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PacNet #32 – Mr. Obama: focus on alliance management, not rebalancing rhetoric

There is a tendency to frame President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines (also Malaysia) as a chance to back up his rebalance rhetoric to Asia. Because these three formal US allies are at wits end in their dealings with an assertive China or a provocative North Korea, the logic goes that the US needs to demonstrate signs of resolve to the region, particularly given Washington’s lackluster response to Russia’s actions in the Crimea. While it is true that Asian powers, even US allies, harbor questions and deep uncertainties regarding the rebalance strategy, focusing on whether the president can back up the rebalance rhetoric as a measure of his trip’s success is misguided. It would behoove the president to skip the rhetoric and focus instead on crucial alliance management. After all, many of Washington’s allies’ anxieties are, at their core, alliance issues rather than rebalance issues.