July 14, 2003

July 14, 2003 | Commentary on Asia

Containing Asia's Crises

Nothing breeds success like success. The shockwaves of the American military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq have reverberated around the world. And despite the whining and complaining of the "Henny Penny the Sky Is Falling" crowd, America's straight-talking, hard-nosed internationalism is having a salutary effect on hot spots around the globe, especially in Asia.


Keeping the peace across the vast continent is no small accomplishment. Asia is a veritable tinderbox of potential armed conflict, including being home to the world's most dangerous military flashpoints: China-Taiwan, North-South Korea and India-Pakistan. Its nations -- some of them nuclear powers -- boast the world's largest and (after ours) most capable armies. Yet despite serious tensions, the region remains surprisingly at peace.


Why? Because of the strength of American political resolve, diplomatic heft and military might. Plain and simple.


Take China. Early on in his term, President Bush made it clear to the Chinese that the United States would do "whatever it took" to help democratic Taiwan defend itself against Chinese aggression aimed at forceful reunification. He backed his assertion up with the largest arms sale to Taiwan in a decade, including diesel submarines, ships and maritime patrol aircraft.


Beijing took note of Washington's commitment to a peaceful settlement of Taiwan's future, while carefully observing the success of U.S. military campaigns in South Asia and the Middle East. As a result, Chinese plans for coercing or invading Taiwan have seemingly been put in abeyance for the moment in view of American strength and seriousness of purpose.


The Korean peninsula is the most militarized plot of land on earth. Almost 2 million North and South Korean and American soldiers stand eyeball to eyeball across the (misnamed) Demilitarized Zone. The North Korean regime continues to pursue nuclear weapons but seems willing to trade them away based on an understanding that they are increasingly impotent in the shadow of American military prowess, including the advent of missile defenses.


The recent small overtures to the outside world from Kim Jong Il's hermetically sealed kingdom reflect the realization that confrontation with the United States is futile -- and ultimately suicidal.


Perhaps the most frightening scenario in Asia is the specter of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, where low-level conventional fighting over the disputed territory of Kashmir has become as predictable as major league baseball's spring training.


In fact, India and Pakistan might have gone nuclear last spring if it weren't for the roll-up-your-shirtsleeve efforts of the Bush foreign policy and defense team.


From the start, the Bush White House recognized the strategic importance of a rising India and moved quickly to improve the historically thorny bilateral relationship between Washington and Delhi. It also understood the significance of not isolating the world's only Muslim nuclear weapons state, Pakistan, from the rest of the world community.


This policy vision has paid off handsomely -- both in garnering Pakistan's critical support in the War on Terror and in getting cooler heads to prevail in stemming last spring's Islamabad-Delhi crisis.


Despite the administration's success, significant policy challenges remain -- such as the transfer of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles to Iran and Pakistan by China and North Korea. The White House's Proliferation Security Initiative -- a more muscular policy, which includes air and maritime interdiction operations against WMD-related contraband -- is a step in the right direction in dealing with this nettlesome issue.


Without a doubt, the Bush administration's activist international stance has bolstered regional stability in one of the world's toughest neighborhoods. Weakness invites provocation. And it is clear that absent the American presence, commitment and power provided by this White House, Asia would be a much more dangerous and volatile place than it is today. It's time Henny Penny and her minions took notice.


Peter Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense, is a senior fellow for National Security Affairs and Director of Asian Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in the New York Post