No Deal: Why North Korea won’t be the next Iran

The National Interest, August 25, 2015


As the sounds of artillery faded across the North-South Korean border recently, hopes were truly dashed for a new diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and North Korea.  Hopes had been raised in Washington, in Beijing and even in Seoul, for a revival of the Six Party Talks in the wake of the successful U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal. These hopes were especially cogent in the run up of visits to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing by the American special envoy to these talks, Sydney Seiler, in late July. However, the recent announcement of Vice-Premier Choe Yong-gon’s execution in North Korea dampened such hopes. For North Korea-watchers, the recent spate of purges of elites by Kim Jong-un suggests that the regime is going through a consolidation of power, and it is unlikely to accept or even to deal with diplomatic overtures from the United States or its allies for some time. In many ways, the reason for this latest cross-border flare-up has its origins in North Korea’s domestic politics.

Events in North Korea this summer have revealed a country undergoing continued instability as leader Kim Jong-un carries out purge after purge of the top brass. Vice Premier Choe Yong-gon was apparently executed in May, but news of his execution only surfaced on August 12. The news follows earlier purges of Armed Forces Vice-Minister So Hong-chan, Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol and Director of the Designing Department of the National Defense Commission Ma Won-chun. While purges in North Korea are nothing new, North Korea analyst Aidan Foster-Carter points out that top-level bureaucrats and military elites usually just disappear. It would appear that these arrests and executions have been staged for internal consumption. As with all things domestic, these purges are a form of internal signaling from the regime to the elites.

While all of this seems of peripheral interest to U.S. policy makers, the question of the stability and staying power of the regime is important both for planned diplomacy and for anticipating future provocations. Though feeling the economic pressure of sanctions, an internally robust Pyongyang might be coaxed back to the diplomatic table. Presumably, a regime at peace with itself would be able to agree internally what its negotiating terms are, in line with some sort of national strategy. An internally weak or divided regime, on the other hand, will eschew any form of compromise with the regime’s perceived enemies, as any compromise might be construed as weakness or treason, and used internally by one faction against another. In North Korea, roughly speaking, there are three main factions: the Kim family (and its supporters), the Korean People’s Army and the Korean Worker’s Party. As with pre-Revolutionary France, these three factions subtly vie with each other for the power and resources of the state: their roles might be said to equate to France’s monarchy, aristocracy and clergy. Historically, the relationship has been marked by cycles of competing and cycles of converging interests.

While verification of events inside the hermetic kingdom is famously difficult, it is possible that these purges have arisen from a competition taking place between the three factions initiated by the young leader. To put this competition in perspective, one must look back to the evolution of this power triangle between 1996 and 2010. If one looks back to Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, one can see that only two years after taking power he implemented a new constitution (called the 1998 Constitution). This consolidated his position within the military’s National Defence Commission and simultaneously elevated the military above the party in a policy that came to be know as Songun or “military first”. In essence, Songun was both a counterrevolutionary strategy and a strategy for governing, complementing the official state ideology of Juche and the cult of leadership built around the Kim family (Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism). While there is no clear evidence that Kim Jong-un has officially reversed that and elevated the party above the Korean People’s Army, his pursuit of economic growth may have been at the expense of the army’s interests, leading him to co-opt the party.

Finally, there is the possibility that Kim Jong-un’s age is a factor in driving this new iteration of inter-elite competition; the neo-Confucian society of Korea traditionally elevates age above youth and is heavily reliant on social networks to enable influence and power. Elevated well above his peer group, Kim Jong-un may have found it difficult to compete with the clannish military leaders, with their decades of friendship and loyalty to the military. Carrying out initial purges may have allowed him both to signal the continued strength of the Kim family and to undertake some practical internal reordering. Purges open up seats and give Kim the power to fill them, allowing him to displace the old with the new. In essence, purges strengthen Kim’s coercive power, his interpersonal power and his patronage power all at once. His promotion of a trusted family member, sister Kim Yo-jong, to vice-director of the KWP’s Propaganda and Agitation Department also suggests that Kim Jung-un will continue to burnish the family’s cult of personality. While Songun and Juche are shared out among the military and party respectively, the sacred place of the Kim family in Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism makes it uniquely unassailable with respect to the other two factions. As with the concepts of divine monarch and heavenly mandate, the cult of leadership built around Kim Jong-un will liken treason to heresy.

