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It’s Time to Make a New Deal: Solving the INF Treaty’s Strategic Liabilities to Achieve U.S. Security Goals in Asia

It’s Time to Make a New Deal: Solving the INF Treaty’s Strategic Liabilities to Achieve U.S. Security Goals in Asia

The United States and its allies need a different approach to deter China in the Western Pacific. After building islands in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, claiming they were for peaceful purposes, China recently militarized them. Chinese military…

From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China

From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China

To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made.

Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift?

Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift?

Widely considered Japan’s most powerful prime minister in decades, Shinzo Abe has responded to a changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific — including an increasingly powerful and assertive China and growing North Korean nuclear threat — by…

Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution

Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution

The history of denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula gives reason for pessimism, caution, and optimism. Attempting to critically engage that history can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one…

Book Review Roundtable: Lost Opportunities in Vietnam

Book Review Roundtable: Lost Opportunities in Vietnam

1. Max Boot’s Revisionist Look at Vietnam By Mark Atwood Lawrence Could the United States have won in Vietnam if only Americans had made different decisions about how to fight the war there? For the most part, academic historians have said no. The South…

Book Review Roundtable: The Future of Extended Deterrence

Book Review Roundtable: The Future of Extended Deterrence

Our reviewers respond to Terence Roehrig's new book, "Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella," and ask some tough questions about the purpose and future of extended deterrence.

Too Much History: American Policy and East Asia in the Shadow of the Past

Too Much History: American Policy and East Asia in the Shadow of the Past

East Asian countries have a tendency to recall their historical grievances with rival nations, thus increasing the risk of eventual conflict. American policy toward East Asia, on the other hand, tends to have too short of a memory.

Why Did America Cross the Pacific? Reconstructing the U.S. Decision to Take the Philippines, 1898-99

Why Did America Cross the Pacific? Reconstructing the U.S. Decision to Take the Philippines, 1898-99

A closer examination of what led President William McKinley to take the Philippines reveals a series of deliberate and thoughtful choices that have often been overlooked or ignored.

Book Review Roundtable: Is War with China Coming? Contrasting Visions

Book Review Roundtable: Is War with China Coming? Contrasting Visions

As China increasingly threatens to supplant America's place on the international stage, four scholars review Graham Allison's "Destined for War" and Thomas Wright's "All Measures Short of War."

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                    [post_content] => The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is remembered as one of President Ronald Reagan’s most important strategic accomplishments. By deploying land-based intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles to Europe, Reagan was able to get Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to the negotiating table and eliminate that class of nuclear weapons, thereby making America’s European allies more secure as well as boosting comparative U.S. advantages in air and sea domains. And while the INF Treaty deserves its hallowed place in American Cold War history, “history” is the key word. Today, the treaty forces strategic liabilities on the United States that are increasingly unacceptable — especially given the rise of Chinese military power.[1]

These liabilities seem to be understood in the White House. President Donald Trump has said that he intends to withdraw the United States from the treaty, citing Russian violations of the agreement dating to 2014.[2] How and whether this would occur is still unclear, but, crucially, the president also expressed a willingness to remain committed to an INF-type treaty, if Russia agrees to return to compliance and China finally becomes a signatory.[3] National Security Adviser John Bolton has reportedly expressed a similar sentiment.[4]

The White House arrived at this position after Congress and military leaders publicly voiced concerns about the treaty. In light of Russian violations of its treaty obligations and China’s growing asymmetric advantage in land-based missiles threatening U.S. interests in Asia, the latest National Defense Authorization Act requires the president to determine if the “prohibitions set forth in Article VI of the INF Treaty remain binding on the United States as a matter of United States law.”[5] In April 2018, the incoming commander of U.S. Pacific Command (what soon became U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”[6] A year earlier, his predecessor told the same committee that the INF Treaty, signed in 1987, was one of the primary reasons for Chinese dominance in the disputed waters.[7] Reagan and Gorbachev agreed in the treaty to prohibit their militaries from possessing, producing, and flight-testing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could hit targets at distances of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.[8] This prohibition applies to both nuclear and conventionally armed missiles. China possesses an arsenal of land-based conventional and nuclear intermediate-range missiles that threaten U.S. basing facilities and ships in the Western Pacific.[9] These missiles are also a threat to U.S. allies and partners in the region that allow American military forces to operate from their territory.

If China were a signatory to the INF Treaty, approximately 95 percent of these missiles would be illegal as they fall within the range prohibition.[10] Beijing is not a signatory, however, and has made clear that it has no desire to be.[11] Hence, China has a strategic asymmetric advantage over the United States in the Western Pacific.

 Map 1: How China's Land Attack Capacity Has Grown Between 1996 and 2017 [12]

Many scholars and analysts of international security have joined the growing number of senior U.S. military leaders publicly acknowledging this Chinese threat.[13] Members of Congress have voiced concerns as well.[14] Before the president’s October comments about withdrawal, such discussions had not generated a sense of urgency to act. And even since President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the INF Treaty was reported, arms control advocates have continued to push for the United States to remain committed without adequately accounting for the treaty’s debilitating impact on U.S. security interests in Asia.[15] This must change if the United States is to regain its military dominance and associated deterrent capabilities in the Western Pacific. To be clear, China’s ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles are among the U.S. military’s core conventional-warfighting challenges in Asia today. Beijing has exploited Washington’s compliance with the 31-year-old INF Treaty in three primary ways. First, it has fielded thousands of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that put at risk the U.S. military’s forward-basing posture in the Western Pacific, along with American ships at sea in the region. These include around 2,000 conventionally armed, land-based short-range ballistic missiles (those with a range of 300 to 1,000 kilometers), medium-range ballistic missiles (1,000 to 3,000 kilometers), intermediate-range ballistic missiles (3,000 to 5,500 kilometers), and ground-launched cruise missiles (range of more than 1,500 kilometers).[16] Second, while China has fielded relatively inexpensive ground-launched missiles, the U.S. military has attempted to counter or offset them with exponentially more expensive missile-defense systems, as well as short-range, low observable tactical aircraft, ships, submarines, and long-range bomber delivery-based platforms. In other words, the United States is on the wrong side of an exponential cost-curve imbalance when it comes to trying to deter China conventionally. This approach would not have been as problematic in 1987, when the United States' gross domestic product was 18 times the size of China’s.[17] It is today though. The United States' gross domestic product is now only one and a half times the size of China’s. Worse, except for the option of limited-capacity long-range bombers, employing the other capabilities would require putting thousands of Americans in harm’s way well within range of China’s ground-launched missiles. [amcharts id="chart-12"]

(Data taken from the World Bank)


[amcharts id="chart-11"]

(Data taken from the World Bank)

Third, China is simultaneously leveraging its asymmetric advantage in ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles to increasingly build and occupy key terrain within what Beijing considers its “blue soil” marked by the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. That includes emplacing advanced area-denial systems such as HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles and YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. China views this terrain as vital to its interests for military and economic purposes and claims historical rights to it. These claims continue despite the Philippines — a U.S. mutual defense treaty ally for 67 years — and multiple U.S. partner nations doing the same, despite the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling in Manila’s favor in Philippines v. China.[18] With Russia continually refusing to return to compliance and China unlikely to become a party to the INF Treaty, the Trump administration had four policy options. First, Washington could have continued to surrender U.S. conventional warfighting superiority in the Western Pacific and leaned ever more heavily on its nuclear deterrent. Second, the United States could have deepened and broadened investments in sea- and air-launched missile delivery platforms — which are not proscribed by the INF Treaty — in an attempt to regain conventional superiority. Third, Washington could have looked to emerging technologies, such as hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, as possible alternative solutions. Finally, the United States could have sought to somehow renegotiate the INF Treaty or, failing that, exercised its right to withdraw from the treaty in order to field ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. It seems that the Trump administration determined the fourth option was the soundest, including leaving the renegotiation option on the table.[19]

Map 2: China is increasingly militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea.[20]

Given where things stand, U.S. policy responses going forward should be anchored in three main goals: First, seek to maximize America’s alliances and security partnerships in Asia, which represent asymmetric advantages.[21] Second, when doing so, appreciate that for the $13 billion cost of a single new U.S. Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier, China can field an estimated 1,227 DF-21D “carrier killer” medium-range ballistic missiles.[22] By shifting U.S. military acquisition priorities away from “few and exquisite” to “small, many, and smart” systems,[23] America could complicate Chinese targeting processes and political leaders’ calculus of risk escalation as well as increase interoperability opportunities with allies. Third, as part of the shift in acquisition strategy, prioritize relatively low-cost and quickly fieldable long-range, conventionally-armed, ground-launched weapons systems, including ones capable of operating autonomously after a human “starts the loop.”[24] To achieve these goals, the United States should remain open to renegotiating the INF Treaty to account for an increasingly multipolar world. If such efforts prove untenable, the United States should finalize the president’s tentative decision to withdraw from the treaty. As President Trump has indicated,[25] this is certainly not the optimal course, but it is still a better option than the status quo. U.S. policymakers should also clarify the intent of Defense Department Directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapons Systems.[26] Specifically, they should clearly define what is meant by “human judgment” when the policy says that “[a]utonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”[27] Simultaneous with these efforts, the United States should work with treaty allies and potential partners in Asia to leverage these types of weapons to offset Chinese asymmetric advantages. Washington will also have to enhance its strategic communications and operational war plans to account for the increased capabilities. Some critics might argue that these suggestions merely replicate what China is doing to the United States and its allies. This is not the case. Instead, the proposed solutions are based on a multipolar international system in which the Western, rules-based international order that has existed since the end of World War II is in jeopardy. While appreciating these realities, the strategy seeks to ensure that the United States can maintain its mutual defense treaty obligations, assure regional partners, and deter further Chinese military aggression in the Western Pacific.[28] Simultaneously, the strategy seeks to provide increased escalation options for U.S. policymakers with the continued goal of securing American interests and maintaining peace in Asia. [quote id="1"] The remainder of this article proceeds in six parts. Before looking ahead, I begin with a history of how the United States arrived at its disadvantageous position. Only then can one fairly analyze possible options to enable the American military to restore full-spectrum conventional — in parallel with nuclear — warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific in accordance with the latest National Security Strategy.[29] Next, the four potential options discussed above must be weighed. Based on that analysis, I recommend a new strategic approach for the U.S. military in the Western Pacific rooted in renegotiating or exercising America’s right to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Then, I consider possible objections to the recommended strategic approach. Finally, this paper summarizes the recommended way forward to provide policymakers with the best chance for achieving America’s security interests in Asia.

