Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bad news for balancing in East Asia

I agree with Professor Walt that managing our alliances in East Asia will be difficult.  But it is made more difficult if we do not understand the culture of our alliance partners.  It would be nice if Asia (and particularly Korea and Japan) could follow Professor Walt's logic in the excerpt below but we have to deal with things as they really are and not as we would wish them to be.  Unfortunately national pride (and domestic politics) does trump logic.  But he brings up an interesting point.  Do we really think that Japan and Korea act the way they do in these disputes because America provides for their security?  I would view the security of Korea and Japan to be one of the very important interests of the United States.  We do not have those alliances because want simply want to provide for their security, we have those alliances because their security is in the US interest. Just imagine what would happen to the US and global economy if Northeast Asia was to become destabilized.  But to the original point, I think we have to understand that in Korea and Japan these disputes are a fact of life and national pride and domestic politics will trump logic – or at least western logic.

So if you were a smart Japanese or South Korean strategist and you believed that China was probably your most serious long-term security challenge, you'd be looking to mend fences with other countries and especially with each other. Not only would this allow you to concentrate more attention on China, it would increase the odds that China would face cohesive opposition if it tried to throw its weight around in the future. If done adroitly, that possibility might have a sobering effect on Chinese calculations, thereby stabilizing East Asia for everyone. 
Yet this is precisely what Japan and South Korea are NOT doing. To the contrary: at the same time that Japan is having an increasingly ugly spat with China over the Senkaku/Daioyu islands,Japan and South Korea are also engaged in an intermittently heated quarrel over theTakeshima/Dokdo islands, a different and equally insignificant pile of rocks 
I don't know whose claim to these little chunks of land is more deserving and I certainly wouldn't try to arbitrate it here. But it is hard to read about these disputes -- and especially the flap between South Korea and Japan -- without concluding that these two states are letting national pride cloud their thinking in a most unproductive way. And one big reason might be the long habit of expecting Uncle Sam to take care of their security for them.

Posted By Stephen M. Walt  Monday, December 3, 2012 - 11:02 AM   Share

The United States has extended a security umbrella over its allies in Asia for roughly sixty years. This policy had obvious benefits, but it has also encouraged these same allies to forget how balance-of-power politics works.

Suppose you were responsible for national security policy in Japan and South Korea. Unless you were completely feckless, you'd be at least somewhat worried about the rise of China. You do have good relations with the United States, which is in the process of "pivoting" to Asia (whatever that means). But will that be enough? Is there anything else you could do to maintain a favorable balance of power and avoid having to show excessive deference to Beijing in the decades ahead?

Here's the rub: Although Japan's capita income is nearly four times greater than China's, its population is less than 10 percent that of China's and its demographic structure is even less favorable. South Korea's economy and population are even smaller, and it also faces an unpredictable neighbor across the DMZ. Most important of all, China's economy is still growing more rapidly than either of these two Asian powers. Unless the Chinese bubble bursts, its advantage in overall power potential is likely to grow over time. 

Well, if that was a major long-term concern, what could you do? You might start by asking yourself what other countries did when they faced similar circumstances. For example, you might look at Britain's response to Germany's rise at the beginning of the 20th century.  German unification and its rapid industrial development created a powerhouse in continental Europe, and by 1900, Britain could not keep pace through internal effort alone.  

How did Britain respond? By mending fences with other major powers. It settled a dispute with the United States over the Venezuelan border, supported the United States during the Spanish-American War, and settled another boundary dispute over Alaska in 1903. It muted its colonial rivalry with France through the Entente Cordiale in 1904, and concluded another entente with Russia by settling border disputes in Persia, Tibet, and Afghanistan in 1907. These were mostly acts of appeasement, by the way, but undertaken with a larger strategic purpose in mind.
(Continued at the link below)

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