Richard W. Baker

East-West Center
Photo of Richard W. Baker

Richard W. Baker is Special Assistant to the President at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Previously, he served as Adjunct Senior Fellow, as interim Director of Studies, coordinating the East-West Center’s research program, and as a member of the Center’s research staff.  From 1967-1987 he was a career officer in the United States Foreign Service, with assignments in Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia, as well as at the Department of State in Washington.  Among his publications, he was the principal editor of “Indonesia, the Challenge of Change” published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Singapore) in 1999 and has been a co-editor of the annual “Asia Pacific Security Outlook” series.  He holds a BA in Politics and Economics from Yale University and a Master of Public Affairs degree (in international relations) from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

Articles by Richard W. Baker

A combination of domestic political preoccupations in Southeast Asian countries, the presidential election campaign in the United States, and continuing sensitivities over the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq meant that U.S. relations with Southeast Asia were essentially on hold during the second quarter of 2004.  Nevertheless, ongoing concerns, including terrorism and piracy as well as the increasingly crowded calendar of regular regional meetings, ensured that activity and dialogue continued at a relatively intense pace throughout the quarter.

U.S. relations with the Southeast Asian states in the first quarter of 2003 were dominated first by the anticipation and then by the reality of the war on Iraq. Other issues in bilateral and regional relations continued, and the Iraq conflict was not central to U.S. relations with every country of the region during the period, but the conflict was the overriding focus of attention. While there was a range of reactions in the region – from solid support to vocal condemnation – the main response, from governments and peoples, was critical of the U.S. approach. With the outcome – or at least the length and destructiveness – of the war increasingly uncertain as the quarter came to an end, there was at least a danger that this episode would cause lasting damage in terms of how the U.S. and its international role are viewed around the region.

What a difference a day can make – in this case, Oct. 12, 2002.  The terrorist bomb that exploded in a tourist-filled nightclub in Bali, killing nearly 200 people, triggered a significant change both in the political equation in Indonesia and in the overall tenor of U.S. relations with Southeast Asian states.

Bali served to crystallize and energize an emerging regional consensus on the need to counter international terrorism, and on the desirability of closer cooperation both with the United States and among the states of the region to meet this challenge.  However, the Bali bombing did not completely transform the landscape.  Numerous contentious issues – domestic, bilateral, and multilateral – remained, and the U.S. attack on Iraq widely expected for early 2003 contained the potential for serious strains and even anti-American violence.