Thursday 27 Sep 2018 | 00:28 | SYDNEY
Thursday 27 Sep 2018 | 00:28 | SYDNEY

ROK and Japan should not have to take these lumps


Malcolm Cook

16 October 2008 12:44

Thanks Brendan for your proposal for a new trilateral arrangement for Northeast Asia featuring the US, DPRK and China as an alternative to the Six-Party Talks. It has kept my mind turning over ever since.

While you present it, in the interests of intellectual speculation, as a better alternative to the present Six-Party Talks, I can’t help but conclude, speculatively, that it would not only be a worse option for regional security and nuclear non-proliferation, but might even by the worst option. Here is why.

I agree that the most important security relationship globally and hence regionally is the uncertain US-China one, not the long-standing US-Japan one, largely because the US-China one is uncertain while the US-Japan one has been so certain for so long. I also believe that that the biggest security concern all countries in the Asia Pacific face is the potential for any major power (especially nuclear or nuclear-ready ones) to feel that they are being isolated or excluded and changing their security posture to reflect this.

This is the root of my worries about the Six-Party Talks and the most recent bilateral agreement outside this framework by the US and North Korea. My fear has always been that the outcome of the Six-Party Talks will not be a solution to North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship but rather a significant fraying of US-Japan and US-South Korea relations in return for no significant progress on denuclearising North Korea. Japan and potentially South Korea could then more seriously consider adopting a more autonomous and assertive security posture, including their own nuclear option: the Six-Party Talks would end up aiding and abetting nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia and damage the US alliance system while doing little to dissuade North Korea. Here I am echoing Andrew’s concerns.

I fear that your suggested trilateral arrangement would greatly enhance the likelihood of this worst of all outcomes by greatly deepening Japanese and South Korean feelings of isolation and exclusion. Aren’t you arguing that the US should exclude the two countries in the region facing the most serious security challenge from North Korea? The two countries that happen to be the US’s most important allies in the Western Pacific and the two countries with the technical capability to rapidly become nuclear powers themselves? I wouldn’t like to have to lump a more autonomous and fearful nuclear Japan or South Korea, especially if a nuclear North Korea remains as well. I doubt the Americans would like to lump this either.