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RUSI Commentary, August 11, 2016
China’s determination to gain control or assert its possession over various remote islands in its adjacent seas may seem inexplicable. But there is a perfect logic to what China is doing – much of this relates to the way the country’s communists seek to bolster their domestic legitimacy

The situation in East Asia has become increasingly troubling; for those watching the global economy, the fact that China and Japan, the world’s second and third powers, are engaging in a showdown over a few tiny islands not only seems ludicrous but also reckless, since any potential conflict could do serious damage to precarious recovery from the global financial crisis.

Last week, Japan claimed that a flotilla of more than 230 Chinese fishing vessels and eighteen coastguard ships entered Japanese waters around the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Given their lack of running water and economic activity, it is not even certain that the islets would be afforded island status, especially after the recent finding by the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea. So why do both states want the islands so much and why is China risking the global economy and conflict with Japan for patches of land not much larger than a football pitch? The explanation lies in recent Chinese history and how the Communist Party perceives it.

In 1989, the Communist Party barely survived the Tiananmen Square unrest. Following the crackdown, it developed a three-way strategy, which it has since boldly followed.

First, it enacted a massive ‘patriotic’ education programme, which sought to identify China with the Communist Party. It played up the narrative of victim, pointing to the ‘century of humiliation’ by foreign powers, including European and Japanese imperial interlopers. And while these approaches are based in fact, they miss the point that China the victim has also been China the perpetrator in such cases: it has in its long history attempted to invade and conquer its neighbours, particularly Korea and Vietnam, many times. As Bill Hayton, an expert on Chinese maritime claims, has asserted, disputes about the South China Sea or the Chinese-claimed Diaoyu Islands are really about recovering from the perceived loss of face that China endured in the past. Thus, the public is strongly supportive of the claims, and the insertions of large flotillas into contested waters – such as last week – buttress this Communist Party’s desire to be the sole defender of Chinese claims, and the sole avenger of previous wrongs.

Second, China’s Communist Party decided after crushing the Tiananmen protests that communist ideology was no longer enough to provide legitimacy, and set about a daring innovation in the 1990s – mixing the nationalist agenda with Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform, while restraining political reform. In other words, it concluded that if it provided enough refrigerators, televisions and opportunities to travel to exotic destinations, the public would submit to the total rule of the Communist Party. As well as the carrot, it also used the stick of repressing internet freedoms, censoring the media, and curtailing anything that might infringe on the absolutism of the party within the Chinese state. Kerry Brown, a China scholar, notes that President Xi Jinping’s rise has not been at the expense of the party, and although he has attacked its corrupt elements, his purpose is to strengthen the arty.

One only has to note the recent wave of trials of Chinese lawyers, such as Wang Yu and Zhou Shifeng, affiliated with political rights’ groups, to conclude that the party is serious about holding power and crushing dissent. However, if the Chinese public is to accept such repression, the party reasons that it must continue to deliver something in the realm of public wealth. The push to reform the economy falls into this category, but it also has a security strategy for harnessing nearby wealth and resources by claiming the valuable South and East China Seas fishing grounds, some of the richest in the world. Attempts to ban Vietnamese and Philippine fishing fleets are part of this strategy. So is the possibility of rich undersea gas fields in the East China Sea, an additional lure. For the party, securing these resources is directly linked to regime security.

Third, the Communist party has developed a strategy to push China into a position of East Asian superiority, and to do this, it has to prise the US from the region. Aware of the ‘Thucydidean Trap’, by which rising powers provoke a conflict with already-dominant powers, China’s strategy would seem to be to go about achieving its objective through indirect means. Looking purely at Beijing’s actions over the past decade, it would seem that Chinese military thinkers have decided the best way to expel the US as a regional power is by incrementally taking de facto control of the trade route that feeds the US’s allies.

Beginning with European ports and Middle Eastern oil terminals, the most strategically sensitive route moves goods and energy products worth $5 trillion annually through the Indian Ocean, past the Malacca Straits and through the South and East China Seas. China’s effort to dominate this vital route is achieved by slicing into the territory of smaller South China Sea states, with each initiative based on the calculation that Washington would not dare risk a war over territories non-essential to the US national interest. And Beijing’s calculations are likely correct. Projecting military power from those islands gives China de facto control of the region’s largest trade route. Enough – Beijing reasons – to compel regional powers to bandwagon with China.

