The meeting between the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-Un, and the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27-28, 2019.
The primary aim, as stated by both Heads of State, is the solution of the North Korean and US nuclear issue in South Korea.
The news of the meeting had initially been delivered by President Trump, in his speech on the State of the Union, but also in a long series of now inevitable Twitter messages.
Indeed, after the Singapore Summit between Kim Jong-Un and Trump, in the first half of June 2018, the negotiations between the two countries had clearly stalled.
The results reached in Singapore, however, were very significant: the US Armed Forces’ cessation of the joint exercises with South Korea’s military structures; the certainty – as stated by President Trump – that Kim Jong-Un would dismantle his nuclear system “very quickly”, but also the continuation of US economic sanctions against North Korea, unless “quick and new” choices were made by Kim Jong-Un.
It should also be noted that the decision to suspend the joint military exercises with South Korea was a real bolt from the blue for the country, above all while President Trump enabled North Korea to use the nuclear and conventional IAEA “safety measures” – an unavoidable and necessary factor of a future and quick disarmament.
Since the Singapore Summit the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula has been the aim of both Heads of State, but with a too generic approach on the procedures and time schedule of the checks on disarmament.
For the time being, however, while from the beginning of its autonomous negotiations with South Korea, North Korea has always avoided carrying out nuclear or missile exercises and tests, certainly no one has declared or shown interest in really endeavouring for denuclearization in both Koreas.
However, why has Hanoi been chosen as venue of the meeting?
The choice has been made precisely by President Trump because the capital of Vietnam, which is still a painful symbol for the United States, has managed to become a great pole of international economic development, after its reunification with the Communist North Vietnam.
In a Twitter message President Trump wrote: “Under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, North Korea will become the great economic powerhouse of Southeast Asia, considering that I have gotten to know Kim and fully understand how capable he is as a politically rational leader”.
It is not just flattering. Probably President Trump has been fascinated by this young North Korean leader, heir to an extraordinary ancestry, who studied in Switzerland, followed his cursus honorum in the true control rooms of North Korea’s power, and was modest while he was learning and is now assertive, without rhetoric, when he rules.
Pending his visit to Vietnam, the North Korean leader will visit the factories of the Bac Ninh Province, northeast of Hanoi, with a view to probing the concrete possibility of building a smartphone factory jointly with the South Korean company Samsung.
Most likely, there will also be a visit by the North Korean leader to Ha Long Bay, a popular tourist area near Haiphong.
If we do not think about quality tourism, we cannot properly imagine the future development of North Korea, which will also fit very well in the new global food chains.
It should also be noted that this visit by Kim Jong-Un is the first one he pays to Vietnam.
It is also worth recalling that North Korea sent some of its air forces to fight alongside the VietMihn of the Vietnamese Communist “resistance”, as well as Russia and China. Currently, however, Vietnam’s primary economic partner is, coincidentally, South Korea and this has certainly not contributed to preserve good relations between North Korea and Vietnam.
The meeting between the Head of US negotiators, Stephen Biegun, with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok-Chol, has already taken place in Hanoi and Pyongyang – a meeting always focused on topic number 1, namely denuclearization.
Before this assignment in relation to North Korea, Stephen Biegun was responsible for Ford Motor Co’s international relations.
He knows Russian and Moscow’s economic and political circles very well. He is member of the Board of the U.S. Russia Foundation and of Ford Sollers, the joint venture of Ford Motor Co.in the Russian Federation.
Kim Hyok-Chol had met Biegun also in Pyongyang, where they had already talked about “complete denuclearization”.
The denuclearization that will probably emerge in its already final form at the end of the Hanoi talks between the two leaders.
We can already predict it will envisage the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor and some funds to support North Korea’s economic growth, with a very “long-term” loan for funding the nuclear decommissioning of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In fact, the latest satellite images of the North Korean reactor Yongbyon show a still active and well-maintained site, while the main structures of the reactor seem to be still unused to date.
Kim Jong-Un has already decided that Yongbyon will be the start of the great North Korean denuclearization process.
Both symbol and substance.
An image to be shown the world and a credible subject of negotiation.
Kim Jong-Un has always said – also to his South Korean counterpart – that it would be Yongbyon to be closed down, at the beginning of negotiations, “if there were corresponding actions by the United States”.
