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The US Approach to Regional Security

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Message Khalid Chandio

In world politics, the term regional security has become an important concept for the continents of the world such as Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, Europe, Subcontinents (e.g., South Asia), and the areas surrounding seas. The past sixty years have gradually witnessed a resurgence of regionalism in world politics. International system witnessed the establishment of multi-lateral regional organizations across the world, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union, (AU), the Arab League, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and so on. Old regionalist organizations have been revived, and new organizations were formed. Similarly, call for strengthened regionalist arrangements has been central to many of the debates about the nature of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 international orders.

Today, the United States is confronting a dynamic and complex strategic environment that defies neat categorization. The policymakers in America think that non-state or sub-state actors may be using conventional weapons to achieve their goals, and rising state powers may be turning to non-conventional means. The relationships between allies, friends, partners, and adversaries are fluid. Pakistan must be prepared to react to changing circumstances as the same could be witnessed in any new US regional-security strategy in future. Security dialogue and conflict management are considered as the main tools in regional security but the US seldom believed in it and rather went for direct actions. The Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are some of the examples in this regard. The role of the United Nations in these crises has been somehow equally shaky and not appreciated by the majority countries.

Actually, the Regional Security System was created out of a need for collective response to security threats. But absolute unilateral approach, duly supported by the UN, to regional security did not bring fruits and had miserably failed in the past. The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have introduced new complications in security cooperation between the US and the rest of the world (particularly Asia) and revealed inconsistencies in the US approach towards regional security. The increased US security focus on the region has led other regional powers especially Russia and China to compete for influence, and a continued American military presence is likely to create tensions in Russian-American and Chinese-American relations in post-2014.

The withdrawal of the Soviet military forces from Afghanistan and the end of the Cold War led to a significant geopolitical reorientation in South Asia. The US interests in South Asia have been evolving since then. An intense focus on counter-terrorism and Afghanistan since 9/11 has been giving a way to a broader range of interests. Washington takes India's global status seriously and is working closely with New Delhi on a range of regional and global issues. China's rise, often neglected as a factor in South Asia policy, is encouraging a more strategic US approach to Asia policy as a whole. It is almost impossible for the US to achieve an integrated South Asia policy following the 2014 military draw-down in Afghanistan coupled with neo-appeasement policy towards India on the expense of Pakistan and China.

There are some other threats, i.e., religious and ethnic violence, health and environmental disasters, refugee movements, and humanitarian crises that cannot be dealt with military might alone. The rise of non-traditional threats will require Asian nations to cooperate with one another, as they will have no choice but to work together to cope with trans-national threats. On the one hand, the role of sole super-power, i.e. the US, would be tested in years to come and it would have to cooperate with the regional states. On the other hand, American approach towards South Asia and involvements in the region would, undoubtedly, affect its future direction, given the strong military and economic conditions of the US. Many scholars are of the opinion that the US is "the single most important external factor affecting Asian integration." So, the world may witness the rise of multi-lateral system where regional powers would be on a driving seat with competing interests vis-a-vis the US in the future.   

As far as South Asia is concerned, it is still characterized by a variety of security challenges ranging from territorial disputes, religious terrorism to left-wing extremism and the threat of nuclear warfare, etc. The regional security is still fragile, as agreed by many analysts, especially with regard to relations between the two nuclear powers, i.e., Pakistan and India. And according to many policy analysts, the US has a vital interest in the regional stability only if US handles the affairs pragmatically. So, any new US approach to South Asian regional security should not ignore this paradigm. But in recent years it has been witnessed that America's tilt towards India and efforts to re-design the Asia Pacific security order (to annoy China) would not serve its interests in particular and interests of other regional states in general. This is due to the fact that China, an emerging super-power, is being involved in the US policy of "Asia Pivot." China may not compromise on its territorial integrity and national interests unlike other smaller states.

It may be kept in mind that the region from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India has come closer together and at the same time has become more complicated and intertwined on various levels, which is why only policies of moderation, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation are helpful and viable to deal with the multiple crises of the region. The US approach to regional security would work only if it takes into consideration the above-mentioned principles. Therefore, it is suggested that the US role in shaping regional security should not disturb the existing power structure and any approach to regional security should be consensus-based.

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Khalid has been working as Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which gave him greater insight (more...)
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