RIETI Report October 2004

Making Sense of Security in East Asia <RIETI Featured Fellow> Robert DUJARRIC

This month's featured article

Making Sense of Security in East Asia <RIETI Featured Fellow> Robert DUJARRIC

Robert DUJARRIC Visiting Scholar , RIETI

Greetings from RIETI

Shogi, a chess-like board game, is said to have come to Japan via India and China in the eighth century. The game is more complex than its Western counterpart in that rather than dropping out of play, captured pieces become part of one's own army, to be used against an opponent. Shogi is thus fast-paced and usually ends in a decisive victory for one side or the other.

The strategic situation in Northeast Asia is not unlike a shogi match: The board is constantly shifting and it is not always clear who is ahead, or even which side the "pieces" are on. RIETI Report recently sat down with RIETI Visiting Scholar Robert Dujarric, to discuss recent political and security developments in the region.


Mr. Dujarric received a B.A. in government from Harvard University in 1983 and an M.B.A. from Yale University in 1989. He has served as a senior associate at the National Institute for Public Policy in Virginia in the U.S., and as senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dujarric also has extensive experience in the financial industry, having worked for Goldman Sachs and First Boston Corporation. He is currently a Council on Foreign Relations/ Hitachi Fellow and a visiting scholar at RIETI.


RIETI Report: How do you see the links between economic and security issues and specifically, how do you feel the U.S. views Japan's economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with Asian countries?

Dujarric: Obviously, there are ties between economics and politics, if only because Japan's power in Asia still derives mostly from its economic capabilities. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have increased their profile and now go on missions overseas, but the main pillar of Japanese power is still economic. I don't know to what extent free trade agreements (FTAs) really impact trade flows, and there is always the agriculture problem, which is why Singapore was Japan's first FTA partner. The second important issue concerning FTAs in Asia is labor migration. I don't know what the end result will be. The FTAs reinforce Japan's links with Asia, but only marginally. And from a strategic and economic viewpoint, Northeast Asia is really more important to Japan than Southeast Asia.

RIETI Report: How do you see the East Asian balance of power in historical terms?

Dujarric: The situation is more one of U.S. hegemony than a classic balance of power, but things are fairly stable. China has become richer but it still does not have the means to challenge U.S. hegemony, and it may not want to because the alternative would be rivalry with Japan. South Korea's relationship with the U.S. has been weakened by a variety of issues such as North Korea and the domestic situation, but that, so far, has not led to a real realignment. And in the past few months tension has been growing between South Korea and China over the history issue, which may portend a cooling off of the Korean infatuation with China.

RIETI Report: You have stressed the importance of the presence of U.S. troops in Asia in your writings. Could you elaborate on this?

Dujarric: The U.S. troop presence is important for several reasons: to deter a North Korean attack, to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to defend and lend stability to South Korea, and to limit potential rivalries between countries in the region. But under the "Global Force Review," the U.S. is planning a partial withdrawal from South Korea. This raises the question of whether the U.S. commitment to East Asia remains as firm as it once was.

There is no plan to alter the force structure in Japan in a major way, as in South Korea. The Okinawa problem is mostly a local one for which there is no easy solution. I think it is incumbent upon the Japanese government to explain to people why hosting U.S. forces is important. For a variety of reasons, the Japanese public is reluctant to acknowledge that one has to pay a price for defense - not just in terms of taxes, but also in terms of personal inconvenience. This is not something the U.S. can do by itself.

RIETI Report: What will be the major issues for the U.S.-Japan alliance in the near future?

Dujarric: Right now the U.S. and Japan, relatively speaking, see eye-to-eye over North Korea and China. So in the security field there are no major disagreements. The prime minister has been very supportive, offering assistance to the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of Iraq, I believe the U.S. did a disservice to Japan because there is absolutely no hope there. The U.S. is simply asking its allies to drown with it; nevertheless, Japan has shown its support to the U.S. by going there. There seems to be some U.S. displeasure with Japan's lack of response to U.S. plans to restructure its forces in Japan, but these are not strategic disagreements.

RIETI Report: Relationships between the players in Asia combine economic cooperation with aspects of strategic rivalry. How do you see these relationships evolving?

