[Paleopsych] Foreign Affairs: Francis Fukuyama: Re-Envisioning Asia

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Francis Fukuyama: Re-Envisioning Asia
Foreign Affairs, Jan-Feb 2005 v84 i1 p75


A key task facing the second Bush administration is devising the proper 
security architecture for eastern Asia. The United States is confronting 
several immediate problems, including the North Korean nuclear standoff, 
tension between China and Taiwan, and Islamist terrorism in Southeast Asia. But 
a forward-looking foreign policy does not simply manage crises; it shapes the 
context for future policy choices through the creation of international 
institutions. Eastern Asia has inherited a series of alliances from the early 
days of the Cold War. These partnerships remain important as a means of 
providing predictability and deterrence. But a decade and a half after the fall 
of the Berlin Wall, it is increasingly evident that they do not fit the 
configuration of politics now taking shape.

The White House has an opportunity to create a visionary institutional 
framework for the region. In the short term, it can do so by turning the 
six-party talks on North Korea into a permanent five-power organization that 
would meet regularly to discuss various security issues in the region, beyond 
the North Korean nuclear threat. In the long term, Washington will need to 
consider ways of linking this security dialogue to the various multilateral 
economic forums now in existence or under consideration, such as the 
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the ASEAN-plus-three group, 
which was formed in the wake of the Asian economic crisis and includes China, 
Japan, and South Korea; and the developing free-trade areas. Asian 
multilateralism will be critical not just for coordinating the region's booming 
economies, but also for damping down the nationalist passions lurking beneath 
the surface of every Asian country.


Unlike Europe, Asia lacks strong multilateral political institutions. Europe 
has the EU and NATO, as well as groups such as the Organization for Security 
and Cooperation in Europe (osce) and the Council of Europe. Asia's only 
counterparts are ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum on security matters, and the 
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC)--all of which are far weaker 
organizations. ASEAN does not include China or the other major players in 
Northeast Asia, and APEC is no more than a consultative body. Asian security is 
ensured not by multilateral treaties, but by a series of bilateral 
relationships centering on Washington, in particular the U.S.-Japan Security 
Treaty and the U.S.- South Korean relationship.

The reasons for this difference between Europe and Asia lie in history: 
European countries are linked by similar cultural origins and their shared 
experience in the twentieth century, to the point that they have been 
relinquishing important elements of national sovereignty to the EU. By 
contrast, there is a much higher degree of distrust among the major players in 
Asia. This suspicion is driven partly by a changing power balance, as Japan is 
eclipsed by China, but primarily by memories of the Pacific war. After 1945, 
both Germany and Japan needed to convince their neighbors that they were no 
longer threats. The new West Germany did so by ceding sovereignty to a series 
of multilateral organizations; Japan did so by ceding sovereignty in security 
affairs to the United States. Security ties thus took on a hub-and-spoke 
structure in Asia, with Washington playing a central mediating and balancing 

These bilateral ties remain crucial, particularly the U.S.-Japanese 
relationship. The U.S. nuclear guarantee and U.S. forces stationed in Japan 
reassure the rest of Asia that Japan will not rearm in a major way. But this 
Cold War system of security checks and balances is eroding as new generations 
take power and face changing environments.

The first problem concerns the United States' relationship with South Korea. 
With the ascendancy of left-wing Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun over 
the past decade, a new generation of Koreans has grown up seeking 
reconciliation rather than confrontation with North Korea. Many young South 
Koreans today regard the United States as a greater threat to their security 
than the regime of Kim Jong Il. This bizarre perception is based on 
extraordinary illusions. The North Korean dictatorship is one of the most 
inhumane and dangerous that has ever existed, but the Bush administration 
misplayed its hand at the beginning of its first term by undercutting President 
Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy of Korean reconciliation--triggering a 
generational revolt among younger South Koreans against Cold War verities. The 
reflexive gratitude that South Koreans who lived through the war against the 
North feel toward the United States is simply absent among the younger 
generation, which, like its German counterpart, grew up in peace and 

On the surface, the U.S.-South Korean alliance still looks strong: the current 
Roh Moo Hyun government has sought to demonstrate its commitment to the 
relationship by sending military forces to Iraq. But misunderstanding could 
easily emerge and then spiral as Koreans blame the United States for excessive 
belligerence toward Pyongyang and the United States reacts to what it perceives 
as South Korean ingratitude. Preoccupied with terrorism and the Middle East, 
Washington has already repositioned its forces away from the demilitarized zone 
between the two Koreas and is planning to draw down its forces in the region.

