Offshore Balancing: A Strategic Shift for US Policy in East Asia (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Nick Ayrton, Fall 2023 Marcellus Policy Fellow

As Asia emerges as a global economic powerhouse, the United States has intensified its strategic focus on the region. This involvement encompasses a robust economic relationship, substantial diplomatic initiatives (including significant foreign aid and healthcare support), and a strong security presence marked by substantial military assistance and alliances with key Indo-Pacific nations. This multifaceted engagement aims to ensure regional stability, uphold territorial integrity, and promote a “free and open” Asia.
However, the prevailing U.S. strategy, centered on maintaining military dominance, arguably misinterprets the nature of the threat posed by China. While China’s growing military capacity is a concern, many Asian nations are independently bolstering their military capabilities, aided by their economic growth. This natural counterbalancing indicates a reduced necessity for heavy U.S. military involvement. Furthermore, China’s internal focus on regime security, territorial integrity, and economic development suggests a more nuanced approach to its regional ambitions, potentially favoring domestic stability over aggressive expansion.
A shift towards a U.S. strategy of offshore balancing would better align with these dynamics. By supporting the inherent defensive strengths of Asian nations and their geographical advantages, the United States can effectively deter potential aggression without the need for extensive forward military deployment. This approach not only mitigates the risks of an unprovoked conflict but also reflects the evolved capabilities of U.S. allies in Asia, who are increasingly capable of safeguarding their interests. Ultimately, this strategy aims for a gradual reduction of U.S. troop presence, while maintaining the capacity to intervene if the regional power balance is threatened, thereby ensuring a sustainable, long-term stability in Asia.