Why Has the San Francisco System Survived? Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

William Tow, Md Zaidul Anwar Hj Md Kasim

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Despite persistent forecasts of its imminent demise, the U.S. network of bilateral alliances in the Indo-Pacific—commonly known as the "San Francisco System"—remains operative and viable. Its perpetuation largely defies established international relations theory which maintains that the lack of a commonly perceived threat leads to alliance dissolution. These U.S. security ties in Asia have instead endured as part of a larger American enterprise to build and promote a liberal postwar order in the face of an existential challenge from the Soviet Union and a growing threat from the People's Republic of China. They have adapted to ongoing forces of regional structural change and are likely to continue doing so, even during Donald Trump's transactional presidency marked by an "America First" posture. A combination of geopolitical, economic, and institutional factors will preclude the San Francisco System's demise. That network in unlikely to become an "Asian NATO." Washington's management of its Indo-Pacific alliances and partnerships, however, will become more complex and multifaceted in the years ahead, especially as Chinese regional power and influence grows. More fluid and diverse forms of network management such as selective minilateralism and the integration of threat response policy with order-building strategy will underscore future U.S. alliance behavior in the region.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)8-26
    JournalAsian Politics and Policy
    Volume12
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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