The United States' relationship with Japan is also changing in ways that are 
extremely unsettling to the rest of Asia. Prompted by the nuclear threat from 
Pyongyang, Tokyo is reconsidering the need for more robust defensive forces. 
Japan's dispatch of peacekeepers to Iraq and its recent confrontations with the 
North Korean navy demonstrate a willingness to behave like what opposition 
leader Ichiro Ozawa has called a "normal country." There is a growing consensus 
in Japan that Article 9 of its postwar constitution--which dictates that it 
cannot wage war and cannot maintain armed forces--should be revised, even if 
the process stretches out over a number of years. Although political ties 
between Washington and Tokyo are stronger today than they have been in many 
years, the Cold War father-child dependency will inevitably be replaced by 
something resembling an alliance of equals.

Japan's new posture is to be welcomed. In fact, the United States has been 
pushing Tokyo to embrace such a new role since the last decade of the Cold War. 
It is perverse that a country with the world's third- largest economy remains 
militarily and psychologically dependent on Washington. But the rest of 
Asia--particularly China and the two Koreas, which were heavily victimized by 
Japan throughout the first half of the twentieth century--prefers that Japan 
stay militarily weak. These countries will not welcome the emergence of a 
stronger and more independent neighbor. Although a Japan with a revised Article 
9 should not threaten the rest of Asia, its former victims may not trust in 
that fact. Japanese rearmament must therefore progress slowly and be managed 
delicately, with plenty of open communication between Tokyo and other Asian 

And then there is China. The world's fastest-growing economy (and one of its 
largest) has thus far remained largely outside any security pact or alliance, 
excepting its membership in global institutions such as the UN and the World 
Trade Organization (WTO). But this relative isolation also is likely to change. 
In recent years, the Chinese have proposed a blizzard of new Asian multilateral 
economic arrangements, which could ultimately serve security purposes as well. 
Beijing's plans have included two agreements with ASEAN (ASEAN plus one and 
ASEAN plus three, with Japan and North Korea), as well as China-ASEAN and East 
Asian free- trade areas. Clearly, the Chinese are exerting leadership to ensure 
that their status in the international political arena matches their growing 
economic power. Sensing a geoeconomic threat, the Japanese have responded with 
their own trade pacts, such as the Japan-Singapore free- trade area negotiated 
by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

China has always presented a great conundrum for the United States. It is the 
kind of power Washington deals with the least well: a nation that is neither 
clearly friend nor clearly foe, simultaneously a strategic threat and a 
critical trade and investment partner. The result has been an inconsistent 
relationship of pragmatic cooperation punctuated by periodic crises, such as 
the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the Chinese 
downing of a U.S. spy plane in 2001. The future of this relationship depends on 
how Chinese politics evolve: whether China provokes a showdown with Taiwan and 
uses its economic might to achieve Asian hegemony, or develops into an 
increasingly pluralistic society in which economic interests dictate continuing 
good relations with its neighbors.

In the meantime, the United States can adopt one of two approaches: either it 
can seek to isolate China and mobilize the rest of Asia into a coalition to 
contain growing Chinese power, or it can try to incorporate China into a series 
of international institutions designed to channel Chinese ambitions and elicit 

Despite its appeal among U.S. conservatives, isolating Beijing is a nonstarter. 
Even if the United States somehow knew that China were a long-term strategic 
threat on a par with the former Soviet Union, no U.S. ally would enlist in an 
anti-Chinese coalition any time in the near future. Japan, South Korea, 
Australia, and ASEAN members all have complex relationships with China that 
involve varying degrees of cooperation and conflict; absent overt Chinese 
aggression, none is going to be willing to jeopardize those ties.

Incorporating China into existing global institutions has already proved very 
effective. In 2001, when the question of Chinese membership in the WTO came up, 
some argued that China would only subvert the WTO by breaking its rules. As it 
is, being a part of the WTO has promoted the rule of law by giving Chinese 
reformers an excuse to make systemic domestic changes. These 
modifications--which were in China's self- interest anyway--include replacing 
the traditional system of corrupt, nepotistic business dealings with more 
transparent and open rules. As Evan Medeiros and Taylor Fravel have pointed 
out, over the past decade China has shifted its posture from that of an 
aggrieved victim of Western imperialism to that of an increasingly responsible 
member of the international community.


