JPRI Critique Vol. IV No. 8: October 1997
Promoting a Soft Landing in Korea
by Selig S. Harrison

Potential Fallout from the New U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines
by Chalmers Johnson



Promoting a Soft Landing in Korea
by Selig S. Harrison

President Clinton has pledged that the United States will "keep American forces in Korea as long as they are needed and the Korean people want them to remain." Challenging this policy, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute has urged that the United States withdraw its forces and terminate its security treaty with Seoul within four years. In between these two extremes are a variety of proposals that would link U.S. force reductions and an eventual disengagement with the pace of tension reductions on the peninsula.

The idea of linking a U.S. withdrawal with tension reduction is superficially attractive but embodies a dilemma for the United States. South Korean hard-liners who want to see the collapse of the North are generally opposed to the arms control measures that would be critical to a reduction of tensions, such as a mutual North-South reduction of forces and a mutual pullback of forces along the DMZ. Thus, a commitment to remain until tensions are reduced could become a commitment to stay indefinitely. For this reason, I believe that the United States should continue to maintain combat forces in Korea only for a designated transition period not to exceed 10 years.

During this transition period, U.S. ground forces should be reduced and repositioned so that South Korean forces would bear the brunt of any fighting. American air and naval forces would participate from the outset, but U.S. ground forces would intervene only as a last resort-in contrast with existing strategy, in which U.S. forces are intended to serve as a "tripwire." However, the reduction and withdrawal of U.S. forces should not lead to termination of the U.S. security treaty commitment, as Bandow proposes, unless China ends its security treaty with Pyongyang and Russia pledges not to restore its former commitment.

The fundamental reason for setting a deadline of 10 years is that the economic subsidy provided by U.S. forces and U.S. bases enables the South to have a maximum of security with a minimum of sacrifice. The South's upper- and middle-income minority, in particular, has acquired a vested interest in the status quo. So long as the South has the U.S. military presence as an economic cushion, it is under no compulsion to explore a modus vivendi with the North. Former ambassador to South Korea William Porter, who pressed Seoul unsuccessfully during his tenure (1967-71) to help pay for the American presence, summed up the situation graphically during a conversation with me in Seoul on April 16, 1970. "They've got hold of our big fat udder," Porter said then, "and they won't let go." This is still true.

Opponents of disengagement have argued that the South would react to a U.S. withdrawal by accelerating its defense buildup and that its accompanying anxieties would foreclose meaningful dialogue with the North. But this line of analysis is not borne out by the South's approach to North-South dialogue in recent years. For example, far from considering mutual force reductions, the South has been moving in the opposite direction, expanding its defense budgets and its military-industrial complex. An open-ended American presence is more likely to result in continued tension than would a U.S. departure preceded by ample notice and serious mediation efforts. It is only in the absence of U.S. forces that Seoul would have to face up to post-Cold War realities, choosing between the sacrifices required to match the level of defense strength now provided by the United States and an accommodation with the North based on a loose federation and the coexistence of differing systems.

In moving toward a more balanced posture in Korea, the United States should make clear that the U.S.-South Korean alliance relates solely to military defense of the South and does not require that Washington get Seoul's approval for everything it does in Pyongyang. This is also not a message that the South wants to hear. Washington faces a difficult period of readjustment in its relations with Seoul that will call for sensitive diplomacy as well as a radically new approach to the critical unification issue.

What makes many South Koreans so bitter about the possible normalization of U.S. relations with Pyongyang is the fear that this will freeze a "two Korea" division of the peninsula. By contrast, collapse scenarios offer the hope of a quick, albeit costly, route to unification. Until five years ago, the United States was not explicitly committed to the goal of unification. Then president George Bush told the South Korean National Assembly on January 6, 1992, that the American people favored "peaceful unification on terms acceptable to the Korean people." This deliberately vague statement shielded the United States from criticism as an enemy of unification but at the same time conveyed a sanguine attitude toward the prospect of indefinite division.

Against this background, a "soft landing" policy should include more explicit declarations of support for the early achievement of unification as an essential component of stability in Northeast Asia. The United States should emphasize that it favors structured movement toward unification through the type of coequal North-South institutions envisaged in Roh Tae Woo's 1989 "Korean Commonwealth" proposal and Kim Dae Jung's plan for a loose confederation, both of which have been accepted by North Korea as a basis for negotiations. Such an American policy would be a logical concomitant to participation in a trilateral peacekeeping structure.

In North and South alike, it is an article of faith that the United States-if not the principal culprit-was at least partly to blame for the division of the peninsula after World War II. This pervasive grievance is linked with the belief that the United States has reinforced the division by using the South as a pawn in pursuing Cold War objectives related primarily to Japan. Anti-American nationalism is surprisingly virulent in the South, where military dependence on the United States has generated strong undercurrents of xenophobia that are sweeping aside the gratitude felt by the older generation for the American role in the Korean War. The legacy of bitterness left by four decades of American involvement in Korea is likely to increase on both sides of the 38th parallel unless Washington can find a graceful way to extricate itself.