Blunted Edge: How America Lost Its Conventional Dominance in the Western Pacific

To understand America’s perilous position in Asia, one has to wind back the clock 40 years to explore the INF Treaty, which was a product of strategic challenges in Europe. The late 1970s and early 1980s ushered in one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. Most Americans of a certain age and those who work in national security likely have seared in their minds images of U.S. helicopters lifting evacuees from a rooftop in Saigon in 1975. America’s defeat in Vietnam was followed a year later by the Soviet Union fielding the SS-20 “Saber” intermediate-range ballistic missile in Europe.[30] The Soviet military leadership believed that deploying this advanced missile system was essential to ensuring that the Warsaw Pact had equal or greater ability than the United States to deliver nuclear strikes in the European theater. This would enable the Soviet Union to undermine “the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Western Europe.”[31] After extensive debates and deliberations, NATO’s leadership announced a dual-track decision on Dec. 12, 1979, in response to the Soviet SS-20 fielding: The United States would deploy 108 Pershing II intermediate-range ballistic missiles and 464 Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles in Britain, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, unless the SS-20s were removed.[32] Five weeks earlier, 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in Tehran, starting their 444-day detention inside an Iran that had just transitioned from a strategic Western ally to a fierce opponent.[33] Twelve days after NATO’s announcement on the Pershing II and Tomahawks, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.[34] Cold War tensions were arguably higher than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis. After campaigning on increasing military might and statements such as “peace is not obtained or preserved by wishing and weakness,” Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. president on Nov. 4, 1980. He received 489 electoral votes, the highest number in history by a non-incumbent.[35] Between 1981 and 1987, the Pentagon’s budget increased in real terms by 45 percent.[36] On March 23, 1983, Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative, the bold and controversial proposal often referred to as “Star Wars,” which he described as having the “ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles” by “means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”[37] On Sept. 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 departed New York en route to Seoul via Anchorage. The Korean flight veered 360 miles off course and into Soviet airspace,[38] where a Soviet Sukhoi-15 and MiG-23 intercepted it. Shortly thereafter, KE007 crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk, killing on impact all 269 passengers, including 61 Americans, one of whom was U.S. Rep. Larry P. McDonald.[39] Reagan described the incident as “an act of barbarism” and a “crime against nature.”[40] Soviet leaders suggested that the event was a “pre-planned American provocation” and that the United States was “on a collision course with the Soviet Union.”[41] Tensions escalated even higher later in 1983. NATO exercise Able Archer, executed Nov. 2 through Nov. 11,[42] focused on practicing the coordination requirements within the alliance’s command structure to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. In a key difference from previous exercises, this one involved actual U.S. and NATO leadership.[43] Soviet intelligence closely followed these leaders’ movements and assessed that they indicated a U.S. intent to “ensure a reliable first nuclear missile strike.”[44] Soviet leaders responded by ordering the forward-loading of tactical nuclear weapons onto aircraft in East Germany capable of striking into West Germany.[45] The situation escalated to the point where one analyst described the United States and Soviet Union as “apes on a treadmill,” inadvertently stumbling ever closer to nuclear war. Further intensifying matters, the first 16 Tomahawk missiles that were part of the 1979 dual-track decision arrived in England on Nov. 14.[46] Eight days later, the first Pershing II missiles arrived in West Germany. Soviet leaders responded by walking out of pre-scheduled INF talks and lifting a voluntary moratorium on their own intermediate-range nuclear weapon deployments.[47] Fortunately, the tensions never reached a boiling point. Reagan’s fervent beliefs that “no one can ‘win’ a nuclear war” and his desire to engage with Soviet leadership were the primary reasons.[48] From his initial days in office, Reagan wanted to reduce the risks of nuclear war, including by cutting U.S. and Soviet arsenals, eventually to zero. As early as November 1981, he offered Soviet leaders a zero-zero plan to eliminate all INF-range missiles in Europe.[49] When the Soviets continued to refuse these offers, however, Reagan, together with NATO leaders, shared that the alliance would proceed with the Tomahawk and Pershing II deployment. Reagan became increasingly convinced, as he explained to the British Parliament in June 1982, that “our military strength is a prerequisite to peace.”[50] In logic that is almost inconceivable more than three decades later, the tension-filled stumbling toward nuclear war in November 1983 helped provide for the United States what Reagan later described as “its strongest position in two decades to negotiate with the Russians from strength.”[51] This position of strength was soon reinforced by a key change within the Soviet Union. In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party.[52] Similarly to Reagan, Gorbachev believed that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”[53] He also believed, perhaps in part due to the Soviet Union’s deep economic challenges, that these facts “made meaningless the arms race and the stockpiling and modernizing of nuclear weapons.”[54] When he made these comments, Washington and Moscow possessed the combined equivalent of “1.5 million Hiroshimas” worth of nuclear weapons.[55] And on the central front in Europe, roughly 975,000 Warsaw Pact troops stood opposite NATO’s 814,300 soldiers.[56] Something had to give. [quote id="2"] In April 1985, Gorbachev announced that he was suspending SS-20 missile deployments in Europe.[57] He met with Reagan for the first time at the Geneva summit in November.[58] Five months after this breakthrough summit, tragedy struck in the Soviet Union when a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant.[59] The explosion caused more than 4,300 casualties.[60] The accident reinforced for Reagan and Gorbachev just how tenuous the proposition of mutually assured destruction really was and why it was so important to make serious progress on nuclear weapons reductions.[61] This belief served as the foundation for their signing the INF Treaty in December 1987.[62] Over the next four years, the Soviet Union and United States eliminated 1,800 and 800 ground-launched missiles, respectively, with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.[63] After the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, the United States decided to maintain the treaty with the Russian Federation and the other Soviet successor states, and the compliance inspection regime continued until 2001.[64] Of note, due to concerns from Japan that the Soviet Union might remove missiles aimed toward Western Europe east of the Urals and turn them toward Tokyo, American negotiators insisted that the treaty ban both signatories from possessing a single missile within these ranges anywhere in the world.[65] Additionally, in the late 1980s, China’s emergence as a major world power — one that would eventually field around 2,000 missiles banned by the INF Treaty — was not anticipated.[66] Thus, China’s inclusion as a treaty signatory was never considered. Nearly 30 years after Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty, the U.S. State Department determined in July 2014 that Russia had violated its commitment when developing the SSC-8 ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile.[67] Since then, Russia reportedly has deployed the illegal missile system on training exercises.[68] In March 2017, U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the violation and deployment in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.[69] He also explained that there is no reason to believe that Russia intends to resume compliance with the INF Treaty, which arguably should not have been a surprise given that as early as 2005, then-Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov proposed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that both countries should jointly withdraw from the treaty as it was no longer consistent with contemporary security conditions.[70] A month later, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about Chinese ballistic and cruise-missile developments, the head of Pacific Command reconfirmed the Russian violation of the INF Treaty and agreed with Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas when he stated, “that means the United States is the only country in the world — the only country in the world — that unilaterally refuses to build missiles that have a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.”[71] A year after this exchange, when commenting on the INF Treaty language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Republican Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio said that “you cannot have a treaty with oneself, and that’s the situation we’re in … we need to recognize reality.”[72] China’s Strategy Over the past two decades, China has aggressively pursued and heavily invested in land-based missiles as part of an anti-access/area-denial strategy.[73] This strategy has focused on countering U.S. military capabilities in the Western Pacific, including forward bases throughout Japan and Guam, as well as locations of frequent rotational positioning in the Philippines and Australia.[74] Pentagon estimates indicate that China possesses around 1,200 conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles, 200 to 300 conventionally armed medium-range ballistic missiles, an unknown number of conventionally armed intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and 200 to 300 conventionally armed ground-launched cruise missiles.[75] In 2015, RAND estimated that China’s ballistic missiles have improved guidance systems that allow them to strike within minutes fixed targets accurate to within only a couple of meters.[76] These missiles are all part of China’s “projectile-centric strategy,” which includes close integration of cyber, counterspace, counter-air, and electronic warfare capabilities. It seeks to take advantage of China’s geographic “home turf” position relative to the United States, to exploit American and allies’ lack of depth (particularly given the concentration of forces in Japan), and to leverage financial asymmetries such as the aforementioned “carrier killer” medium-range ballistic missile versus U.S. aircraft-carrier cost imbalance.[77] Notably, this strategy also seeks to exploit the United States’ obligation to abide by the INF Treaty, while China has no such hindrance. Put another way, China has successfully employed a relatively inexpensive “projectile-centric strategy” against America’s cost-prohibitive and transitory platform-based delivery (i.e., aircraft, ship, and submarine) alternative.[78] Additionally, China is executing this strategy with a PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), the strength of which is around 100,000 people, which is approximately 10 times the size of the U.S. 20th Air Force, America’s main ballistic-missile unit.[79] What does all this mean when it comes to potential conventional military conflict between the United States and China? In 2017, Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez, two active-duty U.S. Navy fellows assigned to the Center for a New American Security and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, respectively, conducted an extensive modeling and simulation effort to find out. The results showed the “potential for devastation of U.S. power projection forces and bases in Asia.”[80] While using only about 20 percent of the PLARF’s short-range ballistic missiles, 25 percent of its medium-range ballistic missiles, and 34 to 95 percent of its ground-launched cruise missiles (depending on source), the simulation demonstrated that within minutes after launch the following U.S. capabilities in Japan could be struck: all major command fixed headquarters, almost all U.S. ships in port, nearly every runway at all U.S. airbases, and more than 200 aircraft that were trapped due to runway cratering.[81] Shugart and Gonzalez’s realistic modeling and simulation effort confirmed this 2013 assessment of China scholar Ian Easton:
The Chinese military may achieve strategic effects that until recently were only achievable through the use of nuclear weapons . . . during the Cold War, both NATO and Warsaw Pact forces tasked nuclear missile units with the mission of destroying the other’s key air bases. The PLA plans to achieve the same effect with a relatively small number of ballistic missiles armed with conventional runway penetrating submunitions.[82]
Such dire predictions are likely why the incoming and outgoing heads of U.S. Pacific Command expressed in congressional testimony their serious concern with America’s continued commitment to the INF Treaty. In conjunction with implementing its “projectile-centric strategy,” China is steadily increasing its economic and military influence in the South China Sea and beyond. The most recent electronic warfare, HQ-9 surface-to-air missile, and YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise-missile deployments in the Spratly Islands are just a few examples of the influence extension. A recent fleet naval exercise, including a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing near Taiwan, was another.[83] Beyond these military actions, China is leveraging its growing economy to buy influence in key locations in Asia as well. After U.S. special forces helped the Filipino Marine Corps destroy the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL)/Islamic State Province in East Asia in Marawi last year, Chinese investors swooped in to help rebuild the town.[84] Further south, Chinese businesses are heavily investing in Darwin, Australia.[85] Darwin is home to a deep-water port and multiple nearby strategic airfields and bases that the U.S. military uses and that were used extensively in World War II. Additionally, in April 2018, Chinese investors bid to build an airfield and shopping mall complex on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.[86] Between August 1942 and February 1943, in the first offensive U.S. land battle in the Pacific during World War II, 1,490 Americans were killed in action, with 4,804 others wounded, seizing Guadalcanal from the Japanese.[87] One of the mission’s main purposes was to establish an airfield to enable the Allied “island hopping” campaign to continue further to the west. Cumulatively, China’s steady pressure over multiple decades, steps often just short of instigating a war, have left U.S. policymakers in an extremely tenuous position. In response to China’s increasingly aggressive actions, they have had three options: They could begrudgingly accept Chinese gains; protest by means of increasingly less effective and more dangerous freedom-of-navigation exercises; or hope that America’s nuclear superiority alone will prevent China from ever attempting to seize Taiwan, disputed territory within the Senkaku Islands, or other claimed territories in the South China Sea.[88] Unipolar Moment, Counterterrorism, and U.S. Priorities, 1991 to 2017 After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decisive U.S.-led military victory expelling Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, numerous scholars and foreign policy analysts argued that the bipolar order of the Cold War had been replaced with America’s “unipolar moment.” In a Foreign Affairs article titled “The Unipolar Moment,” Charles Krauthammer wrote:
It has been assumed that the old bipolar world would beget a multipolar world with power dispersed to new centers in Japan, Germany (and/or “Europe”), China and a diminished Soviet Union/Russia. [This is] mistaken. The immediate post-Cold War world is not multipolar. It is unipolar. The center of world power is an unchallenged superpower, the United States, attended by its Western allies.[89]
Such unipolar euphoria continued throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century. Part of this euphoria included U.S. officials’ desire to further integrate China into the global economy. At the time, China’s military expansion was not a major concern. Instead, further opening the Chinese economy to Western markets was a top priority.[90] For this reason, the U.S. encouraged and welcomed China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in November 2001. In the winter of 2001, the United States was newly engaged in war in Afghanistan. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, countering terrorism was America’s foremost national security priority. Terrorism remained the steady priority for nearly 17 years, consistently consuming a preponderance of U.S. policymakers’ attention and budgeting resources in campaigns that expanded from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Niger, Mali, and other undisclosed locations. The U.S. Navy’s senior intelligence officer in the Pacific recently described the Defense Department’s priorities since 2001 in an article titled “How We Lost the Great Pacific War”:
Moving limited resources from the desert to the fleet was a challenge. Every year brought a new fight in the Mideast, which, while never an existential issue for the nation, carried the urgency of real-world operations. Saying no to U.S. Central Command for anything required steeling the soul for bureaucratic battle.[91]
Given the primary national security focus in U.S. Central Command and the Middle East since 2001, combined with enduring INF Treaty constraints on the United States and the overly lengthy celebration of America’s unipolar moment, China could not have picked a more appropriate strategy to deliberately and patiently reassert itself in the Western Pacific.

