I don't have much time, so I'll make this quick. The big news yesterday was Bush's huge proposed reshuffling of American forces; from so-called "old Europe" and South Korea to (among others) the Central Asian "-stans" (like Uzbekistan and Khazakhstan). Some of the commentary I've been reading on this proposed reshuffling focuses on how it's supposed to "punish" countries like Germany that opposed the U.S. in Iraq and reward countries like Uzbekistan who gave their complete support.
There is some truth to that, but I think it runs a little deeper. The greatest strategic threat to these central Asian states (other than their own flawed-at-best systems of governance) is the growing numbers and militancy of the Islamic populations in the region. Many of them are looking north to the conflicts in Chechnya between broadly Islamic rebels and the Russian army and are seeing their own futures. Since the United States' interdiction-ahhpy attitude towards Communism has been transplanted to Islamic militants, it makes sense that the United States would be establishing bases there, especially considering that these states would be ground zero for any "clash of civilizations".
(Which is what is usually meant when people talk about the "War on Terrorism"... you don't establish bases when you're fighting a noun, but you do when you're building up for Huntington's war. Of course, according to his latest articles in Foreign Policy that enemy is actually hispanics... but I digress.)
The most disturbing part, though, is the already-revealed movement of troops out of South Korea. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe that North Korea is really all that interested, currently, in invading or destroying the South. They're not that crazy, and never have been, posturing aside. What gets me is the signals it sents to East Asia, saying that the United States' interests in the Middle East and Central Asia are to be prioritized, and East Asia is expected to fend for itself. Japan and Korea are both going to get the message that North Korea is their problem, and China must feel like a kid in a candy store.
The result? Well, as ol' Niccolo often said, there are two ways it can go. First, the region could start seeing serious strategic conflict and competition, with China moving to consolidate its power in the region and North Korea becoming more aggressive (They aren't crazy, but aren't going to ignore "low-hanging fruit" any more than the neo-cons did in Iraq). Second, if they see the threat as largely coming from the outside, the area could start coalescing together- first through economic regionalism, then perhaps regional security arrangement. Either way, it's increasingly likely that Japan will remilitarize. This is critically important for the U.S.-Japanese relationship, because the United States won't be able to hold their military support over Japan when they get into disputes over the highly capitalized, high value labour and products that both specialize in. Indeed, I can see tension forming over trade relationships with China, considering both benefit from access to the large Chinese labour pool and markets.
Remember, folks, the Middle East is NOT the only game in town. It's probably not even the most important one, current conflicts over oil and religion regardless. South Asia probably holds that distinction, but that's something I'll have to get into later.
(As you can tell, for those who were wondering, this is NOT an abandoned blog. Far from it.)