Europe and China: A New Tack?

International Relations and Security Network, 26 June, 2014

At a recent state dinner in London for visiting People’s Republic of China (PRC) Premier Li Keqiang,David+Cameron+in+China+2+December+2013 British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a number of undiplomatic comments, saying that the people of China were “politically shackled” to a communist one-party state guilty of human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, given this government’s economic drive, Downing Street distanced itself from the statement, with Michael Fallon, the business minister, saying that human rights should not “get in the way” of trade links. Instead, UK Inc. reported that BP and Shell were due to announce multi-billion dollar deals with PRC oil companies. Indeed, investment from the entire visit by the PRC delegation was said to be worth more than 18 billion pounds.  That, it seemed, was that.

 Until recently, the policy approach of many Western nations towards the PRC has been based on a singular assumption. This assumption was that the West would do business with an authoritarian regime because it was thought that engagement would change the nature of that regime. In simple terms, trade would change the PRC from within, by building a middle class. The Clinton White House was the first to translate this assumption into policy – in 1994, Clinton delinked trade from advances in human rights and political reform, and, in addition to giving China most favored nation (MFN) status, signed a trade deal in 1999, which helped China accede to the World Trade Organization. The Americans were not alone. Japan, Taiwan, ROK and many EU states like Germany, the UK, and France encouraged trade ties with the seemingly reform-minded authoritarian regime. Many billions of dollars were injected into the country.

So far, business has been good…

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China and America: A Superpower Showdown in Asia

The National Interest, 14 June, 2014

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Over the past several months, tensions between Washington and Beijing have steadily grown worse. Relying again on the incremental approach that has thus far served it well, China dragged a deep sea-drilling platform into Vietnamese-claimed waters, shouldering aside protesting Vietnamese vessels. Then on the 21st of May, President Xi Jinping proposed a new Asian security pact with nations such as Russia and Iran, a pact that pointedly excluded the US and seemed to be a club for authoritarian states. Then in June, Beijing refused arequest by a UN court of arbitration at The Hague to provide evidence of its claims in a case brought by the Philippines. Days later, a video released by Vietnam showed a heavy Chinese fishing vessel slowly crushing a Vietnamese counterpart; the moment seemed to perfectly symbolize China’s new diplomatic strategy towards the region and one could almost see the phrase “Chinese soft power” slipping under the waves with it. If one thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. As the West has continued to look for ways to exert pressure on Russia over its actions in Crimea, China finally revealed where its cards lay: Beijing inked a $400 billion natural gas deal with Moscow and now looks set to sign another. None of it good news for those who think China ought to be a status quo power, upholding the rules of the global system.

All of this must have been uppermost in President Obama’s mind in late May as he toured the region on what allies called a “reassurance tour” and Beijing called a “containment tour.” The tour failed to make any headway on the White House’s touted trade group, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP), but was overall a success by showing US allies and regional partners that the rebalance has the support of the White House. However, despite this brief show of US soft power diplomacy in the region, China’s rise has gradually shifted from being a welcome to an unwelcome event. One can almost see the exam question at some future university:

Were American leaders right to believe that economic liberalization and heavy investment in China would eventually lead to political liberalization, and make China into a responsible stakeholder?

Until recently, the preferred answer in Washington was yes.

It seemed certain to say that the economic liberalization of China was inherently a “good” thing, that raising millions out of poverty demonstrated once and for all the benefits of free market capitalism. The 1991 collapse of the USSR may have proven the failure of the communist economic model, but a successful China had demonstrated to the world capitalism’s strengths. And as every liberal knew, economic success brings with it a rising middle class, the vanguard of a pluralistic system.

Success, partly…

No one disputes that the first part of the story has been a triumphant success: China’s rampant growth as a state capitalist regime has dominated Western headlines for nearly two decades. An unprecedented influx of US, Japanese, Taiwanese and EU investment turned the Chinese economy red hot in less than a decade after Deng’s Southern Tour, with many becoming blasé about China’s double digit growth figures. Surely, Mao turned in his grave during the 2008 financial crisis, when many were calling China the savior of the global (capitalist) economy. Who could have predicted in his time that Chinese leaders would one day lecture their North Korean counterparts on the benefits of the free market? If anyone fretted that the second part of the story had not yet happened – China had not added political reforms to the mix – optimists would always add ‘yet’sotto voce. It was only a matter of time before China’s growing middle classes began clamoring for political as well as economic rights, they said, and saw signs of this in China’s growing online forums, which became miniature town meetings on corrupt officials and abuses of power.

