PacNet #20 – After Ukraine – Enacting a realistic Japanese diplomatic security policy

 

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Mainichi Shimbun. It has been edited and translated from Japanese.

With Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the world now stands at a crossroads. Will we revert to a pre-World War II order where the weak suffer what they must, and the strong do what they will? Or will we maintain the existing global order under international law? At this crucial moment, Japan must unite with the G7 and continue to impose tough sanctions on Russia to prevent further military challenges and uphold a free and open international order.

Those who suffer most in wars are always civilians. Japan should make every effort to engage with concerned countries to begin ceasefire talks and avoid further casualties. As of April 2, over 4.1 million Ukrainian citizens—nearly a 10th of Ukraine’s population—have been forced to flee to other countries. Although Japan has historically been reluctant to accept refugees, it has announced its intent to accept Ukrainians. Yet, the conditions under which they are accepted should be further relaxed. Meanwhile, the momentum for providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine is growing among Japanese citizens. Rational assessment of the turbulent international situation is essential to achieving balanced diplomacy.

Declining US influence

Because Washington failed to prevent Russia’s invasion, US influence in the world will weaken and we are heading towards a more multipolar world. Certainly, the United States has no obligation to defend a non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and on certain conditions, Ukraine was promised territorial integrity and security by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia via the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Not standing by this commitment may lead to certain countries in East Asia to take actions similar to Russia’s, while setting a precedent that countries with nuclear weapons cannot be controlled. In particular, the danger of crises emerging in the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula are increasing. Given US cautiousness in dealing with nuclear-armed states, Japan will have to engage in diplomacy and dialogue to reassure concerned countries.

Japan should reconsider its reliance on the United States, which has not fulfilled its role as the global policeman. At the same time, without the United States, East Asia will also likely become unstable. So, deepening the Japan-US alliance to keep the United States in Asia is critical. In that sense, Japan has a major role to play. Japan must take drastic measures to strengthen its diplomatic and defense capabilities and build a new international cooperative system centered on peace and stability in Asia. As situations in foreign countries are becoming increasingly tense, Japan is under pressure to rebuild its security strategy from scratch. The time is ripe to promote Japan’s readiness and actions to protect itself.

The role of political parties

A think tank focused on diplomacy and security policy should be established by my party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) of Japan, to renew and deepen policies, reduce over-reliance on the bureaucratic nerve center of Kasumigaseki, and amplify Japan’s global reach. There is an urgent need to stabilize relations with the United States and to establish an independent intelligence gathering and dissemination system. The CDP should therefore establish offices in Washington, DC.

While the opposition party should always offer alternatives to the ruling party, there is no need to highlight differences when it comes to diplomacy and security policy. We should leave party interests behind when it comes to issues directly linked to the survival of the nation, and instead unite to protect peace in Japan.

Promoting realistic policies

In the face of the current crisis, Japan must seek comprehensive foreign and security policies based on a realistic view of the international order. According to various polls, over 80% of people worry about Japan’s security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Protecting the lives of the people and the sovereignty of the nation should be the highest priority for Japan. National defense approaches should be further discussed and deepened and no topic should be taboo.

Gaining trust and reassuring the public are difficult tasks. Politicians should avoid making unrealistic and reckless assertions while also avoiding being overly sanguine about countries that are expanding their military. What Japan’s national defense policy requires today is to thoroughly reconsider Japan’s conventional capabilities while also ensuring the smooth operation of extended deterrence. The will and leadership of our politicians, and our realistic understanding of the geopolitical situation, will be further tested if we are to protect Japan and lead the liberal international order in Asia.

Hideshi Futori (info@futori.net) is a member of the Japanese House of Representatives in the Constitutional Democratic Party.

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PacNet #6 What happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine

Russia’s recent ultimatum to both the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Ukraine and European security could set a dangerous precedent, with effects that reach far beyond Europe.

The ultimatum, issued in two draft agreements (one between Russia and the United States, one between Russia and NATO) follows an unprecedented Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian-Russian border. In them, Moscow demands US and NATO guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.