U.S. Goals in the Indo-Pacific in the Future

During a January 2018 speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced, “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”[92] Mattis’s remarks came on the heels of the National Security Strategy released in December 2017 that specifically calls out China (and Russia) for wanting to shape international affairs in ways that are antithetical to America’s values.[93] Additionally, the strategy explicitly states that “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region … and reorder the region in its favor.”[94] The strategy also recognizes that those who believed that welcoming China’s rise and encouraging its integration into the global economy would lead to Beijing liberalizing and accepting the post-World War II international order have, unfortunately, been proven mistaken. After describing how China is openly challenging U.S. values and interests in Asia, the National Security Strategy describes multiple broad objectives for addressing the problem. First, the strategy directs that the United States must retain overmatch against potential great-power competitors. Overmatch is explained as a combination of “capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success and to ensure that America’s sons and daughters will never be in a fair fight.”[95] The United States has a clear overmatch against China in nuclear weapons capability; however, as Adm. Davidson, Thomas Shugart, and Javier Gonzalez have cautioned, this overmatch does not extend to the most important conventional warfighting capabilities in the Western Pacific. This is critical because the strategy further states that the United States “must convince adversaries that we can and will defeat them — not just punish them if they attack the United States.”[96] [quote id="3"] As things stand, however, it is highly unlikely, for all the reasons described in Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, that Chinese leaders fear the United States and its allies defeating them in a traditional conventional sense. Further, given the ongoing U.S. failure to stop Beijing’s expansionary efforts in the South China Sea — which since early 2017 have included building “about 72 acres, or 290,000 square meters, of new real estate at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratlys, and North, Tree, and Triton Islands in the Paracels” — along with not being willing to include Filipino claims in these disputed waters as part of the U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty, it is also likely that Chinese leaders do not believe American policymakers will resort to nuclear war to halt future expansion.[97]

Image 1: China's militarization of Fiery Cross Reef [98]