In terms of deciding future U.S. policy, it is clear that North Korea is not ready to come back to the table. Internally, it is undergoing too much upheaval. Nor is it clear that coming to the table would be much use, given its policy of maintaining its nuclear-power-state status. The United States and its allies face a choice: they can sit back and allow the Kim regime to consolidate power between the military and the party, hoping to be rewarded for their forbearance, or they can make minute shifts in policy that have ever-larger effect. Realistically a policy of forbearance is unlikely to be recognized much less rewarded by Pyongyang. One can see this from how the regime simply pocketed previous diplomatic gains—such as under the Sunshine policy. Rather than waiting to buy the same horse again, the United States should seek to modify the policy of strategic patience with a growing information campaign inside the regime. This should be enough to keep the regime off balance, rather than seek to bring it down, though the long-term effects of this should be anticipated. The watchword should be subtlety; revealing the truth is likely to be far more successful than propaganda loudspeakers on the border. It is surprising how lenient the United States and its allies have been in this regard, given the success of such campaigns vis-a-vis the Eastern Bloc during the late stages of the Cold War. This should be replicated. Information control is the Achilles heel of all totalitarian regimes: revealing the true state of the outside world and the perks of the regime’s ruling class would suffice, through the use of DVDs, USB drives, and increased radio traffic. Not to do so, is to allow a nuclear-proliferator regime to continue its existence through the lifespan of another Kim, allowing the regime to blackmail China and others for aid and sustenance for another sixty years or so. Worse still, it is to support the current plight of the long-suffering North Korean population.

The Special Relationship and Western Grand Strategy

The International Security Network, June 26, 2015

The anxiety over Britain’s ‘resignation’ as a global power speaks volumes about the incoherence of Western strategic thinking and the need for a unified approach to a complex security environment. Here are some recommendations for righting the ship.


In the past year, there has been a growing debate in Washington about Britain’s loss of stature on the world stage. This increasingly public conversation has suggested that Britain’s will to be a global power may be eroding and that the future of one of the key alliances of the 20th century may therefore be uncertain. Yet this debate actually represents a wider problem: i.e., the lack of a coherent Western strategy and the need for a unified approach to an increasingly complex security environment. In this new context, three measures can help the West to negotiate its current strategic impasse: 1) reconsidering retrenchment; 2) downgrading humanitarian intervention; and 3) increasing strategic dialogue.

The sun finally sets?

Over the past year or so, quiet conversations have been taking place in Washington regarding the trans-Atlantic relationship. After US requests for information met with silence in Whitehall, these conversations began to spill out into the public arena. In March, General Ray Odierno, the US Army Chief of Staff, said he was “very concerned” about the UK’s planned defence cuts. As if on cue, the former Chief of Staff of the British Army, General Peter Wall, then argued in a Telegraph article that the UK had “a lower level of ambition for UK involvement in global security than ever before.”

This opened the floodgates: in the following week, the Washington Post published an article worrying about the UK’s ‘shrinking military clout’; then, in April, the New York Times published a longer article about Britain’s ‘drift from the global stage.’ Finally, in May, CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria argued that Britain had essentially ‘resigned’ as a world power. Only the Independent’s Washington correspondent, Peter Foster, pointed out that the US itself also seemed to be in retreat. After ‘leading from behind’ in Libya, it had ducked behind the British Parliament over Syria and failed to produce tangible defence guarantees to the Ukraine. Foster was not right about everything, but his point illustrates a wider problem: that the West has an alarming ‘strategy gap’ and is undergoing a review period.

It is true that the UK is in the midst of a slow-motion constitutional crisis and deep financial retrenchment, but it is also – like the US – experiencing a crisis of strategic thought after a decade of setbacks. To illustrate, consider how the Cold War unified the UK, the US, and their ‘first world’ allies behind two basic notions: that there was a single overarching threat (communism) and that they had a strategy for dealing with it (containment). With these two reference points, the Treasury could get down to the tricky business of allocating resources to Britain’s Armed Forces and intelligence agencies and coordinating parallel and complementary goals with the United States and its NATO allies. It was as effective as it was simple.

A brief look at priorities of the 2010 National Security Strategy indicates how much has changed. The report includes four major high risk areas: (1) terrorism, (2) cyber, (3) international crises, and (4) major accidents or hazards. There are also a number of lesser risk areas, such as energy security, organized crime, and border security, and a number of variables, such as the rate of technological change, demography, the diffusion of power in the international system, and environmental factors, among others. To cap things off, the report then makes clear that “Our most urgent task is to return our nation’s finances to a sustainable footing.”

To simplify: the UK would like to have a medium-sized military force that would work closely with others (i.e., the US and NATO allies) to defend against terror attacks at home and abroad; to defend against cyber- espionage, cyber- crime, and cyber- attack; to carry on nuclear deterrence at sea; to defend Britain’s trade routes; and to get involved in short-term humanitarian interventions in fragile or failed states. The UK would like to do all of this while continuing to modernize its ISR capabilities – and while saving money. This is not a strategy: this is what President Obama and many others are beginning to refer to (in an American context) as the “ whack-a-mole” approach. One prioritizes everything, so that, in the end, nothing is prioritized. With the tail wagging the proverbial dog, such an approach blinds strategists to two emerging realities: that great power politics is returning to the global system; and that the age of humanitarian interventions and ‘soft’ security is over.

Whitehall is not completely to blame for the current strategic drift. American critics of the UK’s downsizing are no less critical of their own strategic ambiguity. After all, what is Western – or even American – strategy in Ukraine? Or the Middle East? How should we deal with the resurgence of great power politics, in the South China Sea and elsewhere? If the US is to lead, then it must communicate an overarching strategic vision to its Western allies, one that gives meaning to the allied blood and treasure already lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and to any future blood and treasure that will be spent. It must also attempt to reset its Asian Rebalance to match the realities of growing European insecurity.