If on the way, it must risk conflict with the US and Japan, China will do so, although it will attempt to avoid direct confrontation. Many of the issues that continue to bedevil the region arose in 1989, as a result of the route the Communist Party took in trying to ensure its survival. Its three-fold strategy of promoting nationalism and economic growth at the expense of political reform, and the development of a greater Chinese strategy for the region, has landed the nation in its current situation.

The inner corridors of power in Beijing see nothing wrong with this grand strategy. After all, it has been highly successful: the party remains dominant in China, and is still closely identified with the health and prosperity of the nation. China’s economic and military growth has allowed it to begin to reorder the region to suit its own preferences. The question is how far will it go, and at what point will it cause an unpredictable reaction from the US, Japan, or neighbouring states. And although no-one outside China can predict this, neither can any Chinese official.


Are Japan and the UK Trading Places?

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The National Interest, July 18, 2016

At times, British and American policymakers and academics have wondered if Japan might become the “Britain of the Far East” by playing a larger role in foreign affairs, more supportive of the liberal rules-based system, and more in line with American global security strategy. Britain would have responsibility for the Western hemisphere, while Japan covered the Asia-Pacific. However, as the past decade has seen an emboldened and increasingly capable Japan attempting define a role for itself in global security, the same period has seen a UK seemingly less able or less willing to shoulder its responsibility. A combination of post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan war-weariness saw Parliament usurp Prime Minister Cameron’s attempt to intervene in Syria in 2013, while Brexit and the slight chance of a second Scottish referendum have created political chaos in Westminster, raising the possibility that Britain may be too consumed by internal affairs to take part in foreign policy for the next three to four years.

Of course, the machinery of government will go on, but Britain’s loss of focus occurs at a time critical to the liberal international order. On one flank, China pushes hard to gain de facto control of one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes, and in doing so establishes a baseline for its attitude toward international law and smaller powers. On the other, Russia continues to mobilize itself domestically with nationalism and anti-Westernism, in a seeming attempt to recover its Cold War–era buffer zone of satellite states. Though Theresa May as the new Prime Minister has shown some resolve – with regards to Trident – the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling passed by virtually unnoticed in Whitehall, immersed as they were in the formation of the new Cabinet, the Turkish Coup, and the terror attack in Nice.

Despite the UK’s apparent drift, Tokyo and London are optimal allies for the United States. Based off of the continents to which they belong, they have never quite fit into those continents, culturally or politically, showing instead a preference for naval power. Both are comparatively economically powerful within their regions, technologically advanced and governed by liberal democratic systems, sharing similar values to the United States. Because of those values, both have been traditionally strong financial supporters of the United Nations, as well as pillars of the slew of financial international government organizations that collectively made up Bretton Woods. That American policymakers occasionally compared them is not surprising.

The most famous instance of this analogy was within the influential 2000 Armitage-Nye Report, which by suggesting the parallel gave Tokyo an attractive and recognizable template to emulate. Despite skepticism that Japan would ever shift its defensive posture from the easy-riding Yoshida Doctrine, toward collective self-defense or contributing forces to conflicts outside the Asia-Pacific, Tokyo has taken a long slew of incremental steps in both directions and developed new security ties with Australia, India and even the United Kingdom. While some would argue that these steps are still extremely limited, the fact remains that Prime Minister Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” is a long way from former Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi’s insistence that Japan only had a “pretense of a foreign policy.”

As the United Kingdom reels from the June 23 Brexit referendum and struggles protracted Brexit negotiations and the possibility of a second Scottish referendum, it would appear that Japan is indeed becoming the “Britain of the East,” while Britain seems to be turning into a (Yoshida-era) “Japan of the West.” For it is quite clear that protracted negotiations required for exiting the European market, combined with the hasty search for new foreign trade agreements with economic powers such as the United States, India, China and Japan, will take up much of the energies of Whitehall’s mandarins. While this should only take five years or so, it will nevertheless force a loss of focus for Britain’s elites on its security contribution in the world. The possibility of Scottish independence would only add to the misery, stripping it of many of its best capabilities at precisely the time when NATO, Europe and the world need them most.

It is possible that as a result of these repeated blows, Britain will seek to recover the “splendid isolation” of Lord Salisbury, sans empire, and sans splendor, focusing instead on trade and keeping aloof of continental goings-on. Or it might also seek to leverage its financial sector as a leverage between the old hegemon—the United States—and the world’s newest superpower, China. The third possibility, about which I have written previously, is that Britain could double down on its role as a pillar of the liberal international order. It has already demonstrated that Brexit will not stand in the way of its commitments to eastern Europe by committing to the stationing of troops there.

