The purpose of this paper is to analyze the nature [and at times historical behavioral trends] of regional actors in East Asia and how the US should formulate a security strategy to promulgate our interests along side those of our allies and partners in the region. As the societies and cultures of the globe begin to evolve into the 21st century paradigm, our strategies also need to evolve in conjunction with the new constraints and possibilities of that paradigm. Three fundamental “building blocks” must secure and guide the specifics of any new security strategy of the United States and its allies;
- Increase the scope of US cooperative partnerships with current peripheral nations in order to ensure mutual domestic and international interests are secure as well as enhanced;
- Identify potential threats to the United States and its Allies’ homeland and security interests; and collectively work toward discouraging and finding solutions to deter the source of all perceived threats;
- Augment existing US alliances and partnerships based on mutual domestic and security issues, as determined by regional trends and consideration.
A good strategy is a good guide, but it must be allowed to constantly adapt and be flexible, especially in light of the attitudes and forces that shape East Asian political norms. The current events of our 21st century political and security paradigm are becoming increasingly integrated with the proliferation of not just various weapons, but also information in the real time. As information is available faster and able to reach any part of the globe instantaneously, security strategies can become heavily bogged down by such capabilities, but given the right application of such technology, strategies will be greatly enhance by it instead. It becomes imperative therefore that the United States formulate an amalgam of strategies that together effectuate a position that ensures their national interests as well as the interests of its allies and partners in the region.
In East Asia, the United States has a variety of regional cooperative relationships that have been fostered out of decades of mutual history and collaborative reciprocity. By further developing partnerships with peripheral states, a greater cooperative dynamic is manifested into the overarching regional policy agenda, ultimately enhancing the efficacy and outreach of that strategy. Augmenting the existing alliances and partnerships allow the core foundation of US-East Asian policy to function on a more consistent and reliable basis toward any threat [in existence or anticipated]. Identifying all immediate and long-term threats within the region assists in responsibly shaping strategy and the overall vision of US-East Asian security policy to meet the regional security dynamic. What is more, special attention should be given to the amount of influence China has over the region of East Asia. The United States maintains the position that China is an important partner for the future, and seeks to continue building collaborative and cooperative relationships. There are however, considerable security concerns stemming from Chinese actions [such as claiming much of the South China Sea as apart of Chinese territory] in which a US-East Asian security policy must responsibly address; this notion will be discussed at greater length throughout the paper.
These goals are to be achieved by applying various methods, such as (a) enhancing regional economic development, augment security cooperation and promote research information sharing with peripheral states; (b) devising further approaches of enhanced communication and interoperability with Allies and partners on security and intelligence issues; and (c) forecasting visible and anticipated threats in order to appropriately focus and develop technology and organizational capabilities of regional players to successfully and consistently reconcile any security concern. The succeeding sections of this paper will go into further detail and elaboration on the various aforementioned approaches, and how collectively these various strategies will effectuate a US-East Asian policy that ensures a stable, secure and more productive region for all players involved.
Regional Players and Historical Background
The most delicate balance regarding US strategic security planning within East Asia has been centered on China and its capabilities of regional influence. Throughout China’s extensive and continued existence spanning thousands of years, the nation has considered itself the “center” of the surrounding regional populations and has formulated its foreign policy as a tributary system focused on its power center, Beijing. The history between China and its East Asian neighbors such as Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia and Korea [even Russia] has produced a contemporary picture of great complexity to the regional political order.
Japan has historically practiced a substantial level of political autonomy and freedom from Chinese influence given its geopolitical position [historically respective to other neighboring populations of China]. It began to administer its own unique tributary foreign policy strategy similar to China. Both centers of power have largely flexed this ideological and political muscle within the strategic geopolitical areas of Korea and over a number of islands located within the various bodies of water connecting the two, with emphasis on the island of Taiwan. The Korean peninsula had always constituted a strategic geopolitical imperative for any power center. It is an ideal location for an offensive power to invade [or apply pressure to] Mainland China, which is exactly what Japan had attempted to do and later succeeded in doing during World War I [a position it maintained until the end of the Second World War]. The Soviet Union had spent a considerable amount of time attempting to secure access to vital ports and locations within the peninsula and the surrounding area for these strategic purposes, but always found such endeavors something of an albatross.