It is easy to imagine them: the “sincere” measures envisaged by Kim Jong-Un, in his last New Year’s speech, are the removal from South Korea of the US military and nuclear structures that can allow a response to the first nuclear attack from the North.
In 2018 alone, North Korea also destroyed both a nuclear base and a missile structure, but the United States said that these operations had not been fully accomplished and, in any case, they could be easily reversed.
According to some US nuclear disarmament experts, Kim Jong-Un could reach a level just at the limit of complete nuclear disarmament, but such measures would be such as to clearly regionalize North Korea’s nuclear (and hence missile) threat.
In short,Kim Jong-Un “rescues” the United States from its missiles.
This also means that, in a military or geopolitical regional crisis, Kim Jong-Un could also “involve” both China and Japan in the negotiations, thus multiplying both the effect of his threat and the strength of his final resigning to continue the attack.
The other factor will be the “new and soft phase” of relations between North and South Korea, with a significant reduction in the number of guard posts and internal weapons within the Demilitarized Zone.
For the North Korean leader the next step will be to almost completely put an end to the old alliance between South Korea and the United States which, in his opinion, is always a harbinger of dangerous military (and, in the future, also economic) presences that would push a de facto unified Korea to get out of the triangle which will effectively replace the North Korean nuclear system, i.e. the North Korean strategic integration with China and the Russian Federation.
Even the planned dismantling of Yongbyon, however, would leave North Korea with a substantial amount of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of producing enriched uranium elsewhere.
Nevertheless, there would anyway be a definitive stop to the production of plutonium by North Korea, which is a very important political and strategic result.
It should be recalled, however, that even the sole dismantling of Yongbyon is a remarkable technological, financial and political operation.
A stable connection would be needed between the United States, the Russian Federation, China and, probably, South Korea, and even the now residual European Union.
In addition to IAEA, of course.
It will take many years and huge funds to achieve this result. Needless to cherish the fond hope.
Just to give an example, the Rocky Flats US headquarters used for storing plutonium, was dismantled in 14 years at a cost of 9 billion US dollars.
In Belgium, Eurchemic was decommissioned and dismantled in 25 years at a cost of 333.75 million US dollars.
Probably the most rational and quick choice will be to entrust the decommissioning of Yongbyon to a joint political and financial organization between the United States and North Korea.
Nevertheless, how will North Korea afford it? Obviously it will not want to have external support – and rightly so – but, hence, how can the issue be solved?
The huge cost of decommissioning the site must anyway be shared by a sufficient number of actors. North Korea cannot materially bear 50% of all costs.
Hence support will be inevitably needed from South Korea, the Russian Federation and China, but also from Japan and, probably, an axis between Vietnam and Thailand, for example.
It is impossible for the United States and North Korea alone to bear all the costs.
We could also think about an ad hoc investment bank which, at international level, would be entrusted with the task of funding the operation, at least partly, so as to later organize business projects in North Korea, in full agreement with Kim Jong-Un’s leadership.
Once clarified the financial framework, the technical operations of decommissioning could also be very quick: reinforced concrete “containers” to be filled with nuclear N materials would be used. Then the reactor (and the iodine selector filters) cells would be emptied, but what is left would be covered again with much reinforced concrete, without further removals that could be postponed to economically better times.
The plasma torches and all the other current techniques could almost immediately stop the action of radioactive materials, but with a maximum amount of staff that could be about 150 technicians and at least 70 elements, all selected among North Korean experts.
In short, if all this can happen in the future, the solution for Yongbyon will be found in less than a year and at a predictable cost of 6 million US dollars.
The 5 MWe reactor defueling is a further problem.
This is the primary source of plutonium.
The defueling would cost approximately 3 million US dollars, all inclusive, while the real dismantling would cost about 30 million US dollars.
Hence the total cost for dismantling the plutonium and uranium networks, the centrifuges and the reactor will range between 300 million US dollars, in an initial and scarcely effective phase, and as many as 1.6 billion US dollars.
Under IAEA sole control, the dismantling of all North Korean facilities will last at least twenty years, at the aforementioned cost of 1.6 US dollars, but without IAEA supervision it will take at least ten years and almost one billion US dollars.
Why confining the negotiations for peace and inclusion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into the world market only to the nuclear issue?