And as Washington has watched with dismay, this Western notion that China would gradually liberalize politically has been dissipated more and more. Not only does President Xi show no signs of loosening Party control at home or of adopting liberal values abroad, his security proposal in Shanghai reveals an inclination to defend and augment authoritarianism. That brief spring felt before the 2008 Beijing Olympics quickly froze over as the regime reasserted control over television stations, bloggers and netizens, threatening three-year sentences to those who spread “internet rumors.” In early May, prominent journalist Gao Yu was detained as part of targeted campaign against activists in the run up tothe 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, an anniversary that was eerily silent in Beijing. Contrary to expectations, Xi has also consolidated and centralized power with the party and the military quickly, with the Economistcalling him the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng.

Turning the Tide

Is a new Cold War between China and the United States inevitable? Obama’s foreign policy for the region has sought to avoid definitively answering that question, as well, he might. The consequences of radically changing direction when it comes to China policy would be a dramatic shift in US grand strategy, the greatest perhaps since the fall of Soviet Union. Many in the West have claimed that China cannot be “contained,” pointing to Beijing’s role in servicing US debt as well as its place as a major trade partner to so many pivotal US allies. While there is some truth to this, it is not quiet as unthinkable as it once was. Michael Pettis, a renowned economist at the Peking University, along with many others predict a debt crisis for China in the next 4-5 years, in which Chinese growth rates will all but come to a halt. He argues that the Third Plenum reforms promoted by President Xi (raising savings rates for homeowners, raising the currency, dealing with land ownership and the internal passport system) are bound to come into stiff resistance from Chinese elites, happily profiting from the current system. The stakes are quite high: should Xi fail to push these reforms through, China could hit the growth wall suffered by Japan in the late 1980s. As with Japan in the 1980s, China is called the engine for the global economy, but as Japan stagnated in the early 1990s, the West experienced one of the biggest booms in recent memory. This doesn’t mean that China is a paper tiger, it does cast doubt on the idea that China will is destined to inherit the earth…

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Obama’s Pivot to Asia: 2014 and Beyond

4 June, 2014

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

It was late at night as Air Force One taxied to a halt at Narita Airport in Tokyo to kick off an extended Presidential visit to the region. Emerging from the aircraft, President Obama seemed determined to impress upon the region and Japan his personal commitment to the Asia Pacific. Deemed a ‘reassurance tour’, the President’s trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines was meant to ‘underscore a continued focus on the Asia Pacific region and commitment to his vision of rebalancing to the world’s largest emerging region,’ in the somewhat wooden phrasing of the White House.

Despite the President’s many statements to the contrary, over the next few days, it was clear to many analysts and journalists that the trip was meant to reassure US allies over growing Chinese assertiveness. Chinese media like the Xinhua railed against the trip and the wider policy of ‘containment’. The US “rebalancing strategy”, the Xinhua wrote hours after Obama’s plane touched down at Narita, “smacks of a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant by rallying US allies”.  The Global Times quoted the Chinese Ambassador to Washington as saying the “rebalancing to Asia policy may need some ‘rebalancing’ so that the United States can maintain a good relationship to every nation in the region,” a not-so-subtle warning.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, Chinese pundits missed the greater point in their haste to see rebalancing as simple containment and only a small number of analysts reported on the US rebalancing as a response to Chinese behavior. One such pundit, Yang Hengjun, a former diplomat and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council posed the question, ‘why are China’s neighbor’s so afraid of her’ in a regional forum, and though his efforts are laudable, he fails to connect Beijing’s problems with its policies, and instead blames the China’s media for hubristic statements that offend and scare neighbors. This neatly moves responsibility away from the military, CNOOC, and the Chinese leadership who have been promoting expansionism in the East and South China Sea maritime disputes. This attempt to forge a ‘CNN effect with Chinese characteristics’ rather reveals the constraints under which political analysts must be written in Beijing.

