Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Pusan National University, Korea Home Website: https://AsianSecurityBlog.wordpress.com/ Twitter: @Robert_E_Kelly
Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Pusan National University, Korea Home Website: https://AsianSecurityBlog.wordpress.com/ Twitter: @Robert_E_Kelly
The following is a guest-post by my good friend Dave Kang of USC. Below he complements his recent TNI essay with the full flow of charts and graphics they screened out. This post is an important rejoinder to the constant assertion (think Robert Kaplan) that East Asia is on the brink of war and that everyone is freaked out by China. The thing is, East Asian military spending doesn’t actually suggest that at all…
“In a recent National Interest essay I argued that military expenditures in East Asia do not appear to be excessively high. In this post I’d like to post the figures that informed the TNI essay (for some reason, TNI made me take out all the graphics – isn’t that what the web is for?). The figures are quite vivid, and help explain why I made the fairly straightforward interpretation of the data that China’s neighbors, according to IISS and SIPRI, aren’t balancing it the way everyone says they are.
So this post is a bleg to those of you who know more about alliances than me. I am considering writing this up for an article, so I thought I would ‘crowd-source’ early comments on the basic argument. I also wonder if someone elsewhere has already suggested this idea in the vast alliance literature. So please let me know. The motivation is inductive – the deepening tension between Japan and Korea has suggested the addendum to alliance theory I am proposing here. But I wonder if others have said this before.
Put briefly, I don’t think entrapment or abandonment captures the US position between allies in dispute, like Japan and Korea, or Greece and Turkey (perhaps – I know that latter case less well). Instead, each seems to use the US alliance patron to: a) compete with each other, because b) the US alliance relieves external pressures (China and North Korea, and the USSR and chaos in the Balkans and Middle East, respectively) that would otherwise incentivize a rapprochement. These four states are not trying to ‘entrap’ the US so much as leverage it for an intra-alliance squabble, with the shared patron as referee. I’ve not read this theorized elsewhere, so here is an effort to do so.
I know book reviews bore everyone, but the journal where I published this doesn’t post electronic versions of book reviews. So I thought this would be a good place to put it for internet accessibility. I tried to make this interesting by focusing on trends in NK, rather than just summarizing the constituent essays. It’s a great introduction to North Korea with lots of big names. I learned a lot from it. But I had to object to the title, likely chosen by an ill-informed editor looking for something catchy. North Korea is not in transition. If anything, we should be focusing on how remarkably stable it is. No matter what happens to the Kim regime – famine, de-industrialization, ‘factionalism,’ Chinese take-over of the economy, Dennis Rodman and his tats – nothing seems to bring down the clan or ever seriously shake it. Its astonishing ability to not change is what we should be our focus. Here’s that review:
This has been on my mind a lot because the Korea-Japan meltdown has been so bad recently. And I think it’s a good research question if you are into Asian IR. I have written about this before and just did again this month and yet again. I’ve argued repeatedly that the reason America’s allies in Asia cooperate so poorly is moral hazard. But this is different question. It is meant to explore why Koreans exaggerate Japan so much. Why do Koreans – the media specifically – routinely say things like Japan is run by right-wing fanatics who want to invade the Liancourt Rocks with samurai? These statements are not only obviously false, they are ridiculous.
I have said before (here, here) that Koreans have legitimate grievances regarding Japan, particularly on Yasukuni and the comfort women. But Koreans don’t stop there; they go over-the-top with things like the Sea of Japan re-naming campaign, claims that Japan wants to invade Korea again, that Japanese behavior in Korea equates with the Holocaust, or that Liancourt is worth going to war over – even though a Korean use of force against Japan would almost certainly eventuate a US departure from SK and therefore dramatically reduce Korean security. Other victims of earlier Japanese imperialism don’t talk like this, and I think a lot of well-meaning Japanese, who do recognize what Japan did in Korea, are genuinely baffled by all the hyperbole.
If you haven’t yet seen the zone’s geography, here it is to the left, complete with its overlap with the Korean and Japanese zones. The most important conflict of course is over Senkaku, but Korea watchers will also note that the Ieodo submerged reef, which Korea claims, is also in the zone. Gotta wonder what the Chinese were thinking by giving Korea and Japan common cause over anything. Foolish.
Dan Drezner asked the question I think pretty much everyone is wondering now: did the PRC really expect the US, Japan, and SK to just accept this out of the blue? Obviously they’re not, and it’s hard to find anyone besides the
Fox News of Asia Global Times who thinks they should. The following are some quick ideas for where this suddenly came from. Each is more-or-less tied to a level of analysis, but the prose is laymen-style because it was originally written for media
1. Belligerence (anarchy, straight-up realism): the Chinese really are picking a fight with Japan. This is the worst possible reason. They may figure that the Hagel visit to Japan a couple months ago has made Japan into an open challenger to China now. And that is kinda true. America is hedging China, ducking and weaving, trying hard to avoid an open confrontation with it. But Japan is increasingly unabashed that is it balancing China directly as a threat. Abe is increasingly willing to call out China openly. So Asia is becoming a serious bipolar contest, and maybe the Chinese are thinking: ‘to hell with it; Abe’s playing tough; we have too also.’ Certainly my Japanese colleagues in this area increasingly talk about China this way.
