Tag Archive | "Japan"

Missiles Over Japan – What are the North Koreans up to?

By Mark Tokola

At 5:58 a.m. on August 28, North Korea launched what was probably an intermediate range missile that passed over Japan and landed in the Pacific after a flight of 1,700 miles.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “North Korea’s reckless action of launching a missile that passed over Japan is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”  Abe also said that he had spoken by telephone with President Trump and the U.S. and Japanese stances “are completely matched.”  Was this North Korean launch indeed unprecedented and what kind of threat does it pose?

This was not the first time North Korea has launched a missile that flew over Japan.  The first time was in 1998, when North Korea attempted to launch a satellite.  They claimed success, but because no satellite could be tracked most observers believe the launch was a failure.  It may have been significant that the 1998 launch was only a few days in advance of the 50th anniversary of North Korea’s independence from Japan.  In 2009, North Korea again attempted to launch a satellite with a missile trajectory that passed over Japan.  That launch also failed, with the missile falling into the Pacific east of Japan.  Since then, there have been other North Korean missile launches that have passed over the Japanese Ryukyu island chain

There are three aspects of the August 28th launch that qualify it as “unprecedented.”  First, North Korea has abandoned any pretense that their missile program is non-military.  It had claimed that its 1998 and 2009 launches were peaceful satellite launches.  Its 2017 launches are overtly for the purpose of threatening other countries.  Secondly, in 1998 and 2009, North Korea announced its launches in advance, providing warning to shipping in the areas where the boosters would fall.  The August 28th launch was a surprise, reinforcing its non-peaceful nature.  Finally, the site of the August 28th launch appears to have been near Pyongyang, rather than in the remote launch sites previously used.  This may have been a signal from Kim Jong-un that in any attempt by the U.S. to carry out a preventative strike, it could not assume it would be able to operate only in non-populated areas of North Korea.  There would be nothing surprising about Kim Jong-un holding his own population hostage.

We know facts about the August 28th launch, but its meaning is open to speculation.  One interpretation would be that Kim Jong-un is pushing the envelope further.  The previous ICBM tests had avoided Japanese air space by falling into the sea west of Japan. One could interpret the August 28th test as highly belligerent and provocative, intended as a sharp, unyielding response to U.S., South Korean, Chinese and Japanese warnings.  It also could be taken as a rebuff to Secretary of State Tillerson’s public remarks that North Korea may be showing restraint, possibly creating an opening for negotiations.

Those looking hopefully for signs that North Korea may be signaling a tough negotiating posture rather than spoiling for a fight will point out that the missile’s path over Japan seemed intended to avoid populated areas passing over a northern stretch of Japan that is relatively sparsely populated.  They may also point out that this was an intermediate missile test, not that of another ICBM designed to reach the continental American homeland.  It also fulfills North Korea’s promise to react to U.S.-South Korean military exercises without threatening Guam, the most recent target of its rhetoric.

The August 28 test will upset Japan, but is likely to irritate China as well.  Giving Japan reasons to enhance military cooperation with the U.S., to strengthen its anti-missile defenses, and to work more closely with South Korea all run counter to Chinese interests.  North Korea’s actions not only roil the U.S.-Chinese relationship, but the Chinese-Japanese relationship.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Challenges for Japan of a Nuclear Crisis at North Korea’s Yongbyon Facility

This is the third in a series of six blogs looking at a nuclear crisis at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility. Other pieces will look at the prospective issues of a nuclear crisis in North Korea from the perspective of North Korea, Russia, China, South Korea, and the United States.

By James L. Schoff

Containment is Paramount

Japan is highly vulnerable to airborne radioactive fallout from a nuclear incident on the Korean Peninsula, given prevailing westerly winds.  On an increasingly regular basis, Japan endures unhealthy waves of air pollution emanating from China via Korea, in the form of so-called yellow dust, yellow sand, or other fine particulate matter (PM 2.5).  The situation is worst in winter fueled by increased coal use and stronger seasonal winds.  Once the pollutants are airborne, there is little the Japanese government can do but alert the public to take basic precautions, such as wearing face mask or limiting outdoor exposure.  Radioactive material, however, would create an unmanageable health crisis.

A 2017 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that a nuclear accident in Busan South Korea—in this case a loss of cooling water leading to a fuel storage explosion—would force the Japanese government to evacuate more than 28 million people in Western Japan to avoid the severe health risks from breathing air contaminated by cesium-137 or other radioactive micro-particles.  A similar accident at Yongbyon in North Korea would probably be smaller in scale (given the smaller size facility) but could still affect millions, as the more densely populated Kanto region in Japan (including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, and Chiba) is likely to be in the path of fallout from the DPRK.

