YL Blog #46 – US-Japan-ROK Trilateral Dialogue Takeaways: Urgency, Effective Cooperation, and Alignment

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This March, I participated in the US-Japan-ROK Trilateral Next-Generation Leaders Dialogue, designed around “Reimagining the Trilateral Partnership for the Future of the Indo-Pacific.” Taking place in Tokyo, Japan, this dynamic event consisted of site visits, discussion panels, and thought-provoking dialogue between attendees from the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. The three-day-long exercise revolved around the status and future of the US-Japan-ROK partnership, which represents some of the world’s most vital economic and military relations.

On the first day, we visited the United States Embassy, the Japanese Cabinet Office, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Sankei Shimbun Newspaper headquarters. We learned about the US State Department’s strategies, the Kishida administration’s foreign policy priorities, the strategic significance and challenges of the US-Japan alliance, and the reporting processes and viewpoints of one of Japan’s largest newspapers. Additionally, a panel of academic experts provided us with a deeper background on the three countries’ relations, while representatives from United States Forces Japan elaborated on the complexities of the US military’s involvement in Japan. We spent the second and third days at the University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus. Here, the Young Leaders considered their countries’ goals in the Pacific Region, expected challenges, and appropriate responses to arising issues they may face. The dialogue culminated in a Tabletop Exercise with two escalatory scenarios designed to evoke each country’s intentions, goals, and expectations.

We spent the second and third days at the University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus. Here, the Young Leaders considered their countries’ goals in the Pacific Region, expected challenges, and appropriate responses to arising issues they may face. The dialogue culminated in a Tabletop Exercise with two escalatory scenarios designed to evoke each country’s intentions, goals, and expectations

Across the dialogues, roundtable discussions, and Tabletop Exercises, I noted three recurring themes:

1. A Resounding Sense of Urgency to Strengthen Positions in the Indo-Pacific

Often influenced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many of the discussions centered around the heightened need to react immediately to the increasingly aggressive Chinese and DPRK posture in the Indo-Pacific. The Russia-Ukraine War has directed the US, Japan, and ROK to view forceful reunifications of China and the Korean Peninsula not as abstract ideas written into a rogue nation’s constitution, but something that can happen today with no warning whatsoever. The war has caused the participating countries, namely Japan and ROK due to their proximity to the potential conflicts, to view their situation more existentially and gravely. Consequently, it has added a sense of realism to the situation and, rightfully, resulted in deliberate action. A frequently mentioned figure was the Japanese buildup of its defense force, with spending budget accounting for 2% of total GDP, along with a proposed more outwards focus of the country’s armed forces. This new landmark strategy reverses decades of security policy to react to Japan’s unstable security environment. Also noted was an overall increase from last year in public security consciousness in Japan and South Korea due to the conflict. This reaction reaffirmed the purpose of the US Military’s continued presence in Japan and the ROK and the importance of strengthened military and diplomatic ties between the three countries.

2. An Introspective View on the Effectiveness of Intergovernmental Organizations

With the Russia-Ukraine War in mind, the dialogues centered around finding an intergovernmental framework that could effectively prevent and react to crises. The United Nations Security Council’s inability to act against the Russian Invasion highlighted the lack of an existing multinational organization that could either militarily or economically address similar events in Asia. The G7 was commonly regarded as a potential frontrunner for this role in the Pacific, with conference attendees considering the effectiveness of the forum’s coordinated sanction-based response to the invasion in 2022. Furthermore, the backdrop of the upcoming G7 Summit in Hiroshima added a sense of relevance to the G7 in our conversations. However, some Young Leaders were quick to point out the G7’s shortcomings, particularly regarding the group’s lack of inclusivity of Asian countries, especially South Korea.

As a result, we spent much time discussing what kinds of alternative intergovernmental frameworks could be called upon for a coordinated and organized military or economic reaction to Chinese or DPRK aggression. The Quad, ASEAN Regional Forum, and even a formally organized Pacific military alliance, like that of NATO or even SEATO, were mentioned as possible foundations for deterrence and escalation. Our general consensus stated the immediate need for a coordinated coalition with deliberate sanctions and an orchestrated military response already planned. In each of these scenarios, it was clear that the representatives expected the US, Japan, and ROK to take part in leading the global response to the crises.

3. The Need for Aligned Goals and Cooperative Action

The final theme underpinning the three discussion- filled days was the reliance of the success of each nation’s actions on its alignment with its allies. Each nation’s representatives expected transparency of actions, goals, and expectations from the others. Correspondingly, any unified response to a crisis would call for harmonious and consistent rhetoric between actors. We determined that we would all need to openly communicate with our allies to align on when to take action and when not to take action. Accordingly, delegates emphasized how crucial it will be that their counterparts take no immediate action without first consulting with them. Additionally, a frequently mentioned effort to achieve this solidarity was intelligence sharing with partners and allies to promote cohesion in understanding and reduce the potential for mishaps to occur.

Any approach to maintaining stability in the Pacific Region can only be achieved through unity. This unity, in turn, is gained only through deliberate efforts to establish and build on partnerships, an effect achieved through decades of summits, reaffirmed treaties, multilateral exercises, economic agreements, and dialogues like ours.

Caleb Workman ([email protected]) is an Officer in the United States Army. He was also a 2022-2023 Hawaii Asia-Pacific Affairs Leadership (APAL) Program Scholar.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization, the United States Army, or of the United States Government.

YL Blog #45 – Integrating Non-Military Instruments of National Power in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

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In recent months, two major sub-regions of the Indo-Pacific have become the renewed epicenters for strategic power competition between Washington and Beijing. Officially designated as the “priority theater,” the Indo-Pacific is home to four distinct sub-regions: Northeast Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. While the United States has made considerable diplomatic headway with India and in mediating ties between its allies in Northeast Asia, the latter two subregions have become increasingly susceptible to visible Sino-American tensions within the gray zone realm.

The gray zone—a muzzy space between peacetime and full-fledged warfare—is the preferred domain for most state competitors to intensify strategic competition without directly eliciting conventional conflict. Gray-zone tactics typically feature gunboat diplomacy, cyber warfare, political propaganda, and other means below the threshold of declared hostilities. As Beijing actively pursues these critical sub-regions, Washington continues to respond through a predominantly defensive lens following decades of waning geopolitical influence.

Recent Trends Set a Predictable Reactionary Pattern

In April 2022, China signed a historic security pact with the Solomon Islands. The pact enables Beijing to maintain an increased security presence if Chinese leaders perceive a threat against the safety of their citizens and major infrastructure projects, or if Honiara directly requests assistance to “maintain social order.” Washington subsequently signed a joint partnership declaration with most Pacific states, including Honiara, and reopened the embassy in Honiara it closed nearly three decades earlier.

As Southeast Asian and Pacific nations strictly observe political neutrality amid a rapidly unraveling Sino-American rivalry, regional domestic challenges are correspondingly increasing at the grassroots level. Washington’s more recent reactionary engagement in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines have been met with some resistance; experts from both states perceive an unfavorable increased regional US military presence. These trends underscore the urgent need for US policymakers to prioritize bilateral cooperation in other sectors, such as cultural exchanges, as a foundational trust to facilitate more sustainable defense partnerships.

