Report: Keynote Speech by Richard Armitage
Ambassador Richard L. Armitage delivered the keynote speech at the opening dinner of the Sun & Star Symposium 2015, hosted by SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. Highlights of his long career in public service include a five-year stint as Deputy Secretary of State, the role of Special Emissary to Jordan during the Gulf War, and various positions in the Department of Defense. These high-level roles are compounded with his on-the-ground experiences during his three tours of duty in Vietnam, time as Defense Attaché to the Republic of Vietnam, and key role in orchestrating the evacuation of over 30,000 South Vietnamese by boat to the Philippines after the fall of Saigon. Drawing on this political gravitas, Armitage delivered a clear message regarding the future of American foreign policy by exploring the history of American involvement in the Middle East and Asia during his time working in various positions in the US government. In particular, he focused on relations with Japan, China, and South Korea. His remarks addressed the conference’s theme, “Waiting for the Rising Sun: Japanese New Nationalism and Beyond,” and also clarified his claim that President Obama’s current pivot of focus from the Middle East to Asia has been undertaken too hastily. As such, he contends that America needs to develop cultural and economic ties, not just our security interests in the region.
Armitage outlined numerous problems like the ceaseless conflicts in the Middle East which have hindered the successful pivot of the focus of American foreign policy to Asia. He highlighted the importance of changing focus on the basis of Asia’s growing importance, not because American wishes to exit Afghanistan and Iraq. He focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a key next step for American foreign policy makers. When questioned about his views on the TPP, Armitage identified the present need for a tighter alliance between America and its partners in the region. According to this logic, when the US and Japan agree on the numerous points of debate, other major players like Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand will enter into the agreement. As such, the economic successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be replicable on a larger scale throughout the Pacific region.
Because, as Armitage said, “… a coalition of Asian nations cannot stand up to China without the United States,” President Obama and his successors ought to curate US influence in the region to curb the oversized growth of China. He contended that President Obama should start by urging the closer collaboration of South Korea and Japan, America’s foremost Asian partners. While decades of detrimental actions from all sides like the Japanese treatment of South Korea during its occupation in the Second World War have led the present animosity between Tokyo and Seoul, goals like competing with China’s growing economic dominance and containing North Korea provide common ground over which South Korea and Japan can form the missing piece of the strong triangular relationship between these two players and the US. Accordingly, Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, must resist the newly-emerging nationalist sentiments in his country, lest the improvement of their relation with South Korea regress.
Looking to the future, Armitage called for the deliberate strengthening of US relations with its partners in East Asia, the most critical being Japan. He stated that the US-Japan relationship not only holds significance for its established economic and cultural ties, but for the critical role Japan plays in the American defense strategy. Japan fits into current American grand strategy because of its hosting of enormous US military bases in a region critical to numerous American goals like the protection of our commercial interests and our Asian allies. As evidence that the US-Japan military relationship will continue to strengthen, he cited a recent joint training exercise by the US Marine Corps and the Japan Self-Defense Forces which “… had retaking an island as its unclassified, stated objective.” China and other potentially threatening nations in Asia will likely view these exercises as a declaration by the US that it will not sit by if Chinese forces invade the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. This thorough training acts as an unfortunate, but altogether necessary contingency for the Japanese and American governments in light of recently-increasing tensions over these numerous small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Abe and President Obama are thereby in agreement concerning the importance and validity of the Japanese claim.
While the heated military realities concerning the aforementioned island dispute might result in direct confrontation, Armitage called attention to a far-more preferable alternative. He said that “… territories cannot be shared, but resources can be.” The oil deposits in the waters of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are the fundamental reason for the three-way conflict between Japan, China, and Taiwan, but also provide a solution. The development and employment of this windfall of natural resources would benefit the three energy-hungry players who all claim a stake in the territory. While acknowledging the emotional and historical tensions between these Asian neighbors, Armitage claimed that the way forward consists of poly-lateral development of relations, as opposed to the current trend whereby every major Asian player closely cultivates their direct relationship with America, but do not extend the same desire for positive expansion to their relationships with each other.
In summation, Armitage recognized the significant barriers to the creation of stronger political, military, and economic ties between America and the major Asian players, but set out his optimistic thoughts for the future. Many of the countries involved share identical interests such as the fostering of higher levels of trade with the United States. He identified the President as uniquely situated as the power-broker of East Asia thanks to the long-standing utmost importance of American business and military investments in the region. As such, he predicts a bright future assuming the President slows his haste to pivot to Asia, and that America can wield its sizable power skillfully.
Ryan is a first-year from Wilton, Connecticut and is majoring in political science and international studies with minors in Spanish and history. At SMU, he is a member of the University Honors Program, the Hilltop Scholars Program, the Career Development Ambassadors, and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Ryan plans to pursue a career with the US government after graduation.