For comparison, the costly and logistically challenging evacuation in Japan caused by the Tokushima nuclear crisis in 2010 involved about 300,000 local residents.  All of the U.S. bombing in Japan late in World War II forced evacuations of about nine million Japanese, requiring complete national mobilization.  To relocate 28 million is frankly unfathomable, not to mention the long-term economic toll this would take on the nation and the entire region.  Japan’s paramount interest, therefore, is doing whatever it can to help contain the local nuclear accident and prevent a worst-case scenario.

Information and Assistance are Priorities

Upon news of the accident, Japan’s National Security Council would convene an emergency meeting and stand up an interagency task force, led by the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis Management.  Initial priorities include assessing the situation, preparing for possible invocation of the Civil Protection Law to authorize emergency powers for possible evacuations (in Japan and/or Japanese residents in South Korea), and mobilizing certain equipment that could aid in a North Korea or multilateral response to the crisis.  Mitigation would be much easier if North Korea allows for direct international assistance, perhaps under a UN umbrella with a team involving people experienced with disaster relief in North Korea and veterans of IAEA monitoring activities at Yongbyon in the early 2000s.

For example, Japan can make available equipment for aerial analysis and assessment of ground deposition of radioactive materials (utilizing specially configured helicopters and an unmanned reconnaissance plane received from the Americans in 2010).  Japan could also provide water pump trucks, radiation suits, robotic cameras for surveillance, decontamination facilities, and other material necessary for addressing potential nuclear risks.

The Japanese government would kick into high gear diplomatically, working bilaterally with the United States, the Republic of Korea, China, and Russia, looking to share information (including satellite imagery when feasible) and developing a coordinated response.  Coordinating with Washington would be relatively easy, given their close alliance and the experience working together in 2010 involving the military, diplomats, and nuclear authorities of both countries.  Tokyo would likely be uniquely forthcoming with Seoul sharing information, testing the limits of their military intelligence sharing agreement of 2016.  All three of these countries were critical players in the international response to a deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Africa in 2014-15, acting directly and through the UN system to provide hundreds of millions of dollars, medicine, in-kind contributions, and medical and logistics professionals to help contain the threat.  A similar approach would be sought in this case.

As for Japan’s diplomatic objective, its preference would be for at least a small international investigative team on the ground at Yongbyon as quickly as possible, ideally with some Japanese representation, but Tokyo would probably not insist on this point if North Korea balked.  A key question is what to do if North Korea refuses international assistance of any kind, while indications become clearer that a potentially catastrophic nuclear accident is occurring.

It is hard to see how the allies could impose their will upon North Korea, so all efforts would be made to convince Pyongyang to accept some outside help voluntarily.  This could include turning to different channels of communication, such as Chosen Soren (or the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), which is a political group of ethnic Koreans in Japan who remain loyal to North Korea.  Perhaps they could be persuasive for the sake of protecting their own members.  Japan would go to great lengths to demonstrate benevolent intent toward North Korea in this particular instance, being more flexible with regard to spending money and providing assistance than is normally the case, even if it applies only to this situation.

As this crisis is unfolding, economic markets would be weakening, requiring government efforts to backstop Japanese firms and ameliorate volatility.  Soon after Japan’s nuclear crisis became evident in 2010, the nation’s stock indices suffered their worst two-day selloff—down about 17 percent—since 1987.  South Korean, Chinese, and U.S. markets would be hurting as well.  Beyond jittery markets, if radioactive fallout did begin to affect Japan and trigger mandatory evacuations in certain areas, it could affect supply chain management that can send ripples throughout the region.  This also happened in 2010, affecting various industries including autos, semiconductors, and electronics.  Thus, another priority for Tokyo would be to mobilize manufacturers to mitigate the potential impact of a worst-case scenario even as it pledges reassuring support for firms, banks, and insurance companies to discourage panic selling.  The economic dimension of this challenge involves both logistics and psychology.

The Japanese government is experienced at trying to manage natural disasters (home and abroad), financial crises, and also nuclear accidents, even if its performance is mixed given the enormous challenges involved.  The emotional scar of the Tokushima nuclear crisis in Japan is still so fresh that a similar crisis in North Korea would consume the public and the authorities.  They would drop everything to help contain the fallout and work with whomever necessary in the region and around the world to address the threat.  Japan has technical expertise and financial resources to offer, and it will leverage all of its multilateral and bilateral relationships to deliver what it can.

Underlying distrust of North Korean leadership, the outstanding issue of missing Japanese abducted by North Korea in the past, and the increasing nuclear and missile threats mean that Japanese flexibility and generosity would likely end once the nuclear safety issue is under control, but the experience might open a door to bilateral or multilateral cooperation with North Korea even after the incident is contained, if nuclear safety can be improved without extortion efforts by Pyongyang.

