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After the Elections: The Pacific Pivot and Climate Change Resilience

No matter how the U.S. Presidential election turned out, the decision by the U.S. national security establishment to refocus its attention on the Asia-Pacific region was likely to proceed apace.

Last week, Stars and Stripes reported on U.S. Army operation “Orient Shield,” and framed it in context of this strategic pivot:

With the Iraq War’s end and the drawdown under way in Afghanistan, the Army can focus on what has been dubbed the “Pacific pivot” toward increased U.S. emphasis in the region, which is beset by natural disasters, a rising China and a provocative North Korea.

“Orient Shield falls perfectly in line with that increased emphasis,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Larsen, commander of the 1-14th, said Tuesday from Japan’s Aibano Training Area near Lake Biwa, about an hour northeast of the former capital Kyoto.

Orient Shield is a joint exercise conducted with U.S. ally Japan, and features the U.S. deployment of “lightweight Stryker armored troop carriers,” which are being deployed to Japan for the very first time.

But the Pacific Pivot goes well beyond joint military exercises. Addressing the significant natural disaster threat to the region, as well as the nuclear threat from North Korea, and China’s meteoric rise, will involve all tools in the U.S. foreign policy tool-shed, from increased diplomatic engagement with both allies and prospective allies, to stronger economic partnerships with both regional institutions and individual nations, to increased foreign assistance for the regions most vulnerable countries.

As we have written previously, addressing the security implications of climate change should also feature heavily in this new strategy. The recent typhoon that hit Vietnam, the Philippines and southern China was a reminder of the kinds of natural disasters the region will be bracing for more often in the future, and the kind of events that will precipitate the deployment U.S. humanitarian and military assets more and more often.

In order for the Pacific Pivot to succeed, and look attractive to the nations of the Asia-Pacific, U.S. investments in climate resilience will need to be a key feature of that strategy.

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