
has certain mobility characteristics that will be extremely difficult
to counter, is capable of hitting targets throughout East Asia, including
U.S. forces in the region.
Taiwan is taking steps of its own to counter the Chinese threat, including
bolstering its submarine force to prevent a Chinese blockade that could
cripple Taipei's economy and accomplish almost the same result as a direct
military assault. Taipei also announced plans last year to purchase between
six and 10 diesel-powered submarines from Germany; the first is scheduled
to deploy in 2005.
Angst and Espionage
China's military modernization program cannot be fully assessed without
recounting the nuclear-theft and technology-transfer scandals of the
past year. Agents working for Beijing--many of them scientists visiting
U.S. nuclear labs--allegedly pilfered design information on several of
America's most secret nuclear weapons.
It also was reported that--inadvertently or otherwise--Americans provided
Beijing with sensitive information that could assist other PRC modernization
efforts, including missile and space launch technology and supercomputing
capabilities originally sold for commercial purposes but redirected for
According to a bipartisan congressional report issued by Rep. Christopher
Cox (R-Calif.), Beijing stole design data for the W-88 (a sophisticated
multiple-warhead nuclear weapon) and the W-70 (an enhanced-radiation
warhead commonly referred to as the neutron bomb). Beijing has vehemently
denied the charges and described the report as "sensational lies";
the Clinton administration has maintained that Beijing has not developed
any new strategic weapons as a direct result of the thefts.
Nonetheless, according to American intelligence assessments, China could
soon deploy its first nuclear warhead based (in large part) on stolen
U.S. technology. The Dong-Feng-31 has a range up to 5,000 miles and reportedly
is being outfitted with a small nuclear warhead based in part on American
nuclear design technology. Moreover, China announced publicly in July
that it is now capable of developing neutron bombs. "This shows
that the Cox Report was hard-hitting and has caused the Chinese some
angst," said Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence
Other evidence that the Chinese efforts to gain information on U.S.
military technology have improved the PRC's weapon-making capabilities
includes the revelation early last year that a U.S. scientist working
on a classified Pentagon project in 1997 provided China with secret data
about a submarine-tracking radar. U.S. officials now fear that the Chinese
Navy could use the data against submerged U.S. submarines
"The War of the Future"
But as China works steadily to improve its conventional and strategic
forces, it faces the strong likelihood that it will remain woefully behind
the United States and its allies in overall military capability--and
may never catch up. China's assessment of the U.S.-led NATO air campaign
over the former Yugoslavia led some of the PRC's military experts to
conclude that traditional means of confronting the United States will
not be enough in the future. For that reason, some Chinese military officers
have been espousing the doctrine of "Unrestricted War." The
doctrine, outlined in a new book with the same title, postulates that
terrorism, drug trafficking, environmental degradation, computer attacks
on military and civilian targets, propaganda wars, and other asymmetric
ways to weaken an enemy's capabilities might be crucial in facing a more
conventionally powerful adversary such as the United States. "Unrestricted
War is war that surpasses all boundaries and restrictions," the
book, currently popular within PRC military ranks, states. "It takes
nonmilitary forms and military forms and creates a war on many fronts.
It is the war of the future."
The unease in many U.S. quarters about China's intentions are matched
by similar unease in Beijing about U.S. intentions--particularly in the
wake of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Yugoslavia that resulted in
the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. "The
problem now for China and other non-NATO countries is [that] if NATO's
scheme to dismember Yugoslavia is realized, then the United States and
its allies may further apply this model to the Asia-Pacific and other
regions to attack countries that constitute a 'threat' to its global
control," Zang Wenmu wrote last year in Strategy and Management,
a respected Chinese publication. China is especially sensitive in this
regard when it comes to Taiwan or even its independence-minded province
Here, once again, U.S. involvement in the region has proved crucial
to preventing strained ties from ballooning into something considerably
worse. Despite the evidence that the Pentagon's engagement policy with
China has enabled Beijing to leap ahead in its modernization efforts,
continued military-to-military ties have served as a calming influence.
