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A United Nations Centered Workout of the North Korea Situation

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One would think it unnecessary to point up the potential for disruption of a functioning international order now before us in the stand off of an American Administration headed by a President widely perceived to be inexperienced and impulsive,  and a perennially, aggressively oppositional North Korean dictatorship.

Threats of annihilation of much of the population and  productive capacity of a nation — actually, in consequence, the two nations on the Korean peninsula — and total disruption of largest trade relationship in the Pacific Rim — — now a cornerstone of a robust, healthy global  trade system — hold the potential for rapid loss of tens of millions of lives, and disruption of supply chains and other exchanges deeply embedded in  the United States,  China, Korea and other nations. Standards of living would decrease in at least three major economies, and other economic systems around the world could face major uncertainties. The damage to the international fabric would be extensive and last for decades. So clearly it is necessary to understand and take account of what  looms before us. 

This moment has been long coming, It  embodies  conflicts which were only held in abeyance  by the truce which divided the Korean peninsula over six decades ago. And even the work-around here proposed would only reduce the tensions involved in Korea to currently manageable levels.

One might argue, as, in effect,  has Russia’s Putin, that the potential  danger to the United States and its allies of a Korean nuclear capacity is not likely to destabilize the world, and the United States is overwrought. But the forces in play and in this corner of the world are substantial and persistent, and if World War I taught us anything, it is that a destabilization event can spread far, and catastrophically, beyond its initial impulse.

At this point, it appears that many see Chinese action directed toward North Korea as the most effective and feasible action available. From the viewpoint of the United States, the venue of this writer, one can make the case that there is an asymmetry which China should recognize and respond to. Though nations economically aligned with the United State ring China in the Pacific Ocean area, none of them hosts missile capacities targeting or otherwise threatening China.  But North Korea, whose economy is closely linked with China’s, aggressively seeks to create a nuclear threat to the United States.

And while the leader of North Korea may not be incapable of connected thought,  or intentionally suicidal, he has a very narrow and coddled range of experience. The conduct of his regime suggests that he has little more regard for the millions of lives he might sacrifice in South Korea, or elsewhere, than he would for the ants in an anthill in his path, and he would care little or nothing for any disruption his conduct might lead to in  the interdependent web of nations in the Pacific and around the globe.

China’s capacity to restrain North Korea may be conditional, and its use in some respects awkward for it. Various writers have pointed out such considerations. But the economic and political stakes for China are massive. Korea is not economically essential to China.  But even were it to be considered so,  China need not  fear that an eventually unified Korea (which the United States does not need, and has not for decades been a core objective of the United States) would decisively tilt the Korean peninsula against China. China has propinquity, a long history, and major market opportunities for any unified Korea, should that, far from certainly, eventuate. In an open international trading regime, such advantages can be legitimately be employed without justifying massive economic or political response from the United States

Even though these are considerations which the representatives of the United States can press, one can consider including in the multilateral response to North Korea’s provocative adventure an arrangement which demands less from China than a complete abandonment  of North Korea, and which could be more effective as to all concerned.

Let us consider this  framework. From the viewpoint of the United States, the critical issue is not so much whether North Korea has an ‘atomic bomb’ as whether it can deliver such a weapon to our homeland, or the homelands of our economic and political partners, If North Korea’s ability to launch offensive  long range missiles could be removed, then the threat which has so aroused the United States, and others in the International community, would be eliminated or reduced to far more manageable dimensions.

At present, notwithstanding extensive sanctions, the world external to North Korea has not been able to stop the Kim regime’s pursuit of long distance missile capacity. Let us suppose that this continues to be the case, short of sanctions so severe as to induce enormous suffering upon the North Korean people and/or a reformulation of the uses of the United Nations apparatus?

Let us suppose that the United Nations apparatus were to be used to certify and if necessary prevent any ICBM launches, as a part of a program to convert the current truce in the Korean peninsula into a workable treaty. Such a program to in effect disarm North Korea, as to nuclear tipped missiles, would also necessarily involve stepping back sanctions, on proof of performance, and treaty obligations not to invade or use first strike force against North Korea if it were to abide by the treaty. 

To give such an arrangement multilateral teeth, let us then suppose that nations with the intelligence and technical capacities to detect the creation and exercise of long distance missile capabilities were to unite to  earmark for United Nations ‘trigger finger’ authorization the use of means to destroy, or otherwise make inoperative,  the missile facilities used to launch any ICBM from North Korea. In such an arrangement, no need of demonstrating any harm to any nation would be required, Nor would  any single nation, including but not limited to South Korea,  be identified as ‘the opponent’ justifying armed invasion or other forms of retaliation. The issue would become very simple. If North Korea undertakes action which is aimed at delivering destruction to any other nation, by ICBM means, and evidences that aim by ICBM deployment, it would immediately and effectively sacrifice such means, by concerted action of the entire international community. (Even  if, in frustrated rage, it were then to lash out on South Korea, it would have doubly earned the concerted opposition of a formidable group of nations.)

Even though this approach could be argued to be elegant and incisive, in concept, it would present  substantial practical and political issues.   The capabilities to counter ICBM use would have to be identified, and their availability and usage controls continually monitored. This is sensitive territory for any nation having such capabilities. A great deal of very sensitive demarcation and coordination among nations would have to be agreed upon and continually maintained. The mechanism entails such destruction potentials as to demand the most stringent oversight and maintenance, while maintaining lethal effectiveness. Clearly, any such program would have to be explored carefully, by a sufficiently diverse body, before presented for United Nations acceptance in some fashion.

There would also be costs of maintaining this control apparatus. (Those might be covered by levy on North Korean exports and imports. This approach would make international threatening costly to North Korea, while allowing peaceful commerce to proceed without embargoes and other stringent impediments.)

Also, granting this much latitude for lethal effect to a body of global scope would be troubling to many in the international community. If this were done, might it become a template for other cessions of lethal authority, reducing the scope of  national sovereignty, and eventually resulting in a group of Overlords remote from the global citizenry, subject to corrupt and brutal use of vast delegated powers? Bit by bit,  ‘emergency’ by emergency’,  by incremental steps, would international citizenry become international serfdom?

In the legal discipline, there is a saying to the effect that hard cases sometimes make bad law. North Korea is a a hard case. We do not want to let it lead to a  repressive international regime.

But ‘hard cases’ do arise, and require practical solutions. This hard case has a potential for vast global  damage, here and now. Let us consider looking down this path.

Getting concert among the most interested national entities, in a formalized framework of this sort, would reduce the possibilities of oppositional interactions among them, involving trade, or military, activity, getting out of hand, and destroying economic commerce important to all nations. North Korea would in effect face an effective blockade of nuclear force, and concerted resistance to any attempt to hold hostage millions of Koreans in aid of its long run effort to gain the capacity to use such force.  In exchange, North Korea would gain formal international recognition, would gain assurance that force would not be used against it, and would gain much improved possibilities for peaceful and productive commerce.  

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East Asia

Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects

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image source: twitter @kishida230

In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.

Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.

Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.

One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.

This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.

Japan – Indonesia Common Ground

In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect. 

In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.

Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile

Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.

Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.

Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.

Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.

Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia 

In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.

In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.

As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.

The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.

The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.

Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.

Challenges

To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.

Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.

Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.

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