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The Asia-Pacific in the U.S. National Security Calculus for a New Millennium

Authored by Dr. Andrew Scobell, Dr. Larry M. Wortzel. | December 2000

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Conclusion: ?Shaping? and ?Pivotal States.?

The greatest and most fundamental future challenge to the United States in the Asia-Pacific region may simply be to maintain a presence. A peaceful resolution of the division of the Korean Peninsula could lead to broader challenges to the continued forward stationing of U.S. troops in Northeast Asia. A resurgent, expansionist, or nationalistic Russia could emerge in the coming years, which would require a response from the United States. And China, which many analysts of strategic affairs believe is a country focused on internal matters with no history of expansion, could turn into a more modern state with an effective military force. Thus any U.S. withdrawal from the Asia-Pacific could serve as a catalyst for the destabilization of the region. The United States must nurture and strengthen relationships with its traditional allies: Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines.Today all of these countries are democracies and share our values.

Beyond this immediate attention to military presence and alliances, the United States should pay greater attention to ?shaping? the Asia-Pacific region. The United States tends to give most attention to the ?responding? and ?preparing? aspects of our National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy. In shaping, all the elements of national power should be employed?including ?soft? dimensions?to decrease tensions and nurture the regional trends of democratization and marketization. A comprehen- sive approach of engagement that includes commercial, educational, and cultural programs as well as military to-military relations is necessary.

To have a reasonable chance of success, a concerted ?shaping initiative? in U.S. policy toward Asia must be consensus-based, sustained, and focused. There must be a bipartisan consensus that such an effort is important. Furthermore, coordination and planning between the executive branch agencies and the Congress is essential. It is very difficult for any policy initiative to rise above the bureaucratic infighting and partisan politics of Washington.76 To be sustained, a presidential advisory group should be established and charged with: (a) designing a road map for U.S. policy toward Asia with a 20- to 25-year time horizon, and (b) developing a coordinating mechanism for whatever policy is devised?along the lines suggested by the Perry Report that reviewed U.S. policy toward NorthKorea .77

The foundations for thriving democracies and vibrant open markets are not formed in a matter of a few years; rather, such institutions require decades of effort and persistent optimism in the face of inevitable setbacks and crises. Democratization in particular is a difficult and frustrating process. And the Asia-Pacific region encompasses dozens of extremely diverse countries, all in different stages of political, economic, and social development. A ?one size fits all? approach is ill advised. Moreover, in the current post-Cold War resource-constrained policy environment, customizing an initiative for each country is simply unworkable.

A shaping policy that is focused on a handful of linchpin or ?pivotal? states is the only realistic option.78 These are volatile countries upon which the stability and prosperity of the region or a sub-region hinge. Clearly, one such country is China. Without a peaceful, prosperous China firmly integrated into the global economic system, the bright future of the Asia-Pacific region cannot be assured. The critical bilateral relationship to facilitate this is the U.S.-China relationship.

After some difficult years in the Washington-Beijing ties, the trade and Belgrade embassy compensation agreements reached in late 1999 hold out the promise of continued improvement in bilateral ties.79 While a host of other thorny issues confront bilateral relations, both sides have important interests in continued cordial ties. The most potentially explosive issue for the foreseeable future is Taiwan. Tensions may periodically increase in the Taiwan Strait and the threat of hostilities there is real.80 Washington must continue to press both Beijing and Taipei to work towards a peaceful resolution of their ongoing dispute. And China has changed in profound ways over the course of two decades of reforms. These changes are not limited to market-oriented economic reforms?there have also been significant political and social transformations that might become building blocks for democratization in the 21st century.81

Indonesia is the pivotal state in Southeast Asia. 82 As the most populous and expansive state in the sub-region, Indonesia is very much also a pivot for the entire region. As noted earlier in this monograph, this sprawling archipelago confronts enormous political, economic, social, and ethnic challenges. Nevertheless, dramatic changes in 1998 and 1999, including the election of a new president, acceptance of independence for East Timor, and a surprisingly resilient economy, hold significant promise for Jakarta.

