The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

Another Look At Southeast Asia

Another Look At Southeast AsiaIn an op-ed column, Fletcher School Dean Stephen Bosworth argues that the United States needs to revisit its policy in an increasingly complex region.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.12.05] Southeast Asia is a dynamic, evolving region. Be it with longstanding concerns such as the war against terrorism or unexpected catastrophes like the December 2004 tsunamis, the fortunes of the U.S. are heavily tied to development and stability in the region. But according to the dean of the Fletcher School and a colleague, the U.S. just isn't giving the region the attention it requires.

"While the U.S. ability to respond to crises in Southeast Asia is important, it is not an alternative to a coherent policy," Stephen Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School, and Morton Abramowitz, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, argued in an op-ed published in The Jakarta Post.

Bosworth, former U.S. ambassador to Korea, the Philippines and Tunisia, and Abramowitz, former U.S. envoy to Turkey and Thailand, plan to co-author a book about the relationship between the United States and East Asia.

The two experts note that active U.S. interest in the region has been sporadic– "some counter-terrorism effort here, a bit of development financing there, an occasional presidential visit, and frequent statements about the glories of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]" – and usually only when there is trouble, such as the 1997 financial crisis or the tsunamis.

"U.S. policy is not commensurate with its interests in a changing Southeast Asia, an area of half a billion people," Bosworth and Abramowitz contended, noting that the total trade between the U.S. and ASEAN countries in 2003 totaled $130 billion, with investment reaching $90 billion.

Working to "strengthen the area's regional stability, cohesion and independence" would entail the United States taking several long-term steps, the experts said, including providing support to growing states like Indonesia and Vietnam and gaining a better understanding of China's intentions.

"China is bringing new dynamism to Southeast Asian economies. China, however, remains distrusted in the area," Bosworth and his colleague wrote.

Due to Islamic extremists' participation in worldwide acts of terror, another reason for the U.S. to heighten its attention to Southeast Asia is the region's Muslim population.

"The U.S. has a fundamental interest in stable effective states in Southeast Asia that can stop extremist violence and generally strengthen the region," Bosworth and Abramowitz wrote.

The authors acknowledged that part of the difficulty in formulating a strategy for dealing with the region lies in the fact that it is such a "mixed bag," with economically successful nations like Thailand and Singapore found alongside inconsistent performerslike Vietnam and Philippines and the "backwardness" of nations like Laos and Cambodia.

"Given the varied nature of the region it is not surprising that outside governments view ASEAN, the area's one big institutional creation, as a central point of engagement," they wrote. However, the East Asian experts added, "advancing American interests in Southeast Asia requires more than simply wooing ASEAN, although that is desirable and inexpensive."

Bosworth and Abramowitz said the U.S. has "significant if receding" influence in the region, noting that some nations in the region are wary of American military power. The solution, they contended, is renewing a comprehensive focus on the region and establishing productive relationships with the countries therein.

"[W]hat the United States needs to recognize clearly is that all its interests-- counter-terrorism especially and any concerns about China --are best served by the evolution of strong, effective governmentsin the region," they wrote in the Post. "Over the longer term the best antidotes to jihadism are good governance, education and economic progress."

Related Stories
Featured Profile