Similarly, Vietnam had for almost a thousand years adopted and subjugated itself to Chinese political order and cultural influence. In the year 907 it had become predominantly independent and has since fought and established complete autonomy over its land, while attempting to utilize the Chinese style of tributary governance over its neighbors, yet has been relatively unsuccessful. The history and interaction between the regional players of East Asia has been greatly influenced by the Chinese political tributary culture. The source of conflict between these players has arisen only when one player has grown in sufficient political autonomy and strength to potentially counter the other [yet the purpose was rarely for conquest but political and cultural influence]. When regarding the most effective formulation of US-East Asian security strategy, the historical and behavioral trends of the regional players must play a large role in understanding and anticipating the regional actors’ future decision-making.
The general foreign policy strategy of each regional player has been characterized by a vastly different strategic approach to that of traditional Western experiences. With the historical exceptions of contemporary Japan, East Asian populations have practiced a philosophy that the world could never be conquered; that only the wise would wish to harmonize with its trends. A significant quality of the East Asian countries’ foreign policy strategy is not its emphasis on conquest but of psychological dominance. If US-East Asian security strategy is to be effective in the region, it must seek to ensure the individual actor’s interpretation of the US strategy as something that will not give the later a material or psychological disadvantage. It must attempt to give the illusion of harmony, while offering the United States and its allies the strategic initiative, relative to the other players in the region.
Peripheral Regional Players and Cooperative Assessments
The first “building block” of a US-East Asian security strategy outlined in this paper is to,
- Increase the scope of US cooperative partnerships with current peripheral nations in order to ensure mutual domestic and international interests are secure as well as enhanced.
Reaffirming the international respect of the Charter of the United Nations especially pertaining to sovereignty, sovereign equality and national independence of states; the US should be highly committed to fostering a more collaborative and cooperative relationship with the various regional actors to ensure their continued sovereign existence as nations. As China’s economic and military influence becomes more prominent in the region, neighboring countries may potentially grow wary of Chinese intentions. Thus, the United States should help balance these forces by demonstrating to the smaller peripheral nations the benefits of US cooperation on several levels such as, but not limited to, the enhancement of existing bilateral free trade agreements and research information sharing.
Free trade and the movement of goods across East Asia’s waterways should be a high priority in order to actualize such cooperative agreements. By maintaining an assertive stance on ensuring free trade and protecting the essential waterways that guarantee it, the US will demonstrate to our potential and existing partners its seriousness to defend the regional interests of all players. A vital water route that is crucial to maintaining this level of international and regional free trade is concentrated within the Malacca Straight between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. As opposed to the strategic Suez Canal, which oversees annually 8% of the world’s international trade, the Malacca Straight commands roughly 40%, with more than fifty thousand ships passing through each year. In addition to free trade agreements, research and information sharing have become crucial elements necessary for economic growth as wells establishing trust with regional players, as is the case with Malaysia.
Therefore Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia possess a number of qualities that will benefit a US strategic initiative in East Asia. These economies are (1) robust, productive and growing; (2) surround the Malacca Straight that oversees 40% of the world’s total international trade, and; (3) are dependent upon more developed and stable nations to assist them in enabling their economies and populations to grow to their full potential. As these countries seek further development and higher levels of trade between their existing partners [the US being Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s third largest trading partner, and Singapore’s first] the US should provide opportunities that would give it a competitive edge within the nations’ economies over that to China. Such policies should be sought after while preserving our strategic and balanced diplomatic relationship with the China.
What is important about the countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia is their visible diversity regarding ethnicity and religion. This will be important for the United States to emphasize when furthering cooperative partnerships with these countries, which is directly representative of its national values and principles. In order to enhance the cooperative ties with Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, a policy should be focused on the following qualities;
- Advance previously existing trade agreements and memorandums to achieve greater economic activity between the US and the individual countries; and,
- Create direct bilateral talks with each nation to find a consensus on the plausibility of establishing academic and research institutions to satisfy the need for cooperative information and facility sharing, and
- Create multinational conferences/seminars focused on the immediate social and security issues of all the parties involved.