Asia needs to develop a new set of multilateral organizations in parallel with 
the existing bilateral organizations. Over time, a new set of institutions can 
take over many of the functions performed by bilateral agreements. But this new 
multilateralism cannot come into being without the strong support of the United 
States, which is why a creative re-evaluation of Asia must be a top priority 
for George W. Bush in his second term.

Washington clearly derives some benefits from the present system of 
U.S.-centric bilateral alliances. The United States gains unique sanction for 
its military and political presence in the region and is in a strong position 
to prevent the emergence of hostile coalitions. Washington also often serves as 
the conduit for messages and security plans sent from one Asian capital to 
another, giving it leverage.

Balanced against these considerations is a simple but strong reason for 
promoting a multilateral system. With the end of the Cold War and the 
continuing economic development of eastern Asia, power relationships are 
changing in ways that have unlocked nationalist passions and rivalries. The 
potential for misunderstanding and conflict among South Korea, Japan, and China 
will be significant in the coming years--but it can be mitigated if multiple 
avenues of discussion exist between the states.

Several recent incidents have brought latent tensions to the surface. Despite 
burgeoning trade between China and South Korea, relations recently became 
strained when government-sponsored Chinese researchers asserted that the 
ancient kingdom of Koguryo, which 2,000 years ago stretched along the current 
China-North Korea border, was once under Chinese control. The ensuing fight had 
to be papered over with a five- point accord negotiated by the countries' 
foreign ministries. Beijing's motives for allowing publication of the article 
are unclear, but they may have been related to rising nationalism in China and 
loose talk in Seoul about founding a "greater Korea" that would include not 
just the North and the South but also the more than 2 million ethnic Koreans 
currently living in Manchuria.

Meanwhile, the growing economic interdependence of China and Japan has not 
mitigated nationalist passions, but exacerbated them. At an Asian Cup soccer 
game in August 2004 in Beijing, Chinese fans screamed, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" at 
the winning Japanese team, forcing it to flee China. This event followed on the 
heels of several other ugly and apparently spontaneous displays of 
anti-Japanese feeling and outrage over the use of hired female "companions" in 
southern China by 300 Japanese businessmen.

Heightening security concerns threaten the Japanese-South Korean relationship 
and could spark an arms race. Ten years ago, while doing research in Tokyo, I 
was told by a number of officers in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces that in 
the event of Korean unification, the combined military of North and South Korea 
would be close to ten times the size of Japan's. If Korean troop strength did 
not fall dramatically at that point, they said, Japan would have to take 
appropriate defensive measures. Not only does this risk remain, but today there 
is the added factor of North Korea's nuclear weapons--and what a potentially 
united Korea would do with them. In a recent Tokyo Shimbun poll, 83 of 724 
members of the Japanese Diet said publicly that Japan should consider becoming 
a nuclear power in light of the North Korean threat, an assertion that would 
have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Asia is not about to descend into a downward spiral of nationalist fervor, but 
the potential for dangerous miscommunication clearly exists. Establishing a 
multilateral structure would help greatly by giving Northeast Asia's major 
powers a forum for talking directly to one another. Nato, with its regular 
schedule of ministerial meetings, has performed this service in Europe for 
several decades. Defense ministers lay out their spending plans and force 
structures, and foreign ministers explain their respective nation's political 
actions. If the Chinese and Korean governments are worried about the meaning of 
Japanese rearmament, or if the Japanese and Chinese leaderships are concerned 
about Korea's postunification intentions, a multilateral forum would give them 
an opportunity to defuse anxieties and articulate expectations.


The U.S. stance on multilateralism in Asia has been erratic and contradictory. 
The United States sponsored organizations such as the Southeast Asian Treaty 
Organization and APEC. But when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad 
sought to counter APEC in 1989 with a proposal for an East Asian Economic 
Caucus that would exclude the United States, it was firmly rejected by 
Washington as a scheme to keep "white" powers out of the Asian club. During the 
early 1990s, the Clinton administration promoted an informal Northeast Asia 
Cooperation Dialogue between the countries that are now participating in the 
six-party talks. This process continues today, but it has never been elevated 
to a formal level.

