Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Searching for a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Searching for a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism

Article excerpt

The process of exploring a Northeast Asian peace and security mechanism should be based on realism and historical institutionalism. One of the preconditions for formal institutions is great-power balance, thus the role of the United States as the balancer between China and Japan should be emphasized. In addition, the North Korean nuclear problem should enter the stage of nuclear dismantlement in which the Six Party Talks (6PT) and the Peace Forum may produce a synergistic effect to realize denuclearization and establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula. Finally, we should encourage U.S.-led bilateral alliances to develop into a comprehensive alliance that deals with traditional as well as non-traditional security challenges that tend to be addressed multilaterally. If the bilateral alliances can alleviate the concerns of third parties, bilateralism and multilateralism may become more compatible, thereby contributing to the establishment of a Northeast Asian peace and security mechanism.

Key words: Northeast Asia, multilateral security - East Asia, North Korea, nuclear weapons, U.S.-Korea relations


Northeast Asia, consisting of the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, has featured a distinct paradox: economic integration was growing but political cooperation remained stagnant for over three decades. Indeed, the region's political cooperation has traditionally lacked formal, multilateral, and regionally exclusive institutions, producing a pronounced "organization gap"1 compared with Europe, the Americas, Africa, and even the Persian Gulf.

It is not the purpose of this research to discover the political, cultural, and/or economic features that contributed to the lack of formal regional institutions in Northeast Asia.2 Rather, this research aims at exploring the ways to construct a peace and security mechanism in Northeast Asia from an eclectic perspective that takes both realism and historical institutionalism as its epistemological basis. This comprehensive approach is premised on the assumption that intraregional multilateralism could be important in dealing with potential financial difficulties relating to the impact of the U.S. financial crisis and/or possible North Korean contingencies that would lead to the reunification of Korea.

After critically assessing current literature explaining the "organization gap," Kent Calder and Min Ye offer an alternative framework, that of "critical juncture," explaining regional institution building in terms of a crisis-driven dynamic.3 This framework incorporates the significant role that crisis plays as catalyst for regional cooperation; it argues that crisis can help the region transcend the endemic collective action problem in Northeast Asia, and open windows of opportunity for regional institution building. They conclude with an analytical discourse on why critical junctures shape institutional profiles in Northeast Asia, and how the concept may have heuristic value in explaining regionalism worldwide. However, the critical juncture approach shows its weakness in explaining how we can narrow the organization gap under the "normal" or non-crisis situation.

In contrast, Gilbert Rozman suggests that the precondition for formal institutions is great-power balance. Such balance has never been enduringly present in Northeast Asia, he argues, due to the complicated geopolitical relationships among Russia, China, Japan, and the United States.4 It has consequently been difficult for regional organizations to emerge. But he did not point to the importance of the role of a "balancer" to maintain great-power balance. In this light, we need to pay keen attention to which country will play the role of a power balancer. Most likely that would be the United States, given its geopolitical power and geographical distance from the Northeast Asian region. The existence of a credible balancer provides a foundation for the emergence and endurance of regional organizations. …

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