Ralph A. Cossa
Ralph A. Cossa is former president and Worldwide Support for Development-Handa Chair at the Pacific Forum. He is a lifelong contributor to Comparative Connections and coauthors the regional overview chapter. Cossa is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Experts and Eminent Persons Group. He is a founding member of the multinational track two Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP). He co-chairs the CSCAP study group aimed at halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Asia Pacific region and is the executive director of the US CSCAP Member Committee (USCSCAP). He serves on the Board of the Council on US-Korean Security Studies and the National Committee on US-China Relations (NY). He is a frequent contributor to regional newspapers, including the Japan Times, Korea Times, and International Herald Tribune. His publications include The United States and the Asia-Pacific Region: Security Strategy for the Obama Administration (Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, 2009); “US-Japan Relations: What Should Washington Do?” in America’s Role in Asia: Recommendations for US Policy from Both Sides of the Pacific (San Francisco: Asia Foundation, 2008); and An East Asian Community and the United States, Ralph A. Cossa and Akihiko Tanaka, eds., (Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2007).
Articles by Ralph A. Cossa
Major power competition was the primary topic du jure at virtually all of this trimester’s major multilateral gatherings, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continuing to serve as a litmus test—a test many participants struggled to avoid taking. It was clear which side of the fence the G7 leaders stood on; Putin’s invasion was soundly condemned and Sino-centric warning bells were again gently sounded. At the BRICS Summit and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (sans the US), those alarms were clearly muted, as they were at the ASEAN Regional Forum, at which foreign ministers from all three were present. Headlines from the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue focused on the meeting that did not occur, as China’s defense minister pointedly refused to meet with his US counterpart. At the ASEAN-ISIS’ Asia-Pacific Roundtable, participants lamented the impact of major power tensions on ASEAN unity, even though ASEAN’s main challenges are internal ones that predate the downturn in China-US relations. Meanwhile, Beijing and Washington both expended considerable effort at these and other events throughout the reporting period fortifying and expanding their partnerships, even as many neighbors struggled not to choose sides or to keep a foot in both camps.
As broad-based multilateral organizations seem to be increasingly unable (or unwilling) to tackle the major security challenges of the day—Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan, North Korea, and Myanmar, to list but a few—more focused “minilateral” efforts involving “like-minded” allies and partners are coming to the fore. Foremost among the dysfunctional are the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and broader UN mechanisms, thanks to Russian and Chinese intransigence. Sadly, ASEAN-led mechanisms like the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum, not to mention ASEAN itself, also fall into this category, as does the G20, whose foreign ministers failed to reach any meaningful conclusions at their early March 2023 meeting, their first with India at the helm. Enter the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad,” involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States), AUKUS (Australia-United Kingdom-US technical cooperation agreement), various minilateral cooperative efforts (including US-Japan-Philippines and US-Japan-Korea), and a resurgent like-minded G7, now that its (failed) experiment of drawing Russia and China into its process has come to an inglorious end. But not all new efforts are succeeding. President Biden hosted his second “Summit of Democracies” which drew little fanfare or attention.
The Biden administration released its long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS) this reporting period, along with unclassified versions of its National Defense Strategy and Missile Defense and Nuclear Posture Reviews. There were no big surprises. The NSS identified the Indo-Pacific as “the epicenter of 21st century geopolitics” and reaffirmed China as the “pacing challenge,” even while branding Russia as “an immediate threat to the free and open international system” as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Underscoring the priority attached to the region, President Biden attended the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh and the G20 Summit in Bali, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the United States at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok. Kim Jong Un was not invited to any of the Asia summits but found other ways to attract attention, including some 70 ballistic missile launches for the year while announcing plans to rapidly produce and potentially use tactical nuclear weapons. Chinese President Xi Jinping, when not busy defending Pyongyang’s bad behavior, was busy orchestrating the 20th National People’s Congress, where he was elected “president for life.”
ROUNDTABLEOctober 26, 2022
The Biden administration has rediscovered Asia. And, for better or worse, so has the US Congress. While the administration’s national security documents (or at least their unclassified sneak previews) have identified the Indo-Pacific as a priority theater vital to US national security and China as “our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge,” Europe continues to steal headlines and the lion’s share of the administration’s (and international media’s) attention, thanks to Vladimir Putin and his unwarranted (and so far unsuccessful) invasion of Ukraine.