Options for Ensuring a Favorable U.S. Military Balance in Asia in the Future

The preceding sections’ analysis makes clear that the United States and its allies no longer have full-spectrum conventional overmatch in the Western Pacific. Additionally, the analysis describes how China maintains an increasingly dominant advantage in the conventional capabilities that arguably matter most in the region given geography: ground-launched short-range ballistic missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and ground-launched cruise missiles. The National Security Strategy directs that the Pentagon “will maintain a forward military presence capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating any adversary, while strengthening our long-standing military relationships and encouraging the development of a strong defense network with our allies and partners.”[99] This section analyzes the four primary options available for achieving these goals: prioritizing a favorable nuclear warfighting capability balance without seeking to regain conventional overmatch against China; seeking to regain conventional warfighting overmatch under the current INF Treaty restrictions; seeking advantages in potential leap-ahead technologies, such as hypersonic weapons and AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, to offset inferiority in traditional conventional warfighting; and the United States renegotiating the INF Treaty or exercising its right to withdraw. Depend on Nuclear Superiority In his new book, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, Matthew Kroenig argues that states that possess nuclear superiority over others “are more likely to achieve their goals in international crises and less likely to be targeted with military challenges in the first place.”[100] This argument is the foundation of Kroenig’s “superiority-brinksmanship synthesis theory”:
A robust nuclear posture reduces a state’s expected cost of war, increasing its resolve in international political disputes, and thus providing it with a coercive advantage over states more vulnerable to a nuclear exchange. When political conflicts of interest emerge, nuclear inferior opponents are less likely to initiate a military challenge and more likely to back down if the crisis escalates.[101]
Kroenig’s book provides more than 70 years’ worth of insightful analysis to support his argument. This analysis includes comparisons between the impact of nuclear versus conventional warfighting superiority in determining outcomes of international crises. Kroenig concludes by explaining that “conventional military power matters in international politics, but not to the exclusion of the nuclear balance.”[102] Kroenig further emphasizes that in crises among nuclear-power states, “the nuclear balance was generally more central than the conventional balance.”[103] Beijing’s ongoing grab for power and influence in the South China Sea presents an interesting case study for Kroenig’s theory. It appears that China is consistently accomplishing its goals against the United States and its allies despite Washington having an advantage of approximately 2,000 nuclear warheads when it comes to either nation’s ability to strike the mainland of the other.[104] Why might this be the case? Five points can help explain why the ongoing China case might be an outlier to Kroenig’s theory. First, Chinese leaders appear to have mastered the concept of brinkmanship as explained by former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art … If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”[105] This ties directly into the second matter: For the past 17 years, Chinese leaders have known that the U.S. military has been focused on the Middle East and that the South China Sea has not been a vital American security interest. Further, between 2008 and 2016, U.S. political leaders went out of their way not to identify China as a potential rival and great-power strategic competitor in the South China Sea, including when President Barack Obama refused Filipino requests to confirm that the bilateral mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Philippines applied to the Spratly Islands similarly to what Obama had agreed to do “for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty and the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.”[106] Third, given the analysis within Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, Chinese leaders know they can destroy the majority of U.S. power-projection capabilities in the Western Pacific within days, if not minutes, of a conflict breaking out, regardless of their nuclear inferiority. Fourth, Chinese leaders know that the United States has a limited capacity of long-range conventional bombers. While these bombers can be launched from outside the PLARF’s missile range and still reach the Chinese mainland, most are vulnerable to China’s increasingly advanced integrated air-defense systems. This assumes, of course, that U.S. policymakers believe the stakes involved in countering a given Chinese action are worth risking American lives. And thus far, they have not been.[107] Fifth, and specific to China’s nuclear inferiority relative to the United States, Chinese leaders have avoided crossing thresholds that they know are more likely to trigger nuclear retaliation, such as attempting to invade Taiwan. All five points have allowed China to methodically expand its military, economic, and even diplomatic influence in the Western Pacific. If the United States and its allies do not pursue a fundamentally different approach, there is no justifiable reason to believe Beijing will halt its aggressive expansionary actions in the South China Sea. Significant nuclear inferiority alone has yet to slow China’s actions. Seek Conventional Warfighting Overmatch Within INF Treaty Restrictions   In a recent article titled “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” T.X. Hammes describes a hypothetical scenario in 2020 that leaves the United States helpless, outside of employing nuclear weapons, to respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.[108] Similar to Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, Hammes describes how easily U.S. forward bases and port facilities could be eliminated within the opening phase of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. A graphic within his article illustrates China’s overwhelming long-range, ground-launched conventional strike advantage over the United States — even if U.S. aircraft carriers are already at sea. Beyond this range imbalance, Hammes focuses on the value of relatively inexpensive, ground-launched cruise missiles, of which China has approximately 200 to 300 with ranges in excess of 1,500 kilometers. He assesses that the ease in moving and hiding these missiles would make them “immune to most pre-emptive strikes.”[109] His article concludes with a disturbing warning:
By remaining focused on offensive operations employing air, land, and sea legacy systems that have been dominant in their domains for over 70 years, the Pentagon risks going the same way as the armored knights and battleships. Rather than continue to invest in systems which are already range obsolete, it is essential for defense analysts to rethink their current procurement strategy.[110]
While range obsolescence is a serious concern for these U.S. conventional capabilities, their cost perhaps provides reason to be even more worried. The Hammes graphic includes the approximately 625-mile range of the F-35 “A” and “C” variant jets. These aircraft cost around $95 million (F-35A) to $122 million (F-35C) per plane.[111] The Marines’ F-35B, not shown in the graphic likely due to range limitations, costs around $122 million each. The F-35As are intended to operate from air bases well within range of Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles. The F-35Cs are envisioned to operate from the Navy’s new $13 billion Gerald Ford-class aircraft carriers.[112] The Marines’ shorter-range F-35Bs are projected to operate from $3 billion amphibious assault ships and, assuming the aircraft’s high maintenance and sustainment costs can be greatly reduced, expeditionary advanced bases that will, in theory, be harder for China to target due to anticipated difficulty in locating the sites.[113] Each service’s F-35 operating concept briefs well until challenged with realistic assessments of Chinese ballistic- and cruise-missile capabilities. When these assessments are incorporated, it quickly becomes apparent how illogical the Pentagon’s F-35 procurement plans are. Moreover, given that the U.S. national debt recently eclipsed $21 trillion, the F-35’s range obsolescence and cost,[114] along with the even more expensive ships required to bring them to the fight (F-35B/C) and land- and sea-based missile-defense systems required in hopes of protecting the F-35s, one cannot help but wonder whether there are better options to counter China’s growing conventional warfighting superiority.[115] Potential Leap-Ahead Technologies In addition to describing the benefits of land-based missiles that are easy to disperse and hide, the Hammes article emphasized the importance of investing in autonomous systems and other emerging technologies, such as AI and additive manufacturing. “The convergence of advances in task-specific AI, advanced manufacturing, and drones,” Hammes wrote, “are creating a new generation of small, smart, and cheap weapons that have significant range advantage over America’s current arsenal of few but exquisite weapons.”[116] Other observers have come to similar conclusions when focused specifically on military operational challenges in the Western Pacific.[117] Semi-autonomous and autonomous systems, including AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, have great potential to help the United States and its allies regain their conventional military superiority in the South China Sea. This, of course, assumes that China does not gain overwhelming overmatch first, which could happen given reports suggesting Beijing has already fielded a reverse-engineered, 500-kilometer-range lethal autonomous weapons system to target adversary radars.[118] China has also already demonstrated a 56-unmanned boat swarm focused on targeting ships and has an exhibit at its military museum depicting “a UAV swarm combat system with swarms used for reconnaissance, jamming, and ‘swarm assault’ targeting an aircraft carrier.”[119] Hypersonic weapons are another promising innovation on the horizon. These weapons are envisioned to be able to reliably travel at speeds greater than five times that of sound.[120] The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is already working with the U.S. Air Force on multiple hypersonic weapons programs. Flight testing is expected to start in 2019, with initial prototypes built in 2022. If these weapons meet their potential, they will be able to defeat all current missile-defense systems while traveling at multi-thousand-mile ranges.[121] China claims to have successfully tested its first hypersonic weapon in August 2018.[122] A month earlier, Russia released a video purportedly showing its own hypersonic weapon test.[123] The potential upside of emerging technologies such as AI, AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, and hypersonic weapons is enormous. Successfully developing these capabilities is essential for future U.S. security interests, particularly given how heavily China and Russia are investing in them already. Specific to the ongoing problem in the South China Sea, though, it would be unwise to place in these new technologies all hopes of the United States regaining competitive conventional warfighting advantage in the near term. Most of the technologies are in their initial development phases. How they will perform in live combat conditions is far from certain. As has been described when discussing the potential of hypersonic weapons, “[I]t is nearly impossible to predict how a bunch of interconnected metal and electronics are going to behave moving at those speeds.”[124] In the case of AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, Defense Department Directive 3000.09 even appears to prohibit their development, as described earlier when highlighting the confusion over the “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” criterion.[125] While some have suggested the directive could permit AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems with approved waivers, the confusion alone has already delayed their development and is likely to continue to do so.[126] For this reason, it is essential to clarify Directive 3000.09 to ensure that the military services — particularly officials in requirements and acquisitions — understand that “human start the loop” lethal autonomous weapons systems are authorized. The potential for such systems to raise adversary escalation costs is immense, especially if fielded to the nation’s close-combat forces operating in thick vegetation and complex terrain within the “first island chain.”[127] [quote id="4"] Even if the U.S. military already had access to proven hypersonic weapons and AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, military innovation literature consistently highlights that technology alone is not sufficient to produce an increase in capability. How new technologies are integrated throughout military organizations, from doctrine development to employment concepts to manning and training, is ultimately what proves decisive.[128] For all of these reasons, the United States should continue to invest in developing these emerging capabilities, aggressively experiment with prototypes, war-game potential operational concepts, and seek to field the best technological innovations as quickly as possible. At the same time, however, U.S. policymakers should develop a plan that sets America and its allies on course to regain full-spectrum conventional warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific within the next few years. These emerging capabilities can then add to this dominance. Renegotiate or Exercise the Right to Withdraw from the INF Treaty The final option involves doing what the president recently ordered since Russia refuses to return to compliance with the treaty and China continues to express no interest in joining it: make clear that America will exercise its legal right to withdraw while expressing a desire to renegotiate the treaty should Moscow and Beijing choose to be responsible members of the international community.[129] To be sure, the INF Treaty’s Euro-centric focus has had a net-positive impact in Europe over the past 31 years, and most NATO allies strongly support maintaining the INF regime in some form. It is past time to address the treaty’s debilitating impacts on U.S. security interests in the Western Pacific. As Adm. Harry B. Harris explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2017:
I think there’s goodness in the INF Treaty, anything you can do to limit nuclear weapons writ large is generally good … But the aspects of the INF Treaty that limit our ability to counter Chinese and other countries’ cruise missiles, land-based missiles, I think is problematic … I would never advocate unilateral withdrawing from the treaty because of the nuclear limitation part of it, but I do think we should look at renegotiating the treaty, we should consider it, because … there’s only two countries that signed on to it and one of them doesn’t follow it, so that becomes a unilateral limitation on us.[130]
What are the best ways to go about accomplishing Adm. Harris’s goals? Pursuing INF Treaty renegotiation would inevitably be a complex and multifaceted endeavor. Reaching a bilateral agreement on the treaty in 1987 took more than six years and involved inching ever closer to nuclear war, complex alliance negotiations with NATO, and a nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Regardless of the likely challenges to renegotiation, continuing to express a willingness to pursue such an endeavor is worthwhile, if for no other reason than as a good-faith gesture by the United States to the rest of the world. In the long run, this endeavor might be the only way to save the spirit of the INF Treaty from meeting the same fate as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. When exercising America’s legal right to withdraw from this treaty in 2002 for reasons of U.S. national security, President George W. Bush explained that “we no longer live in the Cold War world for which the ABM Treaty was designed.”[131] President Bush’s observation is similarly applicable today regarding the INF Treaty. We live in a multipolar world, and it includes two revisionist, strategic-power competitors that routinely challenge U.S. interests. One of these powers, Russia, has ignored its obligations under the INF Treaty for nearly four years.[132] The other power, China, refused U.S. and Russian offers in 2007 and 2008 to become a treaty member and has fielded around 2,000 missiles that are not compliant with the INF Treaty and are holding at risk U.S. and allied forces in the Western Pacific. These hard truths should form the foundation of renegotiation efforts. Specifically, U.S. policymakers should make clear these three points going into such talks: To address these points, the United States could initially request a trilateral summit on the future of the INF Treaty.[134] At such a summit, Washington should offer five potential paths forward:
  1. All three nations advocate a worldwide ban on the missiles and launchers currently prohibited by the INF Treaty. This would require Russia to return to compliance and China — as well as other countries, such as India, Pakistan, and South Korea — to eliminate its inventories of these systems.[135]
  2. A new INF Treaty with three signatories: the United States, Russia, and China. This treaty would maintain the 1987 restrictions, as well as requiring Russia to return to compliance within a period of six months. China would have to begin destruction of missiles and launchers immediately, with all non-compliant missiles eliminated within four years, similar to the timeframe for the United States and Soviet Union to destroy all of their systems. All signatories would also participate in regular compliance inspections for a period spanning no less than 15 years.
  3. A three-signatory treaty akin to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) focused on numerical limitations on missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, capping each nation’s inventory at no more than 100 weapon systems. This quantity would provide each nation a credible deterrent capability without giving any country an asymmetric offensive advantage.[136]
  4. A modified and re-ratified U.S.-Russian bilateral INF Treaty that permitted, as per Jim Thomas’s recommendations, relaxing limitations on land-based missile capabilities outside of Europe.[137] These modifications would also include permitting deployment of “forward-based, ground-launched systems (conventional weapons delivery only) outside that geographic area with ranges between 500 to 2,000 kilometers.”[138] These two steps would allow adequate targeting range to potentially counter the most pressing Chinese threats while still prohibiting land-based missiles with ranges of 2,000 to 5,500 kilometers. This latter constraint would likely address anticipated concerns of European allies by preventing Russian missile units from being permitted to move west of the Ural Mountains. Simultaneously, the constraint would likely allay Russian concerns that any future conventionally armed U.S. (or U.S. ally) ground-launched missile deployment would threaten Moscow.[139]
  5. If none of these pathways is deemed acceptable, an understanding that the United States will follow through on President Trump’s announcements and withdraw from the INF Treaty in 2019. Should this be the only pathway, the United States will then field ground-launched missile capabilities commensurate to those China currently employs. Additionally, the United States will be open to providing these weapons systems to mutual defense treaty allies and strategic partners in Asia. This path would also include a dual-track component similar to the one offered by NATO in 1979: If Russia and China ultimately agree to a new INF Treaty, then the United States would eliminate its newly fielded missiles while encouraging its treaty allies to do the same.
Unfortunately, it would not be a surprise if the proposed U.S. good-faith effort met outright resistance from Russia and China. Both nations’ actions over the past decade provide plentiful reasons to consider with skepticism the first four proposed pathways. Regardless of the low probability that Russia and China would agree with any of the four proposals, the United States would be well-served by one last good-faith attempt. U.S. allies and partners would likely welcome this approach as responsible and understandable. Additionally, achieving a decision on any of these five pathways would give the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and policymakers in Washington the opportunity to enhance U.S. deterrence capabilities in the Western Pacific.[140] All of these pathways would also provide U.S. policymakers the ability to conduct diplomacy regarding Chinese economic and military expansion efforts from a position of conventional strength, which they do not possess today. And of the four potential options considered within this section — depend on nuclear superiority, seek conventional warfighting overmatch within INF Treaty restrictions, pursue potential leap-ahead technologies, and renegotiate or withdraw from the INF Treaty — to achieve the National Security Strategy’s goals, renegotiation or withdrawal is the only viable option in the near term. Adding a layer (or layers) to this option over the next five years with capabilities such as AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, focused specifically against potential adversary assault support platforms required to conduct a conventional military force invasion, should be a goal as well.