James L. Schoff is a Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Alessandro Grussu’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Challenges for the Moon Administration in Addressing Relations with Japan

This is the tenth in a series of blogs looking at South Korea’s foreign relations for the new Korean administration. The series also includes blogs on relations with North KoreaChina, the United States, Russia, the European UnionASEANAfrica, the Middle East, and Latin America

By Juni Kim

This year has already seen a dramatic roller-coaster of events in South Korea-Japan relations. In protest over a “comfort woman” statue installed near the Japanese consulate in the southern Korean city of Busan, Japan withdrew its ambassador, Yasumasa Nagamine, and consul general in Busan, Yasuhiro Morimoto, this past January due to what the Japanese saw as a violation of an agreement made by the South Korean and Japanese governments in December 2015. The agreement provided ¥1 billion ($8.3 million) from the Japanese government to Korean victims of forced sexual servitude to Japanese troops during World War II, and was controversial from its outset with critics deriding that the deal insufficiently addressed the atrocity. Despite the deal, civic activists installed the bronze statue in Busan last December, which was initially removed by local authorities and then later reinstalled after a large public outcry.  Although Japan sent both officials back to Korea last month, historical issues like comfort women continue to be a hotly controversial aspect of the South Korea-Japan relationship.

Recently elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sent strong indications that the 2015 agreement, which the foreign ministers from both countries declared a “final and irreversible resolution” to the issue at the time, will be renegotiated. In a telephone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, Moon called the deal “unacceptable” for most South Korean people and his special envoy to Japan Moon Hee-sang reiterated the stance in a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida this week. At the moment, what form a proposed restructured deal will look like is a mystery, but the administration will likely move forward soon in seeking a new deal.

Public opinion polls support the assertion that historical issues like comfort women are far from resolved for most South Koreans. A joint poll by the East Asia Institute and Genron NPO in 2016 showed that 74.9% of South Koreans believe that resolving historical disputes is a step towards improving relations, and 75.7% agreed that resolving the comfort women issue would better the relationship. These issues polled much higher than other avenues of cooperation including joint efforts to resolve North Korea’s nuclear program (7%) and increasing cultural exchange opportunities (7.9%). The poll was conducted last June and July, and the series of tumultuous events in both South Korean domestic politics and South Korea-Japan relations since then will certainly have an impact of how South Koreans view the relationship currently.

Despite the controversy, the new South Korean administration has stated the importance of the South Korea-Japan relationship and hope for improving ties. In a meeting between Abe and special envoy to Japan Moon Hee-sang yesterday, both officials acknowledged the two countries’ shared security and economic interests. The South Korean politician relayed President Moon’s intention to meet with Abe “at the earliest date” and build “forward-looking relations.” Moon likewise was quoted saying, “The countries must look squarely to their history so issues related to their past will not become an obstacle while the countries move toward a more developed, mature relationship.”

Considering the breadth and significance of the South Korea-Japan relationship, avenues to improve relations certainly exist. According to the World Bank, Japan is South Korea’s fifth largest importer and second largest exporter. South Korea and Japan also regularly cooperate in military drills, including one this past March, designed to counter the North Korean threat. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), an intelligence sharing agreement signed last year by the two countries, is set to expire on November 23rd and it provides an opportunity for the new administration to balance how it handles shared security interests with historical issues.

The South Korea-Japan relationship is no stranger to controversy and at times souring ties, but both countries can benefit from improving relations and focusing on common goals. North Korea remains a defiant and volatile threat to both nations, and with a new South Korean administration in place both South Korea and Japan can relaunch efforts to signal their unified strength against North Korean aggression. The past few months have illustrated the difficulties in addressing historical issues between the two neighboring countries, and the rift is highly unlikely to be resolved overnight even if a new deal is created. However, both governments should continue to maintain an open communicative relationship to work towards finding enduring solutions.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from B Lucava’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Public Perception between South Korea and Japan Improves

By Juni Kim

Notoriously chilly relations between South Korea and Japan received encouraging news this week. In a new joint survey conducted by the South Korea-based East Asia Institute and the Japan-based Genron NPO, fewer South Koreans and Japanese hold negative impressions of each other than in previous years. South Korean unfavorable impressions of Japan decreased by 11.5 percentage from 72.5 percent in 2015 to 61 percent this year, while Japanese unfavorable impressions dropped by 7.8 percentage  from 52.4 percent to 44.6 percent. The drop in negative views for both countries also corresponded with a slight bump in favorable views from a year ago (21.3 percent from 15.7 percent for South Korea, 29.1 percent from 23.8 percent for Japan).