Moscow wants to resolve an issue, pertaining to European security, by concluding an agreement with the United States, without Europeans and other powers in the room. This mentality is reminiscent of the Cold War, when global affairs were managed by just two countries: the United States and the Soviet Union.

The world has changed, however. Today, we live in a globalized, interconnected world, and what happens in Europe will not stay there. There can no longer be just “European” security. For instance, some 40% of European trade traffic transits through the South China Sea, and cross-Strait relations have direct implications for the economic security of the United States and Europe, as well as Japan and the Republic of Korea.

What’s more, the world is connected by vast networks of underwater communication cables serving as the nerves and blood vessels of the digital age-world economy. There is also a net of free trade agreements, logistic highways, and energy supply routes going beyond the oceans and the continents.

Significantly, more than half of the world’s nuclear powers are in the Indo-Pacific. Security concerns include the long list of territorial claims between states in the Indo-Pacific, not to mention the regular testing of ballistic missiles in this region.

So, how can security issues in Europe be addressed in isolation of developments in Asia?

If Russia gets its way, and the United States and its partners honor Moscow’s demands, there will be consequences for the Indo-Pacific security environment that the United States and its regional partners have been busy reshaping. The Quad, AUKUS, and recent bilateral agreements between Japan and Australia exemplify these efforts. Strengthened US security guarantees to several key states in the region serve as a backbone of regional security.

So, if Moscow is serious about obtaining security guarantees, then the scope and format of negotiations must be extended. At minimum, the countries of the G7, plus Russia, China, India, and Australia should be involved in such talks; these countries, after all, cover 70% of the world’s GDP and half of its population. All cards should be on a table, including territorial claims, maritime issues, and the security of logistic networks and communication lanes. This may be ambitious, but the time is right to shape a new world order. A good first step would be to compare notes; no disease can be cured without proper diagnosis.

Until then, there must be agreement that Russia’s demand—that European security be decided on a purely bilateral basis—is unacceptable.

Accepting this would signal that countries can get away with blackmail, intimidation, and even force to achieve their goals. China would likely be emboldened to proceed with its own goals—and not just vis-a-vis Taiwan, but also in the East and South China Seas.

The nations of the world, therefore, must unite and reject the idea that major powers are entitled to spheres of influence. No major power should have the right to rule over smaller states they deem to be in “their” sphere. While we in Ukraine busily study possible routes of Russian invasion, major powers should realize that the real distinction should be between states which want to live in peace and those which seek illegal advantages over others in their neighborhood. Rules should matter more than power.

Neither of the two biggest knots of tension in world politics—Ukraine and Taiwan—should be resolved by force, and if they are, expect the international order to change significantly as it would open the floodgates to more aggressive actions.

Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky is the Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan.

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PacNet #57 – Building on AUKUS to Forge a Pax Pacifica

An earlier version of this article appeared in Real Clear Defense. 

America’s offer to supply British and US nuclear submarine technology to Australia (AUKUS) became a political fact almost instantly. President Biden and prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced it. Yet, whatever its outcome, if it’s just limited to building subs, it’s unlikely to deter Beijing. To accomplish that and create a real Pax Pacifica, Washington will have to up its ante and forge additional strategic technology collaborations between Japan, South Korea, and Europe.

What will happen if Washington doesn’t? Seoul and Tokyo could go their own way. Having been rebuffed after asking Washington to help it build nuclear submarines in 2020, South Koreans now wonder why Washington just said yes to Australia. Assuming Seoul proceeds with its plans, though, it would squander billions on nuclear submarines unlikely to perform well in the closed and shallow seas that surround Korea. Worse, it would give Seoul a pretext to enrich uranium for its subs with plants that could also produce weapons-grade material for bombs. Japan would hardly stand for this. Count on it, and possibly others, developing additional nuclear weapons options, straining rather than strengthening America’s security ties in the region.

