Compete and Cooperate to Make U.S. National Security Strategies Great Again

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. This article is written in response to History Begins (Again) for the Pentagon by John R. Deni, R. Evan Ellis, Nathan P. Freier, and Sumit Ganguly published on February 22, 2018.

Colleagues at the U.S. Army War College recently published a piece making important arguments that largely echo the competitive approach emphasized in the Trump administration’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS). They correctly argue that U.S. strategy since 9/11 has been obsessively focused on counterterrorism and that U.S. military power has been drained by exhausting and largely unproductive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their conclusion, however, that this has left the United States at a distinct disadvantage with respect to the revisionist powers of Russia and China, is exaggerated. Moreover, an imbalanced U.S. strategy that is excessively reliant on military force fails to capitalize on America’s significant advantages in the non-military instruments of power. Furthermore, an overemphasis on building ever more offensive military capacity risks provoking even more aggressive counterbalancing by adversaries that will ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling and dangerous security dilemma, in which the international system and the United States will actually be less secure. Finally, a more muscular military strategy will do little to address the central challenges posed by Russia and China as they expressly avoid directly confronting U.S. military strengths and instead seek asymmetric advantages in the “gray zone” below the threshold of open military conflict.

America’s comparative advantage since World War II has been, and continues to be, in the realm of values, enduring beliefs, and the perception that the United States is the key to a more cooperative and peaceful world. In erecting this institutional and intellectual framework, the United States committed itself to underwriting and supporting a rules-based international system and providing the global public goods that were necessary to promote greater prosperity, cooperation, and peace. This edifice was built upon and effectively reinforced and extended U.S. dominance in diplomatic and informational power, economic strength and vitality, and military might. Indeed, the U.S. today retains the most lethal and globally deployable military force on the planet. Even before the Trump administration’s call for a larger defense budget, the U.S. spent more on defense than the next eight countries combined. Economically, the U.S. still accounts for nearly 25% of global economic output with less than 5% of the global population. Moreover, it boasted the fastest recovering economy in the wake of 2008 global financial collapse and maintains significant advantages in technological developments and innovation. Finally, the United States enjoys the advantages of an unparalleled network of political and military alliances and extensive economic partnerships spanning the globe.

How to Address the Challenges Posed by Russia and China

First, U.S. policymakers should be careful not to exaggerate the hard power or global influence of Russia or China. The NDS correctly observes that both countries are revisionist powers intent on undermining U.S. dominance in Europe and the Pacific regions, respectively. Yet, both states confront external and internal challenges that will place practical limits on their ability to exert decisive influence beyond their immediate vicinities. Russia is a much diminished political, economic, and military power when compared to the Soviet Union. President Vladimir Putin resides over a shrinking Russian population and oil-dominated economy that is suffering under low oil prices at a time when the U.S. will surpass both Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one producer of oil. Meanwhile, even as President Xi Jinping consolidates his power in Beijing, China faces serious environmental degradation, and satiating China’s growing middle class will pose enormous economic and political challenges to his leadership abroad and at home. Moreover, the U.S. already enjoys strong and enduring political, economic, and security alliances with regional powers including Japan, South Korea, and India who will serve as natural checks to Chinese power and influence in the Pacific. This is not to say that Russian or Chinese goals and ambitions do not represent challenges to the U.S., but rather to remind policymakers that Moscow and Beijing—like all actors—will face important constraints and limitations on their ability to extend their influence to far-flung regions of the globe.

Second, U.S. policymakers must be sensitive to the risks of an overly ambitious strategy that is principally dependent on military superiority. There is little doubt in Moscow or Beijing that the U.S. would be the ultimate victor in any military confrontation. This is precisely why they pursue strategic advantages through asymmetric competition with the United States in their respective regions. The risks of U.S. military overreach are particularly acute with Russia. In Syria, the prospect of direct U.S.-Russian military confrontation—something that was avoided during the entirety of the Cold War—is a concrete reality as U.S. military strikes recently killed dozens of Russian military contractors. But recent suggestions to arm Ukraine with more lethal weapons, in a geographical area where Moscow enjoys escalation dominance, only feeds Russia’s paranoia and fears of NATO encroachment, increasing prospects for retaliation that risks direct U.S.-Russian conflict. Similarly, in addition to the perennial risks of conflict with China over American military support to Taiwan, regional analysts have warned of a growing risk of military confrontation in the East China Sea as the U.S. and its allies move to contest Chinese construction of artificial islands intended to solidify Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in these resource-rich waters.