North Korea is the pivotal country in Northeast Asia and arguably a key state upon which the security and prosperity of the entire Asia-Pacific region hinges. The Korean War is still technically and de facto ongoing: since the hot war finished with the 1953 armistice, a cold war has existed. Now, half a century after the outbreak of hostilities in June 1950, it is time for the United States to seek a peace settlement on the peninsula. After the dramatic and remarkable progress in managing the communal conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the United States, in coordination with its friends and allies, should begin a peace process in Northeast Asia. However, no peace process can move forward without our staunch ally, the Republic of Korea, being fully consulted and in complete accord. The goal should be to render obsolete the tripwire at the 38th Parallel. Whether this entails the continued existence of two Korean states or unification, the matter is ripe for shaping.

While in conventional wisdom the Pyongyang regime is depicted as an irrational and unpredictable player, upon closer examination its actions seem very rational and quite predictable.83 Hence it is feasible to conceive of a rapprochement with North Korea. Indeed, the major barrier to improved relations may be the actions to date of the United States. Too often the United States has concentrated exclusively on either a ?carrot? or ?stick? approach rather than attempting to use the two in tandem.84 Dealing with North Korea is admittedly a tricky business even in the best of circumstances. Focusing exclusively on Pyongyang?s nuclear and missile capability and status as a proliferator has its pitfalls. It is advisable to build a relationship across a broader front. Certainly WMD capability and delivery systems are the most critical aspects of the North Korean issue but developing bilateral relations in this area alone provides a fragile and narrow base upon which to build future growth. Moreover, while the United States should proceed expeditiously, Washington should avoid the temptation to rush into agreements and appear toreward?-and hence reinforce?Pyongyang?s brinkmanship behavior with various material quid pro quos. The establishment of liaison offices and the normalization of relations should be done slowly and carefully, and only in response to tangible progress and verifiable concessions from North Korea. Starting modestly and gradually to increase non-official and non-political interaction and exchanges with Pyongyang would be well worth the effort. We could build a relationship through cultural exchanges and athletic competitions. Before one dismisses this as a waste of energy or time, it is worth remembering that ?Ping-Pong diplomacy? was central to paving the way for a rapprochement with China in the 1970s, and friendly soccer and wrestling matches have warmed ties with Iran in the 1990s. Even the Women?s World Cup Final championship game played between China and the United States in the United States in July 1999 helped warm the chill in relations between Washington and Beijing. While it is true that the game took place during a troubled period of U.S.-China relations and many Chinese believe the U.S. team won the game unfairly (because the American goalkeeper violated penalty kick rules), it did prompt an exchange of goodwill at the highest levels. President Clinton attended the game, met with the Chinese team afterwards, and sent a personal note to Chinese President Jiang Zemin congratulating him on the performance of the Chinese women. President Jiang responded to President Clinton?s note the very same day.85

In fact, sporting and cultural diplomacy has already begun. The North Korean national women?s soccer team visited the United States in mid-1999 to participate in the World Cup Finals. The U.S. team and North Korean teams actually met on the soccer field in an opening round game. The contest and, indeed, the North Korean visit itself, can only be termed a success in regard to the goodwill it generated. More recently, in December 1999, Roger Clinton, President Clinton?s half brother, performed in a variety show along with a troupe of popular entertainers fromSouth Korea before an elite North Korean audience in Pyongyang. The younger Clinton also met with Kim Yong Nam, North Korea?s number two leader.86 However, while such people-to-people diplomacy proceeds, military pressure must continue to be applied. The annual Foal Eagle exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces should continue, for example.

Beyond tangible economic benefits, North Korea seeks international respect and acceptance. If Pyongyang is forthcoming in other more substantive matters (e.g., lives up to its agreements in the 1994 Agreed Framework and 1999 Berlin Accord), a full set of cultural and sporting exchanges can get underway. These can begin on a very modest basis at the grassroots level. American high school or college bands and basketball or soccer teams, for example, could visit North Korea and be reciprocated. Such activities entail no substantial cost or risk to the United States but build much needed understanding and goodwill between populations. It is vital that Washington involve the American people in the conduct of North Korea policy?the American public must understand and support this policy initiative if it is to be sustained and have a chance of succeeding.