Japan and ROK

Despite the claims of the Global Times and others to the contrary, the trip was a success. And it was a success for one simple reason. It did what it said on the label. The president had gone to personify and symbolize US commitment to its allies in their various disputes with China and this was done. The United States’ reiterated its political and military support for the current status quo, and stated firmly that changes could only come peacefully and through diplomacy. Obama’s visit to Japan gave Prime Minister what he had long wanted, a presidential assurance that the Senkaku Islands (disputed with China) fell within the remit of the US-Japan security alliance. In return, Obama emphasized that Japan’s role as a regional force for stability would be enhanced by ‘collective self-defense’, a point that shows that the defence commitments of the alliance now cut both ways.

While some pundits have argued that Abe had done little more than take the President to a great sushi bar, giving little on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) front, this overlooks the primary reason for the trip and overstates the need for the TPP to be negotiated within its present time-table. Others – such as Kent Calder, a noted scholar on Japan – have argued that behind the diplomatic niceties between Obama and Abe, the chasm between Washington and Tokyo has become incredibly wide, particularly on history and nationalism issues. Whatever the case, it is clear that Abe and Obama shared a single agenda for this trip: to consolidate the alliance in the face of regional insecurity, and avoid open bickering. This they managed to do, though it is a small victory.

Obama’s pressure on Abe to deal with the ‘comfort women’ issue was rewarded in Seoul as President Park Guen-Hye presented a warm welcome to the President. Days before his visit, the reputable Asan Institute published a survey saying that 93% of South Koreans saw the alliance with the US in a positive light. High strung North Korean media attempts to brand the visit as one by a ‘pimp’ to his ‘crafty prostitute’,[6] only seemed to reaffirm Pyongyang’s isolation and inability to be taken seriously. Despite or perhaps because of warnings from Obama and Park, the awaited 4th nuclear test failed to materialize in the days up to and after the summit. Truly, the visit was marred by the Sewol ferry disaster, which was then boiling over into a cabinet reshuffle; events around the Russian annexation of the Crimea also took precedence. As expected, the latter event caused ripples of disquiet among US allies, concerned about Washington’s military commitments. If anything, however, Russian behavior only served to reinforce the need for the US alliance system.

Malaysia: Symbolically Substantive

Arguably, Obama’s trip to Malaysia was the smoothest as the US rebalance was openly welcomed by Malaysia’s leadership. In a press conference hosted by Prime Minister Najib, the two men agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Partnership, agreeing on the interdiction principles of the PSI, and continuing to work on increased military interoperability. As with Japan, Malaysia has begun to edge closer to the US as Beijing’s claims have hardened in the maritime sphere. On the other hand, as with Japan, this has yet to bring home the TPP bacon and the President was again disappointed on the TPP front. However, his mood must have been lifted during the ‘town hall meeting’ with a number of Malaysia’s young people as he was greeted with screams of “We love you, Obama”, a reminder of his potent charisma and links to the region. In an East West paper, Elina Noor at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) argues that this was where the real power of Obama’s visit to Malaysia lay – his ability to connect with people. For those who remember the criticism endured by the Bush administration in the region, his ability to connect has been a welcome one.

Last but not least

The final visit of the reassurance tour was to the Philippines, perhaps the place most in need of reassuring. Long-suffering at the hands of Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea, Manila was relieved that Obama’s statement that “…nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace, to have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected”, was supported by a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The new defence pact gave US forces greater access to patrol Philippine waters, and though US forces have eschewed basing rights, it is likely that both Japan and the United States will work to increase coast guard and naval Philippine capabilities.

The real question of course, is how did Obama’s reassurance trip affect China? What has the balance does to deter China from seeking to forcefully change the status quo? The answer to that is unfortunately ‘not much’, as can be seen by Beijing’s establishment of an oil rig in Vietnamese waters in the days following Obama’s return to Washington. There is very little self-awareness amongst the Chinese leadership and that in itself is most worrying. Relying on ‘the century of humiliation’ narrative, China’s media continues to defend expansionism from US ‘bullying’. If rebalancing to Asia does not deter China, what policy should replace rebalancing? “How do we deal toughly with our banker”, as Hilary Clinton once asked. What policies should the US adapt after a future Sino-Vietnamese naval conflict. The US and other regional states have oft told themselves that China cannot be contained, and that is probably true, but it can be restrained. It is really a question of making Beijing pay an economic and political price for its aggressive actions towards US allies. What comes after ‘rebalancing’? What indeed.


