Does the US really want peace in East Asia?
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Japan's foreign minister Yuriko Kawaguchi and defense chief Shigeru Ishiba came out of their meeting with US secretary of state Colin Powell and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Washington on 16 December full of buoyancy. Both sides reassured the world that their positions on North Korea were "identical" (Steven R. Weisman, NYT, 17 Dec.). They spoke of a division of labor in tackling the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program and newspapers proclaimed Japan's commitment to a hard line vis-a-vis Pyongyang (Jonathan Wright, Reuters, 16 Dec.). However, questions remain as to whether there exists a strategy to resolve the crisis stemming from the Korean Peninsula. In the face of repeated calls for negotiation from North Korea the US has stuck to the principle of no negotiation until Pyongyang rids itself of nuclear weapons technology and ambitions. According to the announcement last week the Japanese government seems to be on the same page. However, it is highly doubtful that Kim Il Jong's regime will agree to this principle. In fact, according to the latest reports, North Korean officials have already begun removing seals and cameras from nuclear facilities previously under surveillance by the IAEA.
In the meantime, Japan and the US are beefing up their military cooperation. The Aegis set sail on 15 December for the Indian Ocean, one day before the meeting in Washington. According to the Asahi Shimbun this dispatch contributed to a good environment in D.C. and made possible an agreement on North Korea ("Smooth sailing in Japan-US Security Talks", 19 December). On this occasion the two countries also confirmed their continued interest and collaboration on the development and deployment of the Theatre Missile Defense system, which from Japan's perspective is primarily motivated to deal with North Korea.
What the outcome of this meeting confirmed was that the US and Japan have decided to maintain Cold War era policies when dealing with the threat from the North. The strategy is one of brinkmanship, which counters the opposition through military maneuvers and weapons technology rather than negotiation. In the recent past, Japan demonstrated its willingness to normalize relations with North Korea (Koizumi's visit to the North on 17 September), however, this past week its leaders confirmed their decision to follow the US and refrain from making any unilateral or regional agreements with Kim Il Jong. The main problem with this approach is that it will not serve to decrease tensions or resolve the conflict.
In this context, the argument laid out in Chalmers Johnson's article published in The Nation ("Time to bring the troops home", 26 April 2001) is worthy of consideration. Johnson claims that the US is simply not interested in peace in East Asia. In fact, he claims that US motives are geared towards maintaining the threat in order to justify its military presence in the region. Currently, the US has approximately 100,000 military personnel and the equivalent number of civilians stationed in East Asia. A "forward deployment" which Johnson calls "provocative" and "one of the main sources of instability" in the region. Not only does its formidable military presence threaten North Korea but it has failed to prevent nuclear proliferation. Currently, North Korea, India and Pakistan are confirmed to possess these weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, US forces have done little to promote stability in countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the US was forced to withdraw from many of its installations in Europe, however, in East Asia the same has not happened. The main reason being that the US military and its military industrial complex gain a tremendous amount of benefits by being in Asia. Currently, the Japanese government pays the USG $6 billion annually for having them in Japan (75% stationed in Okinawa). Furthermore, according to Johnson, the US government wouldn't be able to afford their removal even if Japan wanted them to go. Quoted was a figure of more than $9.5 billion for removing the Marine Corps' infrastructure alone. In the words of the commander of the Pacific Fleet General Carlton Fulford, "it would prove fiscally unsupportable" to call the troops back (Johnson, The Nation, 9 October).
Which beckon the questions: does the US really want to resolve the conflict with North Korea? Is its refusal to negotiate motivated by a desire to resolve the issue by pressuring North Korea into submission or are they simply tactics to prolong and possibly increase the tension? Is the US interested in what's best for the region or is it simply looking out for itself?
The newly elected South Korean President has voiced his commitment to continuing the "sunshine policy". It will be interesting to see whether the US will act to reverse this orientation as it did in Japan, especially in light of the fact that China and Russia have voiced their support for dialogue with the North. For those wondering why the US refuses to move in relation to North Korea, Chalmers Johnson's analysis has an answer.
- Eric Talmadge, "Japan Deploys Aegis-Equipped Destroyer", The Associated Press, 15 December 2002
- Jonathan Wright, "US Japan share labor in approach to North Korea", Reuters, 16 December 2002
- "Smooth Sailing in Japan-US Security Talks", Asahi Shimbun, 19 December 2002
- "Russia, Japan agree to work toward peaceful resolution of North Korean nuclear program", The Associated Press, 18 December 2002
- "Japan-US in step on Iraq and North Korean issues", Asahi Shimbun, 18 December 2002
- Chalmers Johnson, "Time to bring the troops home", The Nation, 26 April 2001 (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20010514&c=1&s=johnson)
- Steven Weisman, "Japan says nuclear effort in Korea merits hard line", The New York Times, 17 December 2002
- Rebecca Mackinnon, "Japanese warship heads for Indian Ocean", CNN, 16 December 2002