This is what happens when you write in the area of Japanese-Korean relations. Pretty much everybody hates you, because you don’t tell them what they want to hear, and then maximalists come out of the woodwork to, as Robert Farley aptly put it, “explore Japanese-Korean animosity one angry e-mail at a time.” As I’ve argued before, there’s little domestic cost to the either party for the most outrageous rhetoric, so this just goes on and on. Given that intractability, the Obama administration’s big idea to untangle this – sending embarrassingly unqualified socialite donor Caroline Kennedy to be ambassador to Japan – is cringe-worthy. So why not call Tina Turner? She’s a celebrity too. And Aunty Entity is the kind of no-nonsense external ref this conflict needs. (Bad 80s references can fix everything!) Anyway…
The other day I posted how the Korean government leaned on me to alter the nomenclature in my writing – from the ‘Sea of Japan’ to the ‘East Sea.’ I don’t exactly stand on this point. I can’t actually say for sure if I use the expression ‘Sea of Japan’ much. But now, I wouldn’t change just to oppose the highly inappropriate arm-twisting of academics by the state. And then a few days ago, I got one my most creative hate-mails (from a Japanese) in awhile. Both letters follow the jump.
I am so burned out on this issue, I’m ready to say we should just nuke the Liancourt Rocks (left) to end this whole thing. But it’s everywhere now in the regional media. Park pointedly won’t meet Abe, which the Japanese media is reading as a huge snub. She even said she’d talk to Pyongyang before Tokyo (yikes!). The Japanese are getting more open in expressing loathing for Korea. The Americans are livid. And the Chinese and Norks are loving it all, I have no doubt. So here’s yet another essay on this topic. This is the English version of a long-form essay I wrote for Newsweek Korea last week.
The short, IR-ish version is that: a) S Korea is a middle power that risks ‘overplaying its hand’ against Japan, as a think-tanker friend put it, because of the ‘moral hazard’ facilitated by the American alliance (as Katzenstein noted long ago, Japan is the US anchor state in Asia, and Koreans can’t change that no matter how much they resent that special relationship); b) the Americans believe in the democratic peace and simply don’t accept that Japan is some kind of proto-fascist state (this is a real breakpoint with the Americans); and c) Korean geography basically traps it in a ‘balance of threat’ quandary: even though it is small, its proximity means it will get pulled into the Sino-US/Japan stand-off whether it likes it or not. The only possible way out I can think of for Korea is unilateral nuclearization (more yikes). Also, my continuing skepticism of the pivot pops up. I still don’t think Americans actually care enough about Asia to really get pulled into a major competition with China. Here’s that essay…
Two pieces got emailed to me in the last few days that nicely illustrate just how entrenched semi-imperial thinking has become in Washington, how wildly disconnected from the reality of US security our foreign policy community’s threat assessments have become, and the hysteria that greets serious debate on DoD’s size in this post-Great Recession era of high unemployment and large deficits. This, by good-journalist-turned-disturbing-militarist Robert Kaplan, and this, by the ‘Iraq was a victory’ crowd at AEI. Here’s Kaplan:
“The bottom may be starting to fall out of the U.S. defense budget. I do not refer to numbers when I say this. I am not interested in numbers. I am only interested in public support for those numbers…. Actually, we might need a big army for an occupation of part of North Korea… The public, in short, wants protection on the cheap. It may not necessarily be willing to police the world with a big navy and a big air force at least to the degree that it has in the past — that is, unless a clear and demonstrable conventional threat can be identified.”
The rest basically follows the depressing, well-established neocon pattern: the (invariably hawkish and hegemony-loving) Washington foreign policy community knows America’s interests, while the public is annoyingly ‘isolationist.’ If only they believed in the US globocop, (cue grave headshaking at our ignorance), then we wouldn’t have to write these sanctimonious, tsk-tsk op-eds. The AEI brief is even more predictable: throwaway boilerplate about the need for a strong defense in a world of unpredictable and diverse threats and all that. Got it already. Neocons and DC hawks have been saying that sorta stuff now for so long, that I really don’t even need to read this stuff anymore. And of course, any cuts automatically ‘reduce our readiness,’ the all-time favorite cliché of hawks everywhere as if somehow ‘only’ $680+ billion would leave us unable to defend ourselves. Come on, neocons! I thought you were supposed to be intellectuals. Stop recycling 1990s ‘indispensible nation’ bromides, and try a little harder. Zack Beauchamp and Daniel Drezner’s correctives are very useful here. But here’s mine:
The following is a guest-post from Martin Edwards, professor at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Martin’s website is here.
