Professional Readings Archives

Reading #146

The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region

  • By: Dr. Michael Auslin /
  • Published: June 16, 2017
  • Read More
  • Access: Open
  • Type: Public
  • Friday, June 16, 2017

“Maintaining a stable balance in Asia will be a complex task. The possibility exists that a military competitor with a formidable resource base will emerge in the region."

2001 Quadrennial Defense Review

“To put it starkly, what we are seeing today may be the beginning of the end of the “Asian Century.”

Dr. Michael Auslin

On 22 June ARCIC will host Dr. Michael Auslin, the author of this week's essay, as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series. Dr. Auslin will discuss US Strategy at the End of the Asian Century and provide his thoughts on ways the US can address the increasing risk from a region that, in his view, is deeply fractured and threatened by economic stagnation and political upheaval. The event is open to all who wish to attend. Information on Dr. Auslin and his upcoming visit to ARCIC and Fort Eustis can be viewed here:


Since the Empress of China departed New York harbor and sailed to Macau in 1784, the US recognized the significance of the Asia-Pacific region to its security and economic prosperity. Over the past three decades observers predict that the growing economies, increasing influence, and military strength of Asia-Pacific nations will shift global power from the West to the East resulting in an "Asian Century" of unparalleled Asian power and prosperity. These observers believe that the East is replacing the West and the shift of global power will permanently reshape the world.

The rapid growth, expanding populations, and increasing military strength that has occurred in the Asia-Pacific over the last three decades may lend credence to their predictions. Admiral Harry Harris observed that the Asia-Pacific now includes three of the world’s largest economies while Asia-Pacific nations produce 40% of the world's exports and are central to everything from weaving textiles to crafting the most advanced electronic technologies. In the South China Sea alone, approximately $5.3 trillion in annual global trade flows through its sea lanes while 25% of global oil shipments and nearly 50% of all natural gas transits the Strait of Malacca each day. Today, over four billion people call the Asia-Pacific home and one in every three people on our planet is either Chinese or Indian. The Asia-Pacific also includes seven of the most powerful militaries in the world, six nuclear armed states, and the only nation to test a nuclear weapon during this century.

A dynamic and peaceful appearance on the surface does not always account for unseen threats that have potential to riddle the Asian continent. In this week's professional reading, The End of the Asian Century, which is an excerpt from his book “The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region," Dr. Michael Auslin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that the world has myopically focused on Asia’s successes and ignored many of the warning signs that indicate Asia is a fractured region threatened by stagnation and instability. Dr. Auslin argues that instead of a century of unparalleled Asian power and prosperity, we are actually seeing the end of the “Asian Century.” Dr. Auslin reaches this conclusion by examining five interrelated areas that explore the economic, military, political, and demographic factors that threaten Asia’s future and increase the risk of war or widespread economic collapse.

Dr. Auslin explores the following areas: failure of economic reform, demographic pressure, unfinished political revolutions, the lack of a regional political community, and the threat of war. Arrayed in the conceptual framework of a “risk map,” Auslin identifies the most important trends in the region and assesses their risk and notes, “if we wish to avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war in Asia or a widespread economic collapse, we need to understand the diversity of risks the region faces and to begin thinking about how to manage those risks." Based on these risks, Dr. Auslin suggests that “the “Asian Century” may not turn out to be an era when Asia imposes a peaceful order on the world, when freedom continues to expand, or when the region remains the engine of global economic growth. Instead, what it may impose on the world is more conflict and instability.

One of our most important duties as Army professionals is to think clearly about the problem of future armed conflict. That is because our vision of the future must drive change to ensure that Army forces are prepared to prevent conflict, shape the security environment, and win wars. Leaders think ahead in time to anticipate opportunities and dangers and take prudent risk to gain and maintain positions of relative advantage over the enemy. Thinking clearly about future armed conflict requires consideration of threats, enemies, and adversaries; anticipated missions, emerging technologies, opportunities to use existing capabilities in new ways, and historical observations and lessons learned. Army leaders develop concepts aligned with each warfighting function (mission command, intelligence, movement and maneuver, fires, engagement, maneuver support and protection, and sustainment) to identify, through experimentation and learning activities, what capabilities are required for the future force to accomplish missions across the range of military operations.

