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IR Working Paper 2007/4 (PDF, 301)
William T. Tow and Amitav Acharya, ‘Obstinate or Obsolete? The US Alliance Structure in the Asia-Pacific’, IR Working Paper 2007/4, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, December 2007.
The longstanding US security network of bilateral alliances in the Asia–Pacific, also known as the ‘San Francisco System’, has reached a historical crossroads. Its purpose is becoming more questionable as the United States, its allies and friends and other key Asian security actors engage in an increasingly complex set of regional security relationships. This paper argues that while the San Francisco System will not be dissolved over the near-term, it must adapt to rapidly changing structural and politico-economic conditions in the region if its utility is to be sustained and its eventual conversion into a more relevant and effective network of Asia–Pacific order-building. It argues that ‘alliance mutuality’ is the essential element in any such conversion process.
This paper develops its argument in three successive sections. To begin with, the initial rationales and recent trends underpinning the San Francisco System are described. It then evaluates that network in the context of alliance theory. A third section evaluates those factors that are contributing to the ‘obsolescence’ of these bilateral alliances. Finally, the concept of ‘alliance mutuality’ is developed as a viable policy avenue for better meeting the contemporary security interests of both the United States and its allies in the Asia–Pacific.