Third, the primary gap in U.S. strategy is not a deficiency in military capability, but rather, it is the need to re-build the diplomatic, economic, and informational tools that have atrophied in the glow of U.S. military primacy. Certainly, there is a role for U.S. military actions designed to contain and restrain Russian and Chinese activities that genuinely endanger vital U.S. national interests. For instance, the United States and NATO have smartly bolstered military deployments and exercises in Europe in order to underscore America’s commitment to the defense of NATO allies. It has similarly increased so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to demonstrate America’s willingness to guarantee access to the global commons.

However, the challenge for U.S. policymakers will be to place these military activities within a broader strategy that maximizes the contributions of diplomacy, economics, and informational measures. With Russia, this should include enforcing the punishing set of sanctions that have already been imposed by the U.S. Congress in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its destabilizing activities in Ukraine. Additionally, the United States can simply not tolerate Russian efforts to undermine its democratic process and exacerbate existing societal and political divides in the country. This will certainly require defensive measures to protect electoral systems and minimize the ability of any foreign power to infiltrate and manipulate U.S. social networks and information sharing platforms. Additionally, U.S. policymakers must also consider offensive cyber actions to punish and cripple the foreign officials, institutions, and individuals that participate in these malicious activities.

With respect to China, U.S. policymakers should focus efforts on building diplomatic support for regional institutions that will foster economic and commercial growth consistent within existing international trading norms and rules. For instance, the U.S. should support the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (formed after U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership), which builds a multilateral framework supporting and amplifying existing economic and security cooperation efforts in Asia.

Moreover, U.S. policymakers should be confident in the moral case for U.S. global leadership. The U.S. Information Agency once played a vital role in articulating American values, trumpeting the benefits of American political and economic models, and promoting cultural and educational exchanges. Those capabilities need to be restored and programs robustly funded. Francis Fukuyama was certainly overly optimistic when he assessed that America’s victory at the end of the Cold War represented the end of history. But neither Russia nor Moscow has offered a better political, economic, or ideological alternative to the unmatched successes of the American story.

Finally, U.S. policy should not be wholly confrontational. It is also important for U.S. policymakers to recognize that cooperation with both Moscow and China will be essential to achieving American security objectives in battling terrorism; rolling back nuclear and missile programs in North Korea and Iran that threaten regional and global stability; adhering to arms control agreements that reduce the risk of nuclear confrontation; and facilitating a political resolution to the civil wars plaguing the Middle East. Moreover, the United States need not necessarily fear Chinese investment in Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East as these regions are in desperate need of developmental assistance that the United States is both unwilling and unable to provide on its own. Rising to the challenge of better integrating both carrot and stick into a coherent U.S. national security strategy will require a much deeper investment in the non-military instruments of power. Prioritizing the filling of key senior diplomatic posts such as U.S. ambassadors to South Korea and Saudi Arabia is a minimal prerequisite. In a complex and increasingly integrated world, U.S. policymakers should be seeking to bolster investment in American diplomacy and foreign aid programs quite in contrast to the budget reductions proposed by the Trump administration.

While the United States must be cognizant of the competition posed by Russia and China, it should also be careful not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict with those countries if it wishes to promote international stability and maintain its comparative advantage as the largely benign leader of the liberal international order.

