Analysis & Opinions - PacNet Newsletter

Matching Power with Purpose in the South China Sea: A Proposal

| Nov. 21, 2017

In PacNet #81, Donald Emmerson eloquently calls on the United States to match its military power with political purpose.  An unalloyed focus on US military prowess, he correctly maintains, is sure to leave Washington rudderless, or worse, in the Asia-Pacific.  In particular, Emmerson suggests that the Obama administration’s vow to "fly, sail, and operate, wherever international law allows [FSOP]," is representative of the same unmoored focus on US military capabilities that he argues has characterized the Trump administration's approach to the region.  He further suggests that the policy is inadequate for reassuring Southeast Asian states wary of Chinese coercion in the South China Sea.  Although it appears correct that Washington's current call for "a free and open Indo-Pacific" is evocative of the Obama-era FSOP, Emmerson wrongly suggests that FSOP is a policy in which power has been disassociated from purpose, and that the policy is inadequate to reassure regional states.  To the contrary, the policy is imbued with purpose and principle and if the strategy associated with it was properly revised and executed, it could effectively provide reassurance.

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For Academic Citation: Taffer, Andrew D.“Matching Power with Purpose in the South China Sea: A Proposal.” PacNet Newsletter, November 21, 2017.

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