- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Ash Carter on U.S. Grand Strategy in Asia

| Fall/Winter 2018-2019 Series: Conversations in Diplomacy

For more than two decades, I worked to strengthen military and diplomatic ties with China, alongside scores of other U.S. and allied officials, all of us sincere in our belief that China could be encouraged to join the principled, inclusive network that has served as the backbone of regional security since the end of World War II - and thus the Asian miracle. It is easy for me to imagine having used my time as Secretary of Defense to solidify those ties and bring China into closer partnership with the United States and the other participants in the network.

That was not to be. It is difficult to look back over China's actions in recent decades and continue to argue that China accepts the principled, inclusive network. the domineering, unilateral strain in its policies appears, time after time, to have triumphed over the strain that values partnership and integration. In the Taiwan Strait, on the Korean Peninsula, in cyberspace, in global trade - at nearly every turn, China's leaders have chosen isolation over integration and confrontation over inclusion. China appears to have concluded that the United States dominated Asia for 70 years, and now it's China's turn. This badly misunderstands our role in the postwar Asian security network, and ignores a golden opportunity for China to become a full participant and enjoy the same benefits that we and a growing number of Asian allies, partners, and friends have enjoyed.

What does China's choice mean for U.S. policy? First, it means that rebalance begun under President Obama should continue, especially the military aspects of the rebalance.

We must continue to invest in the innovative systems and ideas required to counter China;s military capabilities. We must have the quality and quantity of forces necessary to prevent Chinese aggression if we can, and counter it if we must. We must also continue to build stronger military partnerships in the region, with established allies such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as newer partners such as Vietnam and India, but also including China (as the Belfer Center and I have done for decades). Partnership is at the heart of the principled inclusive network, and the stronger the ties among the Untied States and its partners, the better off we all are.

If China has chosen self-solution over partnership, the United States, too, has a choice. The Asian security network has served our interests well, and it can continue - but only if the United States continues to believe in it. Even though it is a communist dictatorship, our strategy should not be containment. I fear our nation has lost confidence in the network approach. Over the last three presidential administrations, including the current one, we have struggled economically, diplomatically, and militarily, to muster coherent support for the principled, inclusive network that long enjoyed bipartisan support. Without U.S. leadership and support, the network will be replaced by another, parallel network China is seeking to erect.

The parallel network proposed by China would serve China's interests, replacing principle with brute force and inclusion with dominion. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Carter, Ash. "Winning Partnership Works to Prevent City Flooding." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Fall/Winter 2018-2019).