Today, we shall be looking at the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) that was signed into law on December 31st. Originally, I had planned to cover the entire document, as well as some articles surrounding it, but I soon discovered that the magnitude of the review was longer than I initially intended and so will be splitting my findings into multiple parts. I encourage you to view the document yourself.
Now, what is ARIA? ARIA is a bill that was initially put forward by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber Security with the intention of solidifying American policy in what is now referred to as the Indo-Pacific region. More specifically, as stated by the Diplomat, ARIA has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops “a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region…”.
I shall begin the review at Section 2, entitled Findings, Subsection 5. The bill states, “It is imperative that the United States continue to play a leading role in the Indo-Pacific region by—
(A) defending peace and security;
(B) advancing economic prosperity; and
(C) promoting respect for fundamental human rights.
Focusing on parts (A) and (B), I noticed one potential issue. Not with the concepts themselves, those appear to be very standard statements and expected in a document about the advancement of a national policy. The potential for conflict lies in what is not said.
As stated earlier the bill has a goal of ensuring the Trump administration develops a proper, long-term policy in the Indo-Pacific region. In the same article, it is stated, “ARIA is a good example of the U.S. Congress exercising oversight over the Executive through authorizing expenditure for specific activities, requiring annual reports on a number of security issues, and mandating specific strategies to achieve U.S. objectives”. This suggests the bill could be the future staging grounds of a conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch, namely the current Trump administration.
This is not to say that this issue is sure to appear. The bill did receive bipartisan support and the President did sign it less than two weeks after it was approved by the Senate in its amended state. However, to overlook the potential for conflict, especially given the current climate of hostility between the Trump administration and members of Congress, is foolhardy and will possibly lead to future frustration if not at least considered.
Part (C) provides a more likely conflict however as the focus on “promoting respect for fundamental human rights” puts the U.S. at direct odds with numerous states in the Indo-Pacific region, most notably, China.
To push China on this issue will result in some level of retribution, especially given the already tense climate between the U.S. and China. To be sure, the U.S. does have plenty of which they could raise issue with regarding human rights. China’s recent attacks on Muslims and Christians in the Communist Party’s attempts to bring them to heel, would certainly count. Such a move would also likely earn them some good will from other countries concerned with human rights, but whether or not those brownie points will mean much against the ire of an increasingly aggressive China, is most certainly up for debate.
Another part I’d like to take note of is Section 2, Subsection 6, part (B). Here
Dr. Graham Allison, states, “Chinese leaders…believe that as the tide that brought the United States to Asia recedes, America must leave with it”. This opens up numerous discussions. For one, China recognizes that the U.S. is losing it’s position as the leading world power and is pulling back into a position similar to modern Britain. It also brings up the question of what exactly is the responsibility of a given state on the world stage. Should a state interfere with the affairs of others over such concerns as human rights or should each state respect the sovereignty of others as Emer de Vattel would suggest? Do the rules change depending on the power of the individual state? Does being a hegemonic power demand that a particular state involve itself in the matters of other nations? Is involving oneself in the matters of others what creates a hegemonic state to begin with? My purpose here is not to answer these questions, but merely spark debate and open the floor for further discussion.
Moving on to Subsection 7, The United States National Security Strategy, released in December, 2017 and focusing on part (B), there are numerous points of potential conflict that arise. One such conflict arises with the statement, “share respect for sovereignty”. Now, this quote is in reference to existing and potential future alliances and partnerships, which the National Security Strategy states is a major focus. However, this claim could easily be taken by countries such as China or North Korea as a point of hypocritical contention, given the United State’s involvement, not only in their affairs, but the affairs of many other states around the world. The previously mentioned religious groups and South China Sea incidents come to mind, not to mention Taiwan and nuclear weapons.
This point is further exasperated by the statement, “We will reinforce our commitment to freedom of the seas”. It won’t matter to China if the Security Strategy adds, “and the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes in accordance with international law” afterwards, it will still be seen as a direct challenge and one that is unlikely to simmer down in the near future.
The final note will be on the statement “We will work with allies and partners to achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and preserve the non-proliferation regime in Northeast Asia”. Not only is this statement quite bold, but it fails to recognize a key issue. The U.S. has not been doing remarkably well with regards to keeping allies calm and in the loop on its actions. In regards to the situation with North Korea, Japan has been noticeable out of the loop with regards to knowledge and influence.
Time and again Japan has been taken by “surprise” such as with Trump’s cancellation of the U.S.-South Korean war games, or “been the odd man out” with regards to what the U.S. and North Korea are doing.
This has largely to do with Trump’s unorthodox nature, but it would be foolish to say this is the failure of one man, or even one country, especially given that North Korea has made it clear they do not want the Japanese to participate in the nuclear discussions.
If the U.S. is to uphold the standards it has presented itself, steps must be taken on multiple fronts. One: Japan must be brought into the loop on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As a regional partner, and arguably the United State’s most important ally in the region, sidelining the state is a foolish and insulting move. It should be noted though that this will likely cause tensions, not only with North Korea for its previously stated position, but quite possibly with South Korea as well, given the continued tension between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women issue. If possible, the U.S. should try to calm the tension between its two allies as much as possible, but only if an effective means of doing so presents itself. Pushing the issue could easily backfire. Secondly, it would be wise for the Trump administration to end its current conflict with Japan over matters of trade, at least for now. If the two are to work together to their highest effectiveness there needs to be as little bad blood between them as possible. Doing likewise with China, again, if only for the moment, may also aid in the process of denuclearization, by making China a more willing partner in the process. Overall, the U.S. must make it perfectly clear that not only is it listening to its allies, but that their opinions matter and are respected, that way better ensuring their good will and better cooperation on all fronts.
So ends part I on ARIA. I hope this has been enlightening to you, and I look forward to any and all discussions that arise from this article. Below I shall also leave a list of names that appeared in this section of the bill in case you are interested in researching them. With that, thank you very much for reading.
Representative Randy Forbes
Ambassador Robert Gallucci
Ms. Tami Overby
Dr. Robert Orr
Ambassador Derek Mitchell
Ambassador Robert King
Mr. Murray Hiebert
Dr. Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
S.2736 – Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018
Asia Reassurance Initiative Act: A Republican Vision for Engaging Southeast Asia, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, July 19, 2017
ARIA: Congress Makes Its Mark on US Asia Policy, The Diplomat, Carl Thayer, January 8, 2019
The West begins to stir over China’s massive abuse of Muslims, The Economist, November 22, 2018
In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture, The Guardian, The Observer, Lily Kuo, January 13, 2019
China Sends Military to Intercept U.S. Navy in South China Sea As Tensions Rise, Newsweek, Tom O’Connor, January 7, 2019
Was Japan the biggest loser in Singapore?, The Japan Times, Yuki Tatsumi, June 28, 2018