This, however, is hardly inevitable. Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, and Europe could create a Pax Pacifica by tightening the nuclear rules and collaborating on new, cutting-edge technological projects. The aim would be to get China to realize that any regional hot war it might threaten in the short run would only further catalyze a larger cool competition against it that it would likely lose.

How might the United States and its allies pull this off? One way, recently suggested by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would be to amplify the Australian-UK-US deal’s nonnuclear features—its space cooperation, unmanned underwater warfare systems development, and advanced computing and missile collaboration—and open them up to the participation of Japan, South Korea, and others as appropriate.

Washington also could forge new collaborations. One might be an ROK-French-US (ROKFUS) initiative to build an enhanced space surveillance system that, among other things, could aim to eliminate the blind spots the moon’s brightness creates near it for our ground-based telescopes. France, the hips of the European Space Agency and NATO’s space command, should be interested. So should Seoul, which otherwise is poised to waste billions on unnecessary space launch systems and redundant navigational satellite constellations. Meanwhile, the project’s surveillance system could keep track of Chinese military and civil satellites, including those near the moon, threatening critical US and allied satellites in geostationary orbits.

Another useful project would be to have Germany, as the European Union’s lead, work with Japan and the United States on advanced computer and communications systems that could help could crack codes, secure communications, and open up closed internet systems. This deal (DEJPUS?) could exploit Japan’s, Europe’s and America’s considerable accomplishments in these fields, Japan’s and Germany’s current cooperation on advanced computing, and help assure US and European markets for the systems the undertaking might generate. This, after China’s rush to tap the European 5G market, would be no mean accomplishment. It also could help penetrate Beijing’s Great Firewall, which tracks and censors open communications in and outside China.

These additional initiatives could include additional participants. Their aim would be to reduce Japan’s and South Korea’s incentives to go their own way (or nuclear); encourage Europe’s democracies to engage more deeply with those of the Pacific; and create peaceful counters to Chinese economic, military, and diplomatic forms of intimidation.

Sound too good to ever be true? It may be. Certainly, there’s one question Chinese and Russian critics of AUKUS raise that could make all this stillborn:  Isn’t sharing nuclear submarine technology with Australia directly at odds with reining in nuclear risks? For many, the answer is yes. It ought to be just the opposite.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has publicly supported AUKUS so long as Australia keeps clear of enriching its own uranium. Scott Morison’s Australia’s Liberal Party, which enjoys a mere one-seat majority in Australia’s House, seems to be listening: Prime Minister Morison recently stated that Canberra does not intend to develop a civilian nuclear program. Even if it did, Australia has no need to enrich uranium or reprocess spent reactor fuels. As such, Australia could follow the UAE and Taiwan’s example by forswearing these activities in its nuclear cooperative agreement with the United States.

This could be done by amending the existing US-Australia nuclear cooperative agreement or 123, which currently prohibits the transfer of any controlled US nuclear technology for any military purpose. Agreeing legally to forgo enriching and reprocessing also has the advantage of short-circuiting nuclear proliferation critics at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference this coming January. Finally, it would help further restrain South Korea, which would like to enrich uranium and reprocess US-origin spent fuel but is prohibited from doing so by its current nuclear cooperative agreement with Washington.

As for concerns regarding highly enriched uranium, which would fuel the subs but could also help make nuclear weapons, both the US Los Angeles and the British Astute-class submarines use this fuel. Their reactor cores, however, do not require refueling for 33 years or more and cannot be serviced without cutting open the hulls. Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom should exploit this by announcing that either the United States or the UK will retain title to the fuel, so Australia will have no need to touch it.

Combine that with a legally binding pledge not to enrich or reprocess and additional American-European strategic technological collaboration with Japan and South Korea, and Washington could set the stage not only for less nuclear proliferation but a Pax Pacifica with real staying power.

Henry Sokolski (henry@npolicy.org) is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia, and author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future. He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR 2 — The United States and Indonesia: Re-converging Security Interests in the Indo-Pacific

About this Report

Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia (CSIS), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue on June 1-3, 2021. Thought leaders from the United States and Indonesia, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials, participated in the dialogue. This report contains the general summary of the discussions.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. This is not a consensus document. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.