New U.S. Military Strategic Approach in the Western Pacific, 2018 and Beyond

While it would be ideal if Russia and China agreed to a three-party INF Treaty, or advocated a comprehensive worldwide INF Treaty or even a SALT-like one, this section proceeds with the assumption that both Russian and Chinese behavior over the past decade provide plenty of evidence to suggest that they would deem none of these pathways acceptable. This, then, leaves pathways four and five as the most likely probabilities. In either of these cases, the recommended military strategic approach for the United States in the Western Pacific would be similar. The overarching goal would be to increase U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities by drastically raising escalation costs should China contemplate attacking key American allies or continuing expansion efforts in the South China Sea.[141] Decreasing China’s probability for success calculus would be a concurrent goal. Simultaneously, the new strategy would make unmistakably clear to mutual defense treaty allies and regional partners that the United States has every intention of not merely maintaining but expanding its commitments in Asia. Further strengthening U.S. security relationships with treaty allies Japan and the Philippines would be central pillars of the strategy. For Japan, this would involve locating new ground-launched missiles within Okinawa Prefecture that could threaten Chinese military forces in the Western Pacific. Due to China’s ongoing military build-up and aggressive behavior, Japan’s Self-Defense Force is currently taking actions that would have been unthinkable to many only 10 to 15 years ago.[142] For example, the Japanese Self-Defense Force now has a surveillance radar site at Miyako, within Okinawa Prefecture; the Japanese are in the process of installing anti-ship missiles throughout their southwestern islands; and they are already working closely with U.S. units to ensure that these types of capabilities are interoperable between both nations’ militaries.[143] The new missile units would be in thickly vegetated areas or underground, and they would be road-mobile to complicate Chinese targeting efforts. Finding missile systems that routinely move within thickly vegetated areas would compel China to commit extensive intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance resources to the task. It would also incentivize China to invest in more missile-defense capabilities. Ultimately, for the U.S.-Japanese alliance, the long-term goal would be for these forces to be partnered and fully interoperable such that both nations’ military units possessed the capabilities and are able to deter and, if required, respond to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea.[144] Given recent tensions between the United States and the Philippines — which include President Rodrigo Duterte openly stating that America “cannot be trusted to fulfill its treaty commitments” — bolstering the U.S. security relationship with Manila would likely prove harder than doing so with Tokyo.[145] “Harder” is not hopeless, however. If new land-based missiles can provide U.S. policymakers with warfighting capability deemed strong enough to warrant granting the Philippines’ territorial claims in the Spratly Islands as part of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the Filipino president might welcome this type of cooperation. [quote id="5"] Assuming this enhanced capability, combined with America’s nuclear superiority relative to China, achieves this Duterte goal, then multiple options exist for how the land-based missiles could be employed. A permanently based U.S. missile unit in the Philippines is likely to be a non-starter for Manila. Rotating such units into the Philippines on training exercises as part of the 2014 U.S.-Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement could be welcomed in concert with other confidence-building steps.[146] After all, Article 1 of the agreement explains that the pact is intended to ensure that both countries can satisfy mutual defense treaty obligations to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack,” and Duterte recently began allowing U.S. multi-domain task forces to conduct training exercises with the Filipino military toward this end.[147] He also approved further increasing exercises with U.S. military forces.[148] China is the only potential state-actor threat to the Philippines in the South China Sea. Perhaps even more welcome than only rotating U.S. land-based missile units through would be if Washington provided the capabilities for the Filipino military. On multiple occasions, Duterte has expressed displeasure with the quantity and quality of U.S. military aid to the Philippines.[149] Receiving new, conventionally-armed ground-launched missiles would almost certainly bolster Duterte’s confidence in the U.S. commitment to the Philippines. Once in the Philippines, missiles would ideally be deployed to Palawan Island, which ranges from approximately 333 to 750 kilometers from the Spratly Islands and is home to one of the agreed-upon coalition bases for the United States to use.[150] Deploying missiles underground or within Palawan’s thickly vegetated areas would, much like doing so in Okinawa Prefecture, greatly complicate Chinese targeting efforts. These missiles would also provide the Philippines an enduring ability to hold Chinese military forces in the South China Sea — such as the ones on Subi Reef — at risk. That is a significant capability gap typically only filled when a U.S. aircraft carrier is deployed in the region.[151] Even during these times, depending on U.S. aircraft carriers for support in or near the Spratly Islands is an increasingly risky proposition due to the PLARF’s increasing DF-21 capabilities.[152] Changing the INF Treaty would not require major modifications in relationships with U.S. allies and partners in Asia outside of Japan and the Philippines, although such changes could potentially create opportunities to strengthen those bonds. The new missile units could participate in routine joint exercises and coalition training. They would also reassure allies and partners of how seriously the United States is committed to maintaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.

Image 2: China's Militarization of Subi Reef [153]

This reassurance applies to potential U.S. missile units positioned in American territories in the Pacific as well. Moreover, this reassurance would apply for easily maneuverable U.S. close-combat units that are hard to track and locate and that are equipped with AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems designed to destroy adversary landing craft and other platforms required to conduct an invasion.[154]

