A Matter of National Security: America Must Support TPP

A Matter of National Security: America Must Support TPP
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Some business analysts are stressing that the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and 10 other countries promises smaller rewards—if also fewer risks—than previous multilateral efforts to liberalize trade.  But such a judgment omits altogether the national security reasons for finalizing both the trade pact and the Trade Promotion Authority that would strengthen the role of the President in advancing regional commerce. 

First, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP would help to reverse the impression that the United States is a declining and one-dimensional military power.  Whatever the image of U.S. power in North America, Asia-Pacific countries continue to harbor considerable doubt about American staying power and strength relative to a rising China.  Even our closes allies in the region are enhancing their economic and development ties with China.  At the same time, they and others fear what continued U.S. military dominance could bring to the region in dealing with the increasing tension among major powers. 

A multilateral trade pact accentuates the dimension of U.S. power and interest that appeals to all actors in the Asia-Pacific region.  In Asia trade is the coin of the realm. TPP rebrands America as a leading market power, rather than just a security guarantor that brings big guns to settle local disputes.  In addition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership bolsters a model of sustainable economic growth that is essential to maintaining our long-term security posture, both with respect to defense spending and forward military presence.

Second, the Pacific trade pact would do more to reassure our key allies than simply tinkering on the margins of our military presence.  Our presence is vital.  But if we want to signal that we are serious about being a permanent Pacific power, then long-term trade frameworks are more compelling.  Despite our military activity, Japan and Australia remain anxious about our future intentions.  That’s not good, given how important these allies are.  Indeed, Australia is becoming increasingly important for rotational presence and exercising and the only other country beyond Japan and South Korea where we can imagine being prepared to conduct “Phase 2” combined operations designed to “seize the initiative.”

The converse of reassurance would be an action—or in this case inaction—that would sow great doubt on American credibility.  The failure to complete this trade pact would strike a serious blow to our reputation, and one from which it would be difficult to recover.  TPP anchors our future interests in the region that speaks to Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra and others worried about U.S. power and purpose in the wake of events such as the protracted post-9/11 diversion or the impact of the 2008 Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy on regional calculations.

A third and related national interest in completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership is that it would allow the United States to entrench in the world’s most dynamic world and thereby reach out to new partners in non-military ways.  This simultaneously enables such new engagement and lowers the transaction costs on our security cooperation throughout the region.

Importantly, among the other initial stakeholders in TPP are three of the four Southeast Asian countries with disputed claims in the South China Sea.  The fourth, the Philippines, is already a treaty ally of the United States.  But with this trade pact, the United States would be able to tighten cooperation with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei without having to focus exclusively on maritime defense issues.  In addition, TPP would also solidify U.S. ties with Chile and Peru, two key South American economies with a Pacific orientation.  Thus, we can expand our regional partners while underscoring our broad Pacific role.

Fourth, the Trans-Pacific Partnership gives us leverage in the decade ahead as we begin negotiations on second-round entrants.  This could be a major tool for engaging China, given that our clear objective is to integrate a rising China not to contain it.  It also gives us a potential tool for managing Taiwan, whose growing dependence on the Mainland is leaving it little international space for avoiding coercion.  Other allies, notably Korea, would like to join, and ought to be at the front of the queue.  The U.S.-Thai alliance has been undermined by political instability in Thailand, and trade may provide a path toward alliance renewal.  Finally, other key regional actors, especially Indonesia, could be prepared for admission in a second round, making TPP a dominant trade framework for the region.

Fifth, a regional trade pact would preserve and adapt a largely U.S.-created regional architecture as we compete to shape the 21st century global order.  What we want is what all nations in the region should want: namely, unfettered access to trade and the global commons.  TPP would reinforce a regional coalition around common high-standard trade norms and rules and thereby balance against alternative rule sets that, for instance, favor state-owned enterprises.  The aim is not U.S. primacy so much as the primacy of a rules-based system.

For all of these reasons, beyond the obvious economic ones of expanding trade in relatively new sectors as well as services, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is squarely in the national security interest of the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.

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