The hollow Asian pivot

October 17, 2012

The most recent issue of The Journal of World Affairs has a long piece by Jackson Diehl examining the conditions of the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China and arguing that both might be primed for sudden collapse in the coming decade.  Both governments maintain their hold due to positive economic benefits that accrue to their populace, but Diehl argues somewhat persuasively (especially in Russia’s case, less so in China’s) that the next decade will see declining economic growth that will run headlong into increasing expectations of their populations for both enhanced standards of living and greater political freedoms.

Diehl also argues that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney are prepared for such an event – either of which would present both dangers and opportunities for the US.  One way in which we might be better positioned would be if the much discussed “pivot to Asia” is successful.  However, it is far from clear that is possible.  Last summer, the Center for Strategic and International Studies examined the known details of this pivot and concluded that there simply were not enough resources available for the potential missions involved.  Writing in the US Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings this month, Representative J. Randy Forbes concurs with the CSIS assessment and even goes further – stating that the Navy does not have enough assets existing or even planned to meet requirements.   True, Governor Romney has stated that he plans to increase the size of the navy and to boost shipbuilding to at least 15 per year by 2014 while sustaining it at that level for an undisclosed period (current plans are for 7 new ships added in 2014, 8 in 2015, 9 and 2016 and 7 in 2017), but given the current fiscal situation, it seems more likely that the Navy will continue to shrink, rather than to grow.

In summary, it appears that US assets are insufficient for the pivot as envisioned, and resources are too scarce for assets to increase enough in either the near or medium terms.  For the pivot to work, a different strategic approach must be considered.  Neither candidate offers much more than hollow promises.



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