According to Navy Capt. Brad Kaplan, U.S. naval attaché in Beijing, "an
important and visible indicator of progress in the mutual effort to improve
overall Sino-American relations is the expansion of military-to-military
contact between the two countries."
Late last year a delegation led by Adm. Joseph Prueher, then commander-in-chief
of the U.S. Pacific Command and later nominated by President Clinton
to be U.S. Ambassador to China, met with senior PLA leaders as China
hosted an increasing number of port visits by the U.S. Navy. "The
armed forces of the two nations carry a special responsibility to build
upon these exchanges to continually enhance military relations for the
benefit of the peoples of China, the United States, and the entire Asia-Pacific
region," Kaplan said. Prueher, in his October confirmation hearing,
said that one of his top priorities will be to maintain open communications
with the Chinese.
Enigma in North Korea
Stalinist North Korea, despite signs it may be willing--to relieve famine
and economic hardship--to end decades of hostility with its neighbors
and the United States, remains a constant focus of U.S. military commanders,
who still consider an armed confrontation with Pyongyang one of the more
likely possibilities of a major theater war (MTW). Military leaders continue
to cite North Korea and Iraq when discussing the U.S. two-MTW warfighting
Notwithstanding the modest progress toward rapprochement with the West
in recent months, Pyongyang continues to pose a substantial threat to
peace and stability in East Asia, and in the past year has engaged in
several activities that serve as stark reminders of the DPRK's penchant
for confrontation and possible conflict.
In June, North Korean torpedo boats fired on South Korean naval vessels
in the southern waters of the Yellow Sea after the two forces had been
taunting each other for more than a week. In response, South Korean forces
sank one of the North Korean boats. The incident came after a series
of attempts by North Korean submarines in recent years to infiltrate
the south to gather intelligence. In one such incident, in 1998, a submarine
went aground and South Korean forces spent several weeks hunting down
the North Korean "defectors" who had escaped into the South
In another indication that the North's recent willingness to formally
end the Korean War (only an armistice, not a peace agreement, was signed
in 1953) may be a bluff to receive much-needed aid, Pyongyang has been
accused of secretly developing nuclear weapons at a remote site prohibited
from outside inspection. This would be in direct violation of its 1994
agreement with the United States, South Korea, and Japan to halt its
nuclear weapons program in return for nuclear-power-generation facilities
that could be used only for civilian purposes.
Drugs, Missiles, and Counterfeiting
A new and emerging threat from North Korea appears to be Pyongyang-sponsored
global crime. Authorities in nine countries have caught North Korean
diplomats shipping illegal drugs, for example; North Korean officials
also have been charged with money counterfeiting, and Pyongyang's embassies
around the world have been used to smuggle a wide array of goods. A Congressional
Research Service study released in early 1999 documented at least 30
incidents tying North Korean officials to drug trafficking.
The entire region--and the U.S. intelligence community--was caught off-guard
in 1998 when North Korea test-fired a three-stage Taepodong-1 medium-range
ballistic missile that soared over the Japanese mainland and splashed
down in the Pacific Ocean. The past year saw Pyongyang continue its missile
program--and provide technical assistance to Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Syria,
and other potential threat nations--with increased energy. These actions
appear to be the main drivers behind: (a) the acceleration of the U.S.
missile defense program; and (b) the long-overdue shift in the Clinton
administration's support for near-term deployment of a national missile-defense
Until its verbal agreement in September to halt its missile development
program, North Korea had been readying its Taepodong-2 missile for a
live test. The test missile reportedly was ready to go, with rocket fuel
delivered to the launch site in North Hamkyong Province. The Japanese,
in particular, were extremely jittery.
Tensions subsided a bit with the Berlin Agreement, as the sanctions/missile
deal is called. It was reached just days after a U.S. National Intelligence
Estimate warned that the intercontinental-range Taepodong-2 probably
would be tested in the near future--moving North Korea closer to deployment
of a missile "capable of carrying a several-hundred-kilogram payload
to Alaska and Hawaii."
