Can America Feel "At Home Abroad" in Asia: A Strategy for Concentric Multilateralism

Date November 22, 2002
Speaker Henry R. NAU(Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University)


I want to talk about the future of US Japan relationship, about an alternative framework for broad security and political relationship into the next 10 years. I will indicate how crucial the security and political relationship is for the management of economic relationships, in particular trade and investment relationships for the Asian region and more broadly for the world economy. The world economy succeeds in large part because there is peace and because there is a security framework that allows for the expansion of business, investment and trade. We need to think in novel ways about the security arrangements in Asia for the future. I want to contrast a framework that I call a Democratic Security Community with traditional framework based on alliances or collective security.

Five Traditional Ways of Thinking about Future Japan-US Relationship

The first is the balance of power relationship which existed at least in terms of US relationships in Asia prior to WWII, a set of relationships in which national interests are paramount for each country, and a framework which I am hoping we can avoid in the future just as we have avoided it for the past 50 years. There is always a chance that we could march back toward that kind of a balance of power relationship. There are those in the US who talk in those terms, about the strategic quadrangle in Asia in the future, of Japan, United States, China, and Russia. Henry Kissinger has written about this part of the world in terms of triangular balance of power, the United States, Japan and China. And so there is always this framework for thinking about our security relationships in Asia, but not a very appealing one, because it leads generally to competition among the great powers. In that context, Korea could become a point of real contention and competition among the great powers. The second is the existing framework which I call the status quo, which consists of unequal alliances, such as the one that exist between the US and Japan. This is a traditional alliance which was motivated by the Soviet threat and continues to some extent to be motivated by the post cold war threats in Asia. It is an unequal alliance based on common foreign policy interest but only to a certain extent. The US is of course committed to defend Japan and its interest in Asia, but Japan is not reciprocally committed to defend the United States or its interests in Asia. A third way to think about how our relationship might evolve is to make that unequal alliance more equal. That is to move to a traditional bilateral equal alliance, in which Japan would slowly expand its commitment to collective defense, to work together with the US, not only to defend Japanese interests, but Japanese and American interest in the region. There are incremental steps that are moving us in that direction. The Armitage Report, done in 2000 by a commission that was headed by the current Deputy Secretary of State, fleshed out this kind framework for thinking about US and Japan relation in the future. The report compared the development of a more equal US-Japan relationship to the kind of special relationship that existed between the US and the UK. And that is the framework that some people are thinking for the future of our relationship, including people in the current Bush administration.

The fourth way is to take that bilateral alliance and expand to a trilateral and multilateral alliance, the model of NATO during the Cold War. That is also beginning to emerge incrementally in terms of the increasing defense and primarily foreign policy cooperation between Japan, US and South Korea, as seen in TICAD, the trilateral coordination oversight group, which is a foreign policy forum which was developed by US, Japan and South Korea to coordinate our policy toward North Korea. In the defense area, we have been doing more common defense activity, traditionally of course the US with South Korea, the US with Japan, but there have been over the last three or four years, some modest efforts to start coordinating South Korean and Japanese thinking, and operations in the defense field. This would reflect a move toward a multilateral alliance in Asia, in the model of NATO during the cold war. The problem with this model is that it also assumes a threat, and the question would be against what threat this multilateral or trilateral alliance is emerging. For the moment it is North Korea, but is it also against China? And would it raise the dangers of a policy of containment towards China, which many in the US and Japan would not particularly support. So as hopeful as this development is, by itself it is not a vital option, because it potentially poses a threat to China and would not be in our mutual interest, unless it were part of a broader community, which is what I will talk in talk in a minute, a Democratic Security Community.

Finally there is a fifth option. That model is based on common international institutions like the League of Nations or the current United Nations. It is a politically appealing alternative, but not an effective security framework. The UN works with great difficulty as we have seen in the case of the Middle East, and the current situation in Iraq, and it probably is not a reliable framework for thinking about how to deal with future US-Japan security interest in Asia. It can supplement some of our security objectives but cannot be the primary framework.