The poll is in its fourth year, with 1,010 South Koreans and 1,000 Japanese participating in 2016.This year’s results mark the lowest unfavorable ratings South Koreans have had for Japan since the survey started. The think tanks touted, “The figures mean momentum is building up for a change in bilateral relations, although there still remains high levels of negative perception.”

Although the decrease in unfavorable views is hopeful, the survey results suggest there is still an uphill climb to mend mutual perceptions between South Koreans and Japanese. Controversial historical issues remain the main driver of negative perceptions for South Koreans. In the survey, 76.3 percent of South Koreans indicated that “Japan’s lack of remorse for historical invasions of South Korea” is the reason they hold a negative impression of Japan. This figure is similar to 2015 (74.0 percent) and 2014’s (76.8 percent) results. Likewise, the main driver for negative Japanese views of South Korea is “criticism of Japan over historical issues,” which 75.3 percent of Japanese respondents indicated was the reason they have a negative impression of South Korea.

Graphic for Japan Korea 2

Despite these steady rates, fewer South Koreans and Japanese attribute their negative perceptions to the “badwill” expressed by politicians of the neighboring country. Both countries saw a drop of over 10 percentage points (14.6 percent from 24.7 percent for South Korea, 17.9 percent from 28.1 percent for Japan) from 2015 to 2016 in those citing “badwill expressed by some politicians” toward their own country as the reason for holding negative impressions against the other country.

This drop may have been encouraged by reconciliation efforts made by the top political leaders of South Korea and Japan in 2015. South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held their first summit in over three years last November. The two countries also reached an agreement last December regarding the controversial issue of comfort women, though the decision is still hotly debated among South Korean and Japanese circles.

Historical issues are unlikely to be resolved overnight, but the survey results reveal a small but positive step in the right direction for bringing these two neighboring countries closer together.

The full results of this year’s survey can be viewed here (in Korean). Last year’s results can be viewed in English here.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). Jiwon Nam, an Intern at KEI and graduate student at the University of Maine, also contributed to this blog. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Moyan Brenn’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S. Should Encourage Greater South Korea-Japan Security Cooperation

By Bruce Klingner

Enhanced security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo would better protect South Korean, Japanese, and U.S. national interests in Asia. Both South Korea and Japan have extensive, highly capable militaries. Washington has strong relationships with both countries, but the third leg of the security triad—between Seoul and Tokyo—has been constrained due to bitter historic animosities and territorial disputes.

However, driven by common concerns over North Korea’s growing security threat, Seoul and Tokyo began in recent years to augment the scope and sophistication of bilateral security relations. In addition, the December 2015 South Korean-Japanese comfort women agreement allowed both nations to begin to shift attention away from contentious history issues toward present-day security challenges.

North Korea’s 2016 nuclear and missile tests underscored the necessity of further coordinating and integrating defense cooperation amongst the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. A combined trilateral ballistic missile exercise in June 2016 is the latest manifestation of slowly improving security ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

The U.S. had sought to remain aloof from the diplomatic clashes between its two critical Asian allies, but eventually realized the necessity of playing a behind-the-scenes facilitator. Washington can best empower increased security cooperation by embedding South Korean-Japanese defense relations into broader multilateral security initiatives while maintaining the stabilizing effect from a robust forward-deployed U.S. military presence in the region.

The foundation for enhancing security cooperation is increasing and formalizing information exchange amongst the three militaries. Doing so would enable an accelerated and upgraded allied response to a North Korean attack. In June 2012, South Korea was scheduled to sign a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan but cancelled at the last moment due to strong domestic opposition.

In December 2014, a limited version of the accord was signed which permitted some military information to be exchanged on North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear activities but only indirectly and inefficiently through the U.S. military. Privately, South Korean security officials acknowledge the need to expand defense cooperation with Japan but counsel that such efforts should remain largely unpublicized or buried within larger multilateral efforts lest they be derailed by Korean nationalism.

While a formal GSOMIA may currently be a bridge too far, Seoul and Tokyo should push the envelope on expanding security cooperation allowable under the current trilateral agreement while educating their populaces on the need to address the threats of the present millennium rather than remained mired in the past. A GSOMIA could also become a confidence-building measure leading to even more meaningful bilateral military cooperation.

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo should create a Trilateral Security Initiative (2+2+2 meeting) with an annual meeting of foreign and defense ministers to develop joint strategies for addressing common threats and objectives. Formalizing integrated trilateral security policymaking would encourage development of a joint strategic vision that better incorporates the roles, missions, and capabilities of their militaries.

