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Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have vexed US policy makers for generations. But for American citizens, problems of stability on the peninsula, and North Korean threats to its neighbors were problems over there. Not anymore. North Korea’s dual advances in nuclear weapons and intercontinental delivery systems are edging the situation toward profound. Ever since the term proliferation of weapons of mass destruction entered the lexicon, we have dreaded the idea of a dangerous, wildly unpredictable state—seemingly impervious to sanction—acquiring the capability to hold the US homeland hostage. Yet, that time is approaching. North Korea may be a few years off, as it still needs to perfect its long-range ballistic missiles and miniaturize a nuclear warhead on its cone, but strategic thresholds have been crossed, and we appear no closer to solving the problem.

 
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It is no secret that China and the United States have different opinions about world order. South Korea, meanwhile, is caught in the middle of these two great powers who want to push their weight around the global stage. South Korea has always sought to balance relations between the two countries, but it may be forced to choose.

 
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Security challenges in East Asia are becoming acute. North Korea is developing a missile-deliverable nuclear weapon, and the long-term stability of the Pyongyang regime is questionable. Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of Chinese territory, is about to have a presidential election in which a candidate from a pro-independence party is the front-runner. China has also become increasingly assertive in its territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian countries. Meanwhile, Japan's leaders are attempting to redefine the role Japan plays in regional security affairs. Indeed, Japan's legislature recently enacted revisions to the country's national security laws that would loosen limitations on the use of Japan's armed forces, and the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase defense spending.
A national debate is heating up about the rise of China and what it means for US national interests. The assumptions guiding US policy toward China under eight presidents, from Nixon to Obama, are being called into question. Is China seeking to overturn the existing order and displace the United States in the Asia-Pacific? Shaping the Asia-Pacific Future: Strengthening the Institutional Architecture for an Open, Rules-Based Economic Order, the first report by the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Project on Shaping the Asia-Pacific Future, addresses these questions. The authors—Olin Wethington, former Assistant Secretary of Treasury and Nonresident Fellow at the Scowcroft Center and Robert A. Manning, a Senior Fellow at the Scowcroft Center—assess financial, monetary, and trade trends in the region, and new challenges to the current order (such as China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank). The report outlines a set of recommendations for US policy that can help bring about the creation of an open, rules-based, and inclusive Asia-Pacific economic structure to foster prosperity for the United States, China, and all economies of the region.
US leadership, undergirded by the US military, has played a central role in ensuring the stability necessary to produce remarkable economic and political transformations in Northeast Asia. More specifically, American commitments to defend its allies in Northeast Asia, with nuclear weapons if necessary, have deterred major power war, prevented regional conflict, stemmed nuclear proliferation, and limited the use of coercion. Over time, however, US security commitments to the region have become increasingly interwoven within a more comprehensive and multifaceted fabric, with US conventional and nuclear forces still at their foundation, but supplemented by allied capabilities, commercial interdependence, and evolving regional institutions.

But US extended deterrence in East Asia—an essential ingredient to sustain regional peace and prosperity—is increasingly under strain. Revitalizing the strength of US security commitments is therefore a first-order task in Washington’s Asia policy. Two new publications by the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security explore how the United States can adapt its military posture and prepare for future challenges to deterrence in Asia:

The Future of US Extended Deterrence in Asia to 2025, by Brent Scowcroft Center Senior Fellow Robert A. Manning, examines the past, present, and future of US extended deterrence in Asia and outlines how the United States, along with its allies and partners in the region, can counter China's growing military and economic power. The report covers a number of future concerns for the US-South Korea alliance, the US-Japan alliance, and new threats to deterrence in the cyber and space domains.

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China’s new leadership takes office amid growing questions about China’s internal direction and its assertive foreign policy. Conventional wisdom portrays China in the mode of Sun Tzu, far-sighted strategists looking decades ahead. But thus far, it appears that China’s leaders have strategic goals, but no apparent strategy for how to achieve them. This Atlantic Council brief, authored by Robert A. Manning and Banning Garrett, assesses the challenges China faces–worsening pollution, corruption, and a growth model that needs sweeping reforms and examines the difficulties Beijing faces in addressing them.

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In an Atlantic Council issue brief released today, former US Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. argues that a new economic framework—reflecting the reality that China is no longer a “developing” economy but an increasingly established one—is needed to continue positive US-China economic relations and put the two economies on a path toward a more mutually beneficial structure.

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Banning Garrett, Director of the Asia Program and the Strategic Foresight Project at the Atlantic Council, and Patrick deGategno, Associate Director of the Asia Program, recently authored a piece titled "The Second Wave of Wireless Communications: A Game Changer for Global Development?"

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North Korea Nuclear Weapons

The Atlantic Council is pleased to release its Final Report of its three-year project on U.S. policy toward North Korea. This report makes clear that unless President Obama adopts a new strategy of seeking a comprehensive settlement in Korea, the U.S. is unlikely to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program.
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Because of their significant contribution to global demand for improved living standards, meaningful actions by the United States and China on transportation and energy will be important in any effort to reduce global consumption of traditional energy sources. Together the United States and China consume 40% of the world’s energy and are responsible for 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Given their economic size and impact on global markets, it is imperative that the U.S. and China join in a mutually beneficial process.

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