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Issues & Insights Vol. 16 – No. 14 – The 2015 Northeast Asia Regional Young Leaders Security Seminar

The Northeast Asia Regional Young Leaders Security Seminar, which took place November 8-11, 2015 at the Sheraton Walkerhill in Seoul, Republic of Korea, is the only Pacific Forum CSIS Young Leaders meeting that does not rely on “senior experts” for wisdom, and thus depends on the experience and opinions of Young Leaders and their thoughtful engagement. We expect them to challenge assumptions and prove they have something to say.

The meeting convened November 9 at the picturesque Aston House, where US-ROK Wisemen’s Council meetings took place in the early to mid-1990s; these sessions helped shape ROK-US relations then, just as we hope Young Leaders meetings will shape relations in the future. The first panel explored opportunities and challenges facing regional cooperation in Northeast Asia and featured presentations by senior Young Leaders from Japan, the United States, and the People’s Republic of China, and it was moderated by a senior Young Leader from the Republic of Korea (ROK). The question and answer session exposed the volatility of the historical issues between Japan and the ROK and China, but the Young Leaders were able to agree to disagree and move forward amicably. The second panel assessed the evolving threats posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and included presentations by senior Young Leaders from the US, China, and ROK, and was moderated by a Japanese Young Leader. The discussions introduced issues of traditional and nontraditional security, such as cyber and nuclear security and disaster relief, that laid the foundation for the later table-top exercise (TTX). Several presentations highlighted the need for Japan and the ROK to take the lead on security cooperation in Northeast Asia, since they have the most to gain and lose in the event of a crisis.

The Honorable Mark W. Lippert, US Ambassador to the ROK, and SK Chairman Choi Shin Won addressed the group over lunch. They discussed the importance of giving voice to the next generation of security experts, and applauded Pacific Forum’s efforts to do so, and the role of the US in regional security in Northeast Asia. Young Leaders engaged in a robust question and answer session with Ambassador Lippert on issues relevant to the US-Korea relationship, the presence of US military forces around the world, and the situation with North Korea.

Monday afternoon kicked off the TTX that divided the Young Leaders into country groups (US, Japan, China, and ROK) and presented them with a scenario that involved nuclear accidents in Japan and Korea, possibly caused by cyberattacks. With limited information, the groups had to identify their first five actions, the first five messages they would deliver, and what they expected and hoped the other countries would and would not do. The TTX exposed fundamental differences in perceptions of attribution and intent, and the subsequent ability to deliver a proportional response. Tristan Volpe writes in his enclosed analysis that, “a key implication from the TTX is that the challenges faced by the Young Leaders in assigning attribution and devising a proportional response are not unique to digitally enabled attacks on critical infrastructure. Rather, these are problems that countries have long had to address with covert action in general…how should the victim respond in the absence of a clear-cut casus belli?” Volpe’s analysis and the TTX country reports that follow present each team’s response to the crisis and to one another, and the obstacles they faced reaching a solution. Two items worth noting are: the China team was comforted by the Japan team’s reluctance to react aggressively to the DPRK and saw this as an introduction to future China-Japan cooperation, and the ROK, China, and Japan teams were confident they could have direct, trilateral coordination without US involvement.

As you will read in the enclosed reports, the core competencies for both participating in and analyzing this exercise can be divided into six topics: cyber security, conventional threats from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), regional cooperation and improving HA/DR capability in Northeast Asia, Northeast Asia Regional Security Architecture, nuclear safety and security, and China’s role in Northeast Asia. The second half of this publication is an exploration of these six areas that includes suggestions for further research and reading on the subjects. The authors have demonstrated interest and expertise on the subjects and have provided a solid foundation on which to build greater familiarity with these areas. We hope that by providing this foundation research, we give our table-top exercise and our conference a longer shelf-life and we hope that others run this scenario in their own groups.

The Pacific Forum CSIS Young Leaders program is built on the premise that establishing expertise and a network of young Asia security experts will pay dividends for peace in future years when they are able to discuss contentious issues in times of crisis with people they already know. This meeting, more than any other, provides a venue for that mission. We hope that readers will be inspired by the Young Leaders’ diplomacy and scholarship presented here and will walk away with a renewed sense that peace and security in Northeast Asia will be in good hands.