It is most likely that the North Korean chemical weapon warehouse is “old”, but there are certainly still VX and CW agents, G-series and V-series nerve agents that are certainly not negligible in any confrontation capable of endangering North Korean stability and political identity.
What about discussing it in the Summit, at least in an initial phase? What about establishing a rational military balance between the United States, Russia and China in the whole Asian continent?
Kim Jong-Un could – and certainly will- be a fully rational actor, who will know how to evaluate the best potential for the defence of his country, but without the silly memories of the Cold War.
This also applies to North Korea’s chemical weapons, which Kim Jong-Un will deal with the necessary flexibility, but also with a compensatory criterion with respect to his nuclear system.
Hence the prospects for the North Korean leadership could be the following:
a) keeping a minimum share of chemical, bacteriological and even nuclear weapons to effectively react to any North Korea’s political crisis. The calculation of the Minimum that a statesman must always be able to do. A possible solution could be an official statement, just before or even during the forthcoming Hanoi Summit, that there will be a mutual and official recognition between the United States and North Korea – a definitive document dealing with borders, the political personality, the regular exchange of ambassadors and cultural, commercial and financial relationships.
b) An agreement for the transfer of nuclear and bacteriological-chemical stocks to a third country, under the supervision of the international Agencies responsible for the operations. An already possible agreement could be separating and dividing stocks between China, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Japan, the United States and even the irrelevant EU.
c) Support to the military police and security forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for monitoring staff, stocks and their political use by unreliable elements of Kim Jong-Un’s regime. A relationship between intelligence services that is unavoidable, considering the future commitments.
Hence North Korea must know very well that if there is someone interested in the stability of the regime, this is precisely the axis of Western powers that are accepting Kim Jong-Un’s openings, with laborious rationality.
It will therefore be essential to envisage – with the figures and costs already mentioned above, as well as the respective allocations and breakdowns – a refinancing project, especially in the short term, of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which shall mainly concern:
1) the prevention of humanitarian disasters, also with the same UN Agencies that have been supporting North Korea on these issues for over 23 years. Once again, there is no problem in this regard. Apart from China that, in fact, currently supports – almost alone – North Korea against international sanctions, it will be necessary to stabilize aid and organize it in a different way, considering the costs of the large nuclear decommissioning.
2) How can it be done? It is simple, after all. It could be done by immediately establishing an International Bank for Korea and Asia in the South-West, which would collect aid, deal with investment in North Korea, support the population and, above all, submit to the North Korean government the new industrialization projects, mainly in the tourist, environmental and food chain sectors, but also in fine technologies. The entry of a great country, such as North Korea, into the world market will be the real great deal of the century and the true and stable guarantee for future peace. It will be good to jump at the chance, without making a fuss about it.
3) Finally we should help North Korea to become what it already is, namely a rich country. Certainly, with its “parallel” liberalizations, North Korea’s current leadership has already done much, but here very strong liquidity injections will be needed, as well as new and effective projects to be quickly submitted to Kim Jong-Un’s government.
4) The origin of this North Korean small economic boom is still bilateral trade with China. Hence we need to preserve and strengthen it. Indeed, as has already been envisaged in China, we need to imagine a rational inclusion of North Korea in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative towards the West. The maritime networks, currently already present in an eminently maritime country, such as North Korea, would be perfect for managing the Chinese networks that already start from Gwadar.
5) It would therefore be silly to do what some US leaders suggest, i.e. to force North Korea to choose between nuclear weapons and economic support. Kim Jong-Un has studied Marx very well, when he was in Switzerland, and knows all too well that aid never comes “without strings attached”.
6)Hence the real costs of the great nuclear decommissioning must be calculated accurately, with an initial dismantling of the chemical and bacteriological arsenal, to which the evaluation of social and economic impact shall be added. Finally, this shall also be matched by an initial, rational and credible support for starting a new industrialization of the North Korean economy, which cannot obviously be only the result of South Korean investments.
Hence, besides defining a good policy line for intervening on nuclear decommissioning, we shall also do a rational and economic calculation of future costs and investments.
This is needed to make Kim Jong-Un’s relinquishment of his nuclear system not coincide with an economic crisis and a weak integration of the country in the future world market, which will however be very different from the current one.
Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects
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.
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.
Will There Be an End to the War in Korea?