The initiative should focus initially on coordinated defense cooperative initiatives to improve allied deterrence and defense against the common North Korean security threat. A critical component would be integrated ballistic missile defense. To date, Seoul has resisted linking its independent Korea Air and Missile Defense system into the more comprehensive and effective allied network due to tensions with Tokyo. By capitulating to populist nationalism, Seoul has increased the risk to U.S. forces in the region as well as to its own citizens to attack by North Korean nuclear, chemical and biological strikes.

Concurrent with enhancing defenses against North Korea, the three countries should discuss bilateral or trilateral combined operations for peacekeeping, maritime security, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, anti-submarine warfare, minesweeping, cyberspace protection, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Eventually, multilateral planning could facilitate long-term plans for achieving Korean unification.

Maritime operations may provide the most likely venue for augmenting cooperation given their unobtrusive over-the-horizon nature out of public view. As such, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan should enhance bilateral and trilateral naval exercises. Due to Korean sensitivities, combined training can occur far from the Korean Peninsula. For example, mine-sweeping exercises near the Strait of Hormuz and anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden not only serve common allied interests, but also develop skills and familiarity that could be applied in a Korean crisis.

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo should particularly emphasize trilateral cooperation in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine warfare. Despite ASW initiatives in response to the Cheonan sinking in 2010, South Korea remains vulnerable to North Korean submarines nor can it protect the sea lines of communication around the Korean Peninsula. The United States has an insufficient number of naval assets permanently stationed around South Korea’s vital sea lanes, but Japan has strong ASW and mine-sweeping capabilities.

The U.S. has critical national interests in Asia, but cannot protect them alone. It must rely on indispensable allies such as Japan and South Korea to achieve mutually beneficial goals. Greater South Korean–Japanese security cooperation would augment allied deterrence and defense capabilities. A strong security triad could also form a core group for addressing broader regional issues.

Japanese–South Korean rapprochement has a viable path forward, but it will not be easy. Both President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must continue to consolidate progress since the comfort women agreement by pushing back against the fervent nationalist elements in their countries that have previously worked against reconciliation. The United States must remain fully and energetically engaged by maintaining its forward-deployed forces in Asia and constantly seeking ways to promote rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo.

Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. He previously served 20 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Photo from Korea.net.

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Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers: A Review

By Troy Stangarone

Should South Korea develop a nuclear weapon to deter North Korea? Should Japan go nuclear as well? These questions have been asked since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test earlier this year and Donald Trump suggested that both countries might need to eventually develop their own nuclear deterrents. While much of this discussion has been superficial, in an important and timely new book, non-proliferation expert and International Institute for Strategic Studies Washington, DC office head, Mark Fitzpatrick, explores Asia’s latent nuclear powers and the prospects of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan going nuclear.

At a time when North Korea’s drive for a deliverable nuclear weapon has South Korea debating its options for its own device, Fitzpatrick’s “Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan,” explores important issues related to why South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan might decide to one day pursue a nuclear option, how quickly they could do so, and what constraints the would face, but perhaps most importantly why all three have refrained from developing nuclear weapons in the face of a nuclear-armed China and North Korea.

While South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are not nuclear weapons states, their advanced civilian nuclear power programs give all three the potential to develop nuclear weapons more quickly than other states in the region. This advanced stage of nuclear development and restraint from the development of nuclear weapons, makes each of them as Fitzpatrick notes, latent nuclear powers.

In the case of each, there is also a history of prior pursuit of nuclear weapons. In South Korea’s case, the motivations for its initial pursuit of nuclear weapons perhaps also suggests why Seoul, or Japan and Taiwan, might consider going nuclear in the future. At the time, North Korea held a military and economic advantage over South Korea, and U.S. responses to increasing North Korean provocations raised concerns about the credibility of U.S. security assurances. This concern was only heightened in the late 60s when President Nixon unexpectedly announced the U.S. intention to shift conventional defense in Asia to its allies, the withdrawal of the Seventh Infantry Division over South Korean objections, and the U.S. normalization of relations with China.

For those who would question whether the United States should continue to provide extended deterrence to South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, Fitzpatrick’s study will prove illuminating. In the absence of U.S. security guarantees, South Korea would face a nuclear-armed North Korea. Japan would face both a nuclear-armed North Korea and China. While Taiwan would face a nuclear-armed China that continues to modernize its conventional forces, forces which it might not be able to deter without U.S. assistance. The decision of say, Japan to go nuclear would likely trigger a similar decision in South Korea. It is the U.S. security presence and assurances of extended deterrence, Fitzpatrick argues, which has played an important role in the decision not to pursue nuclear weapons.