The statements made and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pacific Forum, the project sponsors, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email jeffrey@pacforum.org.


Key Findings and Recommendations: U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue

The United States and Indonesia, the world’s second and third largest democracies, form a consequential relationship in the Indo-Pacific. However, despite common values and shared interests, U.S.-Indonesia relations have yet to realize their full potential, especially on the security front. Many strategic imperatives should drive closer U.S. security engagements with Indonesia. These include Jakarta’s leadership role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other key regional institutions, its outsized role in promoting the security of vital sea-lines of communications and trading routes, its location as the archipelagic nation connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans, its shared interest with the United States in countering violent extremism and other trans-national threat networks, and its activist and independent foreign policy. These realities, when leveraged, can facilitate a more coordinated and effective response to a multitude of geopolitical, economic, and security challenges in the region, and can advance the United States’ Indo-Pacific vision.

The Biden Administration has made clear that the Indo-Pacific is a “top priority,” an enduring theme through several U.S. administrations. U.S. officials have also stressed that the United States will seek to “build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” While this framing alone is unlikely to generate in-depth Indonesian cooperation, Jakarta is interested in working with the United States to stand up to China when needed and take a leading role in ensuring Southeast Asia’s strategic autonomy.

To this end, Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS Indonesia), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue on June 1-3, 2021. The dialogue was aimed at building a body of knowledge on the bilateral security relations that DTRA and other interested U.S. Government agencies could use to conduct better military engagements, and provide a more responsive and complementary capacity-building, with greater impact to improve deterrence. The organized panels were aimed at increasing awareness and understanding in Indonesia and in the United States of the two countries’ converging and diverging interests, defense and foreign policy doctrines, and views on key regional and global security issues. Doing so would achieve:

  1. increased awareness and understanding in the United States about Indonesian thinking related to regional security issues such as maritime security threats brought about by China’s expansive claims and assertiveness; nonproliferation; and nuclear security;
  2. increased awareness among Indonesian policy circles of U.S. security priorities related to the Indo- Pacific in general, and Indonesia and Southeast Asia in particular. In sum, these new expert insights and contextual recommendations advance the security relations of the two countries.

The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Indonesia to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated are relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.


Click here to download the full report. 

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR1 — The United States and Viet Nam: Charting the Next 25 Years in Bilateral Security Relations

About this Report

Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam (DAV), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue on May 18-20, 2021. Strategic thinkers from the United States and Viet Nam, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials, participated in the dialogue. This report contains the general summary of the discussions.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. This is not a consensus document. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.

The statements made and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pacific Forum, the project sponsors, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email jeffrey@pacforum.org.


Key Findings and Recommendations: U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue 

Washington and Hanoi left behind their past as Cold War adversaries and upgraded their relations into a comprehensive partnership in 2013. The relationship has since flourished considerably and rapidly. The next logical step is to elevate the relationship into a strategic partnership, i.e., a deepened security engagement. That process has already begun, but more work is needed, and urgently, given the increasingly tense situation in the South China Sea. The region continues to face growing security challenges – from irredentist claims and blatant sidestepping of the rule of law in many of the region’s maritime spaces, to the threat of pandemics and cybersecurity. So far, most Track 2 U.S. engagements with Viet Nam have centered on issues pertaining to development, empowerment, and historical reconciliation. The time is now ripe for a security-focused dialogue involving the two countries’ top strategic thinkers to build on current gains, underscore opportunities for deeper defense cooperation, generate sound and actionable policy and operational recommendations, and highlight the importance of a tighter partnership to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia and the broader region.

To this end, Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam (DAV), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue on May 18-20, 2021. The dialogue was aimed at building a body of knowledge on U.S.–Viet Nam security relations that DTRA and other interested U.S. Government agencies could use to conduct better military engagements, and provide a more responsive and complementary capacity-building, with greater impact to improve deterrence.