A Novel Way of Thinking about Future Japan-US Relationship

In contrast to these traditional ways to think about US Japan security relationships, I would suggest a novel way, the notion of a Democratic Security Community. The Democratic Security Community is premised upon common domestic values, more so than common foreign policy interests or international institutions. It is the model that is reflected by NATO after the Cold War. NATO has indeed persisted and expanded after the end of the Cold War even though there is no longer a major threat to alliance interests in Europe. A Democratic Security Community is based on the emergence of common internal political values. This becomes the basis on which countries work together and trust one another even without an immediate major threat in the external environment confronting them.

The characteristics of a Democratic Security Community are several and very interesting. We observe there are no threats to use force among the members of a Democratic Security Community. There is plenty of statistical evidence to show that countries when they converge in terms of common democratic political values, do not threaten one another with either threat to use force or with the actual use of force. This is one of the main features of US-Japan relationships. The use of force disappears from great power relationships among democratic states.

Membership in a Democratic Security Community requires decisive steps toward democracy. So it is possible for the Democratic Security Community in Asia to expand. Initially it would include US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, indirectly Taiwan, but is open to other countries as they move toward more competitive internal political processes.

A Democratic Security Community is not inconsistent with the development of equal relationships among countries. In fact it is in its nature that its members become progressively equal. Another advantage of this framework when thinking about US-Japan relationship is that it enables one to think about the emergence of an equal Japan, but also a growing Asian regional unit that is equal and competitive to the US, as a counterbalance to the dominant US economic and political power in Asia. This is comparable to the emergence of the EU. A Democratic Security Community encourages more equality among individual member and among regional partners in community relationship. The US has supported fundamentally the emergence of the EU. The US will also support a more unified Asian regional economic community that will be co-equal and competitive to the US.

A Democratic Security Community coordinates foreign policy toward non-member countries. So it does not exclude foreign policy and does not exclude defense against threats. But that is just one element of a security community which grows out of the other domestic elements mentioned. But it would mean the maintenance of our defense alliances against actual threats and potential threats that could bring about some conflicts in our relationships in Asia.

At the same time as a Democratic Security Community maintains alliances, it is also open economically and politically to all countries. One of the major advantages of thinking about our relationship in this context is that it emphasizes the importance of keeping our markets open to new members and to those members who could potentially be threatening, such as China. Indeed Japanese and American policies advocate open markets for China, China's membership into the WTO and its integration into the world economy.

A Democratic Security Community while it provides for defense, it reaches out economically and diplomatically through bridge-building, confidence-building exercises such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. It is constantly reaching out to other states who could potentially be adversaries but we hope by their participating in the regional and global economic system, they will become friends, as they realize the interest of being part of the global and regional community.

Which way to go - Alliance or Security Community?

Those are decision that Japan and United States will have to make internally and externally. I make an argument that it is in the US interest to move toward a Security Community. The principal reason is that it gives us a way of continuing to relate to Asia which is no longer depended upon threat. And indeed if we succeed in our next decades in reducing threat in Asia, this framework will provide a way for America to stay engaged in Asia.

Traditional alliances are not a basis for America to stay in Asia, because as threats recede, alliances disappear. The long run consequence would be for the US to withdraw from Asia. The Democratic Security Community forces us to realize that there are other reasons to stay in Asia, not just to counter threat but to develop and deepen common political interests, common domestic value and institutions.

How do domestic values affect foreign policy? We tend to assume that how countries are managed domestically have nothing to do with how they behave diplomatically. That is not the case. There are two dimensions to common value inside a Democratic Security Community.

Internal Dimension of a Democratic Security Community

There is a domestic dimension and an external dimension. Inside any particular country only the government has the right to use force, police force and national force, and in order to use force, governments have to legitimate the use of force on some basis. Historically governments have used many different criteria to legitimate the use of force against their own people, such as religion, culture, class, race, ideology or civilization. Political regime is also an important criterion. It is in this area of political regime that the US and Japan have converged. As long as common democratic values remain more important in US-Japan relationship than cultural differences that we have, we will continue to grow together in a Democratic Security Community. However, if our cultural differences should become more important than our political values, then we will move away from this framework.