One important takeaway from Fitzpatrick’s work is that going nuclear would not be as easy for South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan as is generally presumed. Even for advanced nuclear programs such as those in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, developing a nuclear weapon would take time and entail significant economic and security costs for each. It is these costs, which are rarely discussed, that help make the nuclear option so unappealing under the current security environment.

For anyone who wishes to understand why Asia’s latent nuclear powers have remained so and what might trigger a change in their posture, Fitzpatrick’s work is an important piece of scholarship.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from IAEA Imagebank’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korea – Japan Talks: Caution on Overhyping Agreements

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

Last week North Korea and Japan held their first government-to-government talks in four years. These discussions seemed to be a part of a summer of diplomatic outreach by North Korea. The meetings centered on handling the remains of Japanese soldiers that were killed on the Korean peninsula during World War II. Japan seemed to hope this interaction would lead to discussion about abductee issues and create room for dialogue on other problems between North Korea and Japan. The two sides agreed to meet again in the future; however, North Korea recently issued a statement saying that future discussions will just be about the remains of Japanese soldiers and nothing else. Japanese government officials remain optimistic that they will be able to talk about abductions in future meetings, yet Japan needs to be careful it does not fall into a similar language trap the United States did with North Korea on the February 29 agreement.

For Japan, the bilateral Red Cross meetings with North Korea discussing the remains of Japanese soldiers on the Korean peninsula opened up an opportunity to have a dialogue with the new regime in North Korea. Moreover, after the death of Kim Jong-il, “many abductees’ families argued that under the new leader there might be a long-waited opportunity for a breakthrough, and therefore, the Noda government should do everything possible to achieve concrete results.” Ambassador Kazuhiko Togo in writing on North Korea-Japan relations noted that Prime Minister Noda’s government had been using nuanced language when discussing North Korea following the death of Kim Jong-il potentially indicating a “desire to get beyond the fixation over abductions.” Abduction issues are a key factor for current interaction between the two countries. However, it seems there is an aspiration from some in Japan that these talks with North Korea can develop into an atmosphere for permanent official communication with North Korea.

Yet, as with almost all things involving North Korea, caution is needed. The new statement from North Korea’s foreign ministry argues that “government involvement is necessary for a satisfactory solution to the issue of remains of Japanese buried in the Korean soil,” and that North Korea did not accept abductees being the main issue for future talks. North Korea and Japan are still scheduled to meet in the future, and the statement does indicate that North Korea will continue to work with Japan over the issues of Japanese remains on Korean soil. Yet, the statement is a caution in potentially overselling an agreement with North Korea.

The United States had a similar problem with its February 29 deal. The U.S. had worked with the new North Korean regime to come up with an agreement that included a moratorium on missile launches. The U.S. thought the deal included space launches. North Korea clearly did not, and the deal broke down.  Japan must be patient and continue trying to bring North Korea along in discussing a broader range of issues, including about abductees. However, miscalculating an agreement with North Korea can set relations back and damage opportunities for influencing the Kim Jong-un regime.

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Apologies in Northeast Asia – A Discussion with Dr. Jennifer Lind

Chad O’Carroll, the host of Korean Context, recently set down with Dr. Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth. The following covers their discussion of the challenges Northeast Asia has faced with the issues of apologies and the recent changes in North Korea.

Chad O’Carroll – You have done a lot of work regarding apologies between states and you say in your book, Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics, that it is important for countries to acknowledge past atrocities or mistakes, but that an apology is not always necessarily needed. How do you think a government or a leader should go about acknowledging past wrong doings in a way that appears sincere, but also protects themselves from political backlash internally in their domestic situation?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – This seems to be the million dollar question for East Asia. If only the leaders there were seriously and sincerely contemplating this question then I think things would be whole lot calmer, and the headlines will be substantially less interesting than they are. But rather than sincere efforts at reconciliation, I think we’re seeing a lot of politics.

Over the years of studying this issue I’ve arrived at a very simple plea regarding how countries should deal with the past, which is: don’t tell lies. Don’t tell lies about the past. This sounds like a very low threshold to ask people to meet (indeed, commentators are always writing and talking about how countries should be offering apologies). But my research shows that simply telling the truth about the past can have a remarkably positive effect.

You’d be surprised how hard it seems to be for leaders and other elites to actually meet what sounds such like a low threshold. We can see this in the U.S. election campaign—for example, U.S. Republicans can’t even agree on the simple fact that President Barack Obama was born in the United States! We can also see this in East Asia’s history problems. People writing the histories of their country tell lies all the time. Leaders shape the truth to suit their own political needs at any given time.

