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Present at the Asian Creation

NEW DELHI – Asia’s economic dynamism is beginning to find a parallel in the region’s diplomacy, particularly where security is concerned. Indeed, we may now be “present at the creation,” as former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson called his memoir, which described the construction of the post-World War II global security order. This time, what is being created is a security order for Asia that reflects its newfound primacy in world affairs, though what that order will ultimately look like remains to be determined.

Security has moved to the top of the regional agenda not only in response to China’s rise, but also because America and the West will be leaving a gaping hole in Asia’s security architecture when they remove their troops from Afghanistan, without first having established peace there. Perhaps of greater importance for long-term security, the US-Pakistan relationship continues to plumb new depths, while Iran’s relations with the West go from bad to worse, marred most recently by the mob invasion of the British Embassy in Tehran in November.

Bit by bit, initiative by initiative, many of the region’s powers are struggling to forge a coherent cooperative framework to enhance their security. For example, Australia’s Labour government has agreed to sell natural uranium to India, reversing a policy that had been in place ever since India developed its nuclear-weapons capacity. Almost simultaneously, US President Barack Obama announced the stationing of US Marines in northern Australia. No one has explicitly linked the two moves, but they are arguably related strategically, as Australia seeks to boost its ties with both the US and Asia’s other giant, India.

India and the US have also been strengthening their strategic relations with Japan, not only bilaterally, but also in a unique trilateral way, which US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns has suggested could “reshape the international system.” Burns, and much of the rest of America’s foreign-policy establishment, now thinks that India’s regional influence has become comprehensive; its “Look East” strategy, announced earlier this year, is being translated into “Act East” policies.