Moreover, the organized panel sessions were aimed at increasing awareness and understanding in Viet Nam and in the United States of the two countries’ post-Cold War security cooperation, and increasingly aligned strategic interests. Doing so would promote understanding of regional security issues with implications for bilateral relations through:

  • Increased awareness and understanding in the United States about Vietnamese thinking related to regional security issues such as maritime security threats brought about by China’s expansive claims and assertiveness, cybersecurity, nonproliferation, and economic security.
  • Increased awareness among Vietnamese policy circles of U.S. security priorities related to the Indo-Pacific in general, and Viet Nam and Southeast Asia in particular.

In sum, these new expert insights and contextual recommendations advance the security relations of the two countries.

Strategic thinkers from the United States and Viet Nam, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials participated in the dialogue. The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Viet Nam to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated are relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.


Click here to download the full report.

PacNet #7 – A better regional defense posture for the US and its allies

The waning of the US’ longstanding military and technological superiority against a nuclear-armed adversary magnifies the importance of the US alliance network, making it more crucial to deterring and defeating regional challengers in a conflict. Potential adversaries, including China and Russia, seek to weaken the US alliance architecture to limit its freedom of operations and access to the region.

Nuclear-armed adversaries’ use of advanced anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capabilities and gray-zone tactics—employing unconventional tools for coercive and disruptive measures to change the status quo but stopping short of provoking outright interstate military warfare—is of particular concern. To overcome those challenges, the US will need as many options as possible, as well as help from its allies to tailor its regional deterrence architecture to check near-peer competitors and rogue states, and show that the US and its allies can act decisively if deterrence fails.

There are, however, issues the US and allies must resolve to maintain and strengthen regional tailored deterrence architecture. The first is a threat perception gap between the US and its allies in Asia. Even when the gap is narrow, there seems to be a difference in how to respond to regional challengers.

The Taiwan Strait is the most dangerous hot spot in Asia, and could set the US and China on a collision course. Southeast Asian countries are on the frontline as they confront China’s actions to make its claims regarding the nine-dash line in the South China Sea fait accompli. Tensions have steadily increased between Japan and China over the Senakau/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea since 2012. Lastly, South Korea is concerned about increasing Chinese military activities in the Yellow Sea, as well as in the East Sea. Regional states are reaching a common understanding that China is using gray-zone tactics to pursue national interests and becoming more assertive as its military capabilities and economic leverage grow.

Nevertheless, there is a perception gap between states experiencing tensions with China and those that have relatively good relations with it. Even among regional states in conflict with China, there is disagreement over whether China is trying to work within the existing international system or will weaponize its economic power and use military force to resolve conflicts and change the status quo.

Another factor precluding a united perception of major security threats is the different relationships countries have with the major regional challenger. While China is not a major energy supplier, as Russia is in Europe, economic interdependence with China complicates national defense strategies. Economic interdependence between China and regional countries is uneven, with the latter relying very much on the former’s huge market. Moreover, Chinese investment in neighboring countries—the Belt and Road Initiative being the most notable example—provides opportunities for economic development and the risk of increasing vulnerability to Chinese influence. The US-built San Francisco system in Asia—marked by a hub-and-spoke network of formal bilateral security alliances and open access to the US market, giving US allies in the region huge security and economic incentives—is not what it used to be. China has become an attractive alternative market and source of development aid, though not as open nor as transparent as the US market and aid.

Maintaining deterrence throughout the full spectrum of a crisis—from gray zone to red zone, where conflicts involve interstate military conflict but lie beneath the nuclear response threshold, and then from the red to black-and-white zone, involving nuclear attacks on the US homeland or an ally—requires the US and its allies to act in unison with a shared understanding of threats and how to manage them. Allied solidarity against a regional challenger throughout a crisis is a key assumption for a Blue theory of victory—a set of approaches that the US and allies should pursue to deter regional adversaries, manage escalation control in crisis and conflict, and safeguard core interests. Differing threat perceptions between the US and its allies—and among its allies—of a nuclear-armed regional challenger will make a Blue victory impossible. US reassurance of its extended deterrence commitment to allies, both conventional and nuclear, will not resolve concerns about entrapment in a military conflict between two great powers.