Many of the more recent proposals for eastern Asian multilateral institutions 
have focused on economic issues stemming from the 1997-98 financial crisis. In 
the view of many eastern Asian countries, the United States and U.S.-influenced 
international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and 
the World Bank exploited the crisis to push a pro-market agenda on Asia. When 
Japan proposed an Asian IMF in 1999, Washington summarily rejected the idea but 
offered nothing in its place to act as an institutional coordinating mechanism 
capable of mitigating a future crisis. As a result, nations in the region have 
been building new multilateral organizations on their own. These include the 
Chiang Mai Initiative, which allows the central banks from 13 countries to swap 
reserves in the event of a speculative attack, and the ASEAN-plus-three forum. 
So far, the United States has either ignored or been indifferent to these 

In an ironic twist, however, Washington has stumbled into a new Asian 
multilateral framework: the ongoing six-party talks on Korean security and 
nuclear weapons involving the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, 
China, and Russia. Washington embraced this arrangement after Pyongyang, in the 
wake of the collapse of the 1994 Agreed Framework, insisted on talking directly 
to the Americans about the future of its nuclear programs. U.S. policymakers 
correctly saw this as an effort to divide the United States from its South 
Korean ally and insisted on multilateral talks instead. Over time, another 
important motive emerged: only China had the economic leverage to bring North 
Korea to the bargaining table. Indeed, Beijing strong-armed Pyongyang into 
accepting the six-party format by briefly cutting off its energy supplies.

The multilateral security framework that has unexpectedly emerged in Northeast 
Asia provides an excellent opportunity for institutional innovation. If and 
when the immediate crisis over North Korea's nuclear program passes, a 
permanent five-power organization could serve as a direct channel for 
communication between China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States. 
The new group would not be a NATO-like military alliance, but would instead 
resemble the OSCE--with 55 member states, the world's largest regional security 
organization--and deal with second-order security issues.


A five-power forum would be particularly useful in dealing with several 
foreseeable problems. The first is a sudden collapse of the North Korean 
regime. In the short run, such an implosion would cause huge difficulties: 
coordinating relief efforts, dealing with refugees, paying for reconstruction, 
and containing any violence that might ensue. Over the long run, the political 
deck in Northeast Asia would be reshuffled: the rationale for the U.S.-South 
Korean alliance would disappear, and tensions between a unified Korea and Japan 
and China could rise for reasons already indicated--all of which would be 
easier to tackle in a pre-existing multilateral setting.

Another issue is Japanese rearmament. Japan will not revise Article 9 this year 
or the next, but the handwriting is on the wall. Although rearmament should not 
threaten China and Korea, they will have many incentives to hype a new Japanese 
threat; China, in particular, has used anti-Japanese sentiment to bolster the 
communist regime's nationalist credentials. Germany, which rearmed and has been 
moving down a similar path toward "normalcy," moderated the threat by encasing 
its sovereignty in several international institutions, including NATO, the EU, 
and the UN. A Japanese return to normality will seem much less threatening if 
done within a regional security organization as well as a continuing bilateral 
relationship with the United States. But the new group's relevance wouldn't 
stop there. A fully nuclear North Korea, a possible Asian arms race, the 
implications of Chinese military modernization-- these are just a few of the 
potential problems a five-power body could tackle.

At the same time, such a permanent forum would not be an appropriate venue for 
other important matters. It would not help deter a Chinese threat to Taiwan, 
though it could conceivably provide a forum for resolving a crisis in the 
Taiwan Strait. Nor would the five-power organization be able to directly 
influence security problems in Southeast Asia. Whether it may one day do so by 
admitting more members is a question for the future.

There will be substantial practical obstacles to transforming the current 
six-party talks into a permanent organization. To start, hard- liners in the 
United States will immediately object that the six-party format has already 
proved ineffective: after three rounds of meetings in August 2003, February 
2004, and June 2004, the negotiations seem to be going nowhere. In fact, the 
North Koreans used the first meeting to announce their intention to test a 
nuclear weapon, and they have generally thumbed their noses at U.S. efforts to 
constrain their nuclear program. Washington hoped to use the multilateral 
approach to isolate Pyongyang; instead, the North Koreans have turned the 
tables on the Americans and lined up support from China and South Korea for a 
more accommodating line. Given this track record, and Chinese ambivalence 
toward the North Korean threat, why make this particular format permanent?

The answer is that the United States needs allies--the same reason the 
six-party talks came into existence in the first place. Those who are hawkish 
on North Korea seem to think that once the diplomatic track has played itself 
out, Washington can use the threat of force to pressure Pyongyang to back down. 
Although military options at this point seem off the table even for the hawks, 
hope remains that the United States can somehow bring about North Korean regime 
change by means other than war; unilaterally impose a tough embargo that will 
keep nuclear materials bottled up and increase pressure on the North; or 
frighten the Chinese and the South Koreans into cooperating on a more 
confrontational policy.