Dr. Auslin offers important insights into how to think about the threats and dangers that have potential to emanate from the Asia-Pacific region. His insights offer important considerations as we think, learn and develop the Multi-Domain Battle concept. On 24 May 2017 at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Land Forces Pacific (LANPAC) Symposium, Admiral Harry Harris, the PACOM Commander, indicated that the Asia-Pacific Theater is "a complex environment where our joint and combined forces are operating in each other’s domains." Considering many of the threats that Dr. Auslin observes, Multi-Domain Battle will be critical to ensure access to the global commons and fight in those same commons should war come.

USARPAC, in collaboration with TRADOC, is developing insights for the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF). The MDTF will pave the way for the U.S. Army to support Counter-Anti-Access/Area Denial challenges in order to transition denied space into contested space. The MDTF will prove to be an essential tool that proactively counters our adversaries’ attempts to fracture, deny, and fix U.S. military strengths. Designed, developed, and resourced to protect friendly forces and critical nodes, the MDTF can potentially possess long range kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities to strike critical enemy assets. In addition to executing these missions and serving in support of the Joint Task Force Commander’s strategic objectives, the MDTF must integrate organic and joint capabilities to ensure Joint Force freedom of action. In the near-future, the Army will initiate a pilot program to test the MDTF. Noting that U.S. military power is Joint power and the importance of cross-service collaboration to develop the concept and the MDTF, Admiral Harris recently remarked, "Our Nation depends on us – the big "Us" to get this right."

The following links provide additional information on this week's professional reading as well as the upcoming Distinguished Speaker Series event.

Admiral Harris's address during the 2017 AUSA LANPAC Symposium may be accessed at the following link:

GEN Perkin's keynote address on Multi-Domain Battle at LANPAC 2017 can be accessed at the following link:

Learn more about Multi-Domain Battle at the TRADOC Multi-Domain website:

Information on past Distinguished Speakers may be accessed here

The following Army Warfighting Challenges are directly related to this week's topic:
#1 Develop Situational Understanding:

How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#2 Shape the Security Environment:

How the Army influences the security environment and engages key actors and local/regional forces in order to consolidate gains and achieve sustainable security outcomes in support of Geographic Combatant Commands and Joint requirements.

#5 Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction:

How to prevent, reduce, eliminate, and mitigate the use and effects of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives (CBRNE) threats and hazards on friendly forces and civilian populations.

#9 Improve Soldier, Leader, and Team Performance:

How to develop resilient Soldiers, adaptive leaders, and cohesive teams committed to the Army professional ethic that are capable of accomplishing the mission in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger.

#10 Develop Agile and Adaptive Leaders:

How to develop agile, adaptive, and innovative leaders who thrive in conditions of uncertainty and chaos and are capable of visualizing, describing, directing, and leading and assessing operations in complex environments and against adaptive enemies.

#12 Conduct Joint Expeditionary Maneuver and Entry Operations:

The Army needs formations that can rapidly deploy into contested environments, quickly transition to operations, and be sustained to maintain high operational tempo with the overmatch necessary to destroy or defeat enemy forces.

#13 Conduct Wide Area Security:

How do Army forces establish and maintain security across wide areas (wide area security) and across multiple domains to protect forces, populations, infrastructure, and activities necessary to shape security environments, consolidate gains, and set conditions for achieving policy goals.

#14 Ensure Interoperability and Operate in Joint, Inter-organizational, Multinational Environment:

How to integrate joint, inter-organizational, and multi-national partner capabilities and campaigns to ensure unity of effort and accomplish missions across the range of military operations.

#16 Set the Theater Sustain Operations and Maintain Freedom of Movement:

How to set the theater, provide strategic agility to the joint force, and maintain freedom of movement and action during sustained and high tempo operations at the end of extended lines of communication in austere environments.

Continuous feedback, collaboration, and teamwork are keys to the success of the Campaign of Learning and driving innovation in the Army. Please use the Army Warfighting Challenges as the framework to contribute your ideas and recommendations with respect to this topic to improve our ability to innovate as we develop the current and future force.

The Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) framework may be accessed here:

For previous weekly readings go to: ARCIC Professional Readings

  1. Army Operating Concept, TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, 30 October 2014
  2. Multi-Domain Battle

All the best,