Papua New Guinea: Seeking a New Rite of Passage

Since the past few years, Beijing has attempted to sign a security deal and secure infrastructure projects with Papua New Guinea—a largely dynamic tribal-based state in the southwestern Pacific. China has also contemplated building a port facility on Manus Island to enable greater access to the Bismarck Sea. A similar trend emerged shortly thereafter: Washington accelerated its bilateral initiatives with Port Moresby. The high-profile diplomatic visits resulted in the successful implementation of the Defense Cooperation and Ship Rider agreements in May 2023—building on the 1989 Status of Forces Agreement nearly 35 years later.

The new deal permits the United States to maintain enhanced access to various dual-use facilities, such as air and sea ports, in several areas and potentially build a naval base on Manus. The agreement drew widespread criticism and demonstrations by academics and student activists from the largest institutions in Papua New Guinea. As Prime Minister Marape and US Secretary of State Blinken signed the agreement at a university, students attempted to blockade the main campus entrance, demanding greater transparency. Various academics and journalists have also circulated a petition to reverse Washington’s “imperial expansion into Papua New Guinea.”

The Philippines: Doubling Down with Investments

In May 2022, the Philippines elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—son of the former leader Marcos who once declared martial law for nearly a decade. This afforded Washington greater opportunities to reinvent the bilateral partnership previously stalled under the former Duterte administration. For one, the United States has expanded the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to enhance access to four Philippine military facilities.

While the Filipino public largely supports a strong pushback against China’s expanding footprint in the South China Sea, some civil opposition has surfaced concerning a visible US military presence. Some public setbacks have previously triggered anti-US demonstrations. Pro-Chinese political figures, local governors, nationalist groups, and members of the Filipino-Chinese business community have also alleged that bilateral US-Philippine security deals may lead to unwanted confrontation with and potential investment losses from China. The United States’ primary emphasis on defense cooperation over strengthening other sectors of the bilateral partnership with equal perceived importance has contributed to some anti-US sentiment in Manila.

Moving Beyond Kinetic Force

Following two decades of defensive engagement in the Middle East, Washington’s multilateral initiatives in other parts of the world have correspondingly dwindled. US policymakers have undertaken fewer and fewer grassroots-level endeavors in Africa, which afforded greater Chinese economic opportunities. Since the early 2000s, China’s investments are now worth over $2 trillion across the continent, with 10,000 state-owned enterprises. In the South China Sea, artificial military islands have been built in disputed critical waterways. In the Himalayas, the Sino-Indian border remains one of the world’s most militarized regions. In the Pacific, a growing Chinese diplomatic and economic presence has prompted renewed American engagement.

As each subregion of the Indo-Pacific maintains a distinct set of political imperatives and strategic cultural orientation, Washington’s theater-level strategy should reflect those operational realities for each unique geographical area. During the Reagan era, the United States tailored its policy to each country using an integrated strategy. In South Asia, the “decoupling” of India and Pakistan resulted in more fruitful cooperation after decades of Delhi’s close cooperation with the USSR.

Southeast Asian and Pacific nations seek greater ties with the United States and the global community to mitigate climate change, tackle piracy, secure unimpeded access in international waters, and enhance digital security. Washington has stipulated each of these points in various partnership declarations in recent months. However, the timing of the re-engagement and predominant focus on securing access to bases and other dual-use infrastructure has prompted regional states to find themselves in the crossfires between the United States and China. One positive aspect is that the US military enjoys significant support from regional partners and allies—thanks to its participation in multilateral exercises, foreign military sales, defense educational training, and numerous other exchanges.

Complementing this positive development is the number of similar vital interests these regional partners share with the United States. The mutual concerns should serve as the underlying basis for American geostrategy with proactive bilateral exchanges in various sectors sustained through generations, besides the typical four-to-eight-year election span. Rather than enacting short-term policy and reversing diplomatic course, the United States should emphasize its efforts on building multifaceted partnerships through cross-economic, educational, and cultural initiatives as a prerequisite or in equal importance to defense cooperation.

While recent regional developments have prompted Washington to secure swift bilateral security deals, other areas of strategic importance require consistent engagement to win favorable regional public opinion. In Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, recent security deals have been successfully ratified; however, the implementation process could be conducted in a more sustainable fashion.

Conclusion

For decades, the United States has served as the principal world leader in ensuring peace and stability. Since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, Washington has maintained and enhanced partnerships with like-minded states as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. More recently, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced the reallocation of resources and manpower away from the priority theater. As Washington reorients itself to mitigate rising tensions with Beijing nearly two oceans away, regional partnerships and alliances will be key to contain and eventually roll back expanding Chinese influence.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Dr. Saba Sattar ([email protected]) is a scholar-practitioner specializing in the Indo-Pacific, with particular emphasis on Northeast and South Asia, through a whole-of-government lens. She currently serves as a subject matter expert for an integrated risk management firm in the private sector and is developing online courses for the Institute of World Politics, a private graduate school based out of Washington, D.C. Dr. Sattar previously provided extensive research and analytical support for a Department of Defense-based institution, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies.

YL Blog #44 – A Trilateral Discourse: The Role of Hawai’i in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

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The Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was a riveting exercise that demonstrated the strength, resilience, and future areas for growth in our Trilateral alliance between Japan, the ROK, and the United States. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from area experts as well as collaborate with our peers in the historic metropolis of Tokyo. As we visited the US Embassy, RCAST, Sankei Shimbun, and the Prime Minister’s cabinet offices, the intricacies of diplomacy and policy making became clearer. The main activity of the Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was a tabletop exercise that allowed us to put everything that we had learned into practice. As we discussed our countries’ priorities and perspectives, it became clear that while our short-term goals were aligned, our long-term projections were not as connected. The United States’ geographic location and its commitments to the region were reflected in our responses. Young leaders from Japan and the ROK were anxiously awaiting greater U.S. military responsiveness to aggression in the region, beyond just the increase in forward posturing with in the first-island chain.

The experts at the Trilateral Dialogue emphasized that the United States and its allies are not worried about China breaking laws, but rather China changing the rule of law in order to assert itself as the world superpower. As the United States and its allies fight to maintain their position, there are two fronts in the wake of rising tension between the PRC and the Trilateral to be aware of: first, military advancements in the first island chain and second, transport control and ownership in the second and third island chains. One of the most common concerns among young leaders and experts alike was military advancements in the region. Of particular note was the future of disruptive technology. While the U.S. military had been quick to increase the intensity of military exercises and presence in the region, like RIMPAC 2022, Balikatan 2023, and supporting Japan’s counterstrike abilities, our peers from the ROK and Japan worried that it was not enough to counter China’s emerging technology and digital policies. Looking for a way to bring about potential solutions, experts urged young leaders to deepen their commitment to share intelligence and increase dialogue within the Trilateral.

Equally as important, and potentially critical to long term sustainability in the Pacific, is the challenge of economic and political independence in Oceania, specifically in regards to transport control and private ownership in the second and third island chains. As the tabletop exercise progressed, it became clear to young leaders that while the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) discussion was focused on Taiwan, in many ways it neglected the importance of other countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Here is where I see one of the United States’ greatest opportunities for growth, specifically with regards to Hawaii’s potential role in regional leadership.

