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The Evolution of U.S.-led Alliance Systems: A Minilateralist Approach in the Indo-Pacific

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR9, pp. 13-20


The United States established a system of alliances in Europe and East Asia to combat emerging threats and lay the foundations of a sustained American presence. These two systems of alliances are often characterized as the sole choices available to policymakers: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe is a prime example of a multilateral alliance, while the U.S.-led network of bilateral alliances in East Asia epitomizes a “hub-and-spokes” model. Yet, as the security environment in Asia continues to deteriorate, the United States has been trying a new approach – ‘minilateralism.’ While not necessarily downplaying its traditional network of bilateral alliances, Washington has been forming exclusive informal alignments that adopt a targeted/issue-based ‘minilateralist’ approach. This paper considers three possible explanations: the legacy of security bilateralism, shifting geopolitical calculations, and specific foreign policy initiatives of past and current administrations. It concludes with recommendations for the United States to maximize benefits from its minilateralist approach in the Indo-Pacific.

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Japan Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Tokyo. With backgrounds from academia, government, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

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Casimira “Cassie” Rodriguez of San Bernardino, California is a graduate student and a Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI) fellow at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with an A.B. in Politics and certificates in East Asian Studies and the History and Practice of Diplomacy, completing a senior thesis on Japanese security policy. Following graduation, she studied advanced Japanese in Yokohama at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies as a Blakemore Freeman fellow and presented her research on alliance politics. She has interned at both the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Washington, D.C., taking part in research/publications on U.S.-Japan issues and helping facilitate U.S.-Japan exchange events. Her areas of research include Japanese foreign policy, the international relations of East Asia, and security politics. As part of her SINSI fellowship, she will complete two years of federal government service before graduating from her MPA program. She is currently working on the Japan Desk at the U.S. Department of State.

Photo: President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pose for a photo at Kantei, the Japanese Prime Minister’s office and official residence, Monday, May 24, 2022, before the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo. Source: Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith/Released