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Friends in Many Places: Vietnam’s Diplomacy

Last Wednesday, Vietnam feted the 60th anniversary of its victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu.  But earlier that week, Hanoi lodged a protest against Beijing for allowing a Chinese offshore oil rig to drill in the waters near the Paracel Islands, which are disputed between China and Vietnam.  Hanoi also complained that Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese coast guard vessels which were dispatched to the oil rig site on Sunday.  Several Vietnamese sailors suffered minor injuries.[1]  Fortunately, the outcome of the incident was far less severe than Vietnam’s March 1988 naval clash with China in which 70 Vietnamese personnel were killed and three ships lost after Chinese forces fired on them near Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands.

That China and Vietnam have had a long history of mistrust, reaching far before the 20th century, is well known.  The fact that both countries eventually became single-party states with a common communist ideology did not make them comrades.  During the Cold War, Vietnam allied itself with the Soviet Union, not China.  And in 1979 China and Vietnam fought a short, but intense war, in which Beijing sought to “teach Vietnam a lesson” for its invasion and occupation of Chinese-backed Cambodia.  But by the end of the conflict, China, after losing over 30,000 troops, learned that Vietnam was no walkover.  What Vietnam learned was the rarity of reliable friends.  Despite a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that Hanoi signed with Moscow a year earlier, the Soviet Union did not come to Vietnam’s aid when China invaded.  Unfortunately for Hanoi, after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, it had even fewer friends than before.

South China Sea - Paracel Islands - Spratly Islands - Vietnam

But with growing unease across the Asia-Pacific over China’s rise (and attendant assertiveness), Vietnam has found other countries receptive to friendlier ties.  Unlike the Philippines, which has sought to maximize its long-time relationship with the United States (and a more recent one with Japan), Vietnam has cast a wider net for friends.  Over the last 15 years, it has made fast friends with a number of external powers, including India, Japan, Russia, and the United States.[2]  These have paid off in different ways.

Like Vietnam, India has become wary of China.  New Delhi has wanted to push back against what it sees as China’s efforts to exert influence into South Asia, in countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.  Moreover, India has its own territorial disputes with China over large sections of the Himalayan Mountains.  And so, India has pursued new ties with Southeast Asia through its “Look East” diplomatic strategy, and in doing so found common cause with Vietnam.  So, even as China drilled for oil in waters that Vietnam contests, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation had already agreed to lease exploration blocks from Vietnam in waters that China contests in the southern part of the South China Sea.[3]  India has also extended military support to Vietnam.  Since 2000, the Indian navy has deployed ships into the South China Sea (and on occasion ignored warnings from China’s navy that they were entering Chinese waters).  In 2010, Vietnam signed an agreement that granted the Indian navy access to Vietnamese port facilities.  In turn, India agreed to expand Vietnam’s naval logistics capabilities and, in 2013, offered to help train new Vietnamese submarine crews (since India has long operated the same class of submarine that Vietnam is now acquiring).[4]

Vietnam’s relations with Japan have also grown.  The rift between China and Japan over the disputed Diaoyu (in China) or Senkaku (in Japan) Islands in the East China Sea has made Tokyo as interested as Hanoi in developing new security ties with its neighbors.  In 2011, Japan and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding that facilitated the creation of bilateral defense ties, ministerial visits, and exchanges between the two countries’ armed forces.  And when Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Tokyo in December 2013, the two sides discussed further collaboration, including providing Japanese-built patrol boats to the Vietnamese coast guard.  (Japan made a similar offer of ten patrol boats to the Philippines in July 2013.)  That was followed up with an accord between Japan and Vietnam to establish an “extensive strategic partnership” during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit to Hanoi in March 2014.  The partnership envisions many areas of engagement, most notable among which is Japan’s assistance to enhance Vietnam’s maritime law enforcement capacity.[5]