Just as Hawaii is used as a hub for the United States defense forces, Hawaii can also serve as a diplomatic/political epicenter for the Pacific and Southeast Asia. In recent months, we have seen an increase of formal US relations being established in the region, such as the embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga, with more to potentially open in Vanuatu and Kiribati. Re-emphasizing the Pacific in FOIP is crucial to counter China’s soft power advances in the region. U.S. policymakers should leverage Hawaii’s diverse population and interconnected community to strengthen soft power in the region. This can be done through local leaders in Hawaii encouraging greater economic exchange in Oceania and staffing indigenous people in the diaspora in Pacific embassies and government offices. As we enter into a new era of multipolarity, the importance of self-sustainable countries and economies in the second and third island chains will grow, and Hawaii can play a fundamental role in their establishment. The future of the Trilateral is heavily dependent on maintaining of the rule of law, stabilizing trade, and creating opportunities for sustainable development throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Attending the Next-Gen Trilateral Young Leaders Dialogue was an eye-opening experience. Not only was this my first time in Japan, but it was also one of my first experiences seeing how diplomatic relationships work in real time. As we nourish our relationships with members of the Trilateral through intelligence sharing and a unified vision of a peaceful Indo-Pacific region, we can engage more in sustainable trade relations and enter a new era of political stability.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

APAL Scholar travel opportunities are made possible through the generous support of the Freeman Foundation.

Tess Schwalger ([email protected]) is an Indigenous Samoan MA candidate in History at UH Manoa, a high school history teacher, and an intern at Pacific Forum. She is also an Alumni of Pacific Forums Hawaii Asia-Pacific Affairs Leadership (APAL) Program. Her research interests include the rights of indigenous women in Oceania, United States PI diasporic relations, and Indigenous frameworks in policymaking. Her work has been presented at conferences at the University of Cambridge and Singapore Management University.

YL Blog #43 – Strategic Ambiguity Remains in South Korea’s Indo-Pacific Survival Strategy

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Breaking the long-standing diplomatic practice of strategic ambiguity between two major powers, South Korea took a step towards clarity concerning strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. The timing and context surrounding the release of the first Indo-Pacific strategy are noteworthy, but how are national interests and values pursued?

South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy, “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region”, released in December 2022, presents President Yoon’s vision of making South Korea a “global pivotal State” and developing corresponding diplomatic strategy with like-minded countries. Recently, in order to cope with various strategic and geopolitical challenges, Indo-Pacific strategies and new policies have been developed and advocated for by many countries around the world, including the Quad, the EU, and ASEAN.

In March 2021, Japan released the document Japan’s Efforts for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” based on former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy and concept. The US announced its new Indo-Pacific strategy in February 2022, and subsequently launched the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity” later in May of that same year. Finally, shortly after trilateral talks in Phnom Penh and the adoption of a joint statement on US-Japan-ROK trilateral partnership in November 2022, where the leaders resolved with an “unprecedented level of trilateral coordination” to conduct an inclusive, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific, South Korea finalized its first Indo-Pacific strategy document.

Despite the recently increasing importance of the concept of Indo-Pacific regional strategy, the term itself is not new. Countries such as Japan and Australia have officially used the idea for more than a decade. South Korea, by contrast, was defensive about publicly acknowledging its Indo-Pacific related stance, notwithstanding extensive cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries. The term ‘Asia-Pacific’ was more commonly used than ‘Indo-Pacific,’ and the previous administration’s foreign policy strengthened relationships with ASEAN and India, but was limited to cooperation for economic prosperity, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and non-traditional security. With its New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy, South Korea has kept a distance from both the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Strategic ambiguity was, and still is, a longstanding diplomatic strategy of South Korea seeking security with the US and trade with China since the formal establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 1992. For South Korea, it seems to be against its national interest to side explicitly with either its security ally or its major trading partner. In 2016 when South Korea agreed to deploy a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, China imposed a wide range of coercive measures which resulted in a significant economic impact on tourism, cosmetics and retail operation. Accordingly, a worsening relationship and confrontation with either country is what South Korea wants to avoid. While Australia also faced retaliation for raising security concerns about Huawei and demanding investigation into the origins of COVID-19, China’s economic coercion practices on the country were not nearly as dramatic or effective as the ones South Korea had experienced. However, due to the lack of diversification of export markets as well as South Korea’s and China’s proximity and economic ties, South Korean industries are highly dependent on China for semiconductors, raw material, intermediate goods, and batteries — hence the greater importance of South Korea’s relationship with China.

South Korea’s first Indo-Pacific strategy contains implications for the US and China and strategic concerns about emerging geopolitical challenges. In 2022, the Korean Peninsula witnessed a new round of tension escalation as the leaders of both the US and China secured their positions. Two trilateral dialogues were held in five years in Madrid and Phnom Penh. In order to enhance economic security and strengthen deterrence, and also to align with the global framework of the Indo-Pacific region, the release of its Indo-Pacific strategy was timely and significant for South Korea.

The strategy seems to synchronize with that of the US and Japan in terms of pursuing a free and open Indo-Pacific in accordance with the rules-based international order and universal values, but there is a fundamental difference when it comes to curbing China’s growing assertiveness and influence over the Indo-Pacific region. In its strategy document, the US harshly criticized China for “combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might,” seeking “to become the world’s most influential power,” and “undermining human rights and international law.” Japan did not specifically mention China in its strategy released in 2021, but the 2022 National Security Strategy identifies China’s recent activities as “a matter of serious concern” and “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge,” and clearly states that “Japan will strongly oppose China’s growing attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force.” In contrast, South Korea is more cautious and conciliatory, leaving room to cooperate with China. The strategy emphasizes inclusiveness as one of the three principles of the strategy, defining China as a “key partner for achieving prosperity and peace in the Indo-Pacific.”

Continuous strategic ambiguity is also found in South Korea’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Compared to the previous administration, President Yoon supports a stronger South Korea-US alliance and deepening of ties to NATO. Nevertheless, South Korea is still criticized for its lukewarm attitude. Despite increasing pressure from NATO and appeals from Ukraine, South Korea maintains its policy not to directly supply weapons to Ukraine but to only provide humanitarian aid. Interestingly, South Korea sold arms or related material to Poland and ammunition to the US which was then used to provide military aid to Ukraine. This indirect supply was never acknowledged by South Korea.

The Yoon administration sends a clear message that South Korea will cooperate with all countries sharing its vision and principles and complying with international norms and universal values, strengthen a rules-based regional order, and embrace the institutional framework built among like-minded countries. This strategic intention undoubtedly demonstrates more clarity than the previous Moon administration’s strategic ambiguity, but a certain ambiguity remains as the main principle of inclusiveness. Ultimately, the Indo-Pacific strategy was pursued in order to respond more actively to newly-raised strategic and geopolitical challenges, rather than to convey a mere strategy of containment against China.

For now, the new strategy has been endorsed by the US and taken less aggressively by China, but as US-China rivalry intensifies, diplomatic pressure from both sides will get stronger, and a carefully balanced approach even with some clarity might not be enough. As the Koreas are in the geopolitical center of US-China rivalry, China demands that South Korea should be neutral with regard to the US, and the US wants South Korea to become an assertive ally and help to pressure China.