Perhaps, a way can be found for the North to provide a venue for one or more games in the 2002 World Cup Soccer Finals. Such a possibility is eminently feasible since, by being awarded to two countries instead of the usual one?the tournament is to be hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea?the event is already unprecedented in world soccer history.87 Possibly, if the U.S. team qualifies, there exists the prospect of playing one of its opening round games north of the 38th parallel. The goal of such efforts, of course, is to reduce Pyongyang?s isolation, provide incentives for the regime to cooperate on security issues, and beyond that for North Korea to evolve into a more open and prosperous society.

With an appropriate consensus-based, sustained, and focused policy initiative on the part of the United States, the new millennium can herald a new era of prolonged peace with unprecedented political and economic development for all the countries of the Asia-Pacific.

Endnotes

76. A prime example is U.S. policy toward North Korea: compare the Perry and the Gilman Reports. See Review of the United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations, Unclassified Report by Dr. William J. Perry, U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator and Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State, Washington, DC: October 12, 1999, [hereafter Perry Report] and North Korea Advisory Group, Report to the Speaker U.S. House of Representatives, Benjamin A. Gilman, Chairman, November 1999, both accessed online at www.fas.org.

77. See ?Key Findings, #6? and ?Key Policy Recommendations #2 and #4? in Perry Report.

78. For an elaboration of such an approach, see Robert Chase, Emily Hill, and Paul Kennedy, eds., The Pivotal States: A New Framework for U.S. Policy in the Developing World, New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.

79. The compensation package was particularly challenging to negotiate. In the agreement the United States agreed to pay US$28 million for bomb damage inflicted on the PRC embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and China agreed to pay the United States US$2.87 million for damage done to U.S. diplomatic missions in China by rioting mobs. See Elisabeth Rosenthal, ?U.S. Agrees to Pay China $28 Million for Bombing,? New York Times, December 16, 1999 (Washington edition), p. A8.

80.See The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY99 Appropriations Bill, February 26, 1999, accessed online at www.fas.org.

81. Andrew Scobell, ?After Deng, What?: Reconsidering the Prospects for a Democratic Transition in China,? Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 44, No. 5, September-October 1997, pp. 22-31.

82.See, for example, John Bresnan, ?Indonesia,? in Chase et al., The Pivotal States, pp. 15-39.

83. See, for example, David Kang, ?North Korea: Deterrence Through Danger,? in Muthiah Alagappa, ed., Asian Security Practices: Material and Ideational Sources, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998, pp. 234-263; Chuck Downs, Over the Line: North Korea?s Negotiating Strategy, Washington, DC: AEI Press, 1999.

84.Many argue that we have been too forthcoming with carrots to the exclusion of the stick (e.g., Downs, Over the Line; Sheldon W. Simon, ?Is There a U.S. Strategy for East Asia?? Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 21, No. 3, December 1999, pp. 337-338, 340-341. But a case can also be made for the opposite point of view.

85. Lis Sly, ?Relations Score a Timely Reprieve,? South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), July 17, 1999; Associated Press dispatch, ?Soccer Offers China, U.S. Bright Note,? July 14, 1999. The latter report is taken from www.nytimes.com/aponline.

86. Associated Press dispatch, ?Roger Clinton Meets N. Korean Leader,? December 7, 1999 accessed in www.nytimes.com/aponline.

87. In fact, North Korea is only one of a handful of states that declined to enter a team for the preliminary qualifying round of the 2002 World Cup. Significantly, however, the president of the international soccer federation FIFA, Sepp Blatter, remains receptive to the possibility of North Korea hosting two games in the final tournament. Eric Talmadge, ?North Korea Eyed for World Cup 2002,? Associated Press dispatch, Tokyo, December 7, 1999, cited in NAPSNet Daily Report December 7, 1999, accessed on www.natilus.org / napsnet/ dr /index.html.