A new strategic vision

If the West is not only to survive but to thrive in the modern age, it will have to make difficult choices in an effort to anticipate future developments rather than simply react to them. In this regard, three courses of action can help to resolve its current strategic crisis.

(1) Prioritize spending

As London’s foreign policy choices have highlighted, this is ultimately an age of economic scarcity where smart resource allocation is needed. With this in mind, Prime Minister Cameron has attempted to husband his resources. While this has not stopped him from sending troop trainers to Ukraine or from bombing ISIL, it has meant making difficult choices, for example, when asked by the US not to join China’s new infrastructure bank, the AIIB. However, it should be noted that there has been a degree of political side-stepping by the Cameron government on spending. Despite claims of austerity, the UK remains the world’s fifth largest economy, hosts one of the largest global financial hubs, recovering far faster from the financial crisis than many of its European counterparts. The fact that it is being outspent on defence by a historical peer competitor, Russia, is galling – particularly since its budget revenue, at $986 billion, is nearly  twice that of Russia’s $416 billion. The fact that Osborne is again likely to ringfence DfIDS’s aid budget indicates that there is more latitude in this debate than Whitehall has admitted. In other words, there are alternatives to the planned defence cuts. They should be discussed, rather than assumed behind closed doors.

(2) Prioritize threats 

The UK cannot treat all threats as equal. Threats to the system should be prioritized over threats to humanitarian values. This means that Ukraine is more important than Syria because of the effect it would have on Europe’s eastern flank. In the wake of failures in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, the West should abstain from the humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s. The idealism represented by such interventions was well-meaning and occasionally effective (as in Sierra Leone and the Balkans), but it also occurred in a much more benign international environment, in which revisionist Russia and China were themselves engaged in domestic retrenchment. What has become clear to many, particularly after Libya, is that while Western nations can carry out front-end kinetic operations against lesser regimes, they lack the stomach and resources for peace-building and state-building. The continued lack of a strong state and the flow of refugees from Libya suggests that, without this necessary institution-building, interventions may hurt more than they help. Power vacuums present non-state actors with opportunities, while creating further problems for those they were intended to help. It is unclear that bringing about Assad’s downfall in 2013 would have alleviated the suffering of civilians: indeed, ISIL would have been the clear winner in territory, population and resources.

(3) Talk more with each other

The UK-US Alliance is certainly experiencing problems, but these are exacerbated by a lack of communication over delicate issues. Some place the blame for this at the level of the incumbent administrations, pointing to a lack of dialogue between this Prime Minister and this President. Others emphasize a necessary phase of navel-gazing in the UK during a period of constitutional difficulties relating to the Scottish situation and the upcoming referendum on EU membership. In the case of the UK’s domestic turmoil, the United States has little choice but to remain patient with this loss of focus in Whitehall. However, the UK cannot take an indefinite break from talking to its allies or from the work of providing security in and around Europe. Now more than ever, it must communicate its commitments to enemies and allies alike. Happily, alliances are seldom based on the personal foibles of leaders but on common interests, values, institutions, and history. The deeply enmeshed intelligence relationships, for example, involve common institutions with a legacy of working together for shared goals. The bureaucracies can continue working closely together – but strategic vision is policy, and that must be coordinated at the political level. In the run-up to the November release of the NSS and SDSR, the UK and United States should build on the track 1 and track 1.5 work that is already taking place – to discuss their worries, concerns and possible solutions in a way that is clear and useful for other Western / NATO allies. While some question the need for an overarching Western strategy, the very process of debate is in itself, a useful one, focusing minds and clarifying common goals and means, an essential part of procurement cycles.


It seems that one of the defining features of alliances is the assumption that they are in trouble. Since the beginning of the US-UK Alliance after the Second World War, a year has scarcely passed without the publication of a newspaper article or book worrying about its health. Indeed, worries about the state of affairs between Washington and London are arguably an offshoot of the decline narrative, one of the most common tropes in Western political discourse – one that should be treated with respect but also with a certain amount of stoicism. What is needed now is more discussion rather than more alarming headlines.

The US-UK Alliance is certainly experiencing a triple challenge of war-weariness, insecurity overload, and resource scarcity. However, these are problems that the West writ large is also facing; better to hang together than hang separately. The Special Relationship has been one the most significant alliances of the 20th Century – one that has endured two world wars, numerous civil wars and insurgencies, and countless other conflicts including the current intervention against ISIL in the skies of Iraq. The two intelligence agencies and defence industries work closely together in a way that adds values to their respective capabilities. Even now, American and British diplomats are working closely on Iran’s nuclear programme, over Russian revanchism in eastern Ukraine, and on NATO’s readiness. We cannot afford to take this partnership for granted. It is one of the cornerstones of Western security.

