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State-Defense cooperation and the making of US foreign policy in East Asia in the first Clinton and Obama administrations Open Access

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As questions about the future of US "pivot," or "rebalance" to Asia increasingly abound as events in Europe and the Middle East unfold, the roles of the State Department and the Defense Department as the key actors in the implementation of the "rebalance" have received considerable attention. Disagreements exist, however, as to whether and to what extent the two agencies could continue to coordinate their actions in East Asia, and how that might affect the direction of US policy in the region in the coming years. This paper looks at the roles of and interaction between the State Department and the Pentagon in shaping US East Asia policy during the first Clinton and Obama administrations to further understanding of these two key players in US foreign policy making in the region. One noteworthy observation about US policy making in these two periods is that with the increased involvement of other actors in the decision making process, the State Department and the DOD had to operate with much less leeway. Against this backdrop, however, the State Department and Pentagon could more often than not enhanced their respective roles and bring about major changes in US policy in East Asia when coming together. Moreover, State-Defense coalition, once formed, has often fostered an approach to East Asia that heralded broad engagement with the region but placed more emphasis on alliances and partnerships with nations that accepted American leadership. When US policy appeared to deviate from this geostrategic approach, as seen during the first Clinton administration, or to take on a different prescription of emphasis, as seen during the first Obama administration, State-DOD acting in tandem would reverse the course. With strategic assessments and institutional incentives helping to foster their alignment, the State Department and DOD in the first Clinton and Obama administrations apparently contributed to ensuring a more coherent course of US policy in East Asia through both continuity and change.

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