Regardless of strategic ambiguity or strategic clarity, South Korea should understand that the current priorities are to achieve stability and prosperity and to defend the country against North Korea’s threats. Overarching importance lies in promoting solidarity with like-minded countries and expanding trilateral cooperation. South Korea’s release of the strategy should be followed by reinforcing its own clear and independent vision on Indo-Pacific issues and demonstrating its willingness to implement them.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Yerim Seo ([email protected]) is a researcher with a background in economics, European politics, Indo-Pacific strategies, DPRK sanctions and nonproliferation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ewha Womans University in Seoul, and a master’s degree in European studies from the University of Groningen and Palacký University Olomouc. She gained practical experience as a research consultant at the Open Nuclear Network, where she worked on the DPRK sanctions project.

YL Blog #42 – Fostering cross-regional thinking in the division of deterrence labor

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Over the past decade, the international landscape in both Asia and Europe has experienced significant transformations. The erosion of stability in both regions has become increasingly pronounced, particularly within the past five years. This rapid change has prompted renewed discussions on the division of deterrence responsibilities among the US and its allies. A notable forum that exemplifies these discussions is the recent workshop titled Toward a New Division of Deterrence Labor Between and Among the United States and its Allies and Partners,  hosted by the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on June 6 and 7, 2023. During this thought-provoking two-day event, participants from diverse institutions and countries engaged in insightful conversations aimed at assessing the current division of deterrence labor and exploring its potential evolution to effectively tackle the risks and challenges faced by the US and its allies, both globally and regionally. While all the topics discussed deserve attention, this article elaborates on a fundamental question that lingered in various formats throughout the workshop: how to conceptualize a division of deterrence labor that synthesizes two distinct regional theaters?

The credibility of US extended deterrence and the division of deterrence responsibilities between the US and its allies have traditionally been viewed as a zero-sum regional affair. Following Obama’s Pivot to Asia in the early 2010s, concerns arose regarding a potential American decoupling from Transatlantic security in favor of the Asian theater. It has since then become evident that the US remains fully committed to European security, a commitment further fortified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, the question of a “transatlantic bargain” remains a central topic of discussion among experts. Some argue that, in the face of an increasingly assertive China, the US must be able to redirect its focus and resources towards the Indo-Pacific region, while Europeans should assume a greater burden of their own defense. Conversely, others advocate for sustained US leadership in both theaters, with allies in both regions intensifying their contributions to deterrence efforts to address the escalating challenge of confronting two major adversaries. In essence, these arguments are grounded in the belief that regional alliances are bound to compete for US attention and resources.

There is, however, a growing recognition that security in either region is intertwined with stability in the other. For one, the success or failure of US extended deterrence in one theater is now recognized as having significant repercussions in the other. The risks and challenges faced by European and Asian allies indeed transcend regional boundaries. This is exemplified by several noteworthy instances. Firstly, while China may not pose a direct threat to US allies in Europe, concerns have emerged regarding Chinese technological and infrastructure penetration in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe, raising apprehensions about the potential risks to the resilience of critical defense infrastructure in allied nations. Secondly, the growing coordination between Russia and China in the Far East has become a shared concern for both regions. Lastly, the elusive nature of cyber and information warfare implies that offensive actions in these domains are unlikely to be confined to the boundaries of a single region. Beyond these shared challenges, there is also a growing recognition that the demands placed on and by allies in one theater have reverberating implications for allies in the other.

However, despite recognizing the growing security interdependence and interconnectedness of these two regional theaters, the division of deterrence labor in these spaces continues to be predominantly treated with an intra-regional oriented thinking. Indeed, the potential for cross-regional integration and/or coordinated action remains hampered by the regional focus of each alliance. Take NATO as an example; the Atlantic Alliance’s traditional scope obviously remains confined to the North Atlantic region. This was recently reiterated by French President Macron when voicing opposition to a proposal for a NATO liaison office in Japan out of concerns about provoking China.

While it is important for the Atlantic Alliance – or Asian alliances – to remain centered on its regional focus and not transform into an alliance with global scope and membership, considering a division of deterrence labor from a cross-regional perspective could yield benefits. As highlighted by one participant in the workshop, ensuring cross-regional connectivity within the US alliance architecture is crucial to developing a more adaptable and responsive deterrence framework. Advocates of such an approach have clarified that its purpose does not entail broadening mutual defense commitments, but rather deepening coordination among cross-regional allies to optimize the allocation of resources for the United States and its allies. This coordination should involve enhanced political and defense diplomacy to explore the existing connections and synergies in the deterrence architecture between theaters.

During the CGSR workshop, some participants raised the need for open discussions regarding the potential role of NATO allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and vice versa. Clarifying and managing expectations over such cross-regional roles appears to be critical considering the uncertainties surrounding the so-called “two-peer problem.” As emphasized by participants, whether allies acknowledge it or not, the two-peer problem is not going to be solely a concern for the United States. Therefore, it is essential to clarify expectations and make adequate preparations in the event of a crisis involving two major adversaries.

However, a cross-regional approach should not solely be aimed at exploring potential physical contributions, which may be limited in nature in light of constrained resources. Instead, it should center around drawing lessons from the deterrence architecture in one theater and their potential application to the other. Considering the differences between the European and Indo-Pacific theaters at both the consultative and operational levels, exchanging knowledge and experiences regarding the challenges and implications faced by each regional deterrence structure could yield novel insights and practical applications. During the workshop, for instance, Asia experts suggested developing NATO-like nuclear planning arrangements tailored to Indo-Pacific allies. Given NATO’s own experience with such arrangements, engaging in a cross-regional discussion about the challenges, opportunities, and applicability of similar approaches in the Asian theater would provide practical guidance for Indo-Pacific allies aiming to establish such arrangements.

In this context, the US concept of integrated deterrence may provide a valuable framework for leveraging NATO-Asian connections more effectively. According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, integrated deterrence “entails developing and combining our strengths to maximum effect, by working seamlessly across (…) our unmatched network of Alliances and partnerships.” In essence, integrated deterrence emphasizes close coordination and collaboration with allies through a whole-of-government approach aimed at integrating traditional and new tools of deterrence.

A cross-regional approach to deterrence upholds two fundamental logics of integrated deterrence. Firstly, it embraces the logic of collective cost imposition, the idea that “aggression will be met with a collective response.” Secondly, it sustains the logic of resilience, the “ability to withstand, fight through, and recover quickly from disruption.” Indeed, close collaboration among allies across regions enables the pooling of capabilities, knowledge-sharing, and identification of best practices, thus facilitating the establishment of resilient networks. This approach may prove particularly valuable for generating innovative responses to challenges that may not be effectively deterred through the traditional conventional and nuclear deterrence tools, such as gray zones or hybrid challenges that fall below the threshold of overt aggression.

Cross-regional collaborations are indeed starting to take shape, as demonstrated, for instance, by NATO’s growing ties with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan or by the latter’s participation in GCAP. Rather than restricting these collaborations, they should be embraced and nurtured. These cross-regional partnerships not only enable meaningful comparative insights from allies on the deterrence architecture in both regions but also project a unified and cohesive front that has the potential to reshape the strategic calculus of adversaries. Outside of these governmental initiatives, the CGSR workshop, by convening experts from diverse allied and partner nations to engage in thoughtful discussions on the challenges and opportunities associated with a new division of deterrence labor, serves as a compelling testament to the value of cross-regional thinking

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Alice Dell’Era () is an Assistant Professor of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach Campus. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and an MA in International Studies from FIU. Dr. Dell’Era is also part of the inaugural cohort of the “Mansfield Next Generation of U.S.-Japan Nuclear Policy Experts Training Program”.

