For more than a century, the arms’ lobby has been regarded a powerful force to be reckoned with in the anarchical world system and best remedy to threat. States with military might are tempted to secure their particular set of interests. By the same token, both geography and strategy have led the US to play the role of a balancer by relying on forward-deployed forces to project power and maintain stability in Asia Pacific through the bedrock of a hub and spoke system of bilateral alliance. But there is remarkable evidence of the complete failure of the US 21st century grand strategy which solely relies on its brazen and glaring military power.

The significant reason behind this anomaly is the snowballing of US stubborn policy orientation to perpetuate the self proclaimed status of the only superpower which claims to be the harbinger of peace, development and democracy and a deliberate refusal to accept the emergence of other powers. However, it is the reason for much of the chaos and is prompting the shift in Asia-Pacific’s security perils with Beijing’s growing assertiveness in defending its territorial claims. To hedge against a possible security gap, the arms’ race has driven Asian states to distort foreign policy, making it subservient to defense policy by boosting intra-regional bilateral defence diplomacy. This is based on plurilateral relationships: selling military equipment to each other and conducting joint exercises to augment their military capabilities.

US leadership is emerging at a time when countries in the region are more economically dependent on Beijing, although American military planners regularly deny that its military is designed with the purpose of putting China’s seaborne commerce at risk in the South China Sea. The oil and raw materials transported through those shipping lanes are crucial to a surging Chinese economy which is the key driver of Beijing’s swiftly expanding defensive modernization. Meanwhile, as China’s military modernizes, neighbours will continue to expand their own capabilities to naturally avoid antagonizing China and do not want to be seen as engaging in efforts to contain the rising power.

Under these settings, intra-Asian diplomacy has centered on economic cooperation against the complex array of future threats. Defence officials and top military officers have been dispatched on missions to boost state-to-state security ties. These efforts have produced a wave of Memoranda of Understanding and Strategic Partnerships that enhance security cooperation. For instance, South Korea is becoming a major supplier, striking arms deals with Indonesia and the Philippines over the past decade. Japan‘s entrance into the arms market has been constrained by long-standing domestic laws, although it has agreed to provide coastguard ships to the Philippines and amphibious planes to India. Amidst all of this activity, defence cooperation between Asian countries allows them to respond to their security challenges in a way that maintains their autonomy from superpowers, while also leaving space for constructive engagement.

Moreover, these bilateral ties are supplemented with multilateral security dialogues. The Shangri La Dialogue, which began in 2002, brings together high-level regional security actors. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) initiated its Defence Ministers Meetings (ADMM) in 2006 and expanded the invitation list to non-ASEAN nations for ADMM-Plus in 2010. These exchanges build trust in a region where security cooperation is a novel pursuit and provide room for expansion and enhancement of particularly, maritime security discussions between US-China. The military is to address their security concerns in a way that reduces Washington’s perceived need to conduct reconnaissance and intelligence activities just beyond China’s territorial waters and air space. The US should ratify the UNCLOS and China to refrain from building a no air defence identification zone over the South China Sea.

To be certain, policymakers and lawmakers may face formidable and potentially unforeseen challenges as they attempt to implement a strategy to fully revitalize US Asia-Pacific hegemony to compensate for its declining power. There are two broad categories of such challenges. First and foremost, buttressing the link of the US to Asia across the Pacific or building cooperation with Asian countries in global settings are directly relevant to addressing shifting power balances and resource capabilities. Last but not least, the fundamental global security challenge facing the US requires a pragmatic and realistic approach towards China with a multilateral approach as the best way forward for the development and prosperity of the region. Likewise, China cannot sustain its current pace of economic growth if its neighbours do not benefit from its rise. Similarly, US interests are associated with development in the region. Asia Pacific has a window of opportunity to press forward with truly effective regional economic institutions.

Looking ahead over the next 15 years, the US will continue to cast its long shadow over Asia-Pacific by playing a central role for some time to come, but not indefinitely. It will be looking in Asia, as elsewhere, to share the burdens of leadership and not always the first or principal port of call for ensuring security. Allies will be expected to step up more instead. To this end, for the region there is a growing dilemma posed by the tensions between trade benefits with China and security imperatives with the US.

 The writer is a student at National Defence University, Islamabad.