Dujarric: U.S. political and military hegemony make it possible for countries in the region to trade because the U.S. presence prevents wars between potential rivals such as China and Taiwan, or even Japan and China. As long as the U.S. is willing to remain engaged in Japan and South Korea - and I think a partial withdrawal form South Korea will undermine U.S. hegemony - the situation will remain fairly stable.

North Korea is a problem, but the situation can unfold in three ways: one, nothing happens; two, North Korea collapses, which would be a challenge because the U.S. and Japan would have to provide enormous financial and political support and, in the case of the U.S., military support to South Korea to ensure a functioning, liberal, unified state on the Korean peninsula; three, North Korea launches a war, in which case it would ultimately be destroyed. That brings us back to the question of how to deal with reunification.

China has been growing economically, but it has severe structural problems that limit its ability to become a first-rate power. So I don't see it trying to destabilize the region. There are, of course, tensions between China and Taiwan, but neither side has an interest in a war. Sometimes, however, people miscalculate. The Chinese may think the U.S. will not help Taiwan. They may think they would win any conflict quickly. The fact that China and Taiwan have a profitable trading relationship does not make war between them impossible. Of course any such conflict would be destabilizing for the region, but it would depend on how long it lasted and how it was resolved.

RIETI Report: the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program seem to have hit an impasse. What do you think is the best way forward?

Dujarric: Actually, the six-party talks are not that relevant because I do not think North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear program at a price that is acceptable to Japan and the U.S., politically and economically. It is difficult to know exactly what type of weapons North Korea may possess. After Iraq, the credibility of intelligence assessments on North Korea is very suspect. But even if North Korea has some kind of nuclear weapons the U.S. can live with it, more or less, particularly when the cost of military intervention is so high. Of course, that equation would change if North Korea looked like it was going to launch a nuclear missile. The six-party talks are a good way for people to exchange views, but the forum of the six-party talks makes it more difficult to negotiate. So if there is a real deal, it is not going to take place in Beijing with the six parties, it is going to take place somewhere else among the countries directly concerned.

The bigger problem for the U.S. is proliferation. But as long as the North Koreans don't proliferate to al Qaeda, the U.S. can live with it. Pakistan is actually the greater proliferation threat because there are a lot of scientists and military people in Pakistan who support al Qaeda for ideological reasons and who would like them to have a nuclear weapon. With the North Koreans it is strictly a matter of money. Thus, North Korea can probably be "bought off" through a mixture of threats and rewards.

RIETI Report: Does Japan's willingness to take on greater responsibilities in international security represent a major shift in its strategic thinking?

Dujarric: It represents an evolution in Japanese strategic thinking, and it serves Japan's interests by strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and giving it more influence and greater visibility internationally. Of course there are constitutional issues, but I see no reason why Article IX cannot be reinterpreted to allow Japan to engage in collective defense. Any such reinterpretation, however, needs to be done before a crisis. If, for example, the SDF had the opportunity to stop an al Qaeda boat from blowing up a U.S. Navy ship but was unable to do so for "constitutional reasons," the U.S.-Japan alliance would suffer enormously. So the question of collective defense needs to be addressed.

RIETI Report: Do you see any change in the Japanese political situation compared, say, with two or three years ago?

Dujarric: Japan seems to be moving to a two-party system. Historically there were two things that made Japan different. First, until recently, the government did not really have a credible opposition. Second - and this is still true today - it is difficult to see what the actual policy differences are between the two parties.

If you look at European countries that have two dominant parties, for example, the United Kingdom and Germany, there are clear policy differences between the parties. Sometimes they aren't all that large - the difference between the Labor and Conservative parties in Britain is smaller since Tony Blair took Labor to the right. But there are still historical differences in membership, for example. In Germany there is a big historical difference between the Social Democratic Party on the one hand and the Christian Democrats and Social Christians on the other. Even when the parties agree on major policies, their historical baggage differentiates them.

In Japan, it is somewhat unclear what the policy differences are. Clearly, there are big policy differences within the parties. Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Heizo Takenaka and former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka have very different ideas about Japan's future. And within the Democratic Party of Japan there are differences between people like Ichiro Ozawa and the former Socialists. But between the two parties there is no clear ideological cleavage.

Another interesting thing about Japan is that the leadership of the opposition party comes mostly from the ruling party itself. I think Naoto Kan was the only one who came from the historical opposition. There is no other major developed country in the world where the opposition party is led by people from the ruling party - people who often left on personal rather than policy grounds.


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