YL Blog #41 – Beyond the ‘old boys club’: Creating comprehensive gender representation in security spaces

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I have to admit I felt a little uneasy attending this study group. I am not a woman and I do not have any field experience in security but more importantly, I was not privy to the three previous study group meetings. I was literally going in blind but I suppose it’s my independence that made my participation somewhat useful (that is what we tell ourselves when we feel grossly inadequate).

Many of the recent strides in gender equality have dodged peace and security, an industry that still largely remains an old boys club. Especially in governance, where key decisions about the rights and protections of women and girls in conflict and disaster are made. But even online where all of the social media companies are led by men. I was not feeling particularly optimistic about our odds.

At two days, this was not a very long conference. But my impression was overwhelmingly positive. I could see that most of the discussion had occurred well in advance by key stakeholders in the region and that this was mostly about locking in the final outcome document. It was topical too with references to the global pandemic and the impact of climate change as well as differences between subregions and localities. We heard directly from NATO, US forces at the Pacific Command, Australian and New Zealand Defense Forces, leading academics in the gender field, and a senior foreign policy correspondent at CNN. One observation though was that we did not hear from the military or media organisations in Asia which might have been useful in terms of looking at synergies and common challenges. It felt very western-centric. The recurring theme was that although gender was now on the radar, it was not being taken seriously enough at the leadership level to achieve large-scale change. One of the things that really shocked me was learning how women account for less than 20% of expert news sources. How can we improve the visibility of women in the boardrooms when we do not even see them on our televisions?

I remember watching conflict reports on the news growing up. Women and girls were only ever mentioned as victims of sexual harassment or displacement. Never as mediators, technical experts, or relief workers.

The figure is similar for women in conflict research and innovation, management, marketing, etc. They are often the victims of cyber bullying too but rarely do online safety strategies include gender. If we do not change the way we see women in the workplace, we will never change outcomes for women and girls on the ground. One of the speakers was incredibly profound when she said women are not necessarily born with more empathy or compassion. They are expected to behave that way by society. We value male traits in leadership which is often why women miss out on promotions. You see had I not attended the conference, I never would have discovered these incredible insights. There were three young leaders in the room. Each of us awkward and aloof. But beyond our gaze was a genuine fear that defunding civil society spaces, attacks on press and academic freedom, and the steady revival of populism could undermine all of the progress in this area. The case for young people at these events has never been stronger. It is our future on the line here. We must have a stake  in what that future looks like.

This is why platforms like the Pacific Forum are so essential. They bring stakeholders together to monitor progress against real world issues without the political restraint of diplomacy. I’m glad I did not let my reluctance stop me from attending. I just wish more men were brave enough to see gender as a strength and not as a “woke” experiment. Since attending, I have found myself prompting gender conversations more frequently in the workplace and in the wider community. Asking for data and evidence and making time-bound commitments. One thing I could not help but notice however is that women of colour are often missing from high-level conversations on gender equality. We risk re-creating the same levels of privilege that already exist if we do not include more women of colour, women with disabilities, indigenous women, rural women, etc. We are on the right track but there is always more work to do in this space. I have not attended a conference in person for nearly three years due to COVID-19 but this one was very special. It made me identify my privileges as a western male and the shortcomings in the way that we manage conflict and disaster in the 21st century. I am absolutely convinced that if we applied a gender lens to peace and security, we would limit conflict and improve disaster management. It is more cost effective too. We waste billions of dollars every year soliciting the advice of expensive consultants who only tell us what we already know in glossy charts. If we are serious about progress, it starts with including the excluded.

When I left the conference, I was reminded of my grandma. Whenever we encountered difficulty, it was her reassurance and patience that made all the difference. She was more tolerant than my grandpa and would listen more too. I think I would feel a lot safer if my grandma was in charge.

Fale Andrew Lesa JP ([email protected]), Indigenous to Samoa and residing in New Zealand, is an elected member of Auckland Council, the largest city council in Australasia, and a policy consultant at the Asian Development Bank. Fale has worked for UNESCO globally on both heritage and climate change and was human rights scholar at Reuters and a former keynote speaker at Women Deliver. He has also worked with UN Women on gender in the  humanitarian context.

 Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #40 – Fostering dialogue on climate intervention: Insights from the Anticipating Future Debates Conference

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The stark reality arises as a sobering reminder: those bearing the brunt of the climate crisis are alarmingly absent, from the very deliberations that shape their fate. By virtue of my identity and lived experiences, I find myself de facto connected to and impacted by the concerns of those most affected by these issues. While I acknowledge the privilege of such inclusion, it also reinforces the importance of further educating myself and actively working towards fostering greater consideration and representation in these critical areas. However, it is important to emphasize that I, as a young professional on a journey of growth and learning, am striving to become better informed and make meaningful contributions in addressing these complex and intertwined challenges of human security and climate intervention in a meaningful and impactful way.

In June 2022, I attended the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Nuclear Effects Conference in Washington, D.C., and my life and professional aspirations have changed significantly since then. At the time, the NTI conference offered me a unique opportunity to advocate for the humanitarian concerns associated with nuclear North Korea on a global stage. Simultaneously, my participation in the conference provided me with a deeper comprehension of the dire climate ramifications that a nuclear winter could inflict worldwide. Nevertheless, there is a realization that a much more imminent and pressing reality exists—the ongoing climate disasters unfolding in countries that are equally alarming and yet fail to receive the necessary attention they desperately require. Recognizing the urgency of addressing these overlooked climate disasters, it became imperative for me to participate in the “Anticipating Future Debates on Climate Intervention” conference held in March 2023 at the Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The opportunity provided by the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program would turn out to be a crucial platform for engaging in discussions on climate interventions and exploring potential benefits, risks, and unknowns of climate intervention strategies. The conference brought together experts from various fields to engage in discussions surrounding climate intervention and engineering strategies, their implications, and the evolving dialogue and concerns associated with them. The two-day conference served as a valuable opportunity to deepen my comprehension of the subject, actively engage in the dialogue, and explore the critical intersection between climate (technology) research, human security, and policy.

One of the key themes that emerged from the conference was the power dynamics between stakeholders and the representation, or lack thereof, of perspectives from the global South. As climate intervention strategies are being evaluated and considered as potential responses to emerging climatic and geopolitical risks, questions arise regarding the redistribution of power, responsibilities, and decision-making authority among countries. Panel 1, in particular, delved into the ongoing research on climate interventions, explored the associated debates and controversies, and raised important questions about the inclusion of intervention strategies in global efforts to mitigate climate change. This discussion was eye-opening and groundbreaking for me, as it shed light on the broader context and implications of this dialogue, especially concerning security implications in the Americas and the disproportionate impact on populations in the global South.

In addition to the broader discussions, I found the in-depth exploration of technological specifics surrounding climate interventions, such as carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar geoengineering, to be fascinating. The presentation on cloud seeding research, which involves the deliberate modification of clouds to enhance precipitation, was particularly relevant to me. Given the ongoing risk of global droughts, including those affecting countries like Uzbekistan (and Turkmenistan), where I recently had the privilege to visit on a research trip with the Russia and Eurasia Program at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, it is crucial to consider the potential consequences and ongoing research in this area. ‘

However, understanding the technological aspects alone is insufficient when examining the development and application of these strategies beyond the realm of experts and informed policymakers. It is equally important to consider the social, legal, and domestic/international dimensions and the establishment of standards as these technologies evolve, taking into account their geopolitical implications.