SELIG S. HARRISON, a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has visited North Korea five times and met with the late Kim Il Sung twice. This piece is adapted by the author from his speech to the JPRI Conference in Chicago, June 4, 1997, and his longer article in the Spring 1997 issue of Foreign Policy.



Potential Fallout from the New U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines
by Chalmers Johnson

United States foreign policy in East Asia is based on the American desire to maintain its military hegemony over the area and to enlist Japanese support for this project. The stumbling bloc is China because, for historical and domestic political reasons, the Japanese cannot even pretend to join their ally in a project to "contain" China. As Bruce Stokes and James Shinn, directors of a Council on Foreign Relations study of the future of the U.S.-Japan security relationship, point out, "New guidelines for defense cooperation between the two countries [Japan and the U.S.] will be announced in late September. The Japanese Diet will then take up legislation to permit Japan's armed forces to react to security crises outside Japan. . . . If war broke out today on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait, the United States could not count on Japan to stand with it in a timely fashion" ("Japan's Promises to Help Don't Cut It Anymore," Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1997).

Unfortunately, the Stokes-Shinn solution is to demand that Japan increase its military contributions to the alliance and buy more American-manufactured weapons. Current negotiations about a new Japanese-American military division of labor are the fruit of the Clinton-Hashimoto summit meeting in Tokyo of April 1996. The two leaders then pretended to respond to Okinawan protests against American bases while committing the two nations to an enhanced military alliance. The new defense guidelines, to be announced in late September, are supposed to replace the old Japanese-American strategy drawn up nineteen years ago against what was arguably a real menace-the Soviet Union.

While Americans remain almost totally in the dark about the current negotiations, China has not been similarly unconcerned. On June 9, the Los Angeles Times noted that "Top officials from the [Japanese] Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency were scheduled to arrive in Beijing today to explain new security arrangements between Tokyo and Washington that would give Japan its highest military profile since World War II." And in Japan itself, a furor has blown up over its dalliance with the U.S. Pentagon that threatens the internal unity of the Liberal Democratic Party.

In response to U.S. demands that the Japanese government should pay more to keep American troops in Japan, on August 4th the Japanese government announced its plans to cut the 1998 omoiyari yosan (its so-called "sympathy budget," meaning sympathy for the poor Americans who cannot afford their foreign policy). By 2001, the Japanese want to terminate their payments altogether since Japan faces a more severe national government deficit as a percent of GNP than even the U.S. (see Asahi Shimbun, August 5, 1997; and JPRI Working Paper #31, March 1997, "The Japanese-American Security Treaty Without a U.S. Military Presence, A Dialogue with Shunji Taoka").

The big issue for Japan, however, is the scope of the new defense guidelines. On July 22, 1997, Koichi Kato, the Secretary General of the LDP, said to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering that "the areas surrounding Japan" mentioned in the current review of Japan-U.S. defense guidelines and thereby covered by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty must not include the Taiwan Strait. The Foreign Ministry echoed his position (see Hitoshi Tanaka, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry's North American Bureau: "Military Proposal Doesn't Target China, Official Says," Nikkei Weekly, July 28, 1997).

Aware that Kato's position would irritate the Americans, on August 17, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama said "In case of a Taiwan-China military conflict, how could we flatly refuse a request from U.S. forces for support, even a supply of water?" But this remark naturally caught the attention of the Chinese. Vice Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan replied that the Taiwan Strait was "the most important and sensitive issue in Chinese foreign affairs" and demanded a clarification. The People's Liberation Army newspaper (on August 19) reminded the Japanese that the treaty in which the PRC and Japan normalized their diplomatic relations specifically stipulates that Taiwan is a part of China (whereas the U.S. merely acknowledged that both sides believe there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it).

Elsewhere in Asia, Kishore Mabubani of the Singapore government argued that, "To avoid provoking China's ire, the U.S.-Japanese alliance should remain defensive, should not include Taiwan, and should not be extended or changed without careful consideration of regional concerns" (Foreign Affairs, September-October 1997, p. 154). Even the normally cooperative South Koreans asked Japan and the U.S. to consult them and seek their agreement whenever implementing joint defense activities affecting the ROK's sovereign rights (Korea Herald, August 20, 1997).

According to the draft of the guidelines released in June, "The [Japanese] Self-Defense Forces will conduct such activities as intelligence gathering, surveillance and minesweeping, to protect lives and property and to ensure navigational safety. U.S. Forces will conduct operations to restore peace and security in the areas surrounding Japan." This means that if a threat ever did arise, American lives would be at risk while the Japanese conducted "intelligence activities." Meanwhile Japanese commentators are anxious that even minesweeping and intelligence activities would go well beyond what their 'peace constitution' allows. Clearly, Japan, the U.S., China, and the other Asian nations do not see eye-to-eye on who this defense treaty is supposed to defend, and under what circumstances. This is why it cannot work in practice and will only increase tensions in the region as a policy.


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