How America can stop China in the South China Sea

The National Interest, May 27, 2015


The release of a U.S. Navy P-8 video flying over the South China Sea was a shock to many. The footage revealed a small armada of dredging vessels, support ships, and auxiliaries, working diligently to build what looked like People’s Liberation Army Navy and Air Force bases. According to international law, most islets China has occupied lie within the territorial waters of either the Philippines or Vietnam, and Chinese actions could be interpreted as maritime invasion. Despite Chinese claims to the contrary, neither Chinese behavior, nor its 9 dotted line, are consistent with customary international law or by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Nor do it’s historical claims stand real scrutiny as a recent piece by South China Sea scholar, Bill Hayton, shows.

China’s actions, therefore, represent an infraction of the internationally agreed upon system of rules and are a major challenge to the current global maritime order, particularly since it takes place across one of the world’s most vital shipping arteries. In essence, China is building military installations on false reefs across one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, giving them control over those sea lanes. One might argue, that it is as much a challenge to international peace and security as was Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. If China is allowed to create islands in such a manner, what’s to stop a slew of global imitators? More to the point, what exactly is China’s strategic aim and what can the United States and its allies do about it?

Some might argue that China views the international system with cynicism, having been prey to Japanese and Western imperialism during the 18th and 19th centuries. China’s behavior, they say, is merely a means of protecting itself from the types of naval intrusions that it suffered historically and that it is building a “Great Wall of Sand,” to consolidate its First Island Chain. This argument is, at first appearance, a sound one. After all, there is some truth to the argument that Chinese naval behavior is predicated on a political historical narrative of weakness and foreign predation. Certainly, much of what China is doing is explained this way domestically to an increasingly nationalist audience at home.

However, China has shown itself to be willing to adopt elements of the international system which favor its interests; its membership in the UN Security Council and a number of international fora, like the WTO, World Bank, and many others reveal this buffet approach to the current order. Furthermore, under closer examination, China’s narrative of weakness—the so-called “100 years of humiliation”— is little more than clever posturing and historical selectivity. The narrative cleverly highlights predation on the part of the West, while papering over China’s own Imperial Qing (1644-1912) predation and colonization of neighbors Tibet, Vietnam, Dzungaria, and Formosa (Taiwan). In many ways, the 100 years narrative is used being used internally to justify China’s behavior in a similar way Berlin used the “shameful peace at Versailles” to mobilize Germany’s domestic politics in the inter-war period. When rising powers begin using the ‘victim card’ to justify their expansionist aims, we should all pay attention.

The historical similarity to Germany’s efforts to control its periphery during this the 1930s and China’s maritime expansionism might serve as a framework for how the US and its allies should build a political-military counter strategy. One immediate implication of the historical framework is to avoid any policy of appeasement; history teaches us that appeasement merely facilitated war in the end as Hitler’s ambitions were fed by the Rhine area and the Sudetenland. China’s strategy seems to hold a similar geopolitical logic to Germany’s territorial claims of the time. Certainly undersea gas fields and fertile fishing waters play a role, but fundamentally, China’s action has been about taking control of sea-lanes. This is in essence the first step in a three pronged strategy: first, dominate the South China Sea with Chinese military forces; second, use this de facto control to gradually and incrementally develop a new benevolent Sino-centric system in Southeast Asia; one in which ASEAN states implicitly submit their foreign and security policy to Chinese approval; third, use this control to exert pressure on Seoul, Taipei, Manila and Tokyo—four U.S. allies, heavily dependent on the sea-lane, which transits the South China Sea. This last policy is meant to be gradually expel the US from the region, without firing a shot. China’s control over those states lets them know, who really controls their destiny.

The only way to counter this grand strategy would be for the United States to incrementally shift the balance of its hedging policy away from one of engagement more to one of political and military balancing. The United States might adopt a two-pronged political and military strategy in close consultation with its friends and allies in the Asia Pacific region. However, it cannot afford to walk too far forward of regional public opinion; it must seek to maintain the moral high ground afforded it by China’s actions by walking in lock-step with regional partners. The first step should be to begin a long-term, multilateral diplomatic push at states in the region for a conference to cease militarization of the seas. The date of such a conference should be at least six months in the future, to give the US and its allies time enough to coordinate a concerted diplomatic push at fence-sitting states in the region, particularly the “flip” states Indonesia and Malaysia. US diplomats might trial this at the Shangri-La conference later this week. After all, even Chamberlain had a “Munich.” The failure of the United States and its allies to get China to a conference up until this point is indicative of the success of China’s salami slicing approach.

Secondly, in order to pressure China to the table, the United States must assist a concerted strategic change in the military posture of the Philippines and other like-minded states. With American, Japanese and Australian help, the Philippines should build up strong asymmetric capability, known as anti-access, area denial (A2/AD). Radar systems, mobile anti air-and-ship missile systems should be built up en masse so as to counter Chinese attempts to dominate the sea and air in and around the South China Sea. Such systems should be able to reach far into the South China Sea, and fundamentally challenge Chinese attempts to dominate the immediate domain. Such a strategy would nullify China’s new bases, making them virtually useless, while remaining defensive and non-provocative. Other ASEAN states interested in such defense technologies should also be considered for the program.

