The Other Side of the World
Jon B. Alterman on his research for the Brzezinski Institute
For the last half-century, Middle Eastern energy has driven—and continues to drive—the economic growth of Asia. Looking forward, virtually all of the growth in global energy demand over the next two decades will be in South and East Asia, further strengthening Asia-Middle East energy trade. As energy ties increase, Middle Eastern investment capital is becoming increasingly important in Asian economies, and Asian firms are increasingly dominant in building Middle Eastern infrastructure.
For more than two centuries, the Middle East has had a Western reference point for its economic and security needs, and a Western reference point for elites contemplating a modern political and social order. But for cultural, political, and economic reasons, some seek to use pan-Asian ties as a counterweight to a Western order.
This project will seek to understand two related sets of questions:
First, what are the strategic implications of a Middle East that looks increasingly eastward rather than westward, and an Asia that feels more intimately tied to the Middle East? This study will analyze how Middle Eastern and Asian powers will respond—economically, politically and militarily—to trade patterns that are increasingly intra-Asian. Will new norms and institutions develop, and if so, how will they differ from existing ones?
Second, how should the United States respond to growing linkages in a region that is literally on the other side of the world? As U.S. energy imports dwindle and Asia economies (and militaries) grow, should the United States continue to play an outsized role protecting Asian maritime routes, or is it better to encourage the countries that rely on them directly to take a more active role? Would the absence of a U.S.-shaped security environment prompt others who have been reluctant to invest in global public goods to invest more, or would it lead to more self-interested behavior? Should the United States invest more or fewer resources—diplomatic, economic and military—in this region or shift the mix between them, and what implications would such shifts have for U.S. global interests?