How do Americans think about the United Nations? The results of recent surveys by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project and the Better World Campaign offer some insights on this question. These organizations have tracked opinions on the United Nations since 2004 and 2009, and the findings are based on random samples of adults and registered voters, respectively. One of the findings in both surveys is that there are partisan differences in the opinions of Americans regarding the United Nations. A finding in the Better World Campaign survey helps us to better understand why these partisan differences exist.
The figure below aggregates the percentage of respondents who view the UN as either “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” in both surveys over time. Both surveys report an improvement of the UN’s numbers. In the Pew Research survey, the UN’s favorability numbers have gone up ten points since 2007, while the Better World Campaign reports a similar ten point jump since this time last year.
I was just in China for a work thing, when I checked the Duck for something. Turns out the Duck is screened out by the Great Firewall. Even if you go to Google Search Hong Kong, it’s still blocked.
Wow. Who knew even nerdy IR theory and pop culture references posed a threat to CCP rule? Lame. Even more lame – my own website, which gets way less traffic, is blocked too. For sites as small as mine, that’s almost a complement – hah. If only I had readers similarly interested enough to even bother…
The Duck hasn’t had a good video up in awhile, and for all of you thinking about grad school apps this fall, well, here it is…
Were any other Americans rather awestruck when David Cameron announced himself bound by the the House of Commons’ vote against attacking Syria last month? Wow. I found that so impressive – a due process binding executive war-making. Very nice. I am so used to strutting American presidents insisting that they can use force pretty much as they wish. Somehow the AUMF permitted Iraq and the drone war, and then came Obama’s insufferably condescending and monarchical comment in his Syria speech that even though he didn’t need Congress’ approval, he would deign to consult them anyway. Oh, how nice of you to remember the rest of us! Ech!
The following is a re-up of a piece I wrote for the Diplomat last month as part of an informal back-and-forth series with the National Interest this summer on the US pivot to Asia and AirSea Battle. (Here and here are some of the other entries.) That pic, which has got to be the grossest river in all China, is from here.
In brief, I increasingly think that ASB is a mistake, because it’s almost impossible to read it as anything other than hugely provocative from the Chinese point of view, no matter what we say to them about our peaceful intentions. (Read this, and tell me reasonable Chinese wouldn’t flip out.) It’s a classic example of the security dilemma, but as I argue below, I am not really convinced that we actually need this high-tech, super-fearsome-sounding ASB right up in their face. More generally though, the pivot to Asia – a sharpening of American attention on the region – is probably a good idea. China is vastly more influential on American life than Israel or Iran. But the Middle East and Islam activates belligerent American religiosity so much, that I doubt we’ll really be able to pivot. In any case, the essay follows the jump and is written in an op-ed style.
I’ve defended Mead before on this site. I think he is a bright conservative who stands out in a sea of Fox News ideological bleh, like NewsMax or Drudge. He has a far better sense of the importance of religion in many people’s lives than academics do, and he has a good feel for western classical history that adds historical depth to a lot of his blogging. I read him regularly, where I stumbled on this defense of the coming NSF cuts in political science. Money quote:
Political scientists should know better: university faculties ultimately depend on taxpayers and their representatives for many of the resources they need for their work. This fact of life is truer than ever when health care and other costs are forcing discretionary spending down. Funding for political science is just another budget line item that needs to be justified. Writing obscure articles for peer-reviewed journals that nobody, not even other people in your discipline, will read is not the best way to do that.
And here’s another thought: making departments in social sciences and other disciplines more welcoming to political conservatives and—horrors!—seriously religious people may help build that bipartisan support without which federal funds will be increasingly hard to get.
This is pretty lame. An academic like Mead should know better than to complain that no one reads our stuff. Of course no one reads a great deal of basic research. But Mead knows as well as anyone in this line of work that improvements in theoretical foundations eventually bubble up into more digestible ideas for laymen and in easier formats like Foreign Affairs. This is well-known and almost certainly describes Mead’s own academic experience too. Yes, maybe 19 of 20 articles are same lame recycling of warmed over old ideas or whatever. But I dare say that is quite a blithe generalization to make about the very best journals in political science like the APSR which are edited and reviewed by some of the very best scholars in the world. Continue reading
It’s always a pleasure to guest-post my good friend Dave Kang. Dave teaches at the University of Southern California and runs their Korean Studies Institute (the pic). Here are some previous guest posts he’s written (one, two, three).