While the conference raised numerous concerns regarding the science, policymaking, and education surrounding climate interventions, I remain optimistic about the collective efforts of individuals in this field and the growing inclusivity in these dialogues, though further progress is needed. The participation of more youth and people of color (POC) is crucial, particularly for communities historically excluded from these conversations, such as those in disadvantaged and global South regions. These discussions hold immense importance, especially for those lacking the tools, influence, and education to participate fully in the decision-making processes.

Through my journey in the humanitarian space, particularly in working with human rights in North Korea, and my subsequent exploration of North Korean nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, I have become increasingly fascinated by the intersection of technology application in nuclear science and climate-related challenges. While these concerns have not always occupied the forefront of my mind, I recognize their significance and the need for a broader public dialogue beyond climate intervention considerations. Climate change has become a prominent topic of discussion in recent years, primarily among leaders, researchers, and scientists. Therefore, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to learn from and engage with professionals at the forefront of this discussion during the conference, enabling me to enhance my own understanding and contribute to the ongoing dialogue. Overall, this conference has been an indispensable and transformative experience in my early professional career, contributing to my personal and academic growth. It reinforces my commitment to working within the realm of U.S. energy policy and advocating for the integration of diverse perspectives. Recognizing the significance of these considerations for international order and global stability, I am determined to contribute to the discourse surrounding climate interventions and technological advancements in the energy sector. With optimism, I look forward to further contributing to policymaking and initiatives that address the challenges discussed in conferences like this one, leveraging technological advancements and research frontiers to create a brighter and more equitable future for all.

Maria Del Carmen Corte ([email protected]) is a Satellite Imagery Analysis Associate at The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #39 – Climate Security Underway: Strengthening US-Pacific Islands Partnerships through USCG and NOAA

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The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the US Coast Guard.

The US Coast Guard is the premier agency promoting US Foreign Policy and Maritime Security Cooperation throughout Oceania and this mission could be strengthened by deploying NOAA scientists onboard their vessels. Climate change presents an existential threat to Pacific Island nations, frames Oceanic regional security dialogue, and provides an opportunity to strengthen partnerships with the US and allies. The Pacific Islands Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent highlights and prioritizes Pacific leaders’ commitment to “protect our sovereignty and jurisdiction over our maritime zones and resources, including in response to climate change induced sea level rise, and strengthen our ownership and management of our resources.” The Pacific Partnership Strategy of the United States, published in September 2022, promotes 10 lines of efforts, including: “combat the climate crisis and build climate resilience in the Pacific; support marine conservation, maritime security, and sovereign rights; and partner with Pacific Islanders to strengthen People-to-People ties and seize 21st century opportunities.” To encourage mutually beneficial relationships with Pacific Islands nations, the US should broaden existing maritime security operations to address climate security concerns through science outreach and information-sharing. A USCG-NOAA science shiprider program would provide an opportunity to promote Pacific Island partners’ resiliency through established interagency operations that bridge maritime law enforcement and science diplomacy.

The Current USCG – NOAA Relationship

The USCG and NOAA share a robust and extensive cooperative relationship. NOAA operates within the US Department of Commerce with a mission “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, ocean, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” The USCG is a “multi-mission, military, maritime service” within the US Department of Homeland Security which serves as “humanitarian first responders, environmental stewards, a law enforcement and regulatory agency, a member of the intelligence community, and a branch of the Armed Forces.” The partnership between the two agencies is codified by the 2013 Cooperative Maritime Strategy, 2014 Fleet Plan, 2020 National Weather Service Memorandum of Agreement, and the US Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing established by the Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement (SAFE) Act.

NOAA Corps Basic Officer Trainees onboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle. Photo: USCG

The scope of interagency cooperation ranges across the spectrum of each organization’s responsibilities. The USCG works with NOAA’s “Office of Response and Restoration, the Office of Law Enforcement, NOAA Fisheries, and the NOAA Corps.” The USCG and NOAA coordinate for training, oil spill response, weather buoy maintenance, and law enforcement. NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Class, an entry requirement for all officers, convenes at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT and trains alongside the USCG Officer Candidate School.

Furthermore, NOAA employees embark on Coast Guard vessels, known as Cutters, to conduct joint operations. NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center manages 1,300 weather monitoring stations, including “a system of tsunami warning buoys around the equator in the Pacific Ocean.” The weather buoys are serviced and maintained by Coast Guard and NOAA National Weather Service technicians. Likewise, members of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement serve alongside USCG personnel to enforce Living Marine Resources and National Marine Sanctuary regulations.

Coast Guard and NOAA personnel servicing a NOAA weather monitoring buoy onboard a Coast Guard Buoy Tender. Photo: USCG

The Opportunity for a USCG-NOAA Shiprider Program in Oceania

Adding a NOAA scientist to Coast Guard Cutters, when conducting law enforcement operations in Oceania, provides a force multiplier by promoting science outreach and regional climate security. The USCG and NOAA both conduct operations to support Pacific Island nations’ sovereign rights, maritime law enforcement capacity, and resiliency. Coast Guard Cutters regularly deploy from California, Hawaii, and Guam to support Forum Fishery Agency (FFA) operations, such as Operations Rai Balang and Kurukuru, exercise bilateral agreements, enforce Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Conservation and Management Measures on the High Seas, and conduct regional port calls. When conducting future deployments, an embarked NOAA scientist could deliver exportable climate change modeling, fisheries/natural resource management briefings, earthquake/tsunami risk assessments, critical habitat risk modeling, and/or science outreach workshops to Pacific Island communities. These in person presentations could strengthen people-to-people ties, encourage cooperation between the US and Pacific Island partners, and promote awareness and resiliency. Embarking civilian scientists is regularly practiced by the Coast Guard, exemplified by the Cutter Healy, which hosted 34 civilian scientists during a 2022 Arctic patrol.

Regularly scheduled joint science outreach and maritime rule of law engagements, tailored in collaboration with Pacific Island communities, in support of FFA operations or in conjunction with exercising bilateral agreements, would promote mutual Pacific Islands Forum and US Government objectives. While not a strategic solution to address all regional challenges, a shiprider program bridging environmental and maritime security concerns demonstrates US commitment to the region and a shared prioritization of security concerns. A USCG-NOAA science shiprider program could be an implementable and exportable process to provide capacity-development services when desired by Pacific Island partners. Simultaneously delivering environmental security, fishery, and maritime sovereignty outreach would demonstrate the US commitment to the Blue Pacific Continent and create an opportunity to promote mutually beneficial resiliency, stability, and security.

Tony Seleznick ([email protected]) is a Central Assignment Coordinator for Enlisted Personnel Management at Personnel Service Center in Washington, D.C. He was also a participant in the 2022 Young Pacific Leaders Workshop on Marine Sustainability.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #38 – Cloud-Seeding is Not the Solution to Taiwan’s Rainfall Problems

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This article reflects on the workshop, “Anticipating Future Debates on Climate Intervention,” convened by the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) on March 14-15, 2023. The workshop addressed a number of climate intervention strategies, and the related technical and government issues, to combat climate change. The participants homed in on carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management (SRM) (commonly known as solar geoengineering), as well as cloud seeding and weather interventions. The workshop used the currently existing cloud seeding and weather intervention mechanisms used by countries across the globe to discuss how these strategies might be useful to serve as a starting point to debating other climate interventions, primarily SRM.

