Cooperative Maritime Security in Northeast Asia

By Kim, Duk-Ki | Naval War College Review, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Cooperative Maritime Security in Northeast Asia


Kim, Duk-Ki, Naval War College Review


THE GEOSTRATEGIC maritime environment in Northeast Asia is changing. The Cold War order-marked by the possession of nuclear weapons, aggressive warfighting strategies, and the naval confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States-has been replaced by an indistinct arrangement reflecting the fluid state of international relations. As the two military superpowers have reduced their military presence in response to changes in international politics and growing economic constraints, so their political leverage over the region has diminished.

Step by step with the reduction in the American and Russian naval presence in Northeast Asia since the end of the Cold War has come an effort by regional navies to enhance their forces' capabilities. China and Japan continue to expand their already significant naval power, while South Korea and Taiwan are starting to acquire more powerful forces. Maritime security issues are becoming a particular concern of Northeast Asian countries. They tend now to be more preoccupied with their maritime security than with internal security and landbased threats. At a strategic level, some East Asian states are concerned about a possible power vacuum in the region absent a Russian naval presence, and, with declining U.S. force levels, the development of naval power-projection capabilities by China and Japan.

The naval arms buildup in Northeast Asia is not as intense as that in Europe during the Cold War, and no state has yet acquired the capability to impose its military hegemony over the region. Nevertheless, interstate rivalries just short of conflict are emerging, and most regional states are increasing their power-- projection capabilities in ways that could be dangerous if political relationships deteriorate in the future. Claims that the naval expansion in Northeast Asia threatens maritime security can be exaggerated, and they often are. However, the rapid buildup of Chinese and Japanese naval forces has heightened the perception of threat to the security of the region; except for the Korean Peninsula, current security concerns in Northeast Asia are focused on China's developing power-projection potential. Most countries in and around the region are heavily dependent on the sea lanes over which they trade, and in the event of crisis or war most combat logistic support would have to use the major sea lanes that traverse the region.

Recently, regional naval forces have displayed interest in the application of cooperative maritime security models to Northeast Asia. There is no Pacific-- area equivalent of the Dangerous Military Activities Agreement or of the confidence-building measures that are embodied in the Stockholm and Helsinki accords. Aside from some agreements still in force between Russia and the United States, only informal procedures in a few bilateral and subregional treaties provide guidelines for the conduct of naval operations within the region. The formal and bilateral naval arms control approaches negotiated between the United States and the Soviet Union are gone. Furthermore, the significance of rules for preventing or restraining maritime conflicts is increasing in the post-Cold War era, and cooperative maritime security in the broad sense could play a key part in the effort.

The objective of this paper is to consider cooperative maritime security in Northeast Asia in the field of maritime confidence-building measures and maritime cooperation measures. First, however, the theoretical background will be set forth.

What Is Cooperative Maritime Security?

Since the Second World War, international politics and relations have focused on security in terms of the ability of states to defend against external military threats. Throughout history states have tried to find security in conquest, buffer-zones, or spheres of influence. Security studies were accordingly defined as "the study of the threat, use and control of military force. …

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