The Cusp of Strategic Change in Asia

The Bush administration comes to power at a critical juncture in the affairs of Asia, a region on the cusp of major strategic change.1 Japanese commentators have taken to referring to the 1990s as “the lost decade” because of their own protracted economic malaise, while others use the term to describe the lackluster progress in Asian multilateralism in the security realm. While that moniker obscures the many important developments of the past ten years—such as the potentially calamitous Asian economic crisis and a host of other security predicaments—many observers have discerned a degree of predictability and rationality in the progression of Asian events. In Europe, the end of the Cold War brought with it numerous strategic challenges, including the reunification of Germany, NATO enlargement, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In strategic terms, Asia experienced nothing as pressing, and this period of placidity has led to expectations in some quarters that present trends will continue into the future. However, the immediate future in Asia is likely to represent a significant departure from the apparent continuity of political and security trends in the past, providing a real test of American ingenuity and leadership. In short, Asia is in for big changes.

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