External Dimension of a Democratic Security Community

How we maintain order domestically affects how we use power internationally, although is not the only basis on which countries decide to use force internationally. There is an external dimension, a more traditional dimension such as the country's identity. Those rules are generally based on historical experiences. Countries gain images of one another through their external interaction that causes them to think of one another as either friends or allies, and that leads to different predisposition to use force in their relationship with one another.

Differences/Similarities of Identities Create Threat

You can take these two dimensions of values governing the use of force, and develop a threat map for any country. On the horizontal axis I measure the convergence or diversions of values. On the vertical axis, I measure the experience of a country with other countries.

In the top-left box is where both dimensions convergence. It is in that box that you have the opportunity to develop a Democratic Security Community. This is where the US-Japan relationship lies. Japan and US score almost identically in one of the most sophisticated measure of democracy, and US and Japan have developed a history of cooperation for the past 50 years, despite previous conflicts.

In the second bottom left box, you have relationships where the internal values have converged. Increasingly, South Korea and Taiwan have moved towards mature democratic systems, although not as mature as Japan and US. Korea experiences next year, the second peaceful transition of power from one opposing party to another, one of the benchmark for a mature democracy. Taiwan had one such transfer in 2000. But Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have more memories of conflict than in the case of US-Japan relationship. So here, there is a potential for Democratic Security Community.

In box three (top-right) we have Japan-ASEAN relations where there is still divergence in internal political institutions. The Philippines and Thailand are closest in the democracy spectrum. They become prospective members of a Democratic Security Community.

Finally in box four (bottom-right), is where you have countries whose internal political values diverge and whose external political experiences point in the direction of some conflict. Those are countries against which the Democratic Security Community must potentially defend itself, but also to whom the Democratic Security Community can reach out to.

A Strategy of Concentric Multilateralism

This leads to a strategy of concentric multilateralism for thinking about US-Japan relations in the future. The core is the US-Japan relationship. Australia and New Zealand also belong here, but they are farther from the center of the politics of East Asia as are US and Japan.

The second circle is the prospect of a Democratic Security Community, which is reflected in US and Japanese relation with South Korea, and indirectly with Taiwan. That becomes a second circle which is moving in the direction of increased convergence with the core circle.

A third circle includes prospect members of a Democratic Security Community, principally the ASEAN countries. Thailand and the Philippines are in the leading edge. The evolution of a stronger Asian unit, the ASEAN plus Three that is taking place in Asia could reflect the development/convergence of the third circle with the core.

In the last circle, we have the policy of economic engagement with China, with Russia and potentially with North Korea. This framework allows for us to think on how to deepen our relationships in Asia even without a threat, while at the same time reach out in order not to appear as a threat to other countries through economic engagement, for example with China.

Conclusion: America "At Home Abroad" Asia

From an American point of view, this framework allows the US to remain engaged in Asia even without a threat to US interests in Asia. That should become the case in a decade or two. I acknowledge that there are some in Japan that may not support that kind of a prospect: "Why should the US remain engaged in Asia? We should deal with the issues." If you think this way, you continue to think in terms of balance of power. Implications could be down the line, the weakening of US-Japan alliance, eventually the emergence of a great power world in Asia which has some unappealing prospects.

Questions and Answers

Q: If we apply the NATO model to Asia, it could mean eventually the demise of US-Japan security alliance. What could be a catalytic model that would lead to a Democratic Security Community?

A: The model I am thinking of is NATO after the Cold War, which is an alliance, a set of relations that deepen even without a catalytic threat. I don't think there is a catalytic threat in Asia. North Korea does not rise to that level, although developments in the past month have moved North Korea to another level. But that is exactly why DSC is appropriate because it is about deepening relationships, while at the same time dealing with threat that are somewhat less than catalytic but nevertheless of growing concern. The other looming potential threat is China. We have to think of a way to bring China into the regional and global system. We are doing that primarily from an economic strategy and policies. But how do we deal with a growing China which keeps all kinds of conflicts with us? We will integrate China into the world economy, but if China decides to become more powerful and more adversarial, we will have maintained our alliances. At that point we will be able to contain China. If they become a catalytic threat, we would have preserved and deepened our defenses. Can you move from bilateral, to trilateral then to multilateral alliances? That will be difficult but possible. We need to bring more cooperation and trust in Japan-South Korea relation. I think Democratic Security Community's common value gives a wealth from which we can draw to help heal the political friction that exists between Japan and South Korea. The European experience is not directly applicable to Asia, but there are concepts that can be applied to Asia with some adjustments.