Coming a full circle, it seems that there is much that Japan and the United Kingdom might do together to add value to their capabilities at this time of uncertainty and change. There is already talk within London’s corridors of the desirability of an FTA with Japan, though this will doubtless take time to negotiate. The two are currently engaged in early defense-industrial cooperative development, and have been widening strategic and foreign policy discussions in the defense minister–foreign minister talks (2+2). The possibility for greater U.S.-UK-Japan trilateral cooperation opens up all sorts of possibilities within the intelligence, cyber and space sectors. Regardless of Brexit or continued incrementalism within Japan, both London and Tokyo have a large range of institutional and industrial assets at their fingertips. Both are also seeking closer ties with New Delhi at the moment, a further area of potential cooperation.

As we look toward the remainder of this summer, we see a China that is highly likely to build up its military assets in the South China Sea, ignoring the recent finding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Simultaneously, we might see calls from within the EU to drop the arms embargo on China from states that have vested industrial interests in doing so. Britain’s absence from the EU’s top tables could have a destabilizing effect on Asia’s already precarious balance of power. Perhaps London and Tokyo might craft a bilateral diplomatic venture within Brussels and the capitals of Europe in that eventuality.

There is something to be said about the UK losing its sheen precisely as Japan begins to step up to the plate as a contributor to global security, but for those who believe the UK is out for the count, should consider London’s pluckiness and the deep support among its population and foreign policy elites for many of the liberal values that undergird the international system. It also has a long history of maritime operations, intelligence and expeditionary warfare that make it a superb partner for Japan. The fact that both work closely with American forces and seek interoperability with NATO allies creates an even deeper synergy for bilateral cooperation. At a time of uncertainty and change, one can never have too many friends.

Should Obama Apologise in Hiroshima?

The National Interest, May 16, 2016

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Now that President Obama has announced his intention to visit Hiroshima later this month, many have debated whether he will proffer regret or apologize for the dropping of two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in late 1945. Should he apologize? Given his past speeches in Cairo, Obama has been criticized by some conservative media in the US as America’s “apologist-in-chief”, prompting the White House and Ben Rhodes to declare that the visit is to be “forward-looking” and it will “highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. Despite this, the current debate on Obama’s visit raises all sorts of questions about modern understandings of history, and apology-politics in general. To what extent should state leaders apologize for historic crimes committed before them? Should the United States apologize for its misdeeds? Should it apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki in particular?

Certainly, of the two, Japan has a long history of making apologies. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has grappled with the historical legacy of Japan’s conduct during the Second World War and his own vision for Japan. He has been more successful at proffering regret to the United States and Australia, but less successful with South Korea and China. His speech to the Australian Parliament in July 2014 expressed “sincere condolences”. His speech to US Joint Houses of Congress in April 2015 expressed “deep repentance” and “eternal condolences”. In both speeches, Abe seemed to acknowledge Japanese responsibility for instigating the war, though his language was constrained by the domestic political realities of his conservative supporters in Tokyo. Prior to these speeches, his views on the Kono Statement, and affiliation with Japanese historical revisionists like Toshio Tamogami raised the possibility that Abe agreed with such accounts. Chinese observers – for geopolitical rather than academic reasons – attempted to shape an isolating narrative around Japan because of these debates, but were stymied by Abe’s nuanced approach from 2014 onwards.

What of the United States? As the leading hegemon, victor in the Second World War, and victor in the Cold War, should it apologize for actions it has carried out in the past? Many would agree with Walter Benjamin that “History is written by the victors.” However, this is less and less true in the modern world as liberal norms values affect expectations of state behavior in international politics. One only has to consider the whole range of “critical studies” in Western universities to see that in some states, at least, history has become a deeply contested area, continuously open to debate and self-criticism. Though open to abuse, this is ultimately a positive thing, enabling societies to move past historic grievances. Furthermore, is it really true that only winners write history? Turkey after the First World War, (vis a vis Ataturk, and the Armenians). Though North Korea lost the Korean War, it still teaches that it was the South who started the Korean War. Russia after the end of the Cold War continues to teach its own version of history. These are but a small sample of states that maintain and protect – often using legal means – their own historically regressive narratives.

