President Obama has now returned home after visiting Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. At each stop on his trip, a key question he confronted was whether or not the administration's "strategic rebalance" to Asia is real and enduring.
As we move into the 21st century, the economies of the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly important markets for U.S. exports. At the same time, an ever-larger proportion of global trade is passing through the region’s sea-lanes, underscoring the continued need for United States leadership to maintain maritime security and promote regional stability.
The Obama administration recognized this need when it committed to “rebalance” U.S. government attention and resources for the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy intends to strengthen U.S. economic, diplomatic, and security engagement throughout the region, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with a co-ordinated, “whole-of-government” approach to policy implementation. In concept, the rebalance stands out as one of the Obama administrations most far-sighted and ambitious foreign policy initiatives.
As cxhairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I believe that Congress has a duty and responsibility to assure national security resources are allocated efficiently and effectively to address U.S. foreign policy priorities -- and to promote the time, effort and attention needed to safeguard our security and prosperity, and advance our values. That includes such traditionally under-resourced but critical areas as Latin America, and it includes the rebalance as well.
Yet a recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finds that despite progress in some areas, implementation of the rebalance thus far has been uneven, and has created the risk that the rebalance may well end up as less than the sum of its parts.
To improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the rebalance policy and increase civilian engagement, strengthen diplomatic partnerships, and empower U.S. businesses, the United States should:
• Renew our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
• Ensure the close partnership between the military-security elements and the diplomatic, economic and civil society elements of the rebalance.
• Increase personnel and resources to the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, and dedicate additional government resources to pursue trade agreements and promote U.S. businesses.
• Redouble efforts to support U.S. students to study in the region, ensure faster processing for non-immigrant visas for tourism and conferences, and increase resources for public diplomacy.
• Increase development assistance funding, public-private partnerships, and support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) programmatic efforts.
• Devote additional resources for regional institutions, including for maritime security issues; and,
• Ensure that human rights and civil society institution-building efforts are strengthened to help advance U.S. values and interests in the region.
Although the rebalance is not “only” about China it is certainly “also” about China. The rebalance should seek to shape and encourage the development of a positive and productive China that is fully supportive of cooperative and constructive regional norms and institutions, and that plays by regional rules-of-the-road and international law.
The Committee's report also recognizes that Congress has an important role to play in these efforts. We must ensure that the military and non-military aspects of the rebalance are coordinated and complementary. As a regional strategy, the rebalance cuts across a spectrum of U.S. interests, requiring intensive coordination across the whole of government.
Lastly, leaders in the United States must do more to make the case to the American people that the Asia-Pacific region deserves greater investment of government resources. Sustained engagement in the region requires promoting economic growth and safeguarding American interests.
The American people need to be engaged on just how and why, in the words of President Obama, “Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.”
The rebalance is underway. Now we must get it right.
Menendez is the senior senator from New Jersey, serving since 2006. He is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and also sits on the Banking and the Finance committees.