Chatham House has just released a very interesting report titled Prepared for Future Threats? US Defence Partnerships in the Asia-Pacific Region. The report highlights the growing importance of the region to U.S. interests, explores U.S. defense partnerships with Asia-Pacific nations, assesses whether or not the U.S. is adequately prepared for the threats most likely to emerge in the region (no surprise that the South China Sea looms large in these scenarios), and offers concrete recommendations for mitigating and preparing for those threats. The report concludes that U.S. defense partnerships in the Asia-Pacific are currently not well-prepared for non-traditional security threats in the area, such as climate change and natural resource security, and recommends “diversifying bilateral agreements” with regional players, strengthening alliance structures, and shifting from “a preoccupation with conventional military responses (and a fixation on troop numbers) to new and relatively uncharted areas of cooperative threat response.” Of particular note to us, given the role of climate change in exacerbating threats to food, water health and resource security, are the following recommendations from the executive summary:
- Non-traditional security fields such as cyberspace, food, water, health and broader resource security, provide opportunities for cooperative action, as there are more areas of common interest and they can generate less sensitivity. Regional and global groups should direct increased attention and efforts towards these issues.
- There are some areas of additional opportunity for collaboration including, in particular, in humanitarian assistance and disaster response where all regional nations, including China and India, benefit from working together. This provides an arena in which to build relationships and trust as well as joint capabilities and understanding towards a common good.
This suggests that if the U.S. and regional partners adequately prepare, and build resilient cooperative frameworks, climatic changes in the region need not lead to conflict. On a related note, we have previously written about the possibilities of the U.S. building and strengthening alliances in the region through a “Climate Investment Plan” that robustly assists vulnerable Asia-Pacific nations in adapting to the effects of climate change.