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Averting Disaster

Preventing the worst case scenario in Asia.

11:00 PM, Feb 5, 2009 • By MICHAEL AUSLIN
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Here are some things America, its allies, and all interested nations in Asia can do to mitigate the possibility of the worst happening. The United States will have an opportunity to arrange a meeting of the region's top leaders on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Singapore later this year. There, President Obama might express his determination to intervene at the first sign of possible conflict -- even if that means putting U.S. forces in between ships aiming their guns at each other. President Obama might also establish an Asia crisis ad hoc committee in Washington, at the National Security Council, to keep tabs on possible flare-ups. This could be replicated in the region by an ad hoc mechanism tied to the ASEAN secretariat that would allow for immediate discussions between parties in confrontation. Working with Japan, Australia, and China, the United States can also establish clear procedures to limit humanitarian crises that erupt from internal instability in Asian countries. Perhaps most important, Washington must get clear assurances from its allies that they will stand with us should hostilities erupt and that any aggressor will be met with a united front.

None of this may be needed. Decades of economic integration and political discussion have made Asia a far more peaceful place. But war, like politics, is local. The pain being felt in Asian countries, their sense of national honor, and fears about their future, may coalesce into a toxic brew. Without preparation now, the world may be paying the price for years to come.

Michael Auslin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.