On September 21, 2021, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in addressed the UN General Assembly, calling for a formal end to the Korean War of 1950–1953. “I … propose that the three parties of the two Koreas and the U.S. or the four parties of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China come together and declare that the war on the Korean Peninsula is over,” Moon Jae-in said.
President Moon’s call appeared more relevant than ever before. For decades, the military stand-off on the Korean Peninsula has been haunted by the threat of a “big war” that could involve nuclear weapons. Resolving the issue also presents a crucial political and legal problem, as the UN has from the outset been involved in the conflict. On the one hand, the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement only meant the cessation of military hostilities, not an end to the war as such. On the other hand, the absurd truth is that it is the United Nations, rather than South Korea, that is officially locked in a military stand-off with North Korea—something certainly needs to be done about this. During the war, South Korea received assistance in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 84 passed on July 7, 1950, establishing the UN Command, multinational armed forces of 16 states led by the United States. These forces fought in the Korean War under the UN flag and signed the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement as the adversary of the Korean People’s Army and China’s People’s Volunteer Army. The Command effectively signed the agreement on behalf of the United Nations, meaning that the latter is still formally at war with North Korea, a full-fledged UN member state since 1991.
President Moon has done his outmost best to build bridges between the two Koreas. The inter-Korean summits of 2018 yielded some positive results—in the near future, there will be no war in Korea, whether nuclear or conventional. That said, the two Koreas have recently tested ballistic missiles, thus demonstrating that Pyongyang and Seoul are both ready for dialogue and for confrontation. South Korea has accepted the existence of North Korea to adopt a policy of peaceful co-existence towards its closest neighbor. However, the parties have proved unable to take the most important step, which is to move the inter-Korean relations to a bilateral format. Moreover, Seoul still refuses to recognize the status of North Korea as that of an equal sovereign state, with a legitimate and constitutional leadership.
Some premises for this seem to be there. Nationalism is what brings the two Korean states closer. Even their first joint statement, dating back to July 4, 1972, said that the Korean unification must be achieved independently, without outside interference, which means peacefully and on the basis of “national consolidation.” In December 1991, the heads of government of the two Koreas signed the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between South and North Korea, formally acknowledging the equal co-existence of the two Korean states. Five inter-Korean summits were held between 2000 and 2018, with joint declarations adopted at each of them. These were essentially programmes to cultivate bilateral relations that would see the two countries move away from confrontation towards reconciliation and eventual rapprochement. None of the documents envisioned any participation of third states in the inter-Korean communication. The relations between North and South Korea have always been conceptualized in an exclusively bilateral dimension, a practice that should persist.
President Moon has also proposed to establish some multilateral organization to include North Korea. “I propose today launching a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health, whereby North Korea participates as a member along with China, Japan, Mongolia and the Republic of Korea.” He emphasized that states can no longer handle their national security issues individually. “A cooperative architecture that guarantees collective protection of life and safety will lay the groundwork for North Korea to have its security guaranteed by engaging with the international community.” The President believes that “the end-of-war declaration will indeed open the door to complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Inter-Korean normalization would be impossible without the sanctions lifted, which requires certain progress towards resolving the nuclear issue. North Korea’s nuclear status is enshrined in its constitution—for today’s Pyongyang, this topic cannot be subject to any discussion. It would be wise to adopt a step-by-step approach here—first limiting North Korea’s nuclear missiles, then reducing their numbers to eliminate them all in the end. Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang should be replaced with the “six-party” talks that sought to resolve the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula in 2003–2008. For a humble beginning, the parties could discuss the prospects of putting a freeze on missile development, guaranteeing the non-proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. Pyongyang could cease its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and intermediate- or shorter-range missiles, opening its nuclear facilities for international inspections. In exchange, Washington, Tokyo and Seoul would formally recognize North Korea, establishing diplomatic relations, exchanging diplomatic missions, easing and ultimately lifting sanctions, rather choosing to provide economic and energy assistance to North Korea. A secure and stable North Korea is a far more reliable partner for talks on any subject, including on nuclear issues, than a country cornered by sanctions.
Today’s Northeast Asia is the only region in the world that lacks a multilateral framework to discuss matters of mutual interest or settle conflicts between regional parties. The main obstacle in the way of creating a security system in Northeast Asia is the little trust between the parties. Trust cannot appear without a dialogue on the specific issues of common interest.