This article utilizes the discussion of cloud seeding and weather interventions to the local context in Taiwan, which regularly experiences country-wide droughts and uses cloud seeding in an attempt to increase rainfall. For the past several years, counties throughout Taiwan, specifically in southern Taiwan, have experienced significant drought due less powerful typhoons that would normally fill up reservoirs and create enough runoff in the high mountains to sustain the country. One of Taiwan’s largest reservoirs, near Tainan in the country’s south, is at 11 percent capacity. The government also pays some farmers, particularly rice farmers, not to grow the crop given the amount of water needed to grow it.

The droughts have gotten so bad that major publication outlets now track the levels of various reservoirs on a daily basis. These droughts force cities and counties to limit the amount of water its resident and use. Depending on the severity of the drought, some cities cut off the water supply from homes twice per week as a part of a water-rationing regime. Such practices occurred when I lived in Taiwan in 2014-2016.

Fast forward to 2023, and Taiwan has continued to experience these extreme droughts. The major difference between 2015 and today is that the world focuses more on Taiwan, and particularly its world-leading advanced semiconductor manufacturing industry. Now, during times of extreme drought, as is occurring in spring 2023, reports highlight the water-intense process of manufacturing semiconductors. In an effort to reduce its water use, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. constructed its own water recycling facility and cut water use by 10 percent. In September 2022, TSMC brought the facility online, and the company claims to use “each drop of water 3.5 times.”

Despite these cutbacks, the prominence of TSMC has created a bitterness among the rice farmers who are forced to let their land dry up as they do not think that these major companies are doing enough to save water.

In an effort to increase rainfall, Taipei has instituted a cloud-seeding regime to enhance rainfall and to fill up the nearly empty reservoirs. In March 2023, Hsinchu, Miaoli, and Taoyuan counties used ground-based cloud-seeding generators in advance of expected rainfall in order to maximize the amount of rain from the storm. The two different mechanisms used were pyrotechnic flares and ground-launched chemicals. As these techniques were used, some cities elevated the four-tiered water alert system from “yellow” to “orange,” meaning that “industrial water users would see a reduction in the amount of water supplied to them and households would face reduced water pressure.”

In addition to the ground-based mechanisms, Taiwan’s air force uses its C-130 aircraft to conduct cloud seeding from the sky. Some government officials have even used the power of prayer to the sea goddess Mazu to pray for rainfall.

Despite all of these efforts to increase rainfall, the country still faces extreme drought. These band-aid solutions—particularly cloud seeding—have not had the desired success. One cloud-seeding attempt in January 2023 resulted in little rainfall. According to reports, only 0.1mm of rainfall occurred after the cloud-seeding commenced, compared to the 0.3mm the day before.

These developments are not unexpected. As discussed during the Anticipating Future Debates on Climate Intervention workshop, cloud seeding is not a silver iodine bullet to fix all drought and rainfall issues. The technology was developed in the aftermath of World War II, but the science behind its potential success is not confirmed. Ground-based cloud-seeding has less chance of success than air-based efforts due to issue with the dispersion of the chemicals. As the workshop report suggests, “Once a cloud is seeded there is currently no way of knowing what the cloud would have done without seeding. Because of variability of weather, cloud seeding experiments do not provide a large enough sample to achieve statistically significant results.” And that is true in Taiwan—the technology is used during times of drought, but it is largely ignored when the reservoirs are full because there is no perceived need to increase the rainfall via cloud-seeding.

The number of unknowns regarding not only the success of cloud seeding in producing rainfall, but also in its secondary and tertiary effects, requires more research. As the workshop report emphasizes, “There are scientific concerns and unknowns with the efficacy of seeding and measuring impact, and societal and environmental effects are also potential worries. The possible liability of downstream effects from precipitation enhancement, like flooding, are difficult to quantify and calculate the risk. Similarly, understanding the environmental and health impacts of silver iodide as a seeding material, particularly as it accumulates in runoff or seeps into soil, is an important area of future research.”

As Taiwan continues to experience drought, government officials may continue to face pressure to implement cloud seeding by local communities, particularly the vocal rice farmers in southern Taiwan. Farming communities in parts of the United States facing similar drought circumstances have expressed support for local governments into implementing cloud seeding in an effort to increase rainfall. The same can very likely occur in southern Taiwan. As rice farms continue to dry up and the farmers are paid by the government not to farm, the farmers could very well organize and pressure the county governments into doing more to improve their livelihoods. After years of drought, the farmers are fed up and have a large target to blame in TSMC.

Cloud-seeding is likely not the short- or long-term solution to Taiwan’s rainfall problem. While cloud-seeding should not necessarily be completely abandoned, government officials should prioritize other solutions that can have an immediate impact. Increasing the price of water to reduce waste has been identified as one solution. Improving old water infrastructure to reduce leaks and waste is another. Dredging reservoirs to increase their capacity, and building additional reservoirs are also solutions that can increase the amount of water stored during rainstorms. Taiwan’s major water consumers, such as TSMC, should continue to develop water-saving processes and build recycling facilities and its own reservoirs to further reduce the amount of water it takes from the reservoirs. The less of a burden that these water-intensive companies place on the public, the more water will be available for citizens to use during times of drought. Taiwan’s current drought may subside with time, but such relief has only proven to be temporary over the last few years.

Thomas J. Shattuck ([email protected]) is the Global Order program manager at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, a member of Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Foreign Policy Initiative and the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program, as well as a non-resident research fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #37 – Addressing Invisibility: Crafting a South Asian Action Plan for Unpaid Care Work

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Despite social progress brought about by economic development in the past decades, women in South Asia continue to bear the brunt of disproportionately distributed unremunerated care work. Unpaid care work refers to all unremunerated services provided within a household that involve catering to the needs of its members. Such activities include cooking, looking after children and elderly, production for subsistence, collection of everyday necessities such as fuel, washing clothes, etc. Of these activities, childcare, cooking, and cleaning occupy nearly 85% of the total time spent by women on unpaid care work globally. While unpaid care work supports economic activities, it remains absent from both gross domestic production (GDP) calculations and developmental policy formulations.

Time use surveys (TUS) show that developing nations portray greater gender disparity in the amount of time spent on care work than developed nations. This inequality is defined by both macroeconomic factors such as the state of the national economy as well as microeconomic factors such as personal incomes, with those in the lower rungs being more disadvantaged. A 2018 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that women engage in nearly 80% of unpaid care work hours in the Asia-Pacific region, which is 4.1 times more than men. This leads to “time poverty” which leaves women with little to no time to participate in paid work, let alone recreational activities.

The driving factors behind such disproportionate share of unpaid care work include unequal access to the labor market; socio-cultural (gender) norms; lack of social care infrastructure; and the legal and institutional environment. These interrelated factors are further defined by age, class, ethnicity, and spatio-temporal factors such as regional disparities. Even if women participate in paid economic activities, unpaid care work either falls on women as a “double burden” or is outsourced to domestic helpers instead of being redistributed among men and women within the household. These domestic helpers, who too are mostly women, in turn depend on women in their own families for their share of unpaid care work. This creates a dichotomy where one woman’s freedom binds the feet of another. Furthermore, exposure to long term or high intensity unpaid care work cause extreme physical and emotional stress that might lead to serious psychiatric and physical morbidities.