In 2010, the United States and Malaysia signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Science and Technology Cooperation. The memorandum has paved the way for the US and Malaysia to recognize the need to work jointly in the field of science and technology and to directly assist each other in this discipline. It should be the policy of the United States, in order to establish greater cooperation and trust, to pursue more robust trade agreements and joint research ventures of this nature. As stated by Article I of the US-Malaysian memorandum, the purpose of the document is to “strengthen scientific and technological capabilities of the Parties” and to “promote and develop cooperation in the field of science and technology…on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.” The memorandum is important for the follow reasons,
- It establishes greater cooperation and trust between nations [potentially allowing for greater collaborative use of strategic military or naval facilities],
- Enables our partners to be more technologically independent and capable of assisting in strategic economic and security policies within the region [i.e. continued economic growth and trade, and responsibly securing the Malacca Straight by enhanced US partnerships], and,
- Allows a more competitive partnership to exist between the United States and East Asian countries in respect to China.
The United States and Singapore have a strong strategic bond. Singapore has allowed the Untied States the benefit of using a number of its naval facilities and therefore has become a strategic asset when helping to balance Chinese progressions within the South China Sea to the North of the country. Singapore is greatly benefited by the US’ assistance and access to military training and information while the US is guaranteed a reliable and trusted partner within the immediate region. When contemplating further economic and technology integration with Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore will be an invaluable mentor through such a process.
According to a World Bank analysis of 2009, the quality of tertiary education in Malaysia would benefit from a number of initiatives. From the numerous recommendations offered, a few were to simplify the review of academic standards and offer more courses in English, which is in high demand by students and firms.[i] Additionally it indicated that Indonesia’s secondary education is suffering from an enrollment level hovering around 64%. Therefore, given the highly regarded nature of American academic and research institutions, it would be more efficient to discuss the creation of an American University in Kuala Lumpur, and the other capitol[s] of Singapore and Indonesia. Committing to this policy would allow a greater and more direct form of cooperation between the countries. The US would be in an advantageous position to offer valuable insight and organizational capabilities to assist in reforming educational and research facilities appropriately to accurately address the specific needs of each country. Further, it would greatly assist with the high demand of courses needed to be offered in English and would encourage direct interaction between American academic personnel and students.
Additionally, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is extensive in Malaysia and Singapore but also widely throughout the East Asian “Tiger Economies”. The creation of an American University within the various nations would further the trust and enticement of direct investment in any East Asian country which decided upon that path. In the case with Malaysia, the US was the largest foreign investor with $1.9 billion in 2000, followed by Japan with $758 million.[ii] Given Japan’s strategic alliance with the United States this has a larger cooperative effect for not only the United States but also its other partners throughout the region. More direct economic stimulation and investment can also ensure the third initiative of a strategy [multinational conferences] toward these three strategic countries. Singapore and its neighbor countries within the Malacca Straight face a severe problem with piracy, which greatly impacts the economic and security situations of each country.[iii] Holding multi-party conferences on such important topics such as regional piracy would establish better trust, information sharing and security cooperation through means of a common dialogue and implementation of technology and capabilities to collectively combat the criminal activity. A strategic security policy has to be built from workable relationships and trust; by enabling the smaller yet vital countries to grow and develop with US assistance will only yield greater and more fruitful results as the various issues develop in the region.
Emerging Threats and Strategic Responses
A major source of insecurity within East Asia is centered on the proliferation and development of ballistic missile technology and nuclear capabilities of various regional actors. Today, China has the capability to conduct a large-scale ballistic missile attack on the territory of the United States, however it may be reasonably concluded [for the time being] that this is very unlikely. The US is in the process of advancing their GMD systems appropriately and the focus therefore should be toward the threat implications of US allies and partners within the immediate region. As the US Department of Defense has outlined in its Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) of February 2010,
“Ballistic missile systems are becoming more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate while also increasing in range. Pre-launch survivability is also likely to increase as potential adversaries strengthen their denial and deception measures and increasingly base their missiles on mobile platforms.”