Reaching consensus on threat perceptions and showing solidarity and resolve in a crisis involves many factors, in the military sphere as well as across political, economic, and social areas. Obtaining critical information in a timely manner and guaranteeing its authenticity through intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations is crucial in developing a common threat perception. Better and wider information gathering and sharing coverage will allow the US and allies to better understand the security environment and a crisis. Obtaining and sharing critical information earlier in a conflict, perhaps even before it escalates from gray zone to red zone, will help the US and allies to establish a common understanding of the regional threat faster, enabling earlier warnings and more time to prepare a response.

Such readiness will make it harder for a regional challenger to establish a fait accompli and carry out surprise armed provocations. While the US possesses state-of-the-art ISR capabilities, it should help allies and partners develop more advanced ISR capabilities of their own to deter and, if necessary, prevail over regional challengers before and during a crisis. The US already has a dense information sharing network in the region, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, plus partners like South Korea and Japan that possess capable ISR assets and plan to acquire more advanced capabilities. Nevertheless, more should be done to strengthen partner ISR capabilities and information sharing, allowing information from diverse sources to be cross-checked by allies and partners, thus increasing confidence in shared intelligence and narrowing the threat perception gap.

Bolstering conventional military capabilities, especially related to denial strategies, should also be emphasized for future collaboration between the US and allies. The Trump administration seems to look at blunter approaches and renewing focus on its nuclear capabilities for deterrence purposes. But nuclear capabilities are no panacea for escalation control; finding ways to reinforce its conventional superiority together with regional allies and partners would provide better, wider, and more practical options to manage escalation and respond to provocations. Since strategic competition between the US and China is different from that of the US-Soviet fight during the Cold War, allied conventional capabilities in Asia should focus on supporting denial strategies and tactics rather than aiming to obtain superior counterforce capabilities that could result in misperception and miscalculation by the Chinese leadership. These could include an advanced allied counter-missile strategy, maritime-denial strategy, anti-submarine warfare tactics, and enhanced force mobility concepts that would impose higher costs on potential challengers while preserving allied forces. Investing in conventional denial capabilities with greater interoperability will not only improve tailored deterrence architecture in Asia but also buy time for the US and partners to share crucial information and choose appropriate countermeasures helping to contain a crisis.

The US 2018 National Defense Strategy stressed the importance of strengthening its alliance network, which helps the US against regional adversaries by improving understanding of the theater security environment and broadening options and tools. While allies will look to the US to maintain and enhance its tailored extended deterrence architecture and ensure that it has escalation control over potential adversaries, allies and partners will be asked for more burden-sharing and increased levels of interoperability, as the US cannot bear increasing costs alone at a time of economic slowdown and fiscal austerity. To prevail over nuclear-armed adversaries, the US and its allies and partners should use limited resources wisely, investing more in allied ISR and conventional denial capabilities to narrow the threat perception gap among partners and increase the costs regional challengers have to bear for their provocations.

Gibum Kim (gbkim83@kida.re.kr) is an associate research fellow at the Center for Security and Strategy of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. The opinions expressed in this essay are solely his own.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription

YL Blog #26 – Extended Deterrence in the Age of Trump: Hardware, Software, and Malware

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2019 US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue offered an excellent forum to gauge the current strategic thinking and debates in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul. The event comprised experts’ remarks apropos the extended deterrence in the Asia-Pacific and trilateral cooperation, as well as a two-move tabletop exercise (TTX) that brought alliance management issues to light.

The “hardware” component of extended deterrence was discussed at length, particularly the post-INF developments and implications for the region. The majority of participants agreed that INF withdrawal, albeit problematic in its execution and style, will positively contribute to countering Russian and Chinese previously unchecked advances. Putting aside the basing question, participants agreed that new missiles would strengthen the deterrence posture.

