Friday, August 18, 2006

Professor Ikenberry's Regional Security Arrangement? I Only Wish...

Professor Ikenberry calls for a regional security arrangement. Would that it were.


The April 17 Washington Post carries an op-ed by Professor G. John Ikenberry that raises the Yasukuni question. Since the article goes beyond the visits and discusses historical reconciliation in conjunction with the “normalization” issue in addressing regional security, I am going to take it up here as in the hopes that it will serve as a segue to the non-Yasukuni phase of this blog.


First of all, the only quibble I have about Professor Ikenberry’s views on Yasukuni is that taking out Class A war criminals will not solve the problem, as my previous posts argue, and the South Korean administration’s pronouncements show. However, even if Mr. Abe decides not to go or, much more likely, maintain the tactical ambiguity that he seems to be tacking towards, the security interests in East Asia are too divergent to allow the three nations to begin to work with a view to “a future East Asian security community”.


The most serious Ease Asia security, at least from the Japanese point of view, is North Korea. But our interests lie mainly in their nuclear weapon and ballistic missile potential, which we believe, rightly or wrongly, are mainly pointed toward us. (Yes, there are some fears of a united Korea equipped with nuclear weapons. I do not believe this line of thinking figures seriously in Japanese strategic thinking, as long as we have the US nuclear umbrella in hand, but I’m willing to listen to other views.) This is very different from China’s, whose main concern is North Korea’s disintegration, which will bring the Korea-US military alliance, albeit somewhat tattered, right up against its borders, and/or a massive influx of Korean refugees. South Korea’s main ears are North Korea’s disintegration and a desperate wave of conventional attacks and/or (again) a massive influx of refugees. But South Korea also fears Chinese domination of North Korea. Indeed, North Korea already gives greater leeway to growing Chinese economic interests in the north than they do to those of their supposed brothers in Kaesong and other areas of South Korean protrusion. Given these differences, it is not surprising that the three nations frequently differ on the strategics and tactics of the issue. (Complicating this question is the fact that proliferation is at the top of the US agenda. Hopefully, this will not be a cause of dissent between Japan and the US over the specifics of future dealings with North Korea.)


The next major issue is Taiwan. But I can be brief here. Any security arrangement, or talks thereof, that do not involve the one party most affected, Taiwan, or the most powerful, the US, is likely to cause more disagreements than anything else.


Moreover, there are the specific issues of our territorial and quasi-territorial disputes. I won’t go into them in detail here (partly because I don’t have enough information. particularly on a fishing agreement that might serve as a good precedent to the resolution of the Japan-China standoff over the Shirakaba off shore gas fields), but I don’t see how they can be reconciled within a regional security arrangement, nor the latter constructed that accommodates the former.


Yes, extricating ourselves from the Yasukuni conundrum is good in of itself. Yes, it will help us in our relations with our neighbors. Yes, improved relations may be helpful in containing security-related emergencies. But to go from there to regional arrangements, much less one where Japan assumes regional leadership is a stupendous leap of faith. Yet I wait, fervently, to be convinced that I am wrong.


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