China is increasingly asserting influence within the region, resulting in an imbalance of power across the Taiwan Straight potentially in China’s favor, [China is even claiming extensive and distant parts of the South China Sea as part of its sphere of influence, claiming it is inherently part of their existing territory, which poses direct problems toward Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia]. The Straight of Taiwan has been the source of two conflicts within the past century and therefore the US should delicately balance the interests concerning the waterway in order to prevent a repeat of history.[iv] As the BMDR states on Chinese ballistic missile capabilities,
“It [China] is developing advanced ballistic missile capabilities that can threaten its neighbors, and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) capabilities that can attempt to target naval forces in the region. China continues to field very large numbers of conventionally armed medium-range systems. Moreover, China has upgraded programs for command and control, communications, intelligence, and other related force capabilities, and continues to develop SRBMs, MRBMs, and IRBMs. These missiles are key components of Beijing’s military modernization program. Chinese missiles will be capable of reaching not just important Taiwan military and civilian facilities but also US and allied military installations in the region.”
Throughout the recent existence of “open relations” between the United States and China, the Shanghai and Third Communiqués have sought to mutually reconcile, peacefully [the US position], the Taiwan issue. What is a sobering fact is China’s 1,600 conventionally armed ballistic missiles currently pointed toward the island of Taiwan.[v] The United States, as stated in the Shanghai and Third Communiqués, seeks a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan issue, yet time and again China has responded with a lack of commitment to such a final proposal and has taken a rather patient, yet diligent approach toward the issue [as exclusively a Chinese internal affair]. To help promote a meaningful and productive resolution to this contentious issue, further mutual diplomatic understands [based on the style of previous Communiqués] should be continued within the 21st century context. This will help the US contain and better understand Chinese actions, and offer the People’s Republic of China a better grasp of the renewed American approach to Taiwan.
In addition to China’s military modernization program, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) over the past decade has been developing short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles that threaten US forces, allies, and partners in the region. The DPRK has conducted seven ballistic missile launches since July 4-5, 2006. Of these tests, it launched six mobile theater ballistic missiles; undeniably demonstrating its capacity to target US and allied forces deployed in South Korea and Japan. The US and its allies find it increasingly alarming that the DPRK currently is seeking to develop a mobile IRBM, while simultaneously pursuing a nuclear weapons program. A dominant quality in the region is the speed in which ballistic missile technology is being manufactured and advanced; and therefore the US security strategy should commit to the second two points outlined in the paper’s general overview: (1) to identify and reconcile immediate and long-term threats, as well as (2) augment existing alliances and partnerships in that mutual effort.
The Obama administration, after careful analysis and consideration by the Department of Defense and other security officials, has reformulated the previous proposed strategy initiated by the Bush administration in 2007. In 2009, the current administration proposed and adopted the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA). Given the growing capabilities of the emerging threats and the necessity of constant adaption to the continually developing security needs of US allies and partners in East Asia; the PAA will focus on the following initiatives;
- Continue to defend against regional missile threats to US forces, while protecting allies and partners and enabling them to defend themselves,
- Before new capabilities are deployed, they must undergo testing that enables assessment under realistic operational conditions,
- The commitment to new capabilities must be fiscally sustainable over the long term,
- US BMD capabilities must be flexible enough to adapt to specific and sudden changes within the region, and
- The US will seek to lead expanded international efforts for missile defense.
This current US security policy ensures that the remaining two “building blocks” of a coherent and adaptable strategy is guaranteed toward the ballistic missile threats present within the region.