If such a strategy were well-funded, it would make things very difficult for Beijing. Of course, the PLAAF could react by hardening their airfields, and their presence would continue to be a peace-time source of leverage, but at least this leverage would be somewhat ameliorated tactically. Furthermore, their use as actual air fields in times of actual conflict would be challenged completely from Philippine air space. Such a tactic, if carried out incrementally and in response to Chinese efforts, would present Chinese strategists with a dilemma. If they continue to build up their forces, U.S. and allied forces would simply respond in kind. If they seek diplomatic redress, then both sides freeze the build-up. In many ways, this tactic would solve the age-old conundrum of how to get Beijing to parlay at the diplomatic conference described above. It would also counter the historical problem of appeasement or ‘rolling ambition’, the ever-increasing appetite for territory of challenging states.

At present, the policies of the United States and its allies are behind events on the ground. True, the new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines are a step in the right direction, and US-Japan-Australia capacity building efforts are becoming increasingly coordinated in Southeast Asia, but China is moving faster than many could have anticipated. No doubt, Beijing feels it must move fast, perhaps in expectation of the long-predicted slowdown of its economy. China is getting the goods, while the going is good. If the United States and its allies want to stop this, they must think fast and act faster. Certainly, such a strategy as outlined above, might be the first step in taking away the initiative, something Beijing has very much kept until now.

How Will the New U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines Affect Regional Security?

CSIS Commentary, May 14th, 2015

hrs_hires_Carter-Kerry-JapaneseLeaders6x4 The new Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation were unveiled on April 27 in New York, coinciding with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington, D.C. The visit has been judged a major coup by many in the United States and a major success for the dynamic Japanese leader. If Abe’s goal was merely to bring the two Pacific powers into greater political alignment, then the trip was a remarkable success. The fact that alliance managers on both sides had worked hard to bring the two powers into greater military and security alignment added to that success. Both the prime minister’s U.S. visit and the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines (herein called “the guidelines”) are a reaction to growing insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region and an attempt to reinvigorate and recalibrate the alliance’s functions. What many regional states will now be wondering is what impact the new guidelines will have on regional security.

Complementing and informing the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the 2015 Defense Guidelines act as a policy framework, a way for the two militaries to know what is and isn’t permissible within the scope of the alliance, and to guide the evolution of that cooperation. This iteration—replacing the 1997 guidelines—is being called “historic” by many, though others have been more cautious, saying that while significant, the guidelines do too little to restore the growing imbalance of power in the region. Perhaps predictably, China—itself seen by many states in a 2014 Pew Poll as a source for the growing instability—blasted the guidelines as a “relic from the Cold War.” The irony was lost on few in the region, given the frenzy of island reclamation and militarization that Beijing has carried out over the past month in its effort to project power over sea-lanes vital to the region.

Why Now?

In answer to the question posed by many, “why now?”, alliance managers have answered that the security environment of the region has changed drastically from the late 1990s, when the guidelines were last written. Then, the guidelines emphasized Japan’s growing willingness to act regionally and burden share in areas like peacekeeping, maritime security, and essentially to do more-than-defense-of-Japan duties. These changes seemed appropriate to a time when failed states and civil wars were the biggest challenges to the international community, and when the United States was searching for active partners. However, the changes made by the 2015 Guidelines are even more remarkable, with the alliance broadening its remit—geographically and to third-party countries—and deepening its functions—installing a new whole-of-government approach badly needed for operations other than war (OOTW). Then as now, the evolution of the alliance sees a growing equality between Washington and Tokyo, with greater burden sharing by the latter. Japan, it seems, may have arrived as a major security actor.

A Tougher Alliance, but How about Collective Self-Defense?

Regional actors will have noted that the guidelines have broadened previous geographical and functional limitations on the alliance. This simply brings the guidelines up to date with all that has occurred on the ground (or water) in terms of Japan’s growing involvement in international stability operations, from Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, to the growing appetite for European-Japan security cooperation. The guidelines do not give Japan the remit to broaden its geographic scope; rather, they provide the space for Japanese politicians to resolve that remit domestically. Furthermore, Japanese and U.S. forces can now cooperate in more types of operations. U.S. alliance managers noted with approval that Japan has opened space in the guidelines in the section covering ballistic missile cooperation to shoot down weapons headed toward the United States, a major issue when considering the threat from North Korea. In line with a Japanese cabinet decision made in July 2014, Japanese forces can now help any “foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan,” on the condition that the attack “threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn (Japanese) people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As senior Japanese officials made clear at a CSIS briefing event on May 1, this remains a high threshold, open to interpretation.

For states like Vietnam and the Philippines, facing the brunt of Chinese assertiveness, this will remain a vague commitment. It does not guarantee that Japan will engage in third-country defense willy-nilly, but it does open the door to that possibility occurring in the future. For allies like Australia and South Korea, who have close working relationships with the Self-Defense Forces, this will be a provision to watch with interest in the coming years. It adds an element of realism to the growing interconnectedness between Japan and other U.S. allies and alliance networks and enables further evolution. A number of new domains, such as cyber, space, and small-scale attacks have been added, which also seek to deal with the growth of asymmetric, across-the-board attacks that Chinese tactical literature seems to favor. For U.S. allies in Europe, such as NATO member states, the development of cyber and intelligence cooperation with Japan becomes much more plausible with the advent of this limited form of collective self-defense.