In this respect, President Moon’s proposal to establish a multilateral organization that would include North Korea is worthy of note, as it is clearly an attempt to engage with North Korea in international affairs.
As part of its “New Northern Policy”, South Korea could complement President Moon’s current initiative by becoming an intermediary for other Northeast Asian states in assisting in their long-term projects in regional security, energy security, safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy, transportation security and cybersecurity. Setting up legally binding partnerships in the region in these areas, as well as fine-tuning their procedural mechanisms, would allow the parties to build mutual trust to move on to discussions of a broader range of regional issues concerning peace, development and security.
Bringing South Korea’s “New Northern Policy” in line with the existing programmes for international economic integration, which are already “tied-in” to each other (such as the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative), could bring about positive results. Openness, transparency and respect for each other’s interests could go a long way to establishing an effective framework for dialogue as well as a Eurasian Economic Partnership that would include both Koreas. However, how feasible is such an aligning of South Korea’s policies with more global initiatives given the country’s current alliance with the United States?
President Moon Jae-in proposed his initiative against the background of major malfunctions in international communication. The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted everyday life throughout the world. The entire system of international organizations turned out to be totally ineffective, if not completely paralyzed. At the same time, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has struck quite a heavy blow to the entire system of international relations. And it is not so much the U.S. defeat that matters here. Rather, it is the circumstances under which this defeat took place. In leaving Afghanistan, the Americans effectively presented their Afghan clients and their NATO allies, who had been fighting alongside them for 20 years, with a fait accompli.
The Afghan debacle will certainly have repercussions for the situation on the Korean peninsula. Currently, Washington seems to be incapable of proposing new initiatives on the nuclear issue, especially as it faces a number of far more urgent challenges across a broad geographic perimeter, stretching from China to Afghanistan. Still, no matter how interested Russia or China might be in the Korean sanctions being eased or lifted, this cannot be resolved without the United States.
However, the ancients used to say that a crisis can be both a disaster and an opportunity. Like any global crisis, not only do the pandemic and the U.S. fiasco in Afghanistan generate additional risks and challenges for the international community, but they also come with fresh opportunities, opening up new prospects. This applies to the current initiatives proposed by President Moon Jae-in just as well.
From our partner RIAC
The United States and Japan in Multilateral Asia: Forging Relations and Binding Ties
Bilateral relations between the world’s sole superpower, the United States of America (US, USA), and the world’s third-largest economic power, the East Asian powerhouse of Japan, are premised on forging healthy relations and binding with the rest of Asia impeccably. This would involve deepening existing ties and forging new ones with the many notable actors professing to vital stakes and vested interests across the length and breadth of the world’s largest continent, as also the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). As on date, owing to evident differings and conflictual circumstances between countries such as Japan and South Korea, Washington D. C. is compelled to calculate its forays in Asia while aspiring for long-term amicability between belligerent countries. However, this factor has not stopped Washington from establishing, entertaining, and evolving its mini/multi-lateral relationships in Asia, especially in the eastern geography of the continent. The United States has implemented a ‘Hub-and-Spokes’ alliance system in the security environs of the Asia-Pacific, with Japan a critical, if not the most critical, ‘spoke’ in this system (see Figure 1 below).
Fig. 1 The US ‘Hub-and-Spokes’ Arrangement in Asia. Source: The ASEAN Post
America and Japan are not just involved bilaterally, but have enforced an effective multilateral impression leading to having exercised their geopolitical influence across Asia. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, better known as the QUAD) is an initiative of four democracies, which was the brainchild of Japan in the mid-2000s, with pressing commonalities and engaging objectives in the Indo-Pacific in particular. Its four member democracies are the US, Japan, Australia, and India. It was heralded in 2007 courtesy promptings from Japan about the state of maritime security and apprehensions about the upsetting rise of a determined emerging superpower in the Peoples’ Republic of China, despite having initially focussed on disaster relief in the high seas (The Indian Ocean tsunami, December 2004). Of late, the QUAD has been given a much-needed impetus with the as-yet unstructured grouping having adopted a sole security motive to offset the rise of an increasingly influential, overbearing, and overpowering China. A first-ever in-person meeting was organised between its members in Washington D. C., with the capital of the United States signifying just how far the QUAD has come in terms of sustained minilateral activism. This in-person meeting has followed meetings between senior-level officials such as the respective foreign ministers of the four partner countries.
