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The U.S. Army in Southeast Asia: Near-Term and Long-Term Roles

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The current security environment in Southeast Asia is largely benign. There is practically no risk of a major interstate war in the region at present, and virtually every government has benefited from a high degree of internal legitimacy afforded by sustained economic growth. Just as significantly, most of the substate insurgent and terrorist challenges in Southeast Asia have been largely contained. None of the main conflict groups in this part of the world enjoys any significant degree of external backing, and none has the capacity to substantially escalate its activities on its own. Compounding these positive facets is the lack of any meaningful external threat. Although China is certainly seeking to extend its influence into Southeast Asia, it is doing so largely through soft diplomacy and the consolidation of economic ties. The one exception is the South China Sea SCS, where Beijing has steadily moved to more assertively assume its self-proclaimed sovereignty across the area. Despite pledging a commitment to resolving the issue diplomatically through bilateral negotiations with each of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN countries concerned, Chinas more explicit forward-leaning posture has raised tensions in the region particularly with Vietnam and the Philippines. While there is as yet no danger of an outright attack to lay claim to any of the islands in the SCS, the possibility of an accidental clash sparking wider aggression cannot be ruled out. Within the context of this mainly positive environment, there are four major roles that the Pentagon could conceivably play in shaping the Southeast Asian security environment over the near term supporting defense reform and restructuring, facilitating humanitarian relief operations, providing assistance to address nontraditional transnational threat contingencies, and helping to balance Chinas increased influence into Southeast Asia.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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