Of course, Vietnam’s relationship with Russia extends back to the days of the Soviet Union.  But that relationship has been revitalized over the last decade.  Russia is once again doing a brisk business as Vietnam’s principal arms supplier and ranks among Russia’s top five arms export recipients.  In April 2014, Vietnam took delivery of the second of six Kilo-class submarines that it ordered from Russia.  Before that came orders for 32 Su-30MK2 fighters, two batteries of P-800 mobile land-based anti-ship cruise missiles (part of the K-300P Bastion-P coastal defense system), six Svetlyak-class fast-attack craft, and four Gepard-class frigates.  Vietnam also contracted Russia to upgrade its venerable naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, where Russia maintained a naval presence until 2002.  Meanwhile, Vietnam has tried to broaden its relationship with Moscow by allowing Russian state-owned companies, like Rosneft, to acquire stakes in its energy sector.  When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Vietnam in late 2013, the two sides agreed to several deals that included a joint investment in a major refinery and a contract for a nuclear power plant.  But more interestingly, Hanoi offered Rosneft concessions in two offshore exploration blocks, both of which sit near or within China’s “nine dash line” that demarcates Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.[6]

Vietnam has even courted the United States, a country against which it fought a bitter conflict in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  When Russia’s lease on Cam Ranh Bay was about to expire in the early 2000s, Vietnam turned to the United States.  Hanoi informally discussed granting the United States access to the naval base, which it had used during the Vietnam Conflict.  At the time the United States demurred, concerned about China’s reaction.  Even so, Vietnam has welcomed U.S. Navy port visits, which have averaged once per year over the last decade.[7]  Nonetheless, the relationship between Washington and Hanoi only really took off after they began holding annual bilateral defense and security talks in 2008.  Vietnam was particularly pleased in 2010 when the United States declared that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to be in its “national interest.”  That American assertion was reinforced in late 2013 when Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would provide Vietnam with $18 million and five fast patrol boats to improve its coast guard’s ability to properly police its waters.[8]

Whether Vietnam eventually finds these external powers to be fair-weather friends remains to be seen.  Certainly, China has tried to plant the seeds of doubt, warning Vietnam not to be misled by professions of friendship from other countries.  Of course, a country like Russia must weigh its growing strategic relationship with China against its military and economic ties to Vietnam.  Other countries must also consider how far they are willing to go for Vietnam.  Thus far, these sorts of questions have not hindered Hanoi from pursuing a foreign policy that aggressively makes friends around the globe.  Perhaps one day France may be counted among them too.

[1] “Sea incident not clash: China Vice-Minister,” China Daily Asia, May 8, 2014,; “Chinese vessels deliberately ram Vietnam’s ships in Vietnamese waters: officials,” Tuoi Tre News, May 7, 2014,

[2] Vietnam also developed closer security ties with Australia, Germany, Italy, and Sweden.  In 2010, Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation with Australia and further strengthened its ties in 2013 with a new joint training program.  In the same year, it contracted with Sweden’s Unmanned Systems Group for unmanned aerial vehicles.  Julian Kerr and James Hardy, “Australia, Vietnam signal closer defence ties,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Mar. 21, 2013.

[3] That same region was a zone of contention in the early 1990s when China and Vietnam leased exploration blocks abutting one another to Crestone and Mobil Oil, respectively, both American energy companies.  Philip Bowring, “China Is Getting Help in a Grab at the Sea,” New York Times, May 6, 1994.

[4] Rahul Bedi, “Indian Navy to train Vietnamese submarine crews,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Dec. 2, 2013; Hao Zhou, “China warns India against oil exploitation,” Global Times, Dec. 5, 2012,; Desikan Thirunarayanpuram, “USA, China frown at Navy’s S China Sea exercise,” The Statesman News Service, May 8, 2000.

[5] “Vietnam-Japan ties lifted to extensive strategic partnership,” Tuoi Tre News, Mar. 19, 2014,; Jon Grevatt, “Japan, Vietnam pave way for further defence collaboration,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Mar. 19, 2014; “Japan extends patrol ship carrot to Vietnam, plus ¥96 billion loan,” Japan Times, Dec. 15, 2013,

[6] Alexei Anishchuk and Ho Binh Minh, “Russia’s Gazprom, Rosneft sign Vietnam energy deals on Putin visit,” Reuters, Nov. 12, 2013 ; “Russia to Deliver 12 Su-30 Fighter Jets to Vietnam – Source,” RIA Novosti, Aug. 21, 2013; Nguyen Pham Muoi, “Vietnamese Defense Minister in Russia to Boost Military Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10, 2013; “Russia Will Help Vietnam Build a Submarine Fleet, Shoygu Says,” RIA Novosti, Mar. 8, 2013.