While many eyes remain on Putin’s war (and NATO’s US-led solid support for Kyiv), this reporting period saw President Biden finally make his first trip to Asia to visit longstanding US allies and attend the second in-person Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) Summit. Prior to his trip, Biden hosted his first US-ASEAN Summit in Washington. Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were both in Southeast Asia, respectively for the Shangri-La Dialogue and for various ASEAN-driven ministerials. These administration trips were largely overshadowed, however, by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan, the first by a House Speaker in 25 years, which was sure to—and clearly did—draw Beijing’s ire.
The US administration also (finally) put some meat on the bones of its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, even though (like Obama’s earlier pivot) the trade and economic dimension of the administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy remains the least developed. The military dimension of the strategy was much more in evidence, highlighted by the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise and a number of other multilateral training events throughout the region. Multilateralism will continue to capture the headlines as we move into the year’s third trimester with the ASEAN-driven East Asia Summit and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting sharing pride of place with the Indonesia-hosted G20 Summit.
International attention during the first trimester of 2022 quite naturally focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, amid heavy (and often breathless) speculation regarding its political, security, and economic implications for Asia in general and China-Taiwan in particular. Largely overlooked (except by us) has been the release of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the classified versions of the National Defense Strategy (NDS), Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and Missile Defense Review (MDR). Still missing in the Indo-Pacific Strategy are specifics regarding the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), first unveiled (sans details) by President Biden at last October’s East Asia Summit, which supposedly encompasses the trade and economic dimension of the administration’s Asia policy. Also still missing is the all-encompassing National Security Strategy (NSS), which traditionally precedes these documents. It was reportedly sent back to the drawing board following the Russian attack.
Events in the opening trimester of the year also raised both hopes and concerns regarding the viability of the Quad, the increasingly more formal collaboration among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. The Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) enhanced security partnership also made progress, to the delight of its members.
ROUNDTABLEFebruary 23, 2022
While the Biden administration has yet to produce its own definitional strategy documents—the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Policy Review, or Indo-Pacific Strategy Report—details are emerging that strongly suggest each will be generally consistent with the previous administration’s reports, but with an even heavier stress on alliances and multilateralism. Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided the most detailed description of the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy during his swing through Southeast Asia in December, reaffirming the “cooperate, compete, confront” approach toward China that, with varying degrees of emphasis and intensity, has been consistent for at least the last three administrations. Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put some meat on the bones of his “integrated deterrence” concept, underscored by the first in-person (despite COVID) summit meeting of the four Quad heads of state from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States and the emergence of AUKUS, a technology-oriented defense arrangement involving Canberra, London, and Washington.
President Biden (virtually) attended the ASEAN-driven East Asia Summit and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting while focusing much of his attention on the broader-based Summit for Democracy. While the administration talked in general terms about its Asian economic strategy, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) continued apace, sans Washington, with Beijing knocking on the former’s door and standing to be a prime beneficiary (along with Japan) of the latter. Overshadowing all of this is omicron, the latest and seemingly most contagious and pervasive COVID strain, reminding us all that the pandemic is far from over.
Joe Biden pledged that the US would resume its traditional role as leader of US alliances, supporter of multilateralism, and champion of international law and institutions. Throughout its first nine months, his administration has labored to turn those words into reality, and for the first six months the focus was on Asia, at least Northeast Asia. During this reporting period, Biden himself worked on multilateral initiatives and while the primary venues were Atlanticist–the G7 summit, NATO, and the European Union–Asia figured prominently in those discussions. Chinese behavior loomed large in European discussions as NATO allies conducted ship visits and military exercises in the region to underscore these concerns. Meanwhile, a number of senior US foreign policy and security officials visited Asia, and Southeast Asia in particular, amidst complaints of neglect from Washington. Concerns about Chinese pressure against Taiwan also grew in the region and beyond. The impact of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, messy as it appeared to be, has thus far not resulted in a crisis of confidence regarding US commitment to the region.