Unpaid care work thus stands as a major albeit invisibilized non-traditional security threat to women, for it does not just impact their lifespan and quality of life; hamper their prospects for socioeconomic progress, political participation, access to healthcare and education but also limits their life choices and agency thus preventing them from realizing their full potential. As climate change becomes more conspicuous, women’s share of unpaid care work such as fetching water, gathering firewood, etc. increases. The impact of unpaid care work on women thus needs to be addressed in congruence with other threats to human security.

South Asia in Perspective

While South Asia is a vibrant region with diverse cultural, linguistic, regional, socioeconomic and political distinctions, most communities follow a patriarchal, patrilocal kinship system where men are seen as the primary breadwinners and women, as primary caregivers. Traditionally, women have limited inheritance rights and their expected roles as full time caregivers severely hamper their economic activities outside the household; this is in addition to restrictions imposed on their mobility owing to concerns of guarding their “chastity” and “family honor” in some communities. A “good wife” and “good mother” is expected to completely devote herself to cater to the needs of her family members, those who fail to comply are often dubbed as “deviant” or “bad” women. Unpaid care work remains highly invisibilized across South Asia which is viewed as a “duty” that women are expected to render out of “love” for the family. However, it is possible for a woman to love her family and also expect that household tasks are evenly distributed among family members in order to avoid oppressing any one individual more than the others.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of women living in the Asia-Pacific, unpaid care work is burdensome and limiting. A United Nations report noted that women spend nearly 5.867 hours (352 minutes) per day on unpaid care work in India as compared to just 51.8 minutes spent by men. In Pakistan, women spend 11 hours more than men on unpaid care work. In Bangladesh, women spend 11.7 hours as compared to 1.6 hours spent by men. In Nepal, women spend 7.5 hours per day, which is 2.5 times higher than men. In Bhutan, women were found to be spending 15% of their time on domestic care work which is 2 hours 11 minutes more than men. A 2017 Time Use Survey in Sri Lanka noted that 87.3% of women and girls were engaged in household and care work in comparison to 59.7% men and boys. Data collected by the United Nations in 2016 similarly noted that women in Maldives spent 6 hours, almost double that of men. The disparity is the most concerning in Afghanistan, where women spend a total of 18.7 hours a day on unpaid care work as compared to just 5.6 hours spent by men.

In almost all cases, the situation has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Reasons range from loss of employment due to stringent lockdowns to lack of accessibility to affordable healthcare among women, and almost universally includes subjection to physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the household. Countries like Afghanistan are also deeply affected by the political rise of extremist forces such as the Taliban. Many countries in South Asia are yet to officially adopt and institutionalize the collection of Time Use Survey data. Though revealing of the grim situation, such surveys do not necessarily capture the reality on the ground.

While the 2022 ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security recognizes addressing unpaid care work as a priority, most countries  in South Asia have not adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security so far. In the light of the Taliban government’s onslaught on women’s rights, it is highly unlikely that Kabul would continue to commit itself to such a plan. Furthermore, the political sensitivity surrounding the issue acts as a major stumbling block in the official adoption of NAPs in these countries. While advocacy for the same continues, the implementation of an informal collaborative action plan can serve as a timely solution.

A South Asian Action Plan for Unpaid Care Work

As rapidly growing economies that house nearly a quarter of humanity, almost half of which are women; recognition of unpaid care work in South Asia is the need of the hour. The following informal Action Plan can serve as a solution:

  1. Recognizing the intersectionalities of class, caste, region, religion, language, etc. that define the identity of a South Asian woman. It is also important to identify the most affected groups such as single women led households as targets and provide them with additional support.
  2. Recognizing unpaid care work as an economic activity and including it in developmental policy making.
  3. Including more women and men genuinely concerned with the issue in decision making and policy framing panels so that all policies related to employment are coherent of unpaid care work.
  4. Strengthening the Social Protection Systems and Social Care Infrastructures through increased budgetary allocations on childcare, elderly care, women’s health and education.
  5. Creating a culture of gender sensitivity regarding unpaid care work at all levels of education.
  6. Investing in capacity building among women in order to economically empower them. This must take the form of developing women-led banking networks promoting ease in granting loans, development of Self Help Groups and Skill Training workshops for women. Forming a joint resource fund for building such economic capacities among women.
  7. Promoting transnational collaboration among research institutes to identify overlapping issues, mutual concerns and challenges as well as issues unique to each region in order to develop the most effective and feasible tools to measure the impact of unpaid care work.
  8. Promoting regular and improved gender disaggregated data collection.
  9. Facilitating flexible work schedules and arrangements such as part-time jobs, etc. in addition to regular jobs for women and creating awareness among women about their rights and the initiatives launched.
  10. Institutionalizing paid parental leave and leave for elderly care for both men and women.
  11. Recognizing that women are among the worst hit in cases during Health Emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring provision of accessible and affordable healthcare including mental healthcare for women.
  12. Regularizing paid care work in informal sectors, promoting equal wages among men and women and improving working conditions in both formal and informal sectors.
  13. Providing universal monetary entitlements for unpaid care work including pension entitlements to compensate for inability to join the active workforce.
  14. Countering cultural stereotypes promoting toxic masculinity that prevent men from participating in domestic chores through active media campaigns.
  15. Promoting men in paid care work to counter the perception of women being primary caregivers. Identifying and Promoting local cultural norms which offer greater gender equality in terms of unpaid care work.
  16. Promoting childcare facilities at workplaces.
  17. Reaching a consensus on a set of defined parameters such as enhancing economic independence among women, reducing time spent on unpaid care work, etc. to enable a comparative study among nations in South Asia, monitoring progress as well as identifying and sharing best solutions.
  18. Building an active legal redressal mechanism with stringent implementation to deal with cases of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse faced by women in unpaid and paid care work in both informal and formal sectors.
  19. Countries displaying comparatively better records such as India, Sri Lanka, etc. must encourage and take lead in negotiating with countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. that lag behind.
  20. Encouraging the active participation of civil society and women’s Self Help Groups to form transnational alliances and act as pressure groups in demanding better conditions for women.

A collaborative effort in the form of an informal National Action Plan to be jointly formulated and implemented by governments at all levels, regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and civil society groups alike would not just empower women but also help in establishing better political relations in the region. Lessons can be taken from the 2022 ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security in formulating a nuanced and meaningful action plan.

Peace must not be understood as mere absence of violence. Violence continues to exist as systematic oppression embedded in societal institutions such as family where it often takes the guise of “duty,” “love,” and “care”; gendered unpaid care work being one such manifestation. Similarly, national and regional security assessments must also take into account individual development. Addressing women’s unpaid care work would thus not just free them from the shackles of patriarchy but would also socially and economically empower them. Such measures would pave the way for a peaceful and secure South Asia in the true sense of the word.

Cherry Hitkari ([email protected]) is a Non-resident Vasey Fellow and Young Leader at Pacific Forum. She is a Postgraduate student of Chinese language and holds a Bachelor’s (Hons.) in History and a Masters in East Asian Studies with specialization in Chinese Studies from the University of Delhi.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.