Asia Pacific

Here’s Why Asia Pivot Was Barack Obama’s Biggest Mistake


During his tenure in the White House Barack Obama did many amazing things. The one that wasn’t all that great was the “pivot to Asia.” This move will most likely be remembered as his biggest mistake. At one moment during his reign, Obama called himself “the first Pacific president.” President Obama did so because he wanted to shift the foreign policy more in the direction of Asia (the economic center of the 21st century) away from the Middle East.

He felt that, after the disastrous Libyan revolution that ousted Gaddafi, the responsibility for keeping stability in the region should fall on the shoulders of America’s European allies. The Libyan campaign was mostly a product of French and British pressure, but neither of the two countries had sufficient resources to bring Gaddafi to heel and stop the civil war that tore the country apart. President Obama sensed that the American public was fed up with costly Middle Eastern adventures that drained blood and treasure and that other countries should step up to the plate.

This pivot turned out to be a complete failure. Not only for the U.S. foreign policy. It had an adverse effect on various parts of the world, mostly on Europe and the Middle East.

The reason that pivot failed was that it was based on wrong assumptions. Obama and his associates believed that U.S. foreign policy has been neglecting the Asia Pacific. This part of Asia had a substantial economic rise in recent years, and the president decided that he could assign more military resources to the region. Those same resources would be pulled from the Middle East and other areas. This caused the tension in Asia-Pacific while at the same time it brought chaos to the Middle East and The Old Continent.

So, what assumption was wrong? When Obama started his term in office, Asia-Pacific wasn’t neglected. The Bush politics in this part of the world was actually a success. It lowered the historically high tensions between China and Taiwan. The free-trade agreements were signed with Singapore, South Korea, and Australia. These agreements were the foundation of what’s today the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deals with India regarding their nuclear arsenal were signed, parallel with negotiations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of these deals were later changed as apart of Obama’s pivot.

Obama’s Asian pivot did initiate new diplomatic relations (Myanmar), but it shifted its direction regarding security and defense policy. Making Asia the center of its security strategy annoyed the Chinese government. To Beijing, this move seemed like the U.S. is trying to contain their military power. Because of this China became hostile and aggressive. Before 2008, the relations between two countries were normal.

The situation escalated when the Air-Sea Battle doctrine became official. This doctrine was an effort to prepare the U.S. for a possible confrontation with China. The Secretary of The Defense at the time, Robert Gates publicly confirmed this, and as you can expect, authorities in Beijing weren’t glad upon hearing this. The doctrine was seen as a plan to contain China militarily and economically and to narrow the circle around them.

The first significant issue is that primary part of the pivot was militaristic. The second one was that it even had a military element to it. The Asia pivot promised that the U.S. is focusing on that part of the world for economic reasons, but they first started to arm themselves. The primary focus on military shows a little about the economy which was promised.

The premise that Chinese expansion could be checked by the use of soft military power was flawed from the start and only encouraged Beijing to start flexing their military muscles in return, using the American actions as an excuse. Its navy began a series of excursions further away from China’s coast in an effort to assert its dominance in the South China Sea, making securing the infamous 9-dash line its priority. Any objection from American allies in the region was checked with the statement that Beijing is merely responding to Washington’s action.

When Obama declared in 2015 that “TPP allows America — and not countries like China — to write the rules of the road in the 21st century” the Chinese were assured that the primary goal of the pivot was to stop the rise of China. The United States officials publicly confirmed this. The situation was made worse by President Trumps refusal to sign TPP, thus further weakening America’s negotiating position in the region.

The matter didn’t have to go this way. Instead, America could join Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. They were even invited by China. Instead, they refused and also criticized the U.K. for joining. By steering up military tensions, the U.S. missed on many economic opportunities.

The third mistake was that while dealing with Asia, America completely neglected Europe and the Middle East. When they took their eyes away from Europe, Russia went on the field trip to Ukraine glancing at the Baltic states at the same time. This move unsettled Poland and Hungary. In the Middle East, Syrian Civil war exploded causing thousands of deaths and creating 11 million refugees. Islamic State moved to Iraq, while the former U.S. allies in the Gulf fell under Iranian influence.

The power vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal and its focus shift has only served to encourage Russia and Iran to increase their efforts aimed at obtaining influence in the region. Again, same as with TPP, Trump’s intentions of completely abandoning America’s allies by pulling even the modest number of troops left in Syria will only serve to invite both Moscow and Tehran to step up their game and increase pressure on surrounding nations. Syrian regime in the meanwhile holds steady and is closer every day to regaining full control of the country, with massive Russian and Iranian help.

In the end, the pivot failed. It didn’t stop China from rising. They are more aggressive now and have set their eyes on the South China Sea and to the Senkakus. Militarily they have never been closer to the U.S., and the economy is still on the rise. The TPP is no more, while China is signing trade agreements with its neighbors. It was essential to focus foreign policy to Asia-Pacific but not at the expense of Europe and the Middle East. Now America is at a disadvantage on both fronts. And it’s all thanks to Asia pivot which was Barack Obama’s biggest mistake.

