Archive for July, 2011

A think-piece written by Ken Jimbo, from our friends at the Centre for US-Korea Policy …

The sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 raised concerns for both the South Korean and U.S. governments that North Korea may no longer be conventionally deterred. The two governments have been reviewing how their basic and extended deterrence policies should be reorganized to adapt to this seemingly new dimension of North Korea’s behavior pattern. In reviewing deterrence, the following four considerations are particularly important:

First, North Korea was certainly not deterred from launching limited strikes against the South not once but twice in 2010. The failure to prevent an adversary from engaging in repetitive acts of aggression derives from the adversary’s perceptions that the cost incurred for the previous attack did not exceed the benefit gained from it.

Looking back at the chronology of events from early summer to fall 2010, North Korea may have perceived that the ROK government’s response was weak especially in terms of mobilizing the international community to take collective actions against North Korea. The July 9 UN Security Council Statement on the Cheonan sinking failed to directly identify North Korea as responsible. International sanctions appeared further weakened as early as August when Hu Jintao met Kim Jong-il and pledged continued support for the North Korean economy. North Korea most likely learned that its attempt to escalate aggression against the South was successful and that there was still a margin for even further escalation.

Second, due to progress in its nuclear weapons program, North Korea may have greater confidence in its capacity to control the level of escalation. Shortly before shelling Yeonpyeong Island, North Korea revealed its new uranium enrichment facility to visiting U.S. scientist Siegfried Hecker and reasserted its nuclear capabilities. These messages of nuclear weaponization were deliberately sent before the shelling of Yeonpyeong as signals to deter large-scale U.S.-ROK retaliation. North Korea seemed to believe that such signals and its nuclear capacity enhanced the effectiveness of mutual deterrence vis-à-vis South Korea and the United States at the strategic level. As far as North Korean perceptions are concerned, the magnitude with which North Korea can conduct conventional armed attacks before inviting major military retaliation had significantly increased.

Third, there exists a certain logic of restraint and escalation control by both Koreas and the United States. South Korea retaliated in response to the Yeonpyeong shelling by firing about 80 shells at North Korean barracks, command structures and artillery near the border. There was no significant military escalation from North Korea despite its verbal attacks. South Korean F-16 and F-15 jets were also rushed to the area, but they did not provoke North Korean targets. More importantly, the United States did not take joint action directly on initial counter strikes. In terms of the range of escalation, the offensive exchanges in the Yeonpyeong case were relatively low in intensity.

We can reach a tentative assessment that deterrence failed in 2010 and is likely to fail again, but that escalation control succeeded. Along with the above two factors of North Korea’s cost-benefit analysis and mutual deterrence, escalation control indicates a “stability-instability paradox” on the Korean Peninsula. This paradox characterizes a decreasing probability of a major war but an increasing probability of low-level conflicts. North Korea assumed that South Korea and the United States did not want the minor conflicts to escalate into a major one, making it safe to engage in the former.

Fourth, the role of China in deterring North Korean aggression is increasingly important. As deterrence consists of sets of action to convince a party to refrain from initiating harmful action, it is not necessarily determined only by opponents but also by supporters. China has two options in regard to deterrence on the peninsula. China can weaken deterrence by exerting efforts to persuade South Korea and the United States to not pressure North Korea. China can also increase its anti-access and denial capability to encourage North Korean military operations. For example, Chinese objection to the U.S.-ROK Yellow Sea naval exercise in July 2010 can be interpreted as an attempt to deny U.S. engagement access in a Korean contingency.

China also has the capacity to augment deterrence. North Korean fear of abandonment from China continues to grow as indicated by the frequent visits by Kim Jong-il and other high-ranking officials to China. Given the stability-instability paradox, the role played by China in terms of deterring low-intensity aggression and supporting escalation control seems pivotal. China’s unusually active, intense and public degree of engagement after the Yeonpyeong incident showed how alarmed Beijing was by crisis escalation.

The apparent failure of deterrence on the Korean peninsula in 2010 has had a significant impact on Japanese perceptions of basic and extended deterrence and raises important questions regarding the role of U.S. security alliances in Northeast Asia. First, there is the question of whether North Korea believes that an increased level of aggression against Japan might also go without significant repercussions and costs. Although the thresholds are high for North Korea to conduct missile attacks or vigorous guerilla activities against Japan, the Japanese government should pay greater attention to provocative behavior such as low-level and asymmetrical maritime assaults. Second, U.S. extended deterrence to Japan and South Korea should be equally strengthened in order to increase the cost of North Korean aggression. Bilateral security cooperation between Japan and South Korea should be given more importance since both countries share mutual interests in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance activities. Third, U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral cooperation must be upgraded to enhance the impact and credibility of U.S. deterrence in the region. The three countries must take concrete actions in line with the joint plans outlined in the foreign ministers’ statement of December 2010 in order to build a renewed and sustainable foundation for trilateral cooperation on North Korea and other regional challenges. This effort must also include joint steps to strengthen coordination with China as a rising regional power based on the common goal of Northeast Asian peace and stability.

Ken JIMBO is Associate Professor at Keio University.