Possible Objections

Before considering likely objections from critics, it is important to emphasize — again — that the strategic approach proposed in this article assumes China will continue to refuse, at least initially, any effort to globalize the INF Treaty and that Russia will not resume compliance.[155] Since the 2007 and 2008 offers to China to join the INF Treaty, Beijing has expanded the PLARF’s land-based missile capabilities.[156] Further, this article assumes that China will not unilaterally decide to eliminate its thousands of ground-launched missile capabilities. These baseline assumptions are important when considering possible objections. Some will argue that modifying the INF Treaty as described in the fourth pathway or withdrawing from it altogether would lead to an arms race in Asia. But China has already decided to pursue this option and was not satisfied with a missile advantage in the tens or even hundreds. Beijing has obtained an estimated 2,000 missiles — the clear majority of which falls within the parameters banned by the INF Treaty. If China continues to refuse to globalize the treaty or to unilaterally and voluntarily eliminate its 2,000 missiles, then the United States has no choice but to pursue withdrawal from the treaty. Others are likely to argue that U.S. allies will not welcome Washington renegotiating, or worst case, withdrawing from the treaty, nor will they allow American ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles to be forward-based in their countries. In the case of Europe, NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has supported the United States’ decision, stating, “[T]he treaty is not working if it’s only being respected by one side. The problem, the threat, the challenge is Russian behavior, which has been ongoing for a long time.”[157] Such an argument may have merit in South Korea amid ongoing “de-nuclearization” talks.[158]  However, given all that Japan is investing in its military, including for missile-defense systems, F-35As, long-range surveillance aircraft, land-based anti-ship missiles, naval combatant vessels, amphibious ships, and even creating an “Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade,”[159] it is  unlikely that Tokyo would deny such a request.[160] While Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Saga, recently described potential U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty as “undesirable,” he also said, “[C]hanges in the global security environment, such as Russia’s significant violation … are serious issues in light of our country’s peace and stability.”[161] It is more likely that Japan would eventually ask to partner with the United States, having their own interoperable systems. As previously mentioned, the government in Manila might request an interoperable capability for the Filipino army, while possibly allowing new U.S. systems to participate in training exercises such as the recently completed Balikatan or KAMANDAG.[162] Australia, like Japan, has heavily invested in new advanced capabilities to help counter China’s aggressive actions. These capabilities, including an amphibious brigade, ships for this force, F-35As, and long-range surveillance aircraft, were carefully chosen to ensure maximum interoperability with the U.S. military.[163] Additionally, Australia has welcomed a semi-permanent, multi-thousand-personnel U.S. Marine force operating out of Darwin.[164] The proposed land-based missile units could become part of this semi-permanent force in the future, operated by the United States alone, in partnership with the Australian Defense Force, or possibly by only the Australian force. The U.S. military could also forward-base new capabilities in Guam, as it already does with long-range bombers, surveillance aircraft, submarines, and a variety of other capabilities, or position them in other U.S. territories in the Pacific.[165] Other critics might argue that renegotiating or following through and withdrawing from the INF Treaty in 2019 would risk stalling or even derailing “de-nuclearization” efforts with North Korea. In fact, the world will know in the coming months how committed Kim Jong-un is to dismantling his nuclear weapons program. If it is clear that he is serious and that the United States renegotiating or withdrawing from the INF Treaty could cause him to change course, then perhaps the United States might want to delay such efforts by a few months, while prioritizing elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula first. Even if this path is pursued, initial development efforts for a new Pershing II or similar missile should commence in 2019. After all, the United States is the only major power abiding by the INF Treaty. Simultaneously, the United States should set concrete timelines with North Korea on dismantling its nuclear program. If, within a year, Kim Jong-un has not demonstrated major dismantlement on the path toward complete elimination, and allowed international inspectors to confirm this, the United States should proceed with INF Treaty renegotiation or withdrawal efforts. [quote id="6"] Another potential objection is that renegotiating or withdrawing from the INF Treaty and creating new integrated ground-launched cruise- and ballistic-missile concepts of employment are not necessary to accomplish U.S. security objectives in the Western Pacific. Instead, those holding this belief might argue that all that is necessary to stop Chinese aggression and expansionary efforts is for the United States to confirm publicly that Filipino territorial claims within the Spratly Islands are part of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.[166] As such, if China were to violate Filipino sovereignty, it would automatically be declaring war on the United States (and its superior nuclear arsenal). In other words, those making this argument would say that the United States simply needs to make clear to Beijing that Filipino claims in the Spratly Islands are the equivalent of American claims. And if these claims are violated, Matthew Kroenig’s “superiority-brinksmanship synthesis theory” directly applies, which China likely does not account for absent this public commitment from Washington.[167] Of the four possible objections, this one is the most interesting because it is all but impossible to know whether it would work. Kroenig’s historical analysis suggests that it would. Yet if public recognition by the United States of Filipino claims in the South China Sea were all that is needed to halt China’s expansion and militarization efforts in the disputed waters, then why hasn’t Washington already done so? It is likely that growing gaps in U.S. conventional warfighting capability relative to China are the primary reason this has not happened. U.S. policymakers likely believe, given the geography and relative differences in conventional combat power in the South China Sea, that depending on nuclear superiority alone is too risky.

