US reviews its commitments in East Asia

The United States drawdown of troops in South Korea and Japan, in what seems to be a reduction of its military commitment in the Asia-Pacific region, raises the possibility that Washington’s military dominance in the region, effective for more than a century but more evident since the demise of the Soviet Union, could be cast into doubt. Two current trends complicate the picture. China is beginning to demonstrate greater power projection capabilities and is asserting its presence in the East China and South China Seas. At the same time, the US is drawing down forces forward deployed in South Korea and Japan.

The security implications of these trends are significant. If the US drawdown is perceived as leaving a power vacuum, it could encourage the current regional hegemon Japan to fill that void. This would require a dramatic reform of Japan’s constitution, but the resulting competition with China would be inherently destabilising.

While there is domestic opposition to the US presence in both South Korea and Japan, a weakening of the security relationship with the US is not something either country desires. Both have relied on Washington since the end of the Cold War to guarantee their security, the former in the face of the perceived threat from North Korea, the latter given its pacific constitution that restricts military deployment.

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