Everything But The Execution

29 Jun

The Three Liars Ever since I read Victor D. Cha’s Alignment Despite Antagonsm, I have become convinced, that Japan and South Korea need to form a true alliance, and not the current quasi-alliance. The announcement of a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Japan and South Korea could be a tentative first step towards a broader alliance. Unfortunately, the South Korean cabinet has already made a tactical error.

The agreement marks the first military pact between South Korea and Japan since Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea. The two countries are historical rivals with a host of unresolved historical issues.

The official added that as soon as Japan completes its own procedures, we will proceed with the agreement’s signing. The official explained that the agreement stipulated methods of exchanging intelligence and procedures for protecting and administering the intelligence that is exchanged.

“It does not require any specific intelligence exchanges or specify the content,” the official said.

The official went on to say, “For the sake of deterring North Korea and for our general security, we need to use Japan’s intelligence capabilities — its satellites, early warning aircrafts, and antisubmarine aircrafts.”

But many reacted negatively to the agreement’s approval, which was done behind closed doors at a Cabinet meeting without the content ever being made public. The Office of the Prime Minister, which handles working-level duties for the Cabinet, explained that the item could not be made public because it came up on the spot, unlike ordinary items that are reported three days before the meeting.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) official said, “As an agreement between countries, it involved another party, so we were unable to give moment-to-moment explanations.”

Critics are charging that the passage was intentionally rushed through out of concern about a possible backlash from the public. Inje University professor Kim Yeon-chul said, “When something is as controversial and important as this, it shows a blatant disregard for democratic procedure to pass it without announcing it first, let alone seeing what the public thinks.”

“Passing it behind closed doors was a tactic admission that the agreement was too problematic to be made public,” Kim argued.

Analysts said the rushed and covert passage stemmed from a combination of pressure from Washington, demands from Tokyo, and the Lee Myung-bak administration’s foreign policy fixation with those two countries.

South Korea and Japan’s defense ministers held talks on the agreement in late May. The decision to adopt a quieter approach came amid opposition from the government and ruling party, which anticipated a negative response from the public.

Hankyoreh‘s opposition to the entire notion of a Japan-ROK military alliance undergirds this dissastisfaction with the Cabinet’s tactical error. I disagree with that opposition, because I would like to see an even broader Northeast Asian security system which anchors trade relations to security. States don’t need to be friends to be allies, but a new security system would require a great deal of trust. There is an indication, that South Korea is willing to entertain that notion. Next week, China and South Korea will hold a second round of free trade talks at Jeju Island. But, for any deepening of relations with Japan – or, China, for that matter – to advance, the opposition has to agree with the conservatives about the value of the GSOMIA, or else future diplomatic advances will be impossible, and possibly reversed under any progressive administration. Robert Koehler summarizes the arguments and counter-arguments for the GSOMIA. The problem with not bringing the GSOMIA to the public in a forthright matter is, that this undemocratic blunder undermines the only good argument for the GSOMIA that’s left: it’s a trust-building measure.

What the GSOMIA also is a trade in intelligence products. According to Stratfor, Japan offers satellite reconnaissance; South Korea brings human intelligence. Japan’s parliament hastily and “quietly” decided, over the objections of its own leftists and in striking disregard of its pacifist constitution, to amend its Basic Law on Atomic Energy and also allow the Japanese Cabinet to control space policy. The United States could provide South Korea with wesponry, nuclear fuel, or satellite intelligence, but it seems the Obama administration wants both countries to depend upon one another. If South Korea is allying with its former colonial ruler, Japan is undermining its constitution, and both are doing it “quietly”.

So it would seem reasonable to conclude that the generation which was spoon-fed pacifism is giving way to people who have too much common sense to swallow that swilliness in the Occupation Constitution about entrusting national defense to the “peace loving peoples of the world”, in league with those of the older generation who were too smart to swallow it to begin with. Here’s one quick example of the latter: When Fukuda Yasuo was serving as chief cabinet secretary a decade ago before becoming prime minister, he alluded to Japan’s potential to develop nuclear weapons at a news conference, but had to walk it back the next day. Fortunately that was walked back only in public.