Here is his encouragement to actually apply international relations theory to East Asia. I can’t agree more. There is far too much superficial, think-tank wonkery about East Asia (how many nukes does China have? will Pyongyang test another missile? and so on), and not nearly enough real theory. Dave does that, and you should too. So instead of yet another, I’ve-read-this-all-before policy essay about the South China Sea or China’s aircraft carrier, the essays referenced below should be good encouragement that we write something richer.
“Thanks to Bob and DoM for letting me guest-post yet again. I have an article on “International Relations Theory and East Asian History” that appears in the current issue of the Journal of East Asian Studies, edited by Stephan Haggard. In conjunction with this post, Lynne Rienner will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here until October 1.
The entire issue is devoted to the international relations of historical East Asia. The special issue features essays by James Anderson, Kirk Larsen, Jiyoung Lee, Seohyun Park, Kenneth Robinson, and Yuan-kang Wang, all exploring different aspects of IR and East Asia in many disparate epochs and areas.
Newsweek Korea asked me to participate in a debate on Obama’s strategic patience. A friend of mine wrote against it; I wrote in defense. Here is the Korean language text at the NWK website. Below is my original English language version.
In brief I argue that North Korea is so hard to pin down, that big strategies never work with it, provoke it into lashing out, and raise impossible expectations on democratic decision-makers. So Obama is acting responsibly, IMO, by not promising more than he can deliver and by not giving a reason for NK to act out.
After 20+ years of negotiating on more or less the same topics, it should be pretty obvious that NK is insistent on not being placed in some box by outsiders. It will not be treated as some technocratic ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’ by a conference of experts, like global warming or something. And it will lash out if necessary to remind us of that. Hence, I argue for ‘muddling through,’ and that we should stop expecting our policy-makers to have some great NK strategy that will fix the issue. That’s not gonna happen. We all know that. We just have to wait for China to stop paying NK’s bills. Until then, all the sweeping declarations (‘agreed framework,’ ‘sunshine’,’ the ‘axis of evil,’ the current big idea du jour of ‘trust’) are rather pointless and raise impossible expectations among voters in SK, the US, and Japan. Let’s be a little more honest about what we can expect from North Korea.
I was asked by a participating member of the H-Diplo/ISSF network to review The American Culture of War. Here is the original link to my review, but it’s off in some far corner of the internet, so I thought I’d repost it here. In brief, I found the book a pretty disturbing rehearsal of right-wing tropes about the military in a democracy, especially from an academic, and there’s no way I’d ever use it with undergrads as Routledge suggests. The underlying moral driver is the ‘chicken hawk’ principle – that those without military experience are not morally qualified to lead DoD and should otherwise defer to uniformed military. At one point the author actually says that, because the US Army ‘distrusts’ Congress, the Army should ‘guide’ Congress. Yikes. Do Americans (and the author) really need to be told civilian authority runs the other way, and that that’s in the Constitution? I find that sort of military elitism democratically terrifying and reflective of the post-9/11 militarization of America that is now the single most important reason, IMO, to end the war on terror.
I would just add the following update to the review: Both the book and review were written before Petraeus’ resignation, but it should come as no surprise that the text lionizes Petraeus. His resignation is therefore a pleasing schadenfreude for the frightening post-9/11 military hero-worship of the US right. Here we go:
I continue to be amazed at how the Korean government won’t admit that Japan’s revival is really good for democracy in Asia and the prevention of Chinese regional primacy. No less than the SK finance minister (pic) actually said Abenomics is more dangerous to SK than the NK missile program. Wait, what?? The worst totalitarianism in history gets a pass when the Bank of Japan prints a lot of cheap money? Come on. That’s unbelievably irresponsible. Are Korean officials so deeply bought by the chaebol that they actually have to say stuff like that? Honestly if Minister Hyun really believes that (I doubt that though, see below), he should probably resign. This is just an embarrassment.
The conventional wisdom on the US presence in Asia is that we re-assure all players. Specifically, US allies don’t need to arms race local opponents, because the US has extended deterrence to cover them. Hence Japan and South Korea don’t need to go nuclear, for example. Among academics, this logic pops in the work of Christensen, Ikenberrry, and Nye; among policy analysts, here is the US military saying this, and here is the DC think-tank set.
But there’s flip-side to this logic that really needs to be investigated – whether the US presence also freezes conflicts in place, by reassuring Asian elites against their own reckless nationalist rhetoric, racially toxic historiographies, and Fox News-style inflammatory media (just read the Global Times op-ed page occasionally). I think the Liancourt Rocks fight is a particularly good example of this ‘moral hazard’ mechanic, as is the recent comment by no less than the South Korean foreign minister (!) that Abenomics’ threat to Korean export competitiveness is a greater danger to SK than North Korea’s nuclear program. That kind of preposterous, reckless myopia can only be explained by taking the US security umbrella for granted.