Assessing the U.S. Commitment to Allies in Asia and Beyond
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The Trump administration had only been in the White House for a few tumultuous weeks when the sixth iteration of the Young Strategists Forum (YSF) took place in Tokyo, at the end of January 2017. Over breakfast in Tokyo each morning the group would scroll through Twitter feeds and news alerts, one unsettling shock or scandal following another, from the leaked details of the combative conversation between President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia; the travel ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries and the protests that erupted at international airports around the United States as a result.
The core component of YSF each year is a 36-hour grand strategy simulation exercise. Over the years the YSF team has witnessed the simulation play out in a number of ways. From aggressive opening moves by China, to an overly confident United States, to Middle powers who hedged against the dominant powers, refusing to align with either, or doing the exact opposite, aligning with China from the outset in hopes of economic gains. The 2017 simulation was perhaps the most rational and measured approach taken to date. Rather than mirroring the uncertainty that existed in the political capitals of the participants, players executed their strategy with caution and precision. The fear of unintended escalation was ubiquitous. By the end of simulation, no battle groups had been sunk, Japan and Indonesia had not acquired nuclear weapons, and China was not involved in a land war with India. By 2040 level headed thinking, diplomacy, and strong alliances continued to prevail.
While the Young Strategists Forum focuses on security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific, participants hail from the United States, Japan, Europe, and traditionally like-minded Asian countries such as Australia, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines. Needless to say, the future of the U.S.–Japan alliance, NATO, and the relations between the participants home countries dominated debate and discussion throughout the Forum. A positive meeting in New York between the newly elected Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November 2016 had alleviated some of the gravest concerns about the future of the U.S.–Japan alliances sparked by Trump’s heated campaign rhetoric. However, it was clear in the meetings with officials in Tokyo during the Forum that there remained an acute sense of uneasiness.
As a result, this YSF volume looks at questions and concern about the future of U.S. commitment to our allies, and its involvement, not only in Asia but around the world.