Deterring and Strengthening

It will be interesting to see how China reacts to the tightening of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, perhaps giving them pause in their salami-slicing expansion into Japanese territorial waters. The Alliance Coordination Mechanism (ACM) reduces daylight between U.S. and Japan policymaking, institutionalizing policymaking among both military and civilian agencies. The bilateral planning component has also been strengthened and upgraded, again bringing in nonmilitary agencies into the process. The forces and government agencies will be more harmonized and better equipped to deal with operations other than war, noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), and “gray zone” provocations. In dealing with any North Korean wartime or collapse scenario, these elements are essential. However, given the steady growth of Chinese naval assertiveness of the past few years, it may be Beijing rather than Pyongyang that triggers their use. How these functions look on paper is one thing; how they operate in practice, will be another.

One thing is certain: Chinese encroachment in the East China Sea will no longer find a surprised or passive alliance, as the guidelines put forward a range of proactive practices and institutions. The alliance will be more resilient: assets will be co-protected, while the addition of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) cooperation in the guidelines will enhance maritime and aerospace domain awareness, narrowing the possibility of surprise. And if surprises do come—and they invariably do in international relations—then the improved bilateral planning and policy coordination should better prepare U.S. and Japanese forces. The upshot of all this is likely to be a growing inability for China or North Korea to operate their forces “between the cracks of the alliance,” in the so-called safety of the gray zone. However, faced with such resilience, Beijing may pursue its options in other parts of the region. Frustrated in the East China Sea, Chinese expansionism may accelerate in the South China Sea. However, even there, the guidelines have developed a number of potential solutions. The primary one is that of capacity-building assistance; giving Southeast Asian states the wherewithal to protect or at least maintain their present maritime borders. A second, higher function is that of providing leadership for the region. The U.S.-Japan Alliance has long aspired to cement the region through its security partnerships. This has been apparent in its approach to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. These guidelines signal to other in the region Tokyo and Washington’s resolve to meet future challenges with firmness and may encourage growing solidarity with the alliance.

Forward the Alliance

It is difficult to predict how Beijing will react the new U.S.-Japan Alliance. Unfortunately, its track record isn’t the best. Wherever it has suffered resistance to its ambitions, it has denounced that resistance as “containment,” a useful communications strategy, designed to keep adversaries on a back foot. The irony is that continuing its attempts to secure the waters of its neighbors may well one day push regional states into just such a policy. Hopefully, such an outcome can be avoided as the regional balance of power continues to evolve and to shift. It is still unclear how a potential Chinese economic slowdown could affect events: it might promote further assertiveness, conversely new diplomatic overtures. Certainly, the guidelines and the overall inter-networking of U.S. and Western alliances will contribute to regional and global security, acting as a deterrent to those who would seek to reorder with force, in addition to dealing with issues of human security. One truism remains: the motives of political actors remain flexible and malleable; deterrence only has to fail once for disaster to ensue. However, the militaries of the United States and Japan are tasked with protecting other states with like-minded values, regional democracies that look to the alliance for security. The guidelines would certainly seem to be a step in the right direction, but if they are to deter and to protect, then the U.S.-Japan Alliance will have to continue to bolster and grow its capabilities. Furthermore, the Japanese public will have to debate and support this new iteration of the alliance. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.


Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder as the dinner speakers.

Monday, 18 May, at 19:00 – 21:309780231171700

The Army & Navy Club, Farragut Square, Washington DC


The Policy Dinner Club is proud to announce that its next speakers will be Brad Glosserman (Pacific Forum CSIS) and Scott Snyder (CFR), who will speak about the identity and cultural issues in the Japan – South Korea bilateral relationship, with regard to US alliance dynamics. A dinner discussion will then ensue on the topic offered.

Their remarks will draw from their research of their book, which examines the ideational and identity-identity-related causes of discord between these two strong US allies. In their remarks at dinner, Glosserman and Snyder will examine some of the underlying notions of national identity and offer concrete policy prescriptions for US alliance managers.

Who:     Brad Glosserman (Pacific Forum CSIS), Scott Snyder (CFR)
When:   19:00 to 21:30, 18 May, 2015
Where:  The Army and Navy Club, Farragut Square, Washington DC
Speakers Biographies

Brad Glosserman is executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, an independent program of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Pacific Forum has provided policy-oriented analysis and promoted dialogue on regional security, political, economic, and environmental issues in the Asia-Pacific region since 1975. Mr. Glosserman oversees all aspects of Pacific Forum activities, including conferences, fellowships, publications, and administration. He is coeditor of Comparative Connections, the Pacific Forum’s triannual journal and writes, along with Pacific Forum president Ralph Cossa, the regional review. He is also the coauthor, with Scott Synder, of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash (Columbia University Press, 2015), a study of national identity in Japan and South Korea and its impact on U.S. alliances. He recently completed a three-year study with Pacific Forum director of programs Carl Baker on the future of U.S. alliances in Asia and is finalizing a study on the impact of the March 11, 2011, “triple catastrophe” on Japan.