What is the American relationship with its own past? As has been implied by the above examples, the domestic nature of the regime often determines the state’s attitude to history, though sadly some liberal states have flirted with state control of textbooks. The United States is a liberal democratic power with a strong set of ideals and values, which it ascribes to in its foreign policy behavior. It does not always live up to its own standards, but very often civil society, American academics and journalists will swiftly point this out in the public arena. Like Japan, the United States has apologized for its past. Few foreigners will know that the US has apologized to native Americans and Hawaiians a number of times for historical grievances.  While it has not yet dealt with the US-Philippine War, it has attempted to redress the stripping of benefits from Filipino soldiers, who served on the American side in the Second World War. Clearly, Americans increasingly believe that it should face its history head-on apologize for past grievances. What of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Should the United States apologize for those specific acts? Here the answer – like Abe’s speech to Congress – should be more nuanced.

Japan is one of the US’ closest allies. It has played an extremely positive role in international society since the end of the Second World War and is a strong supporter of the liberal international order and its attendance infrastructure. It is also deeply important partner in American security strategy for the region. However, things have not always been thus. President Obama could take a pragmatic line with his Japanese audience in Hiroshima and remind them of the ethical, strategic, and geopolitical reasons for dropping the nuclear weapons. The classical argument – from the American side – is that the US was fighting a ‘just war’ against Japanese aggression. A stronger ethical argument was that the bombings actually saved lives. The idea that Operation Downfall (the planned invasion of Japan) would cost millions of casualties is bolstered by the large numbers of casualties involved in the invasion of Okinawa (150,000 casualties in three months). It is also bolstered by the fact that the bombings were the crucial element in Japan’s Emperor Hirohito’s push for peace. Obama might have argued that both targets were hubs of military industry. He might also have argued that a costly invasion of Japan might have led to Soviet involvement, and ultimately the Cold War partitioning of Japan into two halves. Given Korea’s continued dismemberment, it is impossible to gloss over the human suffering that such an event would have cost Japan in the long run.

However, the most important function of any apology is the implicit promise that one will not repeat the offensive behavior. Without this commitment, apologies are meaningless. Prime Minister Abe’s speeches in both Australia and the United States both held that implied commitment. Japan– he stated – valued “freedom and democracy”. It held “human rights and the rule of law dear” as “a member of the Western world” and would never again “fall back onto force or coercion.” Japan – he said clearly – had changed. President Obama’s decision to speak on nuclear non-proliferation is thus a masterful stroke of symbolism. It expresses regret, without having to face the apology debate head-on. It is, within itself, a form of apology. It is a nuanced, thoughtful approach to the whole historical debate that permeates Asia Pacific narratives of the Second World War and speaks to the sense of pain that Japanese still feel on the bombings, without putting forward the pragmatic arguments above. Though these remain valid on the American side, using them is unlikely to serve a healing function. There is a danger that his visit panders to some elements within Japan who see the bombings as symbols of Japan’s victimization. Such narratives derive from revisionists, who tend to overstate Japanese suffering and underplay American, Chinese and allied suffering. However, if handled correctly, President Obama’s presence in Hiroshima, his message of peace, and nuclear non-proliferation will provide their own balm to the wider nation of Japan and its very real sense of suffering. If one considers the needs of the US-Japan Alliance for what promises to be a rocky regional future, such a conversation – between allies – is vital to the long-term strength and integrity of that commitment. What could be more American than a face-to-face attempt at closure between two old friends?


Book Review: Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China 

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RUSI Journal, April 2016

No country feels China’s rise more than Japan. With this simple assertion, Sheila A Smith takes us through a superb and badly needed analysis of the current state of Sino–Japanese relations in Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. She argues that for the past forty years, the relationship has been built on the premise that economic interdependence is the key to postwar reconciliation between the peoples of both nations. And in many ways, the bilateral economic relationship has produced astounding results. Between 1972 and 2004, Sino– Japanese trade increased 161-fold, from $1.04 billion in 1972 to $167.89 billion in 2004. Between 1994 and 2003, Japan was China’s largest trade partner, and by 2005, China comprised 20 per cent of Japan’s trade. In many ways, China’s rise has rested partly on Japanese investment, trade and official development assistance. So why have relations soured so dramatically over the past decade?

