U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Nov. 17, 2011. Obama addressed the Parliament a day after announcing a commitment to send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia.
"A Pivot That Is Long Overdue"
Room for Debate
Op-Ed, New York Times
November 21, 2011
Author: Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
There are three good reasons for President Obama’s decision to rotate regularly 2,500 Marines through an Australian base.
The planned Marine rotation reinforces Obama's message to the region that the United States intends to remain a Pacific power. One of the great power shifts of the 21st century is the recovery of Asia, but instead of keeping our eye on that ball, the U.S. wasted the first decade of this century mired in two land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Obama has announced that American foreign policy will "pivot" toward East Asia.
Second, there is the message to China. After the 2008 financial crisis, many Chinese expressed the mistaken belief that the United States was in decline and China should be more assertive — particularly in relation to its maritime claims — at the expense of America's allies and friends. The Pentagon's East Asia Strategy Review that has guided our policy since 1995 offered China integration into the international system through trade and exchanges, but we hedged our bet by simultaneously strengthening our alliance with Japan. Our military forces did not aspire to "contain" China in a cold war fashion, but they helped to shape the environment in which China makes its choices. The Australian move reinforces this strategy.
Third, there is the fine print about Okinawa, where the crowded Marine air base at Futenma has caused friction that undercuts our larger strategy. The U.S. and Japan have been working on the Futenma issue since I co-chaired a special action committee on Okinawa — in 1995! The current official plan to move the Marines inside Okinawa is unlikely to be acceptable to the Okinawa people. Moving Marines to Australia is a smart move because they will be able to train and exercise freely without inadvertently signaling a withdrawal from the region.
Joseph S. Nye is the University Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He is the author of "The Future of Power."
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