Seventy years ago, out of the ashes of a world war, America and our allies and partners built a rules-based international order — one based on the principles of the rule of law, free peoples and free markets, open seas and open skies, and peaceful settlement of disputes.
Put simply: These ideas have changed the fortunes of the United States and Asia forever, and for the better. Our nation enjoyed access to resources that fueled broadly shared economic growth at home and a stability that kept another world war at bay, benefiting Americans from all walks of life, while an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity lifted hundreds of millions of Asians out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency.
None of this was preordained. And the rules-based order is not self-sustaining. America and our allies have made the choice to uphold and defend this order. We do so because it is profoundly in our national interest. And with challenges mounting from China’s assertive behavior in the East and South China Seas to North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear threat, this is the stand we must take again. This is not just a choice for President Donald Trump. As a coequal branch, Congress must do its part to strengthen our alliances, deepen our diplomacy, and protect our interests.
A simple yet valuable first step would be to affirm America’s broad, bipartisan commitment to defend our allies when they are threatened. Prime Minister Abe’s visit is the right moment for President Trump and Congress to reiterate what Mattis asserted last week: that the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and that the United States will oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.
Our military should continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, including where China’s excessive and militarized maritime claims erode the freedom of the seas.
On the Korean peninsula, the administration must work with the South Korean government to assure a capable multilayer extended deterrence architecture, including accelerating the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system to protect against North Korea’s missile threat. Doing so is important for civilians threatened everywhere, from Seoul and Tokyo to Seattle, as North Korea prepares to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that can deliver a nuclear payload.
Our success in the region is not just based on military might, but on our values as well, and must also be matched by smart and agile diplomatic engagement and the full range of American influence. There are also significant opportunities to work with our allies and partners to deepen and broaden Asia’s own emerging architecture, include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
As a Pacific nation, the United States recognizes that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Asia-Pacific region. Now is the time to engage, not retrench. We stand ready to work with the administration to do just that.