[7] The most recent U.S. Navy port visit occurred in April 2013 when the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and salvage ship USNS Salvor docked at Da Nang.

[8] “Kerry announces new US maritime security aid to Vietnam amid China tensions, pushes reforms,” Associated Press, Dec. 16, 2013; Malcolm Moore and Praveen Swami, “Vietnam offers navy base to foil China,” The Telegraph, Nov. 8, 2010; John Pomfret, “Clinton wades into South China Sea territorial dispute,” Washington Post, Jul. 23, 2010, ; Nayan Chanda, “Cam Ranh Bay manoeuvres,” Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec. 28, 2000-Jan. 4, 2001, pp. 21-23.

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Fox Hunting: China’s Response to Japan’s Diplomatic Campaign

Last November, I wrote a blog entitled What Does the Fox Say? that outlined once-hesitant Japan’s efforts to raise its stature abroad.  Since then, those efforts have continued at a relentless pace.  Following a multi-country tour through Southeast Asia after the APEC summit, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe capped off his regional efforts with an ASEAN-Japan summit in Tokyo.  Without missing a beat, he then took Japan’s active diplomacy beyond Asia and has taken steps at home to better orchestrate its implementation.

During a well-publicized tour through Africa two weeks ago, Abe visited Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Mozambique.  But wherever he went, he could not escape Chinese criticism of Japan’s Second World War history.  China’s representative to the African Union went as far as holding a press conference to denounce Abe as “the biggest troublemaker in Asia,” while holding up old photographs of Chinese civilians that he said were massacred by Japanese troops.  Chinese ambassadors around the world made sure that that message was pressed home.  In so doing, China has attempted to respond to Japan’s diplomatic campaign with one of its own.

Paying little heed to China’s rebukes, Abe has forged ahead.  In a demonstration of its strategic engagement in Asia, Tokyo made a substantial contribution to the reconstruction efforts in the Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan devastated that country’s central islands last year.  Through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, it signed an agreement with Manila to establish a Post-Disaster Stand-by Loan worth about $500 million.  For those in the Philippines, it further distanced Japan’s response to the disaster from China’s meager one.

Still, Japan’s foreign policy coordination has historically been challenging to do.  But in late November, Abe pushed through the Diet a bill that established Japan’s National Security Council (NSC), modeled on similar ones in the U.S. and Europe, to improve that coordination.  (China created its own at about the same time.)  And so, one would assume that going forward, Japan’s foreign policy setting and execution will work more smoothly.

But there are still kinks left to work out.  A month after its NSC was formed, Japan appeared to stumble when Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine without first explaining to Japan’s neighbors and allies the reasons for his visit.  The shrine commemorates all of Japan’s war dead, including—as the Chinese are quick to remind—fourteen “Class A” war criminals from the Second World War.  Abe’s visit drew predictable condemnation from China (and South Korea).  But it also prompted the United States to express its “disappointment” over the visit, which China was all too happy to re-broadcast.  Only afterwards did Abe offer an explanation of his intent “to pay his respects and pray for the souls of the war dead and renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war.”  Though the practical damage from his visit was limited, it did appear to take some wind out of Japan’s diplomatic sails.

Is Japan trying to, in the words of China’s ambassador to the United States, “change the verdict” of the Second World War or was Abe using his visit to make it clear that Japan was willing to stand firm, even on contentious issues?  No doubt, there are a few in Japan who would like to whitewash its imperial past, but as time passes a growing number of Japanese have come to view China’s criticisms as a way to push Japan around.  Still, many in China believe that Japan has not yet properly atoned for its wartime record that resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese.  (Though they might also ponder how much the Chinese Communist Party has done to atone for its part in the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution.)  Perhaps, Abe, like earlier West German leaders who visited the sites of German atrocities in neighboring European countries, should consider also paying his respects at places like Camp O’Donnell in the Philippines (the terminus of the Bataan Death March).