In trying to answer this question, Smith uses foreign-policy analysis to uncover the domestic drivers of Japan’s China policy. She is well equipped to take this approach: using her extensive contacts, her list of interviews in Japan includes no less than four prime ministers, four foreign ministers, and a large number of cabinet secretaries, senior bureaucrats and academics. Furthermore, her seat in the Council on Foreign Relations – a prestigious Washington think tank – means that she understands the policy and research communities. She was able to secure access to many prominent Japan and China experts based in the US; these included the likes of Elizabeth Economy, Kurt Campbell and Jeffrey Bader, among others. With this wealth of inside sources, combined with excellent research skills, she delves deeply into a range of issues from economic interdependence, to territorial disputes, to food-safety concerns; in doing so, the author takes a hard look at the role that history plays in the bilateral relationship.

The story she tells in the relationship between Tokyo and Beijing seems to be one of repeated missed opportunities. The leaders of both nations never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, to borrow Abba Eban’s phrase. In 1992, she writes, Japan’s leaders put their misgivings to one side and agreed to send the country’s emperor and empress to China on a state trip. At a welcoming dinner at the Great Hall of the People, the emperor spoke of ‘the unfortunate era when our country caused immense pain and suffering to the Chinese people’ (p. 42). His unprecedented words could have heralded a new era of Sino– Japanese relations. Instead, President Jiang Zemin used his 1998 visit to Tokyo to berate Japan for its history at a state dinner hosted by Japan’s emperor and empress. Televised nationally in Japan, Jiang’s harsh speech put the relationship back in the freezer. More often than not, relations between the two countries have been characterised by missed opportunities like this one, with leaders on both sides pandering to the worst elements of their domestic base.

The regular visits of Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine – on which the names of Class-A war criminals are inscribed – have become a perennial problem for the two countries and are a case in point. Junichiro Koizumi – perhaps one of Japan’s greatest prime ministers of the past forty years – made annual visits to the shrine, which regrettably have become traditional. Attempting to sidestep Korean and Chinese sensitivities, he insisted the issue was purely domestic. However, since the museum attached to the shrine contains a highly revisionist account of Japan’s imperial history, visiting Yasukuni became more than just honouring Japan’s war dead; it was a place for rejecting foreign criticism of the country’s war history. Koizumi’s win as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party was down – Smith believes – to his campaign promise to visit the shrine. For a man increasingly disenchanted with Japan’s pork-barrelling party-faction system, the trips to Yasukuni were essential to maintaining his hold over the party. However, the visits only seemed to justify those hardliners in Beijing who wished to use anti-Japanese sentiment for domestic purposes. It is odd that two states which have such close economic ties, and which share such close cultural and historical features would so consistently and grievously risk the Golden Goose upon which their mutual prosperity depends.

Smith dedicates a full chapter to maritime territorial disputes, since they have become so important to regional security and American naval policy over the past few years. Her account of the situation in the East China Sea is quite troubling. By her account, the issue was a slow-burning one in which the two sides went from shelving the dispute, to a gradual increase in coast- guard maritime activity, followed by the use of military patrols. Though both sides were initially willing to adopt an accommodating position on the Shirakaba/Chunxiao gas fields in a 2008 agreement, negotiations were stymied by a host of issues: first, there were the open-ended rules in the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for demarcating exclusive economic zone boundaries, which led to other problems. There were large numbers of domestic actors – state and non-state – in both countries who advocated the most extreme interpretation for which UNCLOS allowed. In China, fishing commercial firms, coast guards, nationalist groups, and military planners all lobbied actively for the largest territory, while in Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs struggled to maintain control of the issue, as Japanese nationalists and fishing firms became increasingly vocal over Japanese territorial rights. For those who follow the region, Beijing’s current focus on the South China Sea and disputes there has reaffirmed in Tokyo the idea that China is a revisionist power, intent on revising the post-war order using the implicit use of force. Frankly, that’s an interpretation that many in the US and the region have come to share, though with various caveats.

Smith’s book comes out at a time when China has risen as a great power in the region and seeks to reorder that region to suit its national security preferences. It also comes at a time when Japan seeks to find a role for itself more in keeping with its economic stature. At no other time in history have the two nations both been strong like this. It says much about the dynamic that both nations see the other’s efforts to integrate the region economically – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or Hatoyama’s East Asian Community – in binary terms. The success of one, seems to rob from the other. Smith’s book should be on the must-read list for anyone attempting to understand East Asia and the future of the global order. The relationship between the world’s second- and third- largest economies is an important case study of how China handles complex relationships and hints at its own vision for the world. On the more narrow issue of the bilateral, one sees a sad trend of missed opportunities for both sides to look forward – China could celebrate the fact that Japan has invested billions of dollars into its economy and build on that. Japan for its part, could resist the domestic pull of imperial-era nationalism and understand that its history is not purely a domestic issue. Given the complexity of these issues, it is good to have Smith on hand, guiding our understanding and shedding light on their domestic drivers. Useful for both policy practitioners and academics, this book is a must-have on one’s shelf.