Scott Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where he had served as an adjunct fellow from 2008 to 2011. Snyder’s program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage; its potential influence and contributions as a middle power in East Asia; and the peninsular, regional, and global implications of North Korean instability. Snyder is co-author of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States (Columbia University Press, 2015). He also the co-editor of North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (Rowman and Littlefield, October 2012), and the editor of Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security (Council on Foreign Relations, October 2012) and The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (Lynne Rienner Publishers, March 2012). He served as the project director for CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. He currently writes for the blog, “Asia Unbound.”

Transparency and China’s Military Build-up

Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro as the dinner speaker

Wednesday, 8 April at 19:00 – 22:0030775

Naval and Military Club

The Policy Dinner Club is proud to announce that its next speaker will be Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro from Georgetown University, who will speak about the Chinese military spending and issues of transparency at the Naval and Military Club on the 8th of April. A dinner discussion will then ensue on the topic offered.

Despite the current optimism underlying the recent China-Japan-Korea trilateral meeting in Seoul this month, it is clear that there are deep systemic fissures in Northeast Asia, pushing the area towards open competition. One of the oft-repeated reasons for the growing tensions has been double digit growth in Chinese defense spending over the past 20 years and the lack of transparency in that spending. Dr. Mastro will speak on why Beijing’s strategic culture leads directly to this opaqueness and what impact it’s having on the wider region.

Who:         Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro

When:       19:00 April 8th, 2015

Where:      The Naval and Military Club (the “In&Out”)

As always, diners are picked on a first-come, first-served basis and come from academia, the media, and the foreign and security policy community. Diners pay for their own meal, and we all pay collectively for the Speaker’s dinner. Please also note that there is a dress code at the Club which diners are expected to adhere to. As is the usual custom, all remarks are off the record and discussion occurs in an equanimous atmosphere: diners disagree with each other without being disagreeable.

Speaker’s Biography

Orgiana Skylar Mastro is an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. She is also in the US Air Force Reserve, for which she works as a reserve Air Attache for the Asia Pacific region. Dr. Mastro has worked in the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), RAND Corporation, and US PACOM. She holds a BA in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an MA and PhD in politics from Princeton University.

She speaks Chinese.

The Long-Term Impact of Japan’s Hostage Crisis

International Relations and Security Network, March 19, 2015
Flag of Japan, courtesy of  Luc De Leeuw

The recent murder of Japanese hostages by ISIS has renewed debates about the country’s role in the world. The event has 1) strengthened the country’s resolve to ‘normalize’ itself, 2) illustrated the weaknesses of the pacifist Left, and 3) highlighted Shinzo Abe’s dependency on ‘Kantei Diplomacy’.

The kidnapping, attempted ransoming, and murder of two Japanese hostages by ISIS in Syria this January led to an intense debate in Tokyo and in the bureaucratic corridors of power in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo’s version of Whitehall. There have since been a number of attempts to understand the significance of the event for Japanese security and foreign policy-making. The conclusions, however, seem clear: first, the security policy that supposedly ‘set off’ the hostage crisis is not a recent phenomenon, and trying to frame the event as the immediate result of Abe’s nationalist or so-called militaristic agenda is simply wrong. Second, the crisis has seen a long-term shift to the right in Japanese domestic politics that has all but neutered the once-strong pacifist-oriented left. Third, and finally, the crisis showed that Kantei Diplomacy is alive and well, and that, although the fledgling National Security Council has added to the growing strength of executive power, it was unable to play a large role in the crisis due to a lack of intelligence-gathering capabilities.

A long policy trajectory

For those who would pin the blame for the crisis on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his recent shift towards a nationalist agenda, the reality is that Abe is simply the latest in a line of LDP figures who have pulled Japan out of the Yoshida Doctrine – Japan’s Cold War policy of economic neo-mercantilism – bringing it closer to the US and into a more global posture. While the taking of the hostages was directly linked to Abe’s commitment of $200 million in non-military aid to the fight against ISIS, the policy direction it represented long preceded his tenure in office. In fact, Japan’s foreign policy shift towards the Middle East dates back to the early 2000’s. In the days following the September 11th attacks, when most global leaders were still trying to comprehend the import of what had taken place, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged Japan’s full support to the United States. He was among the first to do so, along with NATO’s Secretary General Lord Robertson and the UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. With Koizumi’s personal blessing, the Japanese government passed legislation that allowed Japanese forces to lend logistical support to maritime forces around Afghanistan and to commit the proverbial ‘boots on the ground’ in Samawah Province, Iraq, where Japan’s SDF would carry out reconstruction work. At that time, another Japanese citizen – Shosei Koda – was beheaded by Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004.