The agreement, which came on the heels of a special investigation of
U.S. policy toward Pyongyang conducted by former Defense Secretary William
Perry, demonstrated a dramatic shift in U.S. policy. Just a few years
ago, Pentagon officials maintained that it was only a matter of time
before North Korea would collapse under the weight of its own failed
policies. Now there is a growing belief that North Korea may not reunify
with South Korea for years--if ever. Perry said that any assumptions
about the future of North Korea would be "imprudent," and that
it cannot be assumed that the regime in Pyongyang will collapse.
The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century also
concluded, in its September report, that it is "altogether possible
that Korean unification could be delayed another 20 years or more."
Negatives to Normalization
It is not yet clear, moreover, that the Berlin Agreement will hold long
enough to lead to more long-lasting normalization efforts. According
to several reports in late October, U.S. intelligence officials have
compiled evidence that North Korea has not halted its missile development,
and may even be stepping up its sales of missile-related technologies.
According to the Washington Times, a classified report by the Air Force
National Air Intelligence Center affirms that Pyongyang "is continuing
Taepodong missile development." The intelligence report also says
that North Korea: (a) has tried unsuccessfully to ship missile components
to Pakistan; (b) has held discussions with missile experts from Iran;
(c) has supplied Syria with aluminum powder for use in the construction
of missiles and weapons of mass destruction; and (d) may be training
Congolese forces in exchange for uranium ore.
Responding to Pyongyang's well-documented (and suspected) nefarious
activities, the United States has taken several steps to mitigate the
North Korean threat to South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. homeland.
The North Korean ballistic-missile program and its surprising progress
has led, perhaps more than any threat, to a general consensus in the
United States in favor of deploying a limited national missile-defense
system at the earliest date practicable to protect against a rogue or
accidental missile launch.
In the tactical arena, the Pentagon has redoubled its efforts on cutting-edge
theater missile-defense programs--the THAAD (theater high-altitude area-defense)
system and airborne lasers, for example--and to protect South Korea,
Japan, and other allies from the North Korean threat. The U.S. government
also is considering revising a 1979 agreement with South Korea not to
sell the ROK any surface-to-surface missiles with ranges greater than
180 kilometers. South Korea has repeatedly requested missiles with ranges
nearly double that to counter the conventional military threat posed
by the North's million-man army, dug in a few short miles from Seoul,
the South Korean capital.
The continued U.S. military presence in the region has undoubtedly given
North Korea pause about the potentially disastrous consequences of its
actions. The concessions the United States was able to extract from Pyongyang
last year would not have been possible without the active U.S. support
of South Korea and the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in the ROK. The status
quo probably will hold as long as North Korea remains belligerent--but
how long that will be is anyone's guess.
"I can hardly overstate my concern about North Korea," CIA
Director George Tenet recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "In
nearly all respects, the situation there has become more volatile and
Japan and Southeast Asia
U.S. ties with democratic Japan have contributed, perhaps more than
any other Asia-Pacific alliance, to over 50 years of relative stability
in the region. Japan is now a global economic superpower and has foresworn
the imperialistic and militaristic policies that defined Tokyo in the
first half of the 20th century. Japan's membership in the family of nations
is one of the great success stories of 20th-century American politics
The U.S.-Japanese alliance, which both countries agreed to expand and
build upon in 1999, is key to regional stability. Most U.S. military
forces in the Asia-Pacific are headquartered in Japan, which is the home
of the U.S. Seventh Fleet and other expeditionary forces. Most of the
cost of the U.S. presence continues to be paid for by the Japanese people.
The United States and Japan took several steps in 1999 to jointly keep
a lid on the region's flash points, particularly with regard to North
Korea and its missile program. The United States agreed to help Japan
deploy an expanded missile-defense system, and recently approved the
sale of high-technology surveillance satellites to give Japan earlier
warning of North Korean missile launches and other threatening moves.