FPI Analysis: The Future of Missile Defense in the Asia Pacific


The Asia-Pacific region is important for the United States because it is the part of the world where some of the US allies are located. It is also the region in which missile threats are going through the roof, and the United States need to protect the country as well as its allies from any possible attack. Trump’s administration is well aware that they would not be able to intercept every missile, but it is feasible to assemble an integrated defense for protection from countries such as North Korea and China.

So far, every administration, including this one has claimed that the missile defense architecture is ever-changing. It is something that keeps evolving, and it is a process that will never be finished. While Obama did everything to implement such defense in Europe and has done so successfully, Asia-Pacific region has been neglected, and it is up to Trump and the presidents who come after him to fix this issue.


Missile Threats Increase

North Korea has developed the nuclear program, and their ballistic missiles are considered to be their only defense. This way, they are keeping the USA at bay and with such weapons they can target any of the nearby US allies such as Japan or South Korea. The North Korean leader also claimed that the rockets could reach the States. Last year, North Korea introduced a new missile with faster launch times and better mobility. Meanwhile, this country is working on the development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles as well as an ICBM capability to threaten the US.

However, North Korea is not the only country in the region that could harm the United States. Another, much larger threat comes from China and their far more sophisticated long-range missile systems. Furthermore, China has created large numbers of short and medium-range missiles for regional use. This means, once again, that one of the US allies can be attacked and defeated. What is concerning is that the number of missile tests is growing in the region and the USA needs to do something about it.

Missile Defense

Firstly, America needs to accept the fact that the threat is real. The country needs to do everything in its power to improve and further develop the missile defense in the region. This means that new capabilities need to be created and a large number of interceptors and sensors are supposed to be built. Currently, there are several sensors in the Asia-Pacific which would prevent any possible attacks, but their number needs to be increased. They are listed below:

• PAVE PAWS Early Warning Radar – Taiwan
• TPY-2 radars – Japan
• Aegis SPY-1 radars – afloat
• Sea-based X-band radar

The interceptors can be divided into three groups – Patriot, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Standard Missile-3. There are also large numbers of inexpensive and lower-tier levels of defense, which we are not going to mention here in greater details. All you have to know is that they exist, but let’s check out these interceptors, one by one.


The Patriot family of missile defenses is intended to strike down short-range ballistic missiles. Such weapons are located in the United States, but they are also built in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Although Patriot family has been enhanced significantly in the recent years, there are still numerous problems that plague such systems. For instance, they cannot provide a full 360-degree coverage, and their blind spots are their weakness.


THAAD is arguably the best missile defense systems implemented by the USA. It is positioned in South Korea despite China’s disagreement and objections. There is one in Guam as well. When combined with the Patriot, THAAD is relentless. They cover more territory and can knock down missiles on a larger area. At this point, THAAD looks good, but the US Army has a goal to improve it even further.

Aegis Weapons System

Last but not least, we need to mention seven Aegis BMD-capable destroyers deployed by the United States. In addition, there are four Japanese BMD capable ships at Yokosuka. The ships are equipped with the radar which can track any missile launched by the enemy, and besides the radar, various sensors are used as well. This system is intended for longer range threats. Also, the SM-3 IIA interceptor will be deployed in 2018, the result of the cooperation between Japan and the United States. These interceptors are a feat of engineering, and they have improved sensors and are a lot faster than any other interceptors.

United States Allies

The American allies in the Asia-Pacific need to band together and create a defensive wall. While in Europe, NATO exists, there is no such thing in this region of Asia, and more cooperative efforts are required in order to improve the capability of the defensive weapons and cut down the costs as much as possible.

So far, the American allies have been doing the right thing. Both Japan and South Korea have invested a lot of money in missile defenses. For instance, just two years ago, Japan spent about $2.1 billion whereas the South Koreans increased the budget for the Korean Air and Missile Defense system to $1.43 billion last year. Meanwhile, Japan is also distributing money to the enhancement and deployment of Aegis Ashore in their country. On top of that, they are upgrading their destroyers and basically every aspect of their missile defense system. The same goes for South Korea.

However, these two countries are not the only allies of the Americans in the region. Australia is also working on first two destroyers equipped with Aegis, and this would improve the overall missile defense significantly. With the allies investing from their budgets, the costs for the US would be reduced, or the money intended for such purpose could be redirected. Let’s not forget that the USA also has the Ground-based interceptors in the Pacific states of Alaska and California. Currently, the biggest issue is protecting Hawaii, which is in the outer reach of the United States territory.

What the US should do

As you can see, improving the defensive line in the Asia-Pacific region is a must and the efforts need to be made. While this all costs a lot of money, it is the money well spent. In order to create better Asia-Pacific missile defense system, there are several rules America needs to abide by. They need to purchase state of the art weapons which are currently available and to further invest in their development, plus, the priority should be architecture.

Furthermore, launch systems which are more adaptable and flexible need to be acquired because this would reduce costs. All aspects of the BMDS can be increased with a space-sensor layer. In that way, both regional and homeland missile defenses would be enhanced significantly. Last but not least, the United States Army needs to use the money for nine THAAD batteries, and THAAD interceptor needs to be improved to have more range.

Obama administration didn’t do much in order to improve missile defense in this region. Trump has held the office for almost year and a half now, and if he wants to secure the country, his administration needs to address this issue. While it is not the most burning problem America is facing, something needs to be done about it. The most important thing is that the improvements are constantly happening.