Deciphering the DPRK

International Politics Reviews, 12 December 2013 In-this-October-1945-photo-from-North-Koreas-official-Korean-Central-News-Agency-communist-leader-Kim-Il-Sung-chats-with-a-farmer-from-Qingshanli-Kangso-County-South-Pyongyang-in-North-Korea.-Korean-Central-News-AgencyKore-960x528

Over the years, North Korea has probably received more crisis news coverage in the global media than any other country. This due partly to the nature of the situation on the Korean Peninsula – a frozen conflict – and the incremental development of the North of nuclear weapons. Counted as one crisis, it has lasted nearly 20 years, since North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. This past year, 2013, has been no exception with a large amount of international media coverage of the most recent crisis, which began with the North’s satellite launch in December 2012 and was followed by a UNSC Resolution in January. This in turn was followed by the North’s third nuclear test in February, US-ROK military exercises and the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Zone. Despite the alarmist tone of the coverage, the escalating levels of Northern rhetoric, and the use of B52 bombers in Foal Eagle 2013 by the United States, there seemed little new to those habituated to North Korean crises. Indeed, 2013 iteration seemed to play itself out in a familiar and formulaic manner, repeating a cycle that was evident in the 2010 crisis, the 2009, the 2006 crisis, as well as the 2002-3 crisis. The only difference – thus far – between this time and previous iterations has been the response by the People’s Republic of China, which has appeared to take a harder line over the third test by supporting UNSC sanctions and stopped a number of Chinese banks from dealing with the North.

Often as not, much of media coverage of North Korea seems to obscure rather than reveal the nature of the regime. The dominance of the security narrative prompted by the annual cycle of missile launches, nuclear tests, and other provocations shoulders aside narratives on human rights, economic reform, and North Korean societal issues. Certainly those issues get a mention by popular media, but this is usually merely as reference points to the larger security narrative. This monopoly that the security narrative has on the popular media shapes the view and work of various Western agencies of government, think tanks, and, of course, academia. The introverted and isolated nature of North Korean society and its inability to mobilize Western media to its own narratives mean that the country has long been reduced to generalization and caricature of the regime. As Lankov states, “for the vast majority of Americans and Europeans, North Korea is a nuclear device.” (Lankov, 2013, p.146)

This tendency to characterize North Korea as monolithic is justified by its totalitarian nature. It appears difficult if not impossible to treat social and political issues separately from, say, military issues in the North Korean context, largely because of the huge role the military has in the country, both as mobilizer of human capital and as shaper of security-nationalist narratives. Furthermore, there is the bias that the outside world has towards such a regime. With the world’s worst record of human rights, it is difficult for Western scholars and experts to study the country without some emotive response. How can one be impartial about a state that continues to run gulags and death camps? The totalitarian completeness of the state and the ‘insidious’ coercive and ideational tools for coercion also make it difficult to know whether acceptance (by the public) is the same thing as support for the regime. While understandable, this response adds to the muddle that characterizes analysis of the regime and distorts policy choices.

Fortunately for those who wish for a deeper analysis of North Korea, there is a strong canon of scholarly work that sheds light on the nature of the regime, some of which is reviewed in this study. Nearly all authors represented in this review agree that North Korea is indeed a riddle, but that it can be explained by examination of its internal logic. Furthermore, they all agree with the thesis that its economic failures are not an accident of its political system, but the direct result of the system. Cha, Lankov and Eberstadt are clear that in Pyongyang, politics trumps economics, with dire consequences. The regime alternates between bouts of reform, why has it not followed the example of its communist benefactors in Moscow and Beijing by either collapsing or truly accepting economic reform? Gause, Lankov Cha agree that reforms have always been halfhearted because of the fear that they will engender loss of political control. (Cha, 2013, p.213), while Zumwalt, suggests that hunger may even be a means of control for the regime (Zumwalt, 2012, P.233). This use of hunger as a tool of social manipulation resonates with the permanent state of war used in 1984 for social control.

