US-led Alliances and Contemporary International Security Disorder: Comparative Responses of the Transatlantic and Asia-Pacific Alliance Systems

AuthorMason Richey
Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
US-led Alliances
and Contemporary
International Security
Disorder: Comparative
Responses of the
Transatlantic and Asia-
Pacific Alliance Systems
Mason Richey1
US-led security architectures in the Asia-Pacific and Europe are experiencing
pressure due to ongoing geostrategic transformation in these regions, most nota-
bly the rapid expansion of China’s power, North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship
and Russia’s renewed aggressive adventurism. These readjustments have often
been examined through the prism of changing balance of power between the
US-led liberal international forces and revisionist powers aiming to alter the
international order. Going beyond this analysis in the literature, this article sheds
lights on the ways in which the USA has attempted and is attempting to reshape
US-led alliances in the Asia-Pacific and Europe. The article finds that the US-led
alliance systems and security partnerships will continue to evolve divergently due
both to their different path-dependent identities and the different types of chal-
lenges they face regionally.
USA, China, Russia, alliances, international order
It is common to observe that the USA and its set of Asia-Pacific and European
alliance systems underpinned one half of the bipolar post-World War II (WWII)
1 Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea.
Corresponding author:
Mason Richey, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 107 Imun-ro, Seoul 02450, South Korea.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
6(3) 275–298, 2019
The Author(s) 2019
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797019886690
276 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 6(3)
international order. This influence on the international system has become more
comprehensive and pervasive in the post-Cold War period, which ushered in the
dominance of a liberal internationalism to which most of the states in those two
alliance systems have mostly subscribed—albeit with some serious lapses such as
the 2003 Iraq invasion—since the fall of the USSR and its satellites. It has also
become common to remark that this order is fraying due to myriad dynamic, often
interconnected challenges: China’s rise, Russian revisionism, transnational
terrorist networks, failed and rogue states, ethnic and sectarian strife, uncontrolled
migration flows, domestic-level political extremism and nationalism, ascendant
illiberalism and authoritarianism, cyber-vulnerability, environmental dangers,
periodic contagious economic crisis and the weakening of the nation-state in the
face of incessant globalisation (Haass, 2017; Ikenberry, 2018).1
Naturally the US-led alliance systems in the Euro-Atlantic (NATO) and the
Asia-Pacific (US-centred ‘hub-and-spokes’ bilateral alliances with South Korea,
Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Thailand) are experiencing strain due to the
disarray of the international and regional systems in which the alliances are
embedded (Simon & Speck, 2017; The White House, 2017; Wesley, 2017).
However, it is easily overlooked that the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific alliance
systems are not experiencing international security strain in the same way. Beyond
shared, truly global challenges to the contemporary order—cyber threats, global
warming, cross-border pandemic disease vulnerability, regulation of international
political economy, the undermining of international norms/rules/law and global
governance mechanisms institutionalised in international organisations—Europe
and the Asia-Pacific face different challenges at the regional level (Bellamy &
Wheeler, 2011; Haass, 2017; Stiglitz, 2010). Europe faces geopolitical instability
in its neighbourhood (an arc from eastern Europe through the Middle East and
North Africa [MENA]) and revanchist Russian revisionism in particular,
difficulties in integrating defence spending, rising illiberalism and even
authoritarianism in eastern/central Europe and Turkey, problems with managing
migration flows and terrorism threats, and demographic decline (Ikenberry, 2018;
Richey, 2018; United States Department of Defense [USDOD], 2018). The Asia-
Pacific faces a rising and assertive China, North Korea as a nuclear weapon state,
strategic mistrust among selected US alliance system partners and a lack of
collective/multilateral security architecture to manage security risks, and
(likewise) demographic decline (Rozman, 2015; Tow & Limaye, 2016).
If the challenges to the US-led alliance systems are different, clearly so must
be the responses. This differentiation in alliance responses is due not only to the
nature of a particular challenge or the functional issue of what tools facilitate the
right solutions for fixing a given problem. Rather, these two alliance systems have
differently characterised identities—highly institutionalised collective security in
Europe (NATO), and a weakly institutionalised alliance network in the Asia-
Pacific (the hub-and-spokes model)—arrived at via long, historically conditioned
pathways (Cha, 2009/2010; Hemmer & Katzenstein, 2002).
That is, there is path-dependence permitting and constraining these alliance
systems’ ability to create tools and decide and enact measures for adapting to and
countering new challenges and threats in a more uncertain and disordered

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT