Retired U.S. Army general David Petraeus recently outlined the potential national security benefits that can accrue from the success of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade deal currently being negotiated between 12 Pacific-rim nations, most notably the U.S. and Japan.
“The consequences for Washington getting the TPP right are huge, opening some of the world’s fastest-growing markets to more U.S. exports, improving American competitiveness, growing the global middle class, and fostering the prosperous, open and rules-based Asia that is in everyone’s interest.
But the fate of the trade pact is also tied closely to America’s national security.
Indeed, a paralyzed or collapsed TPP process would be seen by our allies, partners and adversaries across Asia as a body blow not only to the credibility of America’s economic leadership, but to our geopolitical position more broadly, deepening doubts about Washington’s staying power and strength. And this, in turn, would carry spillover effects in the security realm, exacerbating military tensions and territorial rivalries and ultimately raising the threat of conflict.”
The economic benefits that will come from the completion of a free trade deal in the Pacific region are significant: increased trade in goods and services, more access to investment opportunities in emerging markets, robust intellectual property rights to encourage entrepreneurship, the list goes on.
Largely hidden in the debate over TPP passage is exactly the message Petraeus is trying to get across- the signal it will send regarding the level of U.S. commitment to an increasingly unstable East Asian region.
Consider Vietnam for instance. Currently embroiled in a heated maritime dispute over the deployment of Chinese oil rigs in disputed waters and lacking any significant ties with Washington, it is likely that those in Hanoi feel both insecure and isolated in the face of Chinese aggression. By signing onto TPP, Vietnam will link its economy to the U.S. and create the sense that the U.S. is committed to creating and maintaining stability in the region.
As a result of both material power and geographic luck, the U.S. is in a position to control both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over the coming decades, something that no other power has the ability or desire to do. Continued U.S. supremacy over the seas in the coming decades is arguably its most pressing geopolitical goal in its ability to maintain the current international order, and TPP would be a giant step in the right direction.
With the upcoming midterm elections in mind, hyper-partisanship and gridlock are likely to be the short term norm. For the sake of both our future economic and national security, let’s hope our Congress can see the strategic importance in this deal.