The ‘China’ Role of the US-Japan Trilaterals

The National Interest, December 6, 2015

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Asia’s immense economic growth over recent decades has come in tandem with a large increase in insecurity and military spending. Partly in response, the region has seen a quiet revolution in U.S. Asia-Pacific policy as the ‘hub and spokes’ system has been integrated across U.S. ally partners and external powers. The United States and Japan, for example, have developed a number of on-going trilateral security arrangements with states in Asia, including Australia, India and South Korea. All partner countries regularly deny that these groupings are formal alliances, and lacking formal defence commitments in the third dyad (Japan-Australia, Japan-India, Japan-ROK), they are more precisely forms of alignment, not dissimilar to the Triple Entente of pre-1914.

Not only are trilaterals more ad hoc and flexible than alliances, but they are driven by a complex range of factors. They are partly driven by a strand of neoliberal optimism from the late 1990s, as well as by a more realist strand of pessimism found in the early 2000s. The most mature of these groupings, the US-Japan-Australia trilateral Strategic dialogue (TSD) has focused on “human security” activities, such as peacekeeping, capacity-building, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This side of their nature stems from their neoliberal optimism that they can be the building blocks of an integrated security community in Asia, and are part of an inclusive approach to former Cold War adversities, like Vietnam and China. To allied partners like Japan and Australia, the activities are important for “anchoring” the United States to the region, and have allowed both alliances a certain amount of legitimacy by providing “public goods,” while carefully avoiding a security dilemma with China.

On the other hand, the trilaterals also have a hard balancing element: the US-Japan-Australia TSD has included defence-industrial cooperation, the institutionalization of intelligence-sharing and growing military interoperability. With this double logic, they are a classic hedging strategy, as envisioned by political scientist Evan Medeiros. They encourage engagement, integrating regional militaries towards common objectives, as well as provide a form of insurance if Chinese revanchism begins to threaten regional stability. This hedging element is not incidental, but has evolved over time, to match rising Chinese assertiveness and the needs (and concerns) of the trilateral partner states.

The trilaterals are not—as China might think—a means of containment. Rather, they act like a restraining woven paper cup, loosely form-fitting. As one expands one’s hand in the basket, the material naturally tightens around it.

In many ways, it is the ultimate moral high ground, since the cup only tightens in reaction to expansion. In this way, as China continues to expand its power projection capabilities and attempts to expand its territoriality into the East and South China Seas, the trilaterals will continue to tighten around it and create the exact reaction that Deng Xiaoping once hoped to avoid.

The revised US-Japan Defense Guidelines are one aspect of that weaving, as are growing Japan-Philippines and Japan-Vietnam capacity-building behaviors in maritime security.

In some ways, this process is neatly described by the security dilemma in Thomas Christensen’s International Security essays. However, there is one material difference. The United States and its allies have helped China rise by investing trillions of dollars over the past three decades and by promoting Chinese inclusion in almost every important regional and global fora. No one could argue that the alliance partners have not done all they can to make China welcome and included in regional politics. Unlike Christensen’s neutral analysis, the increasing constrainment of China is driven by China’s own behaviour in much the way that occurred with pre-1914 Germany. Again, this is an important moral difference and highlights the reactive and defensive nature of the trilaterals.

Post-Bismarckian German foreign policy was unpredictable, expansionist and supported by a growth in nationalism and militarist culture. Similarly, Chinese revanchism is driven by a narrative of exclusion and regaining its “rightful place in the sun.” No one power—not even the United States—has the power to contain Chinese expansionism. However, an interlocking web of alliances around this struggling behemoth can deter it from unwise adventurism and act as a constraining influence. What happens next, of course, depends on China and its ultimate ambitions. States must understanding that in seeking to constrain China, they are not themselves acting dangerously or – as Hugh White might contend – recklessly. They are doing what they must to defend a rules-based order during a time of structural instability. The real recklessness would be in to appease the rolling ambitions of a newly-risen power, rather than seeking to shape and constrain them.


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)
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When:   19:00 to 21:30, 18 May, 2015
.
Where:  The Army and Navy Club, Farragut Square, Washington DC
.
.
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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.”

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