This article will examine three facets of North Korea examined by the literature, which correspond roughly to politics, economics and security.

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China: America Hedges its Bets

 The National Interest, 6 December, 2013

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The rise of China in economic, political, and military terms is a key challenge for the security policy of the United States, which has both helped affect that rise and now hedges against the possible risks of that rise.

China’s sudden declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea is yet another vindication for US policy in the region. While there have been a number ofcriticisms of President Obama’s pivot to Asia; the policy was and remains the correct one. The decision to re-orient itself back to the Pacific was largely in reaction to a perception that a lack of diplomatic focus had not been good for the region. US allies in the region, such as Japan, Singapore and the Philippines, argued that a continued absence of focus by the United States in the region had become increasingly dangerous as China began to inexpertly exert its power in the region, particularly over maritime domain disputes. It has done this through a long-term incremental approach to de facto sovereignty over the East and South China Seas. In many ways, these claims have resurrected the logic of balance of power politics, and while Southeast Asian states have striven to avoid choosing between Washington and Beijing, the feeling was that China was taking advantage of the vacuum to assert a power-based hierarchical order. While Washington has also tried to avoid a zero-sum competition with China, the Bush administration and Obama administration began to carefully shift their view of China as it behaved with increased hubris in the region.

In the year following the announcement of the pivot policy, Chinese pundits accused the US ofcontainment, asserting a US plan to stem China’s rise as a great power. This is wrong for a number of reasons. First, this accusation ignores the US prominent role in developing China’s economy. All through the 1990’s, the US granted China most favored nation trade status, making this permanent in 2001. In addition, the US sponsored China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in2001. While there are no statistics on this topic, US investments into China since the 1970s could be over the trillion dollar mark. Robert Manning from the Atlantic Council has argued if the US wanted to enact a policy of containment of China, it would look quite different from the complex policy package that we see today. It would, for example, involve far more balancing behaviors including the attempted the diplomatic sidelining of China, a military build-up aimed specifically at Chinese platforms, and the creation of further alliances in and around China’s periphery. The US is not attempting such policies, nor does it think such policies are possible. Instead, as Evan Medeiros has argued convincingly, Washington is carrying out a policy of strategic hedging, a dual-track policy in which it carries out two policy bundles; one of engagement and one of balancing simultaneously. This article seeks to show how the United States came to follow such a complex policy, while also seeking to understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent in such a policy.

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Arguing Against a Peace Treaty on the Korean Peninsula

East Asia Forum

August 10th, 2013

Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, it has become an article of faith among some policy-makers that a peace treaty between the United States and North Korea would help ease tensions on the Peninsula.

Often, reflecting North Korean propaganda statements, these policy makers explicitly link US troop withdrawals on the Korean Peninsula to a treaty ending the war. Such narratives generally state that a peace regime would assuage North Korea’s security concerns and get the Six-Party Talks back on track. A recent article in China’s Global Timesmakes this very argument, and though convincing it ultimately rests on faulty assumptions.

First, a US peace treaty at this stage would implicitly act as a symbol of recognition that the United States accepts North Korea’s status as a nuclear power. While some may argue that that horse has already left this particular barn, the United States simply cannot explicitly or implicitly accept a nuclear North Korea. It would undermine the non-proliferation treaty even further than it has already been and could shatter South Korean/Japanese confidence in the US nuclear umbrella. While this may not disturb regional powers like Russia and China, it should. Such a loss in confidence would undermine the current balance in deterrence and could ultimately lead to Seoul and Tokyo seeking nuclear weapons for themselves. In April this year, while on a visit to Washington, M.J Chung, a South Korean politician, claimed that the South might have to develop its own deterrent. Finally, accepting the North’s nuclear status may well encourage North Korea’s provocation-in-exchange-for-aid strategy.

