President Obama’s Pivot Policy

The American Shift to Asia

By Adrienne Larson

The Pivot Policy of President Obama’s administration is a significant foreign policy initiative that sets a firm tone for the future of Obama’s presidential term. Enacted in 2010, the Pivot Policy seeks to rebalance the United States towards Asia, through increased diplomatic, economic, and strategic investment. In a Foreign Policy piece from November 2011, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton writes that pivoting towards Asia will be “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade”.

The Pivot Policy calls for “forward-deployed” diplomacy, or, the continued efforts to dispatch all units of US diplomatic force. These include highest-ranking officials, development experts, interagency teams, and permanent assets placed in all corners of the Asia- Pacific region in an effort to keep up with the ever-shifting power dynamics present in Asia. The Obama administration will implement this plan for intensified diplomatic presence through six lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, including China, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.

US treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Austria, the Philippines, and Thailand all have gained increased importance in the age of the Pivot Policy. The Obama administration hopes to sustain these long-held alliances, while making them strong enough to withstand the pressures of a changing geopolitical climate. In addition, former secretary Clinton’s “pivot” article explicitly references China and US-Chinese relations. She writes that China represents “one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage”. Nevertheless, Clinton explains that the US hopes to ameliorate and strengthen its partnership with China through increased involvement in the region. For example, the two countries now conduct a Strategic and Economic dialogue, talks bringing together dozens of agencies from both sides to discuss our most pressing bilateral issues, from security to energy to human rights. A main priority has been to identify and expand areas of common interest. The Obama administration hopes the talks will allow the US to work with China to build mutual trust, and to encourage China’s active efforts in global problem-solving.

In addition to strengthening diplomatic relations, the Pivot Policy exists on the rationale that “harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic interests”. The Obama administration hopes to capitalize on Asian markets for trade, investment, and technology development. The US has embarked on multiple new trade agreements with Asian countries to secure its place in the economic framework in the region. A main pillar of the new economic initiatives in Asia is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free-trade agreement among over various countries on both sides of the Pacific, such, Brazil, Peru, Chile, the US, New Zealand, and Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia. The TPP would effectively remove all trade tariffs and barriers among its member states. The Obama administration hopes this new trade deal would mark the beginning of an era of free trade with Asia-Pacific.

Finally, the Pivot Policy calls for an increased US military presence in Asia to hold a greater influence on security issues in the region. Former Secretary Clinton cites that “Asia’s remarkable economic growth…and growth in the future depending on the security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military, including more than 50,000 American servicemen and women serving in Japan and South Korea. To adjust to the rapidly changing times, Obama calls for a new military strategy that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture.

Looking beyond this rhetoric, however, the true success of the Pivot Policy still remains in question. Three years since its inception, it is difficult to pinpoint substantial progress made towards the objectives of the Pivot Policy. One recent event that supports the Obama administration’s claim of rebalancing towards Asia is its humanitarian response to the catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines earlier this month on November 8th. A recent article from TIME Magazine reports that the US has pledged a total of 37 million in disaster relief funds to the island nation, and adds that the US military has mobilized 50 U.S. ships and aircraft carries in the region along with 14 helicopters air-dropping food and supplies to survivors. However, a more recent article from Reuters Press explains how the US has already begun scaling back its aid efforts in the Philippines, withdrawing its aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, a main supplier of food aid. Therefore, the longevity of this increased commitment to military and humanitarian presence is still uncertain. It remains to be seen whether the US will apply the same force and intensity in its humanitarian efforts in vulnerable areas such as the Philippines in the months and years to come.

Adrienne Larson is a sophomore studying International Relations


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