Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

The United States in the New Asia

Evan A. Feigenbaum

November 2009

Council on Foreign Relations


No region of the world today is more dynamic than Asia. Across the continent, booming countries have built engines of economic growth that have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Along with this economic strength has come increased strategic importance, leading to Asia’s emergence as a principal center of global power in the twenty-first century. As Asia’s economic and strategic weight has grown, Asians have sought to build multilateral frameworks capable of effectively channeling the region’s energies. But for more than a decade, the United States has mostly watched from the sidelines as proposals multiply and the region organizes itself into an alphabet soup of new multilateral groups. The Obama administration has an opportunity to help define new roles for the United States in this changing Asia. But to sustain its position in the region, Washington will need to move beyond its traditional “hub and spokes” approach to Asia—with the United States as the hub, bilateral alliances as the spokes, and multilateral institutions largely at the margins of U.S. policy. Otherwise, the United States will pay increasing costs to its interests, credibility, and influence.