The second element, the “software,” which relies on assurance and credibility, needed more discussions and deliberations. Assuring allies that the United States will honor its treaty obligations in case of an attack is infinitely more challenging than developing a certain type of military equipment. This is what strategists and policymakers grappled with throughout the Cold War. They succeeded by supporting allies economically and politically, and by signaling unified positions despite serious disagreements that were dealt with behind closed doors. In regards to adversaries, the United States consistently communicated that an attack on an ally will automatically precipitate a devastating American response. This, indeed, is the underlying logic of deterrence: an aggressor-state is dissuaded from launching an attack on an ally, knowing that the United States will retaliate on its behalf which would negate any potential gain from launching an attack in the first place.

Since it is a part of the red theory of victory, it comes as no surprise that China, Russia, and North Korea are working hard to break the U.S. alliance structure. What is frustrating to watch is our commander-in-chief making comments that undermine allies’ confidence and play right into our opponents’ hands. For lack of a better analogy, I treat these comments as “malware.” One tweet might not unravel the alliance structure per se, but allow enough of them to roam in your system, and soon enough one will have to scrap the old and install a new infrastructure altogether.

In the recent past, few instances stand out. First, President Trump continues to downplay the importance of North Korea’s short-range missile launches, even though these missiles threaten Japan’s and ROK’s survival and security. Second, bickering over trade deals and troops cost-sharing underscores Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy and skepticism of alliances writ large. Third, adopting North Korean lexicon and calling defensive military exercises “war games” is not just a diplomatic gaffe, but an insult to men and women in uniform. Put together, these blunders create a dangerous situation and invite aggressors to test our will to defend allies, particularly on the sub-conventional level.

As we are upgrading hardware, Trump unwittingly inserts malware into the trilateral relationship. Particularly unhelpful has been “public-shaming” of South Korea and its contributions for military cost-sharing. Koreans are already overly sensitive when it comes to the U.S. troops and the move to Camp Humphreys. Fueling the anti-American sentiments in the South facilitates North Korean long-held strategic thinking that once the U.S. troops out of the peninsula, South Korea will be ripe for reunification on the DPRK’s terms. Undoubtedly, Kim Jung Un is enjoying the new reality show.

TTX was designed to discern how the U.S., ROK, and Japan would react and respond to Beijing’s and Pyongyang’s coordinated assault on the rules-based international order. Japan and South Korea correctly calculated that the adversaries were seeking to alter the status quo, and that the situation merited a strong response. To demonstrate firm resolve and commitment to the alliance structure, all allied states, in fact, expressed willingness to “escalate to de-escalate.” Moreover, a component of the final move was North Korea’s wielding its nuclear card: a nuclear explosion in the Pacific Ocean as well as a missile launch over Japan. Allies unequivocally conveyed that they will watch the reaction and comments from the White House closely, and that their subsequent steps will be guided by what they observe.

Relatedly, neither Japanese nor South Korean delegates raised issues with Trump’s style of diplomacy, and only a handful of American experts acknowledged Trump’s malign effects on the U.S. standing in the world. One participant alluded that we need to brace ourselves for the partial or complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Korea, given Trump’s intransigence with cost-sharing and his record. The fact that the U.S. credibility was not openly questioned is perhaps a good sign. However, Trump’s foreign policy track record was the elephant in the room. (Remember Paris Accords? JCPOA?).

The extended deterrence framework has played an essential role in ensuring peace in Northeast Asia, but currently it is undergoing major shifts. Allies have a decent understanding of an appropriate response to revisionist states’ attempts to overthrow the status quo. However, Japanese and Korean participants (American as well, for that matter) remain unsure how to deal with self-inflicted wounds. Explicit signaling needs to be a priority; there should be no doubt in Beijing, Moscow, or Pyongyang that regardless of the domain and intensity, the United States and allies will respond and inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary’s forces. More hardware in the region will certainly alleviate some allies’ anxieties. However, returning to basics-updating the software and protecting it from malware-will deliver more bang for the buck.

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