The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) held a Mabini Dialogue entitled “Moving Beyond Strategic Dependency: U.S. Allies and Partners in the Asia-Pacific” on 20 November 2014 at the Benedicto Room of the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The guest speaker was Dr. William Tow, Professor and Head of the Department of International Relations, School of International, Political & Strategic Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.
In his discussion, Dr. Tow inquired about how two dominant trends – the rise of China and the emergence of a new regional security order – impact on the US system of hub-and-spokes alliances that has underpinned security in the Asia Pacific for the past half century. He also identified some critical challenges to US alliances today. These include a) the issue of burden-sharing in light of budget cuts and ongoing sequestrations in the US military; b) concerns about the US credibility to fulfill its treaty obligations to allies; and c) vulnerability of the alliances to domestic political developments (e.g. the present military rule in Thailand and implications for security relations with the US, and the electoral decisions in Okinawa, Japan regarding the presence of American bases).
Dr. Tow also emphasized that for the US alliances to become more adaptive to the changing regional environment, they should evolve from being characterized by asymmetry and strategic dependence into becoming more order-centered and consensus-based. This can be achieved through increased coordination as well as greater capability-building for US allies and partners.
Finally, Dr. Tow raised some possible scenarios regarding the future of the security architecture of the region. Among them are 1) the creation of a pro-US coalition or quasi-NATO in East Asia; 2) China and the US agreeing to identify their respective spheres of influence in Asia; and 3) the emergence of a European-like model in which countries have developed a shared sense of community. However, what Dr. Tow considers as being more plausible is the creation of ad hoc mini-lateral coalitions among states responding to specific issues and threats and complementing the old system of US alliances.
The Mabini Dialogue Series was attended by officials and personnel from the DFA, FSI, as well as the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo through webinar.