For the Defense of East Asia: Recommendations for US Policy (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Zoe Desch, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The United States’s pivot to Asia has suffered from inconsistency across its diplomatic, military, and economic fronts. A coherent strategy benefits the U.S. by properly balancing and consistently applying its foreign policy tools in the region. The U.S.’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control–a strategy of military primacy–is a resource intensive strategy that endangers U.S. personnel and assets and encourages a security dilemma with China. It does not promote burden sharing between the U.S. and the states of the Indo-Pacific because any country participating in an offensive strategy will face backlash from China because China represents a huge economic partner for most nations in the region.

Instead, the U.S. should pursue a strategy of Defensive Defense. Defensive Defense is the strategy which focuses on the U.S. providing equipment and training to allies and partners in order to empower them to defend themselves. Also, Defensive Defense considers the concerns of Indo-Pacific neighbors–the fear of punishment from China if they appear to have offensive capabilities– and the goals of the United States–regional stability.

Though Defensive Defense has not been implemented yet, there are certainly states who would benefit from developing their defensive capabilities with U.S. support. A Defensive Defense strategy could work in the case of Taiwan. Increasing Taiwan’s defensive capabilities to deter China from being able to conquer it would be a more viable strategy than explicitly committing to Taiwan’s defense. Additionally, the U.S. already participates in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogues with India, Japan, and Australia, meaning that there is already a security group that the U.S. can pitch Defensive Defense to. Japan already invests in defenses for its islands that China claims, and Australia has invested in U.S. submarine technology. For this group, it is mostly a matter of steering the strategy towards a coherent defensive strategy to serve as an example to the region. The U.S. needs practical engagement in the region, and Defensive Defense answers this problem and fits into the existing partnership structure.