Second, the peace regime argument assumes that North Korea’s decision to develop nuclear weapons derives purely from ‘insecurity’. Dig deeper, and there is the further assumption that North Korea’s insecurity derives from external forces — the result of pressure from the combined forces of the United States and South Korea. While it is true that North Korea’s decayed military forces are outmatched by the forces arrayed south of the Demilitarized Zone, the simple fact is that the North already has a weapon of deterrence: artillery. Seoul’s proximity to North Korean artillery has always meant that the North could obliterate the city within five minutes, a danger that has stayed the hand of US–ROK forces many a time during previous periods of hostility. Furthermore, the US has offered a number of written and spoken guarantees – long demanded by the North – as a part of its efforts in the Six Party Talks process, including seven by President Obama since 2009.

But are external factors the only reason for Northern insecurity? One could argue that all totalitarian states are inherently unstable and suffer from massive internal insecurity. After all, they require large amounts of capital for internal security forces, propaganda and ideological social training. Some argue that the percentage of secret police and their informers to population is larger than the Stasi to population in East Germany during the height of the Cold War.  Totalitarian regimes are expensive to run, after all. In other words, North Korea’s insecurity is also self-created and stems from the regime type of the country as much as it does the regional geopolitical situation. The case of Vietnam shows that other choices are possible for the North: Hanoi has successfully managed to adopt economic reforms, while forging a new relationship with the United States, all while remaining a nominally communist-run state.

If Pyongyang’s insecurity is derived from the unaffordability of its system, why does it not enact economic reforms to ease the lives of its citizens and pay off the bureaucracy? While it has tried small incremental reforms over the years, and there are signs of a small middle class in Pyongyang, it has always rolled these back because of the fear that reforms would create a strong entrenched merchant class, which would call for political rights. Economic opening would lead to political opening, and the general population would become aware of the economic and political success of South Korea, surely a regime-killer in any scenario. Despite proclamations of systematic superiority, North Koreans would learn that their fellow Koreans in the South live a life which is nearly 18 times wealthier. This fear  of the effects of economic reform, explain the 2009 currency reform, which destroyed the savings of the   emerging merchant class in the country. Pyongyang is systematically unable to fully reform its economy in the way that Beijing and Hanoi have managed. Thus, North Korea is impelled to rely on external support to prop itself up.

While North Korea’s rulers realise that they cannot accept economic reform, they also know that the economy is in critical condition. Without a strong economy, internal security and the military become weaker and private markets sap the regime of its legitimacy as the sole provider of resources to the population. Despite the development of special economic zones with China, these have had limited success. Indeed, the relationship between the two is increasingly characterised by extractive policies by Beijing on the North’s resource base. Naturally, Pyongyang also realises this, and knows that without nuclear weapons it has a strong chance of simply becoming a Chinese resource–client state.

It must be clear to the ‘Dear Successor': Nuclear weapons are more than just providing security from ‘foreign forces’ for the North. They also provide the only way for the North to squeeze aid from China, the United States and its allies while avoiding economic reform. The most recent nuclear test and bellicose rhetoric show that Pyongyang is becoming increasingly desperate for that aid. The silence from Washington must be puzzling. But with its hand slapped away, the Obama administration has played it cool, deciding it would ‘not buy the same horse twice’. Chinese patience with Pyongyang now also appears to be slipping. On a visit to the North to mark the 60th anniversary of the Armistice, Chinese Vice-President Li stressed regional stability in his remarks to Kim Jong-un. Financial figures published before his visit underscored China’s testiness: PRC–DPRK trade has plummeted 13.6 per cent between June and January.

A Peace Treaty sounds like the right thing to do. It sounds like the sane and humane thing to do. However, unless a peace treaty were explicitly tied to denuclearisation, it would only act as a means of legitimising the regime’s nuclear status. It would also enable the North to continue pressuring the region to bankroll what is the world’s least efficient form of government. And it would continue the suffering of a great many North Koreans.

Surely, that’s a price too high to pay?


Beyond the Pacific: A Proposal for US-Japan-UK Trilateral Cooperation

(Introduction to UK-Japan-US Trilateral Proposal)

By John Hemmings

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This posting proposes a new strategic trilateral relationship between the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These three powers constitute two of the most powerful defense alliances in the international system, and the three share an increasing number of common security concerns. The next three posts are dedicated to some areas where the three might cooperate, namely, cyber, Afghanistan, and biosecurity.