The US and Japan have also extensively associated with Southeast Asia as far as the political, geopolitical, economic, geoeconomic, security, and geostrategic situations of the region are concerned. The US remains on exceedingly and improvingly good terms with South China Sea countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore – which are the four major countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or the ASEAN. These relationships are centred upon the military, and especially maritime-military, domain given that Southeast Asia largely involves routine and menacing Chinese infringements in the form of the brazen excursions of its many maritime entities such as the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). An interest in Southeast Asia for Tokyo and Washington caters to a diverse array of initiations and involvement ranging from economic and trade relations to investments and financial outlays for very specific purposes. Timely and responsive military assistance in the form of equipment donations and technology transfers have also become a staple of the US and Japan’s association with Southeast Asian countries. A wary approach is pursued in the perplexing domain of the South and East China Seas with freedom of navigation considered to be an imperative of the vast maritime-naval forces deployed by Washington and Tokyo.
The United States was one of the first Dialogue Partners of the ASEAN (since 1977), and this is also when Japan formalised its till-then-informal dialogue partnership with ASEAN. The US has been involved in several ASEAN-driven maritime-allied formal platforms such as the East Asia Summit (2005), the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (since 2012), and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (which is held with all of the ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners and first took place in Vietnam in 2010). Japan is involved integrally in all of the above forums and the ASEAN+3, an exclusive between ASEAN and China, the Republic of Korea, plus Japan itself. In the broader respect, American involvement has helped forge a unity among the participants of such pioneering political, economic, and security mechanisms amongst, primarily, Southeast and east Asian nations, ably assisted by Japan wherever feasible. America’s (in)famous 2011 ‘pivot to Asia’, officially named a ‘Rebalance’, was meant to re-tune and re-focus its attention to the world’s largest and most important continent as far as the twenty-first century is concerned. This was due to the twin reasons of dealing with the emerging security imperatives related to erasing the extra-sovereign Chinese strategic footprint and devising new paradigms of mutually-beneficial economic cooperation with like-minded Asian countries. Southeast Asia was deemed to be the geographical launchpad of this strategy which has since evolved under succeeding administrations.
Other multilateral involvements which help address issues bearing a commonality and a convergence of maritime interests include the US-Australia-Japan Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD). Australia is a country which is increasingly being viewed as an actor with the required level of capacities and capabilities befitting a broader and deeper Indo-Pacific institution of itself, and the recent announcement of an Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) arrangement has just critically elevated its nuclear threshold. Within the ambit of the Indo-Pacific region in which all three profess to geopolitical stakes, both the US and Japan are highly committed friends of Australia. The TSD was founded in the late 2000s and was focussed on elevating cooperation between the three major Indo-Pacific players in the broader domain of security, which also includes the diplomatic, economic, social, and political arenas. A concerted and concentrated focus on China was also one of the themes of the security domain of the TSD. The last meeting of this trilateral took place in August 2019, a few months prior to the onset of the novel Coronavirus pandemic in Japan. A joint ministerial statement issued by the three parties was ASEAN-centric and endorsed the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’. This last meeting had actually co-incided with the circulation of the ‘Outlook’ document by the ASEAN community.
It is certain that the US and Japan have, since time immemorial, indicated a tendency to align key and emerging players in regions of critical geopolitical importance, such as Southeast Asia, and this has considerably vitalised multilateralism. This optimism has been consistently backed by strategies entailing day-to-day participation and the US has emerged as an oddly Asian country in itself through a multitude of ever-growing endeavours. It has expended considerable bandwidth to Asia since the end of the warring years and there is much to both gain and learn from such a grand venture by a foreign superpower. The US remains immensely close to the ASEAN, as does Japan. The extent to which Washington and Tokyo have aided, abetted, assisted, and assured their friends and allies either jointly or individually is worth commendation and furthers a welcome duopoly in the Indo-Pacific region. Most of Southeast Asia remains in an emerging form, with a few prosperous exceptions such as the city-state of Singapore which are responsible for the rise of ASEAN as a worthy participant in the Indo-Pacific’s ‘Great Game’.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect those of his employers in the National Maritime Foundation or Modern Diplomacy.
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