East Asia between Economic Integration and Military Destabilization: US and Japanese Viewpoints

Article excerpt

If East Asia is the most likely area for a future major conflict, cooperative issues affecting regional security must be reviewed from distinct US and Japanese angles. The emerging China threat is a clear example of conflicting economic and military interests. New technologies and asymmetric situations will affect intelligence and battlefield operations.

Key words: Theater Missile Defense, US-Japan security relations, dual technologies, information technology, reusable launch vehicles, space.

A study published by the US government in the fall of 1999 concluded that East Asia is the most likely area for a future major conflict. Regardless of whether one tends towards arguing in favor of disarmament or anti-ballistic missile defense system deployment, everyone seems to agree that there is a clear and present danger developing in that region, and that it is getting worse. On the Japanese side, the issue is first of all a domestic one that has to do with cutting the Gordian Knot of the notorious Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which forbids Japan to actively deploy militarily for its allies or its own sake. Then there are the problematical aspects of a partnership with the US which defines its current and future agenda more in terms of securing crucial technologies and military and financial contributions than of managing regional relations and of furthering alternative options for the future, which include a stand-alone Japan as one of the options.

In the 1980s the future of Asia was so bright that everyone needed sunglasses. This led to the collective delusion and bitter awakening that was experienced later. This was a lesson in humility, but did it really improve our ability to define a proper vision for North-East Asia today? For the present it is difficult to find a common focus from either the US or the Japanese perspective.

The Korean Scene

Perhaps one should start with a South Korean approach to the issues: South Korean President Kim Dae Jung had long desired a regional vision. The so-called "Sunshine Policy" vis a vis North Korea represents only one of its balancing acts between economic issues and the ever-paramount regional security dimension.

For President Kim, who sees the Sunshine Policy as his first priority, chances for conflict resolution are enhanced when economic issues are clearly separated from security issues, and when the discussion is reduced to a limited number of regional powers: South Korea, Japan, and China. His urgent need to stabilize the South Korean environment is continuously threatened by changes in the exchange rate between the Yen and the Dollar. This exchange rate affects South Korea's hi-tech exports and the ever-postponed devaluation of the renminbi. Such a devaluation would affect South Korea's and most of Asia's traditional manufacturing sectors. A South Korean return to prosperity - and it so far has recovered to double-digit growth figures - will impact positively on the gradual economic integration of North Korea with the South.

However, in the aftermath of the September 1999 Berlin talks, there has been yet another demonstration of what Caspar W. Weinberger would call "the consequences of dangerous appeasement vs. effective negotiations." There have been decades of brinkmanship, and the past 18 months have been marked by post-Korean War style tactics. The result has been that even though the recent resumption of Japanese-North Korean direct flights and communications offers a path to resumption of economic relations between the two Koreas, North Korea has conceded nothing on the key issues. It has not committed itself to cancel its ICBM or other weapons-systems deployment, or to put a moratorium on chemical or nuclear arms development, or to end its already irreversible exchanges with Pakistan and Iran or Iraq. Clearly, North Korea is still keeping its bargaining chips intact.

This has caused concern to China by providing the Japanese with the necessary excuse for a new defense agenda and for entrance into TMD cooperation program with the US. …

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