There are many inside and outside Japan who believe that this policy direction sets a dangerous precedent. After all, as the 70th anniversary of the Second World War approaches, many in the region still remember the atrocities committed by Japanese troops and see the changes as a return to militarism. This is far from the case, however, as Japan’s shift has been driven by regional insecurity rather than nationalism or expansionism (though nationalism has been a personal motivation for Abe and those close to him). In fact, two of Japan’s harshest critics over this ‘normalization’, North Korea and China, have themselves built two of the region’s largest military forces, with China doubling its defence spending since 2008 and now spending more than four times as much as Japan. Anti-Japanese sentiment in China, fostered since the early 1990s, has also been utilized by Beijing to justify its salami-slicing expansionism towards Japan’s southwestern maritime corridor. As a result of this, LDP leaders have hewed closer to the United States and sought greater inter-operability with its and other allied forces, including those of Australia, NATO and South Korea. To some extent, Japan’s nationalists have also benefitted politically from this Chinese creeping expansion. While a number of senior bureaucrats and members of the LDP see this ‘normalization’ in nationalist terms, this may represent a ‘peak’, with some anticipating a return to liberal internationalism post-Abe.

The weakness of the left

The second result of the hostage crisis was to highlight the gradual loss of power and influence in Tokyo’s policy-making sphere of Japan’s pacifist left. This long-term decline has occurred for a number of reasons. The first is linked to the above-mentioned changes in Japan’s immediate region. Many say that the 2010 Fishing Boat crisis in the Senkaku Islands fostered a shift in Japanese public opinion, after Beijing was perceived to have acted heavy-handedly towards Japan over the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed a Japanese Coast Guard cutter in Japanese waters. The belief that Chinese military power has grown may have led to more domestic support for Abe, though it is true that his election campaign was fought over the economy first and foremost.

Another more straight-forward reason that Japan’s pacifist left is weakening is that many of its members and constituents are simply growing old. Historically, the movement was the strongest immediately after the Second World War, when Japan’s devastated cities were a visible reminder of the case for peace. As Richard Lloyd Perry – a long–term resident in Japan and the London Times Asia Editor – remarked, “one inescapable fact of the weakening of the pacifist left is that many are simply dying out. You can also see it in the ages represented at the rallies.“ These rallies are increasingly marked by low attendance rates, with an April 2014 gathering attracting only 3,000 people . On the other hand, a poll conducted by the left-of-centre Asahi Shimbun newspaper indicated that 64% of Japanese citizens remain opposed to re-interpreting the Constitution, indicating their reluctance to completely abandon the status quo. That said, the Japanese public was initially skeptical of its first forays into peacekeeping in the 1990s, and polls have shown that support has only grown.

The strength of ‘Team Abe’

Third and finally, the crisis was marked by strong leadership by the Prime Minister and his aides. Indeed, Abe was aware that the hostages had been taken when he committed aid to the fight against ISIS, showing remarkable determination and confidence. That confidence is down to Abe himself, but it is also the result of having a strong team in place. ‘Team Abe,’ as it might be called, has benefitted significantly from ‘Kantei Diplomacy’, or the rise of the office of Prime Minister and the cabinet secretariat in a landscape traditionally dominated by the bureaucracy and by political parties. First used by a Japanese academic, Tomohito Shinoda, in his book on the subjectKantei Diplomacy has seen the powers of the Prime Minister and the size of his team increase. This larger secretariat – which can provide expert advice independently of the ministries – has enabled the Prime Minister to draft legislation and to manage crises more confidently. While the three DPJ Prime Ministers who followed Koizumi were ultimately unable to harness the power of the Kantei, Abe has been more successful in doing so, largely through his choice of key bureaucrats and politicians in positions of power around him. For instance, many in the bureaucracy believe that choosing LDP strongman Yoshihide Suga as cabinet secretary has been key to Abe’s success. Because Suga does not want the premiership, Abe has been able to entrust his deputy with considerable power. This has enabled the no-nonsense Suga to manage and discipline the bureaucracy quite effectively, often by reassigning recalcitrant bureaucrats to less glamorous posts. Abe has also managed to harness the power of the MOD and MOFA by filling the National Security Council from among their ranks. Shotaro Yachi and Nobutsuke Kanehara are two senior NSC staff members from MOFA, while the MOD has been represented by Nobushige Takamizawa.

Overall, the hostage crisis revealed a Japanese leadership more willing to take risks in the field of security policy and more hardened to changing domestic fortunes. While the death of the two journalists was a shock for the Japanese public, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy agenda was not widely blamed. Indeed, as one diplomat stated, it is as if everyone came out of the crisis more convinced of the rightfulness of its direction. This has included the pacifist wing (though they seem to have little influence on decision-making). Finally, it must be said that while the Prime Minister was able to handle the crisis from within the cabinet, it is notable that the National Security Council did not play a large role during the 18 day crisis. Most of the action took place in the basement of the Kantei, as the NSC’s inability to provide raw intelligence prevented it from being the locus of activity. Doubtless, the creation of a unified framework for Japan’s intelligence community, safely regulated as behooves a liberal democracy, is the next step in Japan’s evolution towards normal statehood.



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