Q: If threat is not a defining element, what is the difference between a Democratic Security Community and a democratic community? In terms of catalytic threat, if values are so important, maybe threat to value is the element.

A: A community is based on international institution, that is the collective security model, where there is no immediate or actual threat (such as the League of Nations or the UN), but ready to respond. It is an idealistic notion; ambitious, but a weak framework. A security community could exist among countries that do not have democratic values. All that is require is that the basis which they legitimate force converge, e.g. the Holy Alliance in the 19th century among Russia, Prussia and Austria. The difference between a security community, and a Democratic Security Community, is primarily the openness, transparency of democratic countries. These countries practice competitive pluralistic politics, checks and balance politics, such that the domestic decision making process is transparent.

Q: Do you intend to oppose to develop actual institution in the region?

A: One major reaction is that if we move toward multilateralism, we will weaken existing institutions based on bilateralism such as the US-Japan relation. Multilateralism that I am talking about builds on bilateralism. Now is a good time to talk about building multilateral relationship on top of the bilateral relationship because the US-Japan bilateral relationship is strong. So this concept does not oppose the emergence of stronger institutions in Asia, although it is not premised on that.

Q: How do you make the other countries equal in a Democratic Security Community with the US, where the US is so powerful, or you don't need such a sense of equality?

A: One of the advantage of a Democratic Security Community is that it provides the basis for thinking of a more equal distribution of power down the line between individual countries in Asia, and Asia as whole and the United States. Overtime, power is going to be equally distributed. That is a function of markets. I think this is a framework that allows thinking beyond the dominance of the American power, especially economic power. The question of military power would be largely for the Japanese and Asian countries to decide. How much they want to develop in this area, how much checks and balance they want to achieve vis-a-vis the US in this area. The US would prefer to run the world militarily by itself, it is less complicated, but it is unrealistic to think that it would be doing it in the next century. It is entirely up to the Asian countries, like it has been up to European countries. The US should not drive that decision.

Q: If Asian countries move toward a Democratic Security Community, how would China react?

A: A Democratic Security Community is not formed against an external threat. Therefore it wouldn't immediately threaten China, as would an alliance. We can worry about some of the defense issues, but at the same time reach out to China and integrate it in the regional and global economic system. The policy to integrate China in the world economy has bipartisan support in the U.S. and Japan has also expressed support for it. From China's perspective, I would see a growing US-Japan alliance, and that may trouble me, but I also notice that it in no way excludes me from participating fully in the regional and global economic system. So I think China would say, "I will ignore one aspect while I take advantage of the other." From China's perspective it's a good deal. The reason I don't want to ignore the development of our defense relationships is because if we ignore that development, while we are opening up China, and China becomes powerful and decides to take hostile actions to our interests, at that point it will be impossible to retrieve our alliance relationships and will be exposed to raw Chinese power.

Q: What about nationalism?

A: We have other forces in our societies that are competing in some sense, in determining how we make decisions with respect of the use of force. One of them is the traditional cultural approach. If Asia were to evolve in a direction where nationalism is more important than common political values, then a Democratic Security Community would not emerge in Asia. Probably the balance of power system will remerge in Asia, because nationalism is the basis of the old balance of power system. That is an existing reality in Asia, and it is more of a threat in Asia than in Europe. But 30 or 40 years ago, there was nationalism in Europe too. My hope is that nationalism will grow weaker, especially in Japan-South Korea relations, and the same relationship will apply with ASEAN countries and with China.

*This summary was compiled by RIETI Editorial staff.