Historians have done a great deal of work and unearthed a great deal of documentation about things that we know happened during World War II and during Japanese colonization. For example: we know that Korean and other Asian women were recruited, lied to, forcibly abducted, and in a variety of other ways taken to be used as sexual slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army. This happened. We know this. Not only do we have historians telling us about it, we have survivors telling us their horrifying stories. So, it’s simply egregious to lie about it. When Japanese people lie about it, it arouses anger and suspicion among others – it raises serious questions about whether Japan truly desires to live peacefully among its neighbors.

You might ask, what’s wrong with asking for an apology for such a terrible thing? Nothing, of course, and I support citizens who do it. It draws attention to these terrible events, and we need to know what happened. From the standpoint of international reconciliation, however–which is what my book was interested in–I found that apologies are actually unhelpful to bring two former adversaries together. Because apologies are quite divisive politically, they create a great deal of backlash at home. And that backlash is observed by other countries that find it quite alarming. Hence my plea is that countries tell the truth, but avoid big polarizing public gestures such as these public apologies.

Chad O’Carroll – So you don’t agree with President Lee’s urging that Japan should apologize to South Korea?

As my book points out, Japan’s leaders have apologized many, many times. Many, many times. The problem is not the absence of a Japanese apology – clearly it isn’t, because we have many of those. The problem is the apologies do not reflect the views of the wider society, which continues to tolerate lies, and continues to resent being asked to apologize. So another apology is only going to trigger more of an outburst, just as it always has.

So, essentially a strategy such as President Lee is arguing for is not going to do anything to actually help the cause of reconciliation between Japan and South Korea. What my research suggests is, if the Japanese are interested and committed to reconciliation with South Korea, they need to start simply by telling the truth about the past – in their leaders’ speeches, in their textbooks, in their commemoration. They need to make impermissible, what the scholar Michael Ignatieff has called “permissible lies,” including lies about the Korean sex slaves. These lies are tolerated within the mainstream Japanese political establishment, and they cannot be tolerated.  For decades this has created serious political costs for Japan.

Chad O’Carroll – Just to pick up on it, why do you think they are tolerated within the political class of Japan?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – The first thing to remember is people always have a hard time acknowledging hard truths about their own country’s wrongdoing. People are always asking, “what’s wrong with Japan?” They point to West Germany and say that it was able to apologize, so they wonder what’s wrong with Japan that it couldn’t. But what I argue is that across the world we see that democracies in particular have a very tough time with atoning for past violence – apologies and other gestures usually trigger a great deal of backlash. Backlash to statements that condemn fathers, and uncles, and grandfathers is a very common thing. So in Japan, the backlash is not unusual –it’s happened in the U.S., it has happened in Austria, it happened in Great Britain. It happens everywhere.

So what we should be asking is not why Japan couldn’t apologize, but why Germany could? Why was Germany so unusual in that it’s numerous, detailed, extensive apologies didn’t trigger a lot of backlash?

Chad O’Carroll – Do you have any theories on that?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – I do discuss this in my book. When you think about the historical situation of West Germany, it really is pretty striking that the Germans recognized they needed other countries. They had the Soviet Union parked in the other half of their country and were fearful that the Soviet army would invade them at any time, so the West Germans needed NATO protection. Who is NATO? NATO is the same countries that Germany had just been brutalizing during WWII. So, West Germany had to come to terms with these former victims and current allies. It couldn’t walk around saying things like Hitler was a great leader. That was not going to be tolerated among the countries of NATO, on which West Germany was dependent.

Remember, Germany was a divided country and the West Germans placed their hopes for reunification in convincing those same allies that Germany was worthy of and could be trusted with reunification. Talking nostalgically about how great Hitler was would not inspire a whole lot of trust. The NATO allies under such circumstances would never conclude that yes, we can live safely with a reunified Germany. Now, there are so many other factors that I haven’t talked about here—a very rich domestic political landscape that is very important in this as well. But it’s important to think to the rather extraordinary situation in which West Germans during the Cold War, and I think it sheds a lot of light on why the West Germans were so more forthcoming about the recent past.

Chad O’Carroll – Do you think if a country constantly asks for an apology as we have seen with numerous cases in East Asia that it might make it more likely that apology will never be satisfied when another country does try to offer it?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – It’s an interesting question. Frankly I think another country’s motivation for actually extending an apology is going to be based on a whole host of other factors and those factors will probably be the most dominant. As I was just discussing with the German case, the extent to which you need that other country I think will factor in very largely. Do you need to cooperate with that country? Do you need good relations with that country? What we have seen is countries are pretty clever about turning on dime and taking what was yesterday’s hated adversary and turning it into today’s partner. French poll data showed this with respect to Germany as early as the mid-1950s, a mere decade after Germany had been occupying Paris. Countries do what they need to do. Did they ask 11 times for an apology or 15 or zero? I just don’t think it matters. Countries do what they need to do.