As mentioned previously, and in reference to point (a) above, the US soldiers stationed in Japan cause serious concern for the United States. The US has over 40,000 soldiers in Japan and a substantial amount of them are within reach of Chinese and DRPK ballistic missile threats. Over half of those stationed troops in Japan are on the island of Okinawa, and is a great source of Japanese domestic tension [the bases are rather unpopular on the island]. In 2006, there was a plan devised that would relocate the flashpoint Futenma base out of the crowded urban area of the island and to a more remote spot on Okinawa. US Defense Secretary Gates and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa have gone on to state that, “the current relocation plan is the most operationally viable and politically sustainable way forward.” Therefore a comprehensive pubic relations and diplomatic effort should be coordinated with Japan and the officials from Okinawa to ease tensions and allow for a smooth transition to implement the plan recently “renewed” upon by Gates and Kitazawa.
The methods to ensure a beneficial conclusion to the US base problem in Japan would be to enact (1) an outreach policy by both Japanese and US military personnel to the governing officials of Okinawa; (2) stress the strategic importance of the island and how it is necessary for regional balance and collective security; and (3) offer “sweeteners” to the local inhabitants in the island in an attempt to offer concessions for the continuance of the military base presence. Augmenting existing collaborative facility and equipment sharing between various US allies and partners should be administered by means of (1) Japanese relaxation of defense technology exports to pre-determined “friendly” regional partners, through machinations of bilateral trade agreements, and; (2) increase multilateral cooperative talks of strategically important actors [including China] to enhance communication, cooperation and effectuate greater coordination in securing the region.
Hedging Against Future Uncertainties in East Asia
Greater cooperation of shared facilities for military and intelligence collaboration between Japan, South Korea and other strategic East Asian actors should be a constant focus of US strategic security efforts and would help hedge against future threats [foreseen and unseen]. The benefit of pursuing a PAA plan allows for greater reliability on the capabilities and adaptability of the BMD technology within the region as threats progress. Japan is an indispensible partner when posturing an East Asia BMD security strategy. The US and Japan have performed exceptionally well together, seeking cooperation and interoperability in support of bilateral missile defense initiatives against the threat emerging from the DPRK. An important feature of the US and Japan’s current collaborative alliance is the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) approach, which utilizes the integration of command and control systems that operate and oversee the functionality and execution of the BMD systems. How then, and by what means [near term] should the US, Japan and South Korea collaborate to deter ballistic missile threats from the DPRK?
One of the core collaborative efforts between Japan and the United States is through the development of SM-3 Block IIA and IIB [as well as newly advanced SM models] ballistic missile defense systems. The PAA is an overarching BMD strategy that relies heavily of establishing a legitimate and stable form of deterrence against immediate ballistic missile threats. The US has already determined that “because of the demand for missile defense assets within each region over the next decade will exceed supply, the US will develop capabilities that are mobile and relocatable.” This will allow the BMD systems to have the ability to move from one area of the region to another in a time of crisis. The capacity for surge defense should help dissuade existing and potential aggressor states within the region that there can be no gain of any long-term advantage. How then do we ensure that an immediate “surge defense” is within the US and its allies’ capabilities?
The SM-3 BMD systems, or Aegis Weapons System, is a combination of advanced technology that allows for the tracking and intercepting short and medium-range ballistic missiles. As outlined in the BMDR, “The Aegis system offers not only the ability to provide surveillance and tracking [by means of AN/TPY-2 X-band radar] of ballistic missiles but also an upper-tier missile defense capability in the form of SM-3 Block IA interceptor”. These interceptors would be stationed upon navy vessels and deployed into the appropriate bodies of water that allow for adequate defense of regional allies and partners [i.e. South Korea and Japan]. This would allow their maneuverability in case a threat is increased or becomes concentrated in a single area. Figure 1.1 below outlines the general manner in which the Aegis system will detect, track and neutralize any offensively launched ballistic missile toward an ally, partner or peaceful regional actor;
The United States is currently investing as much as $45 billion into ballistic missile defense technology over a five-year period. The technology will have the responsible amount of funding to design, test and implement any advances for existing Aegis and relative BMD technology to existing applications. The mobility of the Aegis technology and its primary nature of being [currently] a sea-based BMD system allows for greater security for American aircraft carriers who have recently been the focus of a Chinese announcement regarding their development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). While the US regards China as a partner of the future to help promulgate policies of peace, this current ballistic missile development trend of China has others, such as Admirable Robert F. Willard, skeptical.[vi] As the US works diplomatically with China as an equal partner to solve security issues, the Aegis technology will allow for the immediate safeguard of US and allied vessels and personnel within the region.
