Why Obama’s Rebalance towards Asia-Pacific Was Unsuccessful?

Publication Date01 Apr 2018
DOI10.1177/0020881718791040
AuthorXiaoyu Zhao
SubjectArticles
Why Obama’s Rebalance
towards Asia-Pacific
Was Unsuccessful?
Xiaoyu Zhao1
Abstract
The Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy has been the core of America’s global policy
adjustment since the Obama Administration came into office. While this strategy
has been the subject of great controversy since its implementation, it has made
some progress and clearly generated benefits. Most importantly, it has strength-
ened the US strategic influence and strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific region,
which has brought some pressure on China’s rise. This article holds that as the
rebalancing strategy continues to progress, the USA has faced more increasing
costs, including the huge financial pressures, the entrapment of regional alliances,
the rising of the Sino– US strategic distrust, the abortion of the Trans-Pacific
Partnership and the failure of strategic retrenchment in a global scale. These
costs finally outweighed the benefits of the strategy. Therefore, from the per-
spective of cost–benefit, the grand strategy of rebalancing towards the Asia-
Pacific was unsuccessful. Given this, the USA Asia-Pacific strategy may shift to
limited retrenchment to maintain its strategic interests and hegemonic position
while minimizing the strategic costs in the near future.
Keywords
Rebalancing towards Asia-Pacific, grand strategy, Obama administration, costs
and benefits
Introduction
Grand strategy is a set of ideas for orientating a country’s roles in the world and
prioritizing the limited national resources towards attaining the goals and interests
in the long-term (Dueck, 2005, p. 198). Therefore, America’s grand strategy
should provide instructions about its roles in the world and deploy its resources
Article
International Studies
55(2) 87–105
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
sagepub.in/home.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718791040
http://journals.sagepub.com/home/isq
1 Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, China.
Corresponding author:
Xiaoyu Zhao, Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, China.
E-mail: zhaoxiaoyu@gz.gov.cn
88 International Studies 55(2)
and power accordingly. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the
Cold War, the USA becomes the unparalleled superpower and has advantages to
designing beneficial grand strategies for itself. However, such ideological and
geopolitical triumphs led the USA to make a series of serious mistakes in grand
strategies. In domestic, the neoliberal ideology was originated from the 1980s’ the
‘Reagan Revolution’ and was considered as criteria by the US political elites,
among which market fundamentalism led its economy to financialization and laid
the foundations for the financial crisis in 2008 (Wang, 2009, pp. 11–12).
Internationally, given the overflow of terrorism, the USA changed its grand strat-
egy and waged two wars (the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War) (Miller, 2010),
which costed trillion dollars and killed over six thousand American soldiers
(Belasco, 2010, p. 1). Therefore, on the one hand, when Barack Obama was inau-
gurated as President in 2009, the USA was beset with troubles internally and
externally. Compared with America’s difficult situation, since the end of the Cold
War, China has grown up quickly, on the other hand, especially in the economic,
technological and military aspects. In 2010, China surpassed Japan as the second
largest economy and became the world’s top manufacturing country by output,
which was occupied by the USA for around 110 years (Kollewe & McCurry,
2011; Marsh, 2011). Therefore, against such backdrop, on the grand strategy
level, the Obama Administration promoted the ‘rebalancing towards Asia-Pacific’
strategy with the feature of global retrenchment and Asia-Pacific engagement, to
relieve America’s pressures on a worldwide scale, to ‘rectify’ the deployment of
its strategic resources, to rehabilitate its economy, to cope with China’s rise, to
safeguard America’s continued preponderance in the region, and to maintain
America’s global leadership position (Da, 2014, p. 62–63; Löfflmann, 2016, p.
95; McDonough, 2013, p. 170;).
This article argues that under the Obama Administration, the strategy not only
failed to enable the USA to achieve most of strategic goals as mentioned above,
but also brought the USA more harm than good. Concretely speaking, at the initial
stage, the rebalancing strategy did bring considerable strategic benefits to the
USA, for example, the USA strengthened its strategic influence and strategic
presence in the Asia-Pacific region, reinvigorated its economy, and exerted some
pressure on China’s rise. Yet as the rebalancing strategy continues to progress,
shifting regional political dynamics resulted in America’s both internal and exter-
nal strategic costs, including the huge financial pressures; the entrapment of
regional alliances; the rising of the Sino–US strategic distrust; the abortion of the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the failure of strategic retrenchment in a
global scale. Those costs outweighed the benefits of the strategy gradually. Thus,
from the cost–benefit perspective, the grand strategy of rebalancing towards Asia-
Pacific was not successful under the Obama Administration. In order to support
the argument, this article utilizes the cost–benefit analysis as the major criterion
to judge whether the strategy was successful for the USA Given above discourses,
this article is consisted of five main parts. The first part briefly reviews existing
debates about the strategy; the second part demonstrates the means of the strategy
and the third and fourth parts analyse the benefits and costs that the strategy has
brought to the USA, respectively. The final part concludes the discussions.

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