There’s a reason they call weapons “The Great Equalizer”. If the slow shift continues toward eliminating the peace clause of the Constitution, independently developing legit self-defense capabilities, recognizing the world’s realities, and rejecting the (primarily overseas) ideal vision of Japan as a ship-in-a-bottle model for world pacifism, it won’t be long before Japan is once again a “normal country”.

National defense is one of the few legitimate reasons for a strong central government to exist, and the primarily responsibility of all who serve in it. The means used for that defense – as long as they are limited to defense – need not be endlessly gummed over by the media and public. The people who need to know and want to know, both in Japan and the nearby countries, now know.

So, a South Korean opposition and perhaps a plurality of the South Korean population oppose an alliance; a Japanese opposition and perhaps a plurality of the Japanese population oppose amending the constitution. These are debilitating weaknesses. It’s doubtful whether even tackling these issues within the legislature is sufficient. But, another debilitating factor is, as Cha offers, that the United States is still the first, major partner in a quasi-alliance.

The new concepts of “entrapment” and “abandonment” fears are used to explain the changes in the relationships among the triangle made up of the United States at the top and South Korea and Japan as the two legs, whereas traditional antagonisms could not account for the movements back and forth between closeness (cooperation) and separation (antagonism) that are clear in three periods between 1968 and 1988. The traditional explanation would only anticipate a gradual warming of relations as old antagonisms are forgotten. But this was not the case here. There were ups and downs in this quasi-alliance which really began with the American participation in the Korean War, which was a hot spot in the overreaching Cold War in which Japan was also involved.

To lay the groundwork for the hypotheses, the author, who was a graduate student at Columbia University and did pre- and postdoctoral work at Harvard, examines the history of animosities, especially between Korea and Japan after the end of the Second World War, when Korea is no longer a colony and America has stepped into the picture. He then develops his own alternative explanatory hypotheses. The third part of the book tests these within the time frame mentioned above. More specifically, he first defines the first of three periods as starting with the Nixon doctrine (1969-71); the second, as the short détente (1972-74), which followed Nixon’s historic meeting with Mao Zedong; and the third, as starting with the Nixon abandonment of Vietnam and covering the Carter years (1975-79). Cha then finds that during the 1980’s under Reagan, America is better able to supply security, so it was possible (permissible) for South Korea and Japan to squabble and revisit old antagonisms, without fears of abandonment by the U.S., that in the past had brought the two together.

Cha develops three propositions to clarify his concepts: (1) “When a state fears abandonment, one of the options it will choose is to show a stronger commitment to the alliance in order to elicit a reciprocal response by the ally.” (2) “When a state fears entrapment, it will show a weaker commitment to the ally to prevent the ally from being intransigent toward the adversary.” and (3) “The optimal strategy in the alliance game is to maximize one’s security from the alliance while minimizing one’s obligations to it.”

The optimal way, to mimimize abandonment and entrapment concerns, and avoid decades of enmity, Cha concludes, is for the United States to foster commitment by reducing its commitment to Japan and South Korea, and thereby force the two quasi-allies to increase their commitment to one another. The solution is elegant, particularly because it avids illogical cultural arguments, that undermine trust-building even when offered just as explanations for Japanese and Korean mistrust.

The South Korean Cabinet’s ham-fisted tactics not only derail the process they wish to advocate, they also undermine the perception, that South Korea is not an authoritarian state. Not involving the opposition indicates a heavy-handed approach by conservatives to governance and contempt for popular opinion. The United States also risks stoking a backlash, if South Koreans perceive, that Washington compelled both quasi-allies to negotiate.

What would be unfortunate is, if these negotiations were to unravel based on popular resentment and for a future progressive administration to change course. If not, then there is an equally strong taint of military and bureaucratic domination in a state little removed from dictatorship.

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