Further, Japan should take measures to alleviate domestic restrictions on allowing export of SM-3 IIA technology to third parties [solely to friendly countries] in order to bolster a greater BMD defense around their country [such as with South Korea]. In 1967, Japan implemented a series of laws banning the export of weapons to communist bloc countries, countries subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or countries involved in or likely to become involved in international conflicts. Ten years later, it extended the ban to weapons-related technology, however later relaxed this restriction in 1983 to allow export to the U.S. only. In 2005, Japan further relaxed the law to include missile interceptors to be deployed by both the US and Japan.[vii] The restrictions however, still make it impossible for Japan to re-export to third parties and so therefore, these restrictions will have to be modified in order to expand defense technology and capabilities to allied and trusted partners.
Lastly, the US should continue to consult, hold direct bilateral talks with all necessary and related officials on the nature and extent of the tsunami damage. The various forms of bilateral conferences and US consultations are advantageous to pursue for the following reasons;
- They reaffirm the US’ commitment to the wellbeing and security of its ally;
- Will foster further trust among the two nations, and;
- It is in the best interests in regards to mutual strength and cooperation to have Japan be a independently sustainable and strong nation.
Therefore the following regarding BMD should be pursued by the US in conjunction with its allies to ensure a strategic advantage is ensured against all existing and potential missile threats;
- Responsibly implement Aegis Weapons System technology [and related equipment] within the Japanese territorial areas to establish a reasonable deterrence to the DPRK threat;
- Resolve the Okinawa US military base dilemma to alleviate pressure on a vital regional security presence;
- Consult Japan on the potential benefits of restricting re-export of BMD technology to friendly third parties;
- Continue efforts to increase the interoperability and communication of the US and Japan through the ALTBMD, and;
- Reaffirm our partnerships by providing consultation and material assistance to Japan for their ongoing tsunami and nuclear crisis.
The region of East Asia and its political paradigm has been cultivated by thousands of years of mutual history between its current actors. The United States and Chinese partnership will be crucial for the region’s immediate and future security needs [and therefore should continue], however serious consideration to Chinese military activity in contrast to their diplomatic rhetoric much be closely analyzed. As China’s military modernization increases, and peripheral nations become potentially wary of Chinese regional intentions [as currently visible in the South China Sea], then the US should initiate a security strategy that focuses on demonstrating the benefits of US collaboration. Further, the US should continue to augment existing alliances and partnerships with regional actors such as Japan and South Korea to reconcile the ballistic missile threats indentified by the DPRK and various components of the Chinese ballistic missile developments.
This delicate balance to protect our troops stationed in Japan and South Korea while deterring immediate and future ballistic missile threats is in the interests of all actors within the region, but also for the United States. Further collaboration and integration of allies in the ALTBMD systems as well as development of Aegis technology is a high priority and necessary to ensure responsible and capable security. The time is now to demonstrate the values and principles of the US to East Asia in order to enhance security and ensure the sovereignty of all regional actors.
 A principal difference between Chinese (and ultimately East Asian) and Western diplomatic strategy is the reaction to perceived vulnerability. Western diplomats move carefully to avoid provocation; Chinese response is more likely to magnify defiance. Western diplomats tend to conclude from an unfavorable balance of forces an imperative for a diplomatic solution; they urge diplomatic initiatives to place the other side of the “wrong” to isolate it morally but to desist from the use of force. Chinese believe in deterrence in the form of preemption. [Kissinger, Henry. On China . New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print. Page – 348]
[i] Yusuf, Shahid, and Kaoru Nabeshima. Tiger economies under threat: a comparative analysis of Malaysia’s industrial prospects and policy options. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2009. Print.
[ii] Kehl, Jenny Rebecca. Foreign investment & domestic development: multinationals and the state. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009. Print.
[iv] Kissinger, Henry. On China . New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.