Introduction

The United States has a long history of developing and maintaining a network of alliances around the globe. Most, if not all, date back to the post-war period and find their genesis in stabilizing the postwar international system and in hedging against Soviet expansionism and the onset of the Cold War. As time has seen these original functions wither, the US alliance system has undergone bouts of regeneration and redefinition, as Washington and its allies have seen benefits in maintaining security ties.

The current global order is undergoing a period of intense transition which is taking place in a number of ways. First, the concentration of global economic and political power is moving away from the West towards Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC), particularly the latter two states as rising powers. While there are incredible benefits to humanity over the shift of this capital, questions over global governance institutions and their transformation, as well as shifts in military power, add an element of instability to the global system. Second, new technologies and social media are transforming politics and the power of subnational actors. Third, the revolution in transportation and shipping technologies and their associated costs from the 1960s onward, and their computerization and automation, have made the global economy a maritime-based one. This brings actors into closer contact, both at the state and nonstate level.

The old alliance structures that linked narrow US security objectives to global security concerns – such as NATO in the Atlantic and the US ‘hub and spokes’ system in the Pacific – require updates and in some cases, augmentation. This is not a particularly new observation: since the end of the Cold War a succession of US policymakers have made changes to the old alliance structure, implementing new ad hoc structures – such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the US-Japan trilateral relationships with Australia, South Korea, and more recently, India. In a sense, US policy-makers are reacting to the fluid state of global politics, by remolding US security institutions at home and abroad.

Extra-regional Alliance-building

Alliances have traditionally been regional, with bilateral and multilateral relationships developing around local threat perceptions. Up until the end of the Cold War, the US alliance system fell easily into this framework, with the exception of SEATO, which included European states in what was a predominantly Asian-focused alliance. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, US policymakers began to re-envision the alliance system for the newly conceived Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). The success of the first Iraq War in 1991 had indicated that the US allies were willing and able to operate extra-regionally to help with US global security objectives. This was further amplified by the involvement of Asia Pacific allies in Operation Enduring Freedom and reconstruction activities in Iraq. The fact that US Department of Defense planners could at times request and anticipate troop contributions from Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, the UK, and Denmark among others is a testament to this trend.

It is necessary to examine the trilateral structure and look at the benefits of expanding it from a regionally oriented body to a globally oriented structure. The trilateral as a type of alliance structure is not an entirely new one, but its current incarnation dates to the post-9/11 period, when the US sought new partnerships in its campaign on the GWOT and mechanisms for added stability in the Asia Pacific. The US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) is arguably the most advanced example of a trilateral developed in recent times.[1] Initiated in sub-cabinet level talks in 2002, it was then upgraded to ‘strategic dialogue’ level in May 2005 under the Bush Administration, and has been maintained by the Obama administration under the auspices of the US ‘rebalancing’ to the region. Trilateral conversations also exist between the US, Japan, and South Korea, as well as the US, Japan, and India.

Perhaps, it is now time for the US, Japan and UK to develop a trilateral dialogue. The trilateral structure has already found to be a flexible one, bringing with it a level of adaptability not found in larger alliance structures, where consensus rules often act as a break on alliance adaption. Given the range of common security concerns, military interoperability, and developed alliance relationships, the UK and Japan are suited to a global trilateral strategy forum (TSF). The core functions of a US-Japan-UK trilateral strategy forum would be to more efficiently coordinate the efforts of each in nontraditional areas of security. While there are a multitude of areas for possible cooperation between the three, the authors of this paper have focused on three areas, considered to be ‘low-hanging fruit’ and include cybersecurity, stabilization, and biosecurity. The following three posts argue that track 1.5 dialogues in these three areas could lead to close cooperation between the various government agencies responsible for these areas.

While the development of US-Japan-UK activities seems to run against the ‘tyranny of geography’, this is no longer as true as it once was. First, the rules of geography are lessening, with maritime trade and the centrality of South Asia spanning the once-formidable distances. The Gulf of Aden and Afghanistan may be far from London, Tokyo, and Washinton, but both were found to be central to the security of all three.  Second, geography as a concept is less useful in a number of key security areas. These postings for example considers biosecurity and cybersecurity, in which geography plays little or no part. Such a grouping could prove an essential tool in the security objectives of the United States and its allies.

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