Right now I think what we are seeing with South Korea and Japan is they don’t think they need each other. Sure, they sometimes cooperate a little bit, and do this or that military exercise here and there, but when you look at the big picture their behavior seems to be telling us that they feel very secure. They each see themselves having a secure bilateral alliance with the United States. Why would they need to mess around with each other when they have that?  So when I see all of this posturing about history between the two countries – South Korea playing politics, and Tokyo tolerating right-wing deniers – what that tells me is, these countries don’t think they need each other very much. If they ever do decide they need each other, leaders will get serious – they will do what needs to be done to put the past behind.  We’ve seen this historically (when regional fears grow of a U.S. exit) and we’ll probably see it again at some point.

Chad O’Carroll – You talked just now about countries apologizing when they need to do so. I know you mostly look at countries apologizing to states rather than their own people.   Do you think something is happening in North Korea with Kim Jong-un’s recent acknowledgement of failure to his own people, because as you probably have heard, he said people should not tighten their belts any more.  Do you see that as some kind of acknowledgement of past policy failure in North Korea? Do you think there were drivers there that made it too difficult for him to avoid having to make a statement such as that?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – We know so little about the internal situation about North Korean politics. I really hate to speculate on what Kim Jong-un’s motivations for such a statement would be. We do know that there were times when government policies created a lot of problems, such as the 2009 currency reform where Pyongyang later apologized for having done that. This might be one of the times when Kim regime took the temperature of the society somehow and thought that an apology would be something that people would appreciate. But the bottom line is this is not a regime that appears terribly concerned about the approval of, or happiness of, the broader population. If it were, the regime would rule a whole lot differently.

Chad O’Carroll – So you don’t think the recent opening of fun fairs and dolphin shows was for the popular benefit of his people?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – “Give them bread or give them circus,” I suppose. Give them bread or give them fun fairs. People are enjoying talking about Kim Jong-un’s wife’s Dior handbag, and the roller coaster ride, and it’s all good fun, and North Korea is endless source of kitschy news.

I guess two things come to my mind. The first is to encourage people to resist North Korea’s kitschy appeal and to remember that this is truly a venomous, reprehensible government that is—still—engaging in the worst human rights violations on the planet. Blaine Harden wrote a powerful piece that makes this point. Let’s not get distracted by shiny objects like the first lady’s Dior handbag.

Second, we should be trying our best to discern whether this superficial makeover reflects a real makeover.  Is there something real going on — are there real reforms, economic or political, or has Pyongyang simply just hired a better publicist?

Chad O’Carroll – What do you think about that? Andrei Lankov wrote a piece earlier this week where even he said that he is starting to think maybe there will be some changes. It is the first time I have seen him say that since following him. He has always been the first to rubbish the changes and say they are meaningless and a number of others within the South Korea and the U.S. are starting to think perhaps change may be underway. Do you agree with that assessment or do you think that is still too early to say?

Dr. Jennifer Lind – All that I have seen so far about reform in North Korea has been speculation. I don’t have a sense myself as to what extent there has been meaningful reform. This is obviously something that I will be watching and other people who study North Korea will be watching very closely. We want to know, does this makeover have any association with a broader, more meaningful reform? This is an important question.

My work kind of casts doubt on the likelihood of reform; in an article that I wrote with Daniel Byman, we talk about the roots of the regime’s power — how the regime stays in power. To write this article we surveyed this broader comparative politics literature on authoritarian resilience. This literature shows if a government moves into what is called a post-totalitarian phase of governance, there is a seriously elevated risk that the government will be challenged. That could come in the form of a coup or popular uprisings — people have more windows into the outside world and also greater means of expression of their discontent. What we know from historical experience from authoritative resilience (and lack thereof) in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe is that the post-totalitarian phase — basically a reform phase — would have a much higher risk of instability.

That is why Andrei Lankov and myself and many other analysts have said Kim Jong-un knows this, and Kim Jong-un presumably wants to stay alive, and the people around him presumably want to stay alive, and for those reasons, reform is not a good idea for this government. Who knows — maybe he is just a bad dictator, and he doesn’t understand this. But this I seriously doubt. After all, he was raised by a very successful dictator.

Another question is does Kim think he can find some sort of a sweet spot of just enough reform to promote economic growth that will help him make the people happier and give him more money to buy off his supporters? So just enough reform to allow that, but not too much to increase the possibility of instability — not too much foreign information and chances for the people to mobilize against him. These are all the questions that we are going to be thinking about as we consider this idea and look for signs of North Korean economic reform.

Photo from Bas Lammers’ photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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