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Something from our friends at Pacific Forum CSIS in Hawaii.

PacNet #35 Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Zha Daojiong, South China Sea Diplomacy: More Needs to be Done
Zha Daojiong [zha@ruc.edu.cn] is Professor of International Political Economy at the School of International Studies, Peking University, China and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. This article was previously published by RSIS Commentaries on July 13, 2011.

Diplomatic tensions among China, the Philippines, and Vietnam over the South China Sea are showing signs of abating, however short-lived they may turn out to be. From 7-9 July 2001, Foreign Secretary of the Philippines Albert del Rosario visited Beijing reportedly to pave the way for President Benigno Aquino III’s China visit that may take place within weeks.
In late June, in the wake of diplomatic talks between Hanoi and Beijing and pledges of peaceful resolution of disputes, the two countries held two days of joint patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin. This exercise is a clear signal of mutual goodwill, even though the gulf area lies beyond the disputed waters. Such developments, in light of the renewed tensions over the South China Sea, are significant: they point to a desire in the respective Asian political capitals for an amicable resolution. A key issue is what to make of the geostrategic competition between China and the United Sates that looms in the background.
The Beijing-Washington Nexus
Among the many possible events that bring the South China Sea back to regional and international media headlines is how China has been reacting to US military access to South China Sea waters and airspace. In Chinese discussions on this aspect, two issues tend to surface: first, the uninvited presence in waters close to Hainan Island of a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft on April 1, 2001; and second, the US Navy’s surveillance ship Impeccable March 8, 2009. Both serve as powerful reminders of China’s anxiety.
The prevailing common-sense reasoning among Chinese circles goes like this: is US military vehicles that came to waters close to the mainland of China. Would Americans be unconcerned in the event of unannounced Chinese naval appearances close to the west coast of the US, or even Hawaii? Do they not reinforce the view of skeptics that the US tends to disregard Chinese sensitivities?
Against this backdrop, when US Secretary of State Clinton, at the July 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, publicly took issue with China over the latter’s handling of the territorial disputes with other claimants, analysts in China saw a return of “divide and conquer” tactics. Indeed, for much of the past year, Chinese diplomacy toward the entire Southeast Asian region demonstrated a tendency to prevent states from siding more firmly with the US camp.
Heart of the Issue
At the heart of the South China Sea issue that stands between Washington and Beijing is what the US insists is freedom of navigation. There are two sides to this coin. For commercial and other nonmilitary use of the South China Sea waters and airspace, there exists little room for contention. Indeed, China’s economic wellbeing cannot be separated from maintenance of that freedom – now and into the indefinite future. The bone of contention between Beijing and Washington is squarely rooted in competing definitions and interpretations of military use of Exclusive Economic Zones. The conceptual and legal gaps between them are wide and the possibility for their narrowing low.
What should be emphasized, meanwhile, is that the recent gestures of diplomacy between Beijing and Washington over Southeast Asia in general and the South China Sea in particular may well have resulted from mutual perceptions of each other’s standing in the region. There is much talk in China about the financial crisis signaling a decline of American power and the weakening of US will and capacity to act in defense of its interests and influence in the western Pacific region. Such perceptions, however, cannot stand up to rigorous analysis. Unfortunately, such headline-grabbing rhetoric has created undue alarm in Washington. By the same token, talk by American diplomats about the US “returning to Asia” has been wrongly interpreted in China as designed to weaken Beijing’s cultivation of harmonious ties with its Asian neighbors.
In actuality, the US has never left Asia. Its forward projection capabilities continue to be unrivaled and several decades ahead of China. Just witness the speed of the US Navy’s delivery of emergency aid in the wake of the Aceh earthquake and tsunami in 2004 and again after the powerful earthquake in northeastern Japan in 2011. China not only lacks the material capacity to match the US on this front; it also has a long way to go in winning goodwill from its Asian neighbors to allow for even non-combat use of its naval capacity. Southeast Asian states provide little room for a rise in Chinese influence at the expense of the Americans’.
The short conclusion is that the dynamics in geo-strategic relations between Beijing and Washington need to be better understood as a continuous search for levels of comfort in co-existence in the western Pacific. The South China Sea then, features as an occasional component of a larger set of uncertainties between the two capitals.
Not Sustainable
A fairly firm recognition between Beijing and Washington has emerged that the past year’s state of affairs over the South China Sea issue is not sustainable. The holding of the first official US-China dialogue on the Asia Pacific in late June served as a visible testimony of that changing calculation. Barring unforeseen developments, the coming ASEAN Regional Forum of 2011 is not likely to see the same showdown between Chinese and US diplomats over the SCS issue.
The route of China’s diplomacy to the Southeast Asian capitals does not have go through Washington. An ideal development to follow is for high-ranking officials and even the head of state of China to pay reciprocal visits to capital cities of the other claimant states, beginning with Manila and Hanoi. Such exchange of visits may not produce immediate results on dispute resolution over the South China Sea. But public shows of both sides reaching out to each other are necessary for cooling down temperatures.

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An interesting piece from The Guardian. It argues that the human role in wars may be coming to an end. Not too sure about it myself, but more on that later.

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