By itself, however, the United States does not have sufficient leverage to 
implement any of these strategies. Alone, Washington cannot force the North to 
back away from its nuclear program or cajole Beijing and Seoul into an 
anti-North Korea alliance, given their domestic policy preferences. The current 
multilateral negotiations, for all their limitations, remain the best U.S. 
option. The Bush administration hard- liners began talks with the assumption 
that no negotiated solution could work, given the failure of the 1994 Agreed 
Framework, and therefore have never sought to define a realistic new deal. 
Perhaps if the White House does this during Bush's second term, Pyongyang, 
rather than Washington, will become the isolated power.

The second major obstacle to creating a permanent five-power organization is 
North Korea itself, which does not belong in any responsible community of 
nations, given its human rights and security record. Pressing ahead too rapidly 
to convert narrowly focused six-party negotiations into a permanent five-power 
organization could undermine the current talks and lead to North Korean 
obstructionism on all fronts. The trick will be to isolate Pyongyang within the 
six-party format while making the other five powers comfortable with the 
prospect of working together over the long term. North Korea's current refusal 
to return to the talks may even present an occasion for a five-power meeting 
without Pyongyang. The larger goal aside, this strategy is something Washington 
should work toward to increase the pressure on Pyongyang. Eventually, the 
United States may be able to put new issues on the table for the five powers to 

If the transition to a permanent five-power structure can somehow be made, 
other issues will have to be addressed as well. Should other countries in the 
region, such as India, New Zealand, Australia, or any of the ASEAN members, be 
added? Should there be an official link between the new group and the ASEAN 
Regional Forum, or should individual ASEAN states be considered for membership?

Finally, there is the question of how a security forum of five powers or more 
would relate to the Asian multilateral economic groups already taking shape or 
being proposed, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative or ASEAN plus three. Should 
the United States support regional economic integration even if it does not 
have a seat at the table, as it has supported the EU? Or should Washington 
regard economic multilateralism as a threat and weaken these initiatives in 
favor of global organizations such as the Bretton Woods institutions or the 

Whether the United States likes it or not, the countries of eastern Asia have a 
strong incentive to increase their formal multilateral economic cooperation: 
global institutions such as the IMF are distrusted as overly dominated by the 
United States and unresponsive to Asian concerns. Washington would better serve 
its interests by supporting and shaping the evolution of these institutions 
from the outside, rather than by playing an obstructionist role. The United 
States can cement its formal role in eastern Asia by maintaining its network of 
bilateral alliances and by working toward a new multilateral security 
organization. Ultimately, Washington's relationship with Asian multilateral 
organizations would mirror the relationships it has with the EU and 
NATO--dealing with one from the outside and the other from the inside. Whatever 
multilateral institutions take shape in Asia will never achieve the strength 
and cohesion of their European counterparts, but the United States should 
regard them as hedges against the possible unraveling of the existing bilateral 
security system.


The final and perhaps most urgent reason for the Bush administration to 
re-envision its approach to Asian diplomacy has as much to do with the United 
States' status in the world as with its standing in eastern Asia. The Iraq war 
has isolated Washington in unprecedented ways and convinced a large part of the 
world that the United States--not Islamist terrorism--is the biggest threat to 
global security.

To climb out of this hole, the White House needs to start thinking creatively 
about legitimacy and international organizations. Considering that it has 
already snubbed the UN and refused to participate in the International Criminal 
Court or the Kyoto Protocol, Washington must now consider alternatives to 
international cooperation that better suit its interests. The United States 
will be better served by endorsing a series of overlapping and occasionally 
competitive multilateral organizations than by putting all its eggs in a single 
basket such as the UN. A permanent five-power organization in eastern Asia 
would help provide the foundation for the new order in that region--a small 
building block in a larger multi-multilateral edifice.

The idea of permanently institutionalizing the six-party talks has been 
discussed with increasing frequency in Washington policy circles in recent 
months. Such an organization will not come about, however, unless President 
George W. Bush decides to take the initiative to make it happen. The advent of 
a new term for Bush and his administration provides a fortuitous opportunity to 
reconceive the United States' long- term political architectures. Being the 
sole superpower bestows a certain responsibility for the global public good. It 
means not just exercising hard military power against rogue states, but also 
shaping the international environment in anticipation of new political demands. 
The United States stepped up to this challenge after 1945; it should do so 
again in the post-September 11 world.

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