Reciprocating, the Japanese parliament approved legislation to expand
Japan's military alliance with the United States and its ability to play
more of an active role in Asia-Pacific security affairs. Japan will allow
U.S. forces to use Japanese airstrips and hospitals in a future conflict;
Japanese ships will help with missions such as search and rescue; Japan
will provide logistics support; and it will help with the evacuation
of personnel from regional trouble spots.
Meanwhile, Japan is readying its own Midterm Defense Buildup Plan, covering
the five-year period that begins in April 2001. The Plan is expected
to focus heavily on: (a) expanding Japan's relationships with other countries
and its participation in U.N.-sponsored activities such as peacekeeping;
(b) improving its readiness to repel aggression; and (c) enhancing even
closer Japanese-American military and security ties.
Japan's neighbors to the south--the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore,
Thailand, and particularly Indonesia--all play pivotal roles in determining
whether East Asia will move forward or stagnate and slide into instability.
The United States and its regional allies have worked to improve ties
with these countries and, in the case of Indonesia, have responded rapidly
to signs of potential crisis situations.
Having renewed ties with Vietnam just a few years ago, the United States
is now moving forward to build a long-lasting relationship with that
county's government and military. The heightened PRC presence in the
South China Sea has led to rumors of a Vietnamese invitation to the U.S.
Navy to return to the excellent harbor at Cam Ranh Bay. The United States
and the Philippines have mended relations, which deteriorated in 1991
when Manila failed to extend the U.S. military presence. The two militaries
recently agreed to hold talks about possible U.S. military assistance
to the Philippines and an increase in port visits.
The internal problems that Indonesia suffered during the past year provide
the clearest example of the positive influence the United States can
have in the region. Thanks in large part to the close U.S. ties with
Indonesia, a United Nations peacekeeping force was able to gain permission
and then enter the nearly destroyed province of East Timor in record
time. The International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), set to reach
11,000 troops made up largely of regional countries, secured the independence-seeking
province from the militia attacks that left thousands of refugees in
their wake and turned much of the province's infrastructure into rubble.
Without U.S. airlift, sealift, command and control, intelligence, and
other support, INTERFET would not have been on the ground nearly as quickly
as it was, if at all.
Short-Term Risk, Long-Term Gain
U.S. assistance to refugees and displaced persons also has helped significantly.
As in Bosnia, Kosovo, and other crises, refugee assistance serves more
than a humanitarian purpose: It also gives civilians safe haven from
attacks, helps to defuse hostilities, and prevents conflict from spreading.
And, as in the other crises mentioned, the cost to the United States
is relatively small. The $30 million provided by the United States to
care for refugees in East and West Timor is administered by the United
Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is complemented
by the contributions of other nations.
U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific, East Asia in particular, obviously
has its pitfalls. The U.S. presence in the region continues to be opposed
by tyrannies like China, North Korea, and others. Their animosity, and
the perception that the United Sates seeks to control the region, is
sure to continue in the decade ahead.
U.S. plans to field missile defenses, both national and theater, will
probably raise the stakes in the region in the short term, throwing China
as well as Russia off balance. But the Asia-Pacific's ever-increasing
importance to global security--both physical and economic--demands that
the United States remain engaged, preparing to counter threats to regional
stability while at the same time helping to provide a stable environment
in which all nations in the area can prosper. The risks of engagement
are not small, but those risks would be much greater without it. Americans
can take comfort from the fact that the massive U.S. investments previously
made in East Asia already have led to the emergence of mature capitalist
democracies, and rolled back tyrannies on many fronts.
"From a strategic point of view," the United States Commission
on National Security/21st Century says in its report, "the essential
U.S. choice may boil down to this: either remain engaged at greater short-term
peril and political cost to ourselves, or disengage at the potential
cost of greater long-term peril to everyone."