Despite President Obama’s announcement of the US strategic rebalancing towards Asia, cuts in US defence spending and domestic priorities are likely to lead to a less militarily assertive role in the region and a rebalancing of strategic relationships, says a new report by Chatham House.

Asia-Pacific Security: A Changing Role for the United States assesses the security interests of six Asia-Pacific powers – Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. It is launched in advance of President Obama's four-nation tour of East Asia, beginning 22 April. 

Report author, Xenia Dormandy, says: 

‘The assumption that the United States will be willing and able to address the security concerns of its allies in the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly under scrutiny. 

‘From an Asia-Pacific perspective, there are some significant changes taking place. While the six countries in this study have similar broad perceptions of threats, their priorities differ, as do the details of their responses. All see the emergence of China as a major power as a principal concern or interest to be managed.

‘Over the long-term, America will continue to play a central role in the region, but not indefinitely as the lead actor. It will be looking in Asia, as elsewhere, to share the burdens of leadership. In the next 15 years, Asians may well have to get used to a situation with which Europeans are only just coming to terms – a United States that is a very important regional actor, but not always the first or principal port of call for ensuring security.’

With the perception in some countries, most notably Japan and the Philippines, that the United States is no longer such a reliable ally, these countries and others are increasingly building their own domestic military capabilities to ensure their own security, although the United States remains an absolutely necessary partner. 

The report, co-written by Xenia Dormandy and Rory Kinane, states that greater diplomatic resources will be needed to manage relations between the US and regional allies, along with improved diversification of economic and trading links to minimize each country’s vulnerability to the actions of any other single actor, principally China. 

None of these countries see the formal regional organizations filling the gap, although many are developing regional relationships that could provide additional support in areas such as training and diplomatic engagement. These will not, however, replace the role of the United States.

Notes to Editors

Read Asia-Pacific Security: A Changing Role for the United States >

Watch Xenia Dormandy discuss the report >

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