Japan and the East Asian Maritime Security Order: Prospects for Trilateral and Multilateral Cooperation

By Christoffersen, Gaye | Asian Perspective, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Japan and the East Asian Maritime Security Order: Prospects for Trilateral and Multilateral Cooperation


Christoffersen, Gaye, Asian Perspective


Japan has pursued a grand strategy of creating an East Asian maritime order with a special emphasis on situating a U.S.-Japan-China trilateral arrangement, based on cooperative security, at the core of an East Asian maritime regime. The United States and China have slowly adopted some of this Japanese strategy. This article examines the lessons East Asia has learned from several maritime security initiatives-America's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and its Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI), Japan's ReCAAP, and Southeast Asia's MALSINDO-that were applied to the anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden. Despite the influence of Japan's strategy for maritime security, paradoxically it has responded more slowly in its deployment to the Gulf of Aden, contributing to the traditional image of Japan as a reactive state. The institutional design of maritime regimes in the Gulf of Aden and in East Asia is thus incrementally unfolding; maritime cooperation is taking place in an ad hoc, bottom-up manner with very uncertain outcomes.

Key words: Japan, maritime security, multilateral security- East Asia, piracy

Introduction

The 9/11 terrorist attacks represent a turning point for the United States, Japan, and China in responding to the transnational threats of piracy and maritime terrorism. Although conflating piracy and maritime terrorism is controversial, there is widespread concern that the two distinct threats could merge. All three countries appear to have competing approaches for countering piracy and maritime terrorism in general, which is symptomatic of the much larger struggle over Asia's regional security architecture.

This article will examine the Somali piracy issue as a case study of some convergence of strategies in United States, Japanese, and Chinese maritime security. East Asian lessons in maritime cooperation are being applied in Somalia, and lessons from Somalia may be introduced into East Asia. The theoretical approach is constructivist, viewing formation of a security community as socially constructed through a learning process. The argument here is that the process of learning may lay the groundwork for a trilateral maritime arrangement, positing that the institutional design of a potential East Asian maritime regime should be viewed as a dependent rather than an independent variable.1

The ongoing threat of Somali piracy was elevated to an immediate threat in December 2008, necessitating a quick response from the United States, China, and Japan. All three countries have maritime strategies that are shifting toward new approaches to these threats-a paradigm shift toward "cooperative security" in nontraditional security issues. Cooperative security is generally defined as a multilateral security arrangement that is inclusive and creates habits of dialogue.2 It is often associated with nontraditional security issues and transnational threats to security. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was created on the basis of cooperative security.3 The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) is a nongovernmental, Track II dialogue for security issues in the Asia-Pacific that provides support for the ARF.4

Although both the United States and China have national committees for CSCAP, and early work done by American scholars developed the concept of cooperative security, this has not been easily translated into official U.S. security policy. China's socialization into the norms of the ARF at the level of official policy has been slow even though Beijing adopted a "new security concept" in 1997 based on cooperative security. Some Chinese scholars have published on cooperative security; the first book was written by Professor Su Hao in 2003.5

During the George H.W. Bush administration, American analysts had argued that since Asia lacked regional institutions that could maintain order, the United States must continue to rely on the hub-and-spokes pattern to create a secure order in East Asia. …

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