But even without those visits, Southeast Asian countries, which were once occupied by Japan during the Second World War, have already begun to welcome Japan as a balancer in the region.  They seem to have largely set aside their anxieties about Japan’s 73-year old aggression and have made their concerns about China’s current assertiveness a higher priority.

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What Does the Fox Say?: Japan’s Diplomatic Campaign

After North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles into the seas near Japan in July 2006, Japan did something uncharacteristic for a country that seemed inclined to follow than to lead.  It took the diplomatic initiative.  Japan immediately called an emergency meeting of the United Nation’s Security Council and drafted a resolution that not only condemned North Korea’s missile launches, but also called for sanctions backed by force.

At the time, Japan raised eyebrows.  The world had not heard Japan’s diplomatic voice so clearly on the international stage for almost six decades.  But that was one episode.  Early this year, Japan began a sustained, high-profile diplomatic campaign across Asia.  Soon after becoming Japan’s prime minster for a second time, Shinzō Abe kicked off that campaign with a speech in January 2013 that laid out Japan’s five aims for its diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific:

1. Protect the universal values of freedom of thought, expression, and speech

2. Ensure that the seas are governed by laws and rules, not by might

3. Pursue free, open, and interconnected economies

4. Bring about stronger intercultural ties between the peoples of Japan and the region

5. Promote more exchanges among younger generations

The first two aims have direct relevance to how Japan would like the region to deal with China and its new assertiveness.  Helpfully, they are also consistent with the goals of Japan’s principal ally, the United States.  So too one could say of Japan’s third aim, in light of American efforts to create the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership.  The third aim has the added benefit of ensuring that the region’s countries are not drawn solely into China’s economic orbit.  The final two aims have a far longer time horizon.  Japan continues to hope that with greater engagement memories of its imperial past will recede further into history and, in Abe’s hope, that Japan can once again become a “normal country.”

But old ghosts die hard.  Japan’s imperial past still creates barriers in parts of Asia.  Every time a Japanese official (and certainly a prime minister) visits Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates not only Japan’s 2.5 million war dead but also fourteen war criminals among them, there is an international outcry.  Yet the issue increasingly seems to be one that only animates China and South Korea.  A visit by several cabinet ministers in April 2013 derailed a bilateral summit with South Korean leaders; and another by 150 Japanese politicians in August sparked protests and an official rebuke from China.  For whatever the reason, Southeast Asian countries appear to have largely put the issue behind them in their dealings with Japan.  As a result, Abe has overseen an unprecedented expansion in Japanese ties with Southeast Asia.

In fact, soon after Abe’s election, Japan began to signal that it wanted to strengthen its relationships in Southeast Asia.  Abe’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, was dispatched to visit Australia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Singapore.  Meanwhile, Abe himself travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam at about the same time.  In all, Abe has visited every Southeast Asian country this year at least once (including a swing through Brunei, Cambodia, and Laos in November).  He has tried to build on Japan’s economic links to the region with the development of new security relationships.  Japan has offered ten coast guard vessels to the Philippines and conducted joint counterterrorism exercises with Indonesia.

While President Barack Obama missed the APEC summit in October, Abe surely made his mark there.  During a sidebar meeting, he and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang agreed to greater cooperation in maritime security, given their mutual concern over “unilateral attempts to change the status quo [of maritime disputes] by force”—a not-so veiled reference to China.  Even more ambitious was Japan’s overture to Russia.  In November, the two countries held their first meeting to enhance their maritime security cooperation, a somewhat odd turn of events given their own territorial dispute over in the Kuril Islands chain.  At the meeting’s concluding press conference, Japan reassured that its new security relationship with Russia in no way diminished its ties to the United States.  (Russia said as much regarding its ties to China.)

Unlike America’s seemingly on-again, off-again approach to engagement in Asia (at least to those in the region), Japan’s diplomatic campaign this year appears steadier, if for no other reason the country must live there.  Outside of the economic sphere, the world has not heard much from Japan in a half century.  It will likely hear more of Japan’s voice in the years to come.

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