Peace Through Strength

So where does the United States go from here on the INF Treaty? This article argued that the United States should continue to try to make a deal on a renegotiated INF Treaty while also making clear that if Moscow and Beijing do not both commit to doing so then Washington will, as the least preferred option, exercise its right to withdraw from the treaty in 2019. Simultaneously, the United States should field AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to its military forces. These capabilities are critical to restoring America’s full-spectrum conventional military warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific. I also reviewed how the United States and its treaty allies lost this dominance over the past few decades — how China took advantage of U.S. overconfidence in its unipolar moment and, since 2001, the overwhelming U.S. focus on counterterrorism operations in the Middle East to exploit gaps in the INF Treaty. China has fielded around 2,000 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles — around 95 percent of which would violate the INF Treaty if China were a signatory — that hold at risk all U.S. bases, ports, and even deployed ships in the Western Pacific. China has also fielded a 500-kilometer range lethal autonomous weapon system. With this overwhelming advantage in conventional-strike capability, China subsequently embarked on an aggressive campaign to build and occupy islands in the South China Sea to expand its economic and military influence. Next, I described the National Security Strategy’s intent to restore American dominance in the Western Pacific. The article considered four potential options for the United States to regain its conventional warfighting advantage, alongside its nuclear superiority, in the region. I ultimately recommended the path that America is headed down, a dual-track withdrawal from the INF Treaty as the only viable near-term path to achieve the National Security Strategy intent, while encouraging fielding specifically focused AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to U.S. close-combat units as quickly as possible. Finally, the article considered the most likely objections to this recommendation. To be sure, it is unfortunate that China’s pursuit of a “projectile-centric” anti-access/area-denial strategy, in conjunction with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive economic and military expansion efforts in the South China Sea, has forced the United States into a position requiring INF Treaty renegotiation or withdrawal, as well as embracing AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems. After welcoming and even encouraging China’s acceptance into the global economy shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and later offering to “globalize” the INF Treaty, one might have hoped that Beijing would have taken a different path. But China did not. It is also increasingly clear that China seeks to dominate the South China Sea, erode U.S. military alliances in Asia, and threaten the post-World War II rules-based international order, including with autonomous weapons. For the United States to achieve the objectives described in the National Security Strategy, thereby stopping China from achieving its goals, it must renegotiate or exercise its right to withdraw from the INF Treaty immediately. Simultaneously, the Pentagon should move as quickly as possible to equip close-combat units with AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to add another key layer to its deterrent capabilities. These actions are essential to future U.S. security interests in the Pacific. Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions and suggestions, the author would like to thank Michael Albertson, Elizabeth Charles, T.X. Hammes, Frank Hoffman, Ben Jensen, Matthew Kroenig, James Graham Wilson, Ryan Evans, an anonymous reviewer, and the Texas National Security Review editing team. Any remaining shortcomings are solely the author’s responsibility. Scott A. Cuomo is a Marine infantry officer and operational planner currently participating in the Commandant of the Marine Corps Strategist Program at Georgetown University. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => It's Time to Make a New Deal: Solving the INF Treaty's Strategic Liabilities to Achieve U.S. Security Goals in Asia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => its-time-to-make-a-new-deal-solving-the-inf-treatys-strategic-liabilities-to-achieve-u-s-security-goals-in-asia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-09 17:54:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-09 21:54:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The United States and its allies need a different approach to deter China in the Western Pacific. After building islands in the South China Sea’s disputed waters, claiming they were for peaceful purposes, China recently militarized them. Chinese military units then threatened U.S., allied, and civilian ships and aircraft operating in the region. These Chinese forces are backed by the world’s best conventionally-armed, land-based missile force. U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty compliance and reluctance to field autonomous weapons has limited the Pentagon’s ability to counter Chinese actions. This article describes a new approach that enables achieving U.S. security goals in Asia. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [A]ppreciate that for the $13 billion cost of a single new U.S. Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier, China can field an estimated 1,227 DF-21D “carrier killer” medium-range ballistic missiles. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Fortunately, the tensions never reached a boiling point. Reagan’s fervent beliefs that “no one can ‘win’ a nuclear war” and his desire to engage with Soviet leadership were the primary reasons. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The U.S. has a clear overmatch against China in nuclear weapons capability; however...this overmatch does not extend to the most important conventional warfighting capabilities in the Western Pacific. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Specific to the ongoing problem in the South China Sea, though, it would be unwise to place in these new technologies all hopes of the U.S. regaining competitive conventional warfighting advantage in the near term. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Ultimately, for the U.S.-Japanese alliance, the long-term goal would be for these forces to be partnered and fully interoperable... ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => For the United States to achieve the objectives described in the National Security Strategy, thereby stopping China from achieving its goals, it must renegotiate or exercise its right to withdraw from the INF Treaty immediately. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1286 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 222 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Evan Braden Montgomery, “Contested Primacy in the Western Pacific: China’s Rise and the Future of U.S. Power Projection,” International Security 38, no. 4 (Spring 2014): 115-49 and James Holmes, “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” Proceedings, June 2018, 27-31. [2] David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “U.S. to Tell Russia It Is Leaving Landmark I.N.F. Treaty," New York Times, Oct. 19, 2018, [3] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. to Terminate Arms-Control Treaty Over Russia’s ‘Violations,’” Oct. 21, 2018, [4] John Hudson and Paul Sonne, “Bolton Pushes Trump Administration to Withdraw from Landmark Arms Treaty,” Washington Post, Oct. 19, 2018, [5] “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” State Department, July 2014,; Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez, First Strike: China’s Missile Threat to U.S. Bases in Asia (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, June 2017); Karoun Demirjian, “Lawmakers Take Steps Toward Nullifying Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia,” Washington Post, May 10, 2018,; H.R. 5515, “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,” July 2018, 1029–34, [6] “Advance Policy Questions for Admiral Philip Davidson, USN, Expected Nominee for Commander, U.S. Pacific Command,” April 17, 2018, [7] “Hearing to Receive Testimony on United States Pacific Command and United States Forces Korea,” Senate Armed Services Committee, April 27, 2017, [8] “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty),” State Department, Dec. 8, 1987, [9] Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike, 4. [10] Eric Sayers, “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Future of the Indo-Pacific Military Balance,” War on the Rocks, Feb. 13, 2018, [11] Ankit Panda, “The Uncertain Future of the INF Treaty,” Council on Foreign Relations, Oct. 22, 2018, [12] This map has been reprinted here with permission from the RAND Corporation. The original can be found in Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017, RR-393-AF, (RAND Corporation, September 2015), [13] See, for example, Jim Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty,” July 17, 2014,; Sayers, “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Future of the Indo-Pacific Military Balance”; Patrick M. Cronin and Hunter Stires, “China Is Waging a Maritime Insurgency in the South China Sea. It’s Time for the United States to Counter It,” National Interest, Aug. 6, 2018,; Elbridge Colby and Jonathan F. Solomon, “Avoiding Becoming a Paper Tiger: Presence in a Warfighting Defense Strategy,” Joint Force Quarterly 82, no. 3 (2016), 24-32,; and  David Ochmanek et al., U.S. Military Capabilities and Forces for a Dangerous World: Rethinking the U.S. Approach to Force Planning (RAND Corporation, 2017), xii and 10-11, ttps:// [14] As one example, see the dialogue between Sen. Tom Cotton and Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. in “Hearing to Receive Testimony on United States Pacific Command and United States Forces Korea,” Senate Armed Services Committee, April 27, 2017, [15] See, for example, Steven Pifer, “The Trump Administration Is Preparing a Major Mistake on the INF Treaty,” Brookings Institution, Oct. 19, 2018, [16] Defense Department, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017,” 57, [17] The gross domestic product comparative data are from the World Bank, [18] Gregory B. Poling and Conor Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish,” War on the Rocks, May 17, 2018,; and Cronin and Stires, “China Is Waging a Maritime Insurgency in the South China Sea.” [19] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. to Terminate Arms-Control Treaty Over Russia’s ‘Violations.’” [20] The image source is the Defense Department’s “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017,” 11, [21] Michael J. Green, By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 543. [22] Henry J. (Jerry) Hendrix, “At What Cost a Carrier,” Center for a New American Security, March 2013, 8, [23] T.X. Hammes, “The Future of Warfare: Small, Many, Smart Vs. Few & Exquisite?” War on the Rocks, July 16, 2014, [24] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty”; Jeff Cummings, Scott Cuomo, Olivia Garard, and Noah Spataro, “Marine Warbot Companies: Where Naval Warfare, the U.S. National Defense Strategy, and Close Combat Lethality Task Force Intersect,” War on the Rocks, June 28, 2018, Additionally, for more information on lethal autonomous weapons, including those reported in China’s inventory, see Paul Scharre, The Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018), 47–50. [25] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. to Terminate Arms-Control Treaty Over Russia’s ‘Violations.’” [26] Department of Defense Policy Directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” May 8, 2017, [27] “Autonomy in Weapon Systems.” [28] Michael J. Mazarr, “The Real History of the Liberal Order: Neither Myth Nor Accident,” Foreign Affairs, Aug. 7, 2018, [29] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House, December 2017, [30] David Holloway, “The Dynamics of the Euromissile Crisis, 1977–1983” in The Euromissile Crisis and the End of the Cold War, ed. Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic Bozo, Marie-Pierre Rey, and Bernd Rother (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015), 11–12; and Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 134–35. [31] Holloway, “The Dynamics of the Euromissile Crisis, 1977–1983,” 12–13. [32] Holloway, “The Dynamics of the Euromissile Crisis, 1977–1983,” 16–17. [33] Martin Walker, The Cold War: A History (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), 246–48. [34] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 60–61. [35] Andrew Axelrod, “Hours After Assassin’s Release Ronald Reagan’s Family Publish Controversial Statement,” Life Aspire, Aug. 10, 2016, [36] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 149. [37] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 175. [38] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 160–63. [39] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly. [40] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 162; and Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 582–86. [41] Dmitry Adamsky, “‘Not Crying Wolf’: Soviet Intelligence and the 1983 Scare,” in The Euromissile Crisis and the End of the Cold War, ed. Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic Bozo, Marie-Pierre Rey, and Bernd Rother (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015), 56-57. [42] Adamsky, “‘Not Crying Wolf.’” [43] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 164. [44] Adamsky, “‘Not Crying Wolf,’” 56-57. [45] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 165. [46] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 166. [47] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 166. [48] Reagan, An American Life, 550; and Melvyn P. Leffler, “Ronald Reagan and the Cold War: What Mattered Most,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 3 (May 2018): 77–89, [49] Reagan, An American Life, 550; and Marilena Gala, “The Euromissile Crisis and the Centrality of the ‘Zero Option,’” in The Euromissile Crisis and the End of the Cold War, ed. Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic Bozo, Marie-Pierre Rey, and Bernd Rother (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015), 161–62. [50] Reagan, An American Life, 554. [51] Reagan, An American Life, 586–87. [52] Reagan, An American Life, 11–13. [53] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 212; Elizabeth C. Charles, “Gorbachev and the Decision to Decouple the Arms Control Package,” in The Euromissile Crisis and the End of the Cold War, ed. Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic Bozo, Marie-Pierre Rey, and Bernd Rother (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015), 66–84; and James Graham Wilson, “The Nuclear and Space Talks, George Shultz, and the End of the Cold War,” in New Perspectives on the End of the Cold War: Unexpected Transformations? ed. Bernhard Blumenau, Jussi M. Hanhimaki, and Barbara Zanchetta (New York: Routledge, 2018), 35. [54] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 212. [55] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 69. [56] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 219. [57] Howard A. Tyner, “Gorbachev Offers Gesture on Missiles,” Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1985, [58] Reagan, An American Life, 11–16. [59] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 3–26 and 227–28. [60] Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, 21. [61] Reagan, An American Life, 676, 685, and 710; Charles, “Gorbachev and the Decision to Decouple the Arms Control Package,” 81; and Svetlana Savranskaya, “Learning to Disarm: Mikhail Gorbachev’s Interactive Learning and Changes in the Soviet Negotiating Positions Leading to the INF Treaty,” in The Euromissile Crisis and the End of the Cold War, ed. Leopoldo Nuti, Frederic Bozo, Marie-Pierre Rey, and Bernd Rother (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2015), 90–91. [62] INF Treaty, [63] INF Treaty, [64] Panda, “The Uncertain Future of the INF Treaty.” [65] Sayers, “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Future of the Indo-Pacific Military Balance”; and David T. Jones, “Asian Arms Control Attitudes Post-INF,” in The Reagan-Gorbachev Arms Control Breakthrough: The Treaty Eliminating Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Missiles, ed. David T. Jones (Vellum, 2012), 263–76. [66] Jones, “Asian Arms Control Attitudes Post-INF,” 272–76. [67] “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” State Department, 2018,; and Nuclear Posture Review, Defense Department (February 2018), 10, [68] Matthew Kroenig, “Washington Must Respond to Russia’s New Nuclear Missile,” Atlantic Council, Feb. 14, 2017, [69] John M. Donnelly, “Hill Wants Answers on Russia’s Fielding of New Missiles,” Roll Call, March 8, 2017, [70] “Consequences and Context for Russia’s Violations of the INF Treaty,” House Armed Services Committee, March 30, 2017,; and Jeffrey Lewis, “So Long, INF?” Arms Control Wonk, March 10, 2005, [71] “Hearing to Receive Testimony on United States Pacific Command and United States Forces Korea,” [72] Demirjian, “Lawmakers Take Steps Toward Nullifying Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia.” [73] Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia,” International Security 41, no. 1 (Summer 2016): 7–48,; and Sayers, “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Future of the Indo-Pacific Military Balance.” [74] Montgomery, “Contested Primacy in the Western Pacific”; Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike; and Defense Department, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017,” 57, [75] Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike, 4. [76] Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 19962017 (RAND Corporation, September 2015), 47–54, [77] Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard. [78] Hendrix, “At What Cost a Carrier.” [79] Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike, 2. [80] Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike, 1. [81] Shugart and Gonzalez, First Strike, 13; T.X. Hammes, “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” War on the Rocks, March 12, 2018, For more on the increasing lethality of such weapons, see Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 9-49, [82] Ian Easton, “China’s Military Strategy in the Asia-Pacific: Implications for Regional Stability,” Project 2049 Institute, Sept. 26, 2013, 13–14, [83] James Pearson and Greg Torode, “Exclusive: Satellite Images Reveal Show of Force by Chinese Navy in South China Sea,” Reuters, March 27, 2018, [84] Ben C. Solomon and Felipe Villamor, “Filipinos Get a Glimpse of Their Ruined City. The Chinese Get the Contract,” New York Times, April 10, 2018, [85] Helen Davidson, “Chinese Company Secures 99-Year Lease of Darwin Port in $506M Deal,” Guardian, Oct. 13, 2015, [86] Bernard Lagan, “Australia Fears China’s Military Might on Pacific Isle,” Times (London), May 1, 2018, [87] Aaron B. O’Connell, Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 46–48; and Edwin Howard Simmons, The United States Marines: A History (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1974), 136–37. [88] Cronin and Stires, “China Is Waging a Maritime Insurgency in the South China Sea. It’s Time for the United States to Counter It.” [89] Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” Foreign Affairs 70, no. 1 (1990/1991), 23, [90] “China Officially Joins WTO,” CNN, Nov. 11, 2001, [91] Dale Rielage, “How We Lost the Great Pacific War,” Proceedings 144, no. 5 (May 2018), [92] William Braniff and Alex Gallo, “New Defense Strategy Requires Paradigm Shift in US Counterterrorism,” Hill, Jan. 27, 2018, [93] National Security Strategy. [94] National Security Strategy, 25. [95] National Security Strategy, 28. [96] National Security Strategy, 28. [97] “A Constructive Year for Chinese Base Building,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Dec. 14, 2017,; Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [98] This image can be found at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative: [99] National Security Strategy, 45. [100] Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 189. [101] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 3–4. [102] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 192. [103] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 192. [104] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 154. [105] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 154. [106] Bill Hayton, “Is Tillerson Willing to Go to War Over the South China Sea?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 13, 2017,; Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [107] Ross Babbage, “It Is High Time to Outmaneuver Beijing in the South China Sea,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 28, 2016, [108] Hammes, “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” [109] Hammes, “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” [110] Hammes, “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” [111] Jeff Daniels, “Lockheed’s F-35 Deal Ratchets Up Pressure to Slash Production Costs,” CNBC, Feb. 3, 2017, [112] Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “F-35C & Ford Carriers — A Wrong Turn for Navy: CNAS,” Breaking Defense, Oct. 19, 2015, [113] Sam LaGrone, “Keel Laid for Amphibious Warship Tripoli,” USNI News, June 20, 2014,; Robert C. Owen, “Distributed STOVL Operations and Air-Mobility Support: Addressing the Mismatch Between Requirements and Capabilities,” Naval War College Review 69, no. 4 (2016): 30–48, [114] Aaron Mehta, “Pentagon ‘Can’t Afford the Sustainment Costs’ on F-35, Lord Says,” Defense News, Feb. 1, 2018, [115] Robert Schroeder, “U.S. National Debt Exceeds $21 Trillion for First Time,” MarketWatch, March 16, 2018, [116] Hammes, “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” [117] David Ignatius, “The Chinese Threat that an Aircraft Carrier Can’t Stop,” Washington Post, Aug. 7, 2018,; and Jeff Cummings, Scott Cuomo, Olivia Garard, and Noah Spataro, “Marines, Algorithms, and Ammo: Taking ‘Team of Teams’ to the Contested Littorals,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 14, 2017, [118] Scharre, The Army of None, 47–50. [119] Kelsey Atherton, “See China’s Massive Robot Boat Swarm in Action,” C4ISRNET, June 1, 2018,; and Elsa B. Kania, “Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power,” Center for a New American Security, November 2017, 23, [120] Patrick Tucker, “The US Is Accelerating Development of Its Own ‘Invincible’ Hypersonic Weapons,” Defense One, March 2, 2018, [121] Tucker, “The US Is Accelerating Development of Its Own ‘Invincible’ Hypersonic Weapons.” [122] Jessie Yeung, “China Claims to Have Successfully Tested Its First Hypersonic Aircraft,” CNN, Aug. 7, 2018, [123] Yeung, “China Claims to Have Successfully Tested Its First Hypersonic Aircraft.” [124] Tucker, “The US Is Accelerating Development of Its Own ‘Invincible’ Hypersonic Weapons.” [125] “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” [126] Scharre, Army of None, 88–89. [127] Cummings, Cuomo, Garard, and Spataro, “Marine Warbot Companies”; and Jeff Cummings, Scott Cuomo, Olivia Garard, and Noah Spataro, “How the Marines Will Help the U.S. Navy and America’s Allies Win the Great Indo-Pacific War of 2025,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 26, 2018, [128] Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 5. [129] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. to Terminate Arms-Control Treaty Over Russia’s ‘Violations.’” [130] Megan Eckstein, “PACOM: U.S. Should Renegotiate INF Missile Treaty to Better Compete with China,” USNI News, April 27, 2017, [131] Wade Boese, “U.S. Withdraws from ABM Treaty; Global Response Muted,” Arms Control Association, July/August 2002, [132] “Trump Administration INF Treaty Integrated Strategy,” State Department, Dec. 8, 2017,; and Michael R. Gordon, “Russia Deploys Missile, Violating Treaty and Challenging Trump,” New York Times, Feb. 14, 2017, [133] H.R. 5515, “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,” 1029–34, [134] Assuming such a summit achieved positive progress with the three nations agreeing to one of the first three subsequently described pathways, or just the United States and Russia agreeing to the fourth pathway, then a subsequent summit would be held that includes Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. As former Soviet states, these are the only other three nations that are both legally bound by the treaty and that have participated in discussions associated with the treaty’s future. [135] Kelsey Davenport, “India Tests Long-Range Missile,” Arms Control Association (January/February 2017), [136] “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) (narrative),” State Department Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, [137] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty.” [138] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty.” [139] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty.” [140] Sayers, “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Future of the Indo-Pacific Military Balance.” [141] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty.” [142] Tim Kelly, “Japan Eyes Defense Budget Hike to Fortify Island Chain Facing China,” Reuters, Aug. 31, 2015, [143] Steven Stashwick, “Japan Considering New Anti-Ship Missiles for Its Southwestern Islands,” Diplomat, March 1, 2018,; and William Cole, “US and Japan Fire Missiles to Sink Ship During RIMPAC,”, July 15, 2018, [144] For an explanation of the differences between compellence and deterrence, see Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). [145] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [146] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [147] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish”; Alyssa Morales, “U.S., Philippines and Japan Conduct Amphibious Landing in the Philippines,”, Oct. 8, 2018,; and Ben Werner, “U.S. and Philippine Militaries Will Increase Security Cooperation in 2019,” USNI News, Oct. 3, 2018, [148] Werner, “U.S. and Philippine Militaries Will Increase Security Cooperation in 2019.” [149] Nick Penzenstadler, “Philippines’ Duterte to U.S. over aid: ‘Bye-bye America,’” USA Today, Dec. 17, 2016, [150] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [151] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [152] Hendrix, “At What Cost a Carrier,” 8. [153] This image can be found at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative: [154] Cummings, Cuomo, Garard, and Spataro, “Marine Warbot Companies”; and “How the Marines Will Help the U.S. Navy and America’s Allies Win the Great Indo-Pacific War of 2025.” [155] Thomas, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the Future of the INF Treaty”; and Panda, “The Uncertain Future of the INF Treaty.” [156] Defense Department, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017,” 57. [157] “NATO Chief Backs Trump, Says Russia Violating Nuke Treaty,” CBS News, Oct. 24, 2018, [158] While South Korea might not welcome new U.S. missile systems on the peninsula, the Republic of Korea Army already fields non-compliant INF systems. [159] Grant Newsham, “Japan Activates Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade: What Now?” Japan Forward, April 9, 2018, [160] “Japan’s 2017 Defense Spending to Hit $43.6Bn; Interceptor Missile System Procurement Likely,”, Dec. 23, 2016, [161] “Japan to Urge U.S. not to Leave Nuke Pact, Citing Possible Arms Race, North Korea Denuclearization,” Japan Times, Oct. 23, 2018, [162] Prashanth Parameswaran, “What Does a Bigger 2018 Balikatan Military Exercise Say About US-Philippines Alliance Under Duterte?” Diplomat, May 8, 2018,; and Morales, “U.S., Philippines and Japan Conduct Amphibious Landing in the Philippines.” KAMANDAG is an acronym for the Filipino phrase Kaagapay Ng Mga Mandirigma Ng Dagat, or cooperation of warriors of the sea. [163] Murielle Delaporte, “Aussie F-35A Drives Historic Shift to USAF Focus from USN,” Breaking Defense, April 3, 2018, [164] “Record Numbers of US Marines Arrive in Darwin for Six Months of Joint Training,” ABC News (Australia), April 24, 2018, [165] Adam Ashton, “Quietly, Guam Is Slated to Become Massive New U.S. Military Base,” McClatchy, Nov. 22, 2015, [166] Poling and Cronin, “The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish.” [167] Kroenig, Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 3–4. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 677 [post_author] => 194 [post_date] => 2018-08-21 12:21:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-21 16:21:32 [post_content] => The U.S. National Security Strategy, published in December 2017, marked a historic break in U.S. policy toward China. The White House explicitly judged the policies of previous administrations to be a failure and closed the door on engagement as the primary mode of U.S.-Chinese relations. Before the Trump administration, U.S. policy was based on the assumption that a China governed by the Chinese Communist Party could be socialized within the international institutions of the West. Engagement at all levels — commercial, scientific, military, diplomatic, educational, and people-to-people — was expected to convince Chinese leaders of the benefits of accepting a liberal international order and persuade them to become, in the words of then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, a “responsible stakeholder” in that order.[1] This assumption had endured through seven U.S. presidencies, but the National Security Strategy explicitly judged, “This premise turned out to be false.”[2] The Trump administration’s new, more confrontational direction has generated more controversy than consensus. The emerging contours of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy reflect a muscular commitment to enduring U.S. interests in a stable Asia-Pacific and to pushing back against Beijing’s revisionism. The statements Defense Secretary James Mattis made at the Shang-ri La Dialogue in June appear to be coming to fruition as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced $300 million for security assistance on top of $113 million for technology, energy, and infrastructure initiatives.[3] Many observers would support such measures, but other aspects of the administration’s policies have caused unease among some even as they achieved results. To begin with, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration had made the signature economic initiative of its Asia-Pacific rebalance. Meanwhile, the Trump administration successfully pressured China to enforce sanctions on North Korea but also generated fears of war. The administration’s trade actions and tariffs may not resolve the U.S.-China trade imbalances, but they appear to be pressuring China’s leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, in novel ways.[4] The strategic shift, however, has not yet addressed the first-order questions that have dogged U.S. policy in Asia under past administrations: Is the United States willing to use force in the region, and how feasible are U.S. objectives while the Communist Party governs China? The strategic shift in U.S. policy toward China has not been locked in either bureaucratically or politically. Although the Trump administration has reopened an important conversation that had been closed for decades, it ultimately may not be the one to build a new policy consensus on China. Washington’s friends in Asia worry that American partisanship may prevent future policymakers from recognizing the Trump administration’s achievements in the region.[5] Nevertheless, Washington and Beijing will not return to the old status quo. This moment in time marks a transition from seven administrations’ policy of engagement to a nascent, emerging position. Because the United States is not yet ready to resolve first-order questions about its policy aims, any strategy is transitory. For now, the best answers can only describe the tools and considerations that must be a part of the U.S. recalibration. To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. Chinese power is an issue the United States will grapple with for years to come, and the relative difference in power between the two countries is shrinking, especially along China’s periphery. Washington needs to be able to maximize its leverage and make the most of opportunities to affect the Chinese Communist Party-state. Taking advantage of political leverage will require affecting party leaders at a personal level. The vicious politics of the Chinese Communist Party opens up fissures among the leadership at least once every political generation. Such openings can and should be exploited to advance U.S. interests. Improving U.S. understanding of China and orienting the U.S. government toward identifying and exploiting opportunities will require paying greater attention to the ways the Communist Party seeks to shape foreigners’ understanding of China. Washington needs to be prepared to act and must reengage in a discussion of values that has been left on the sidelines for too long. Even if the Trump administration’s more competitive course of action is not maintained by subsequent administrations, an engagement-oriented approach will still require adjustments to better protect U.S. interests.

An Inevitable Break

A dramatic shift in U.S.-Chinese relations was on the horizon no matter who won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. The assumptions underpinning bilateral relations had long strained against day-to-day realities. The two most important assumptions were that U.S. engagement would lead to a more liberal China (if not the demise of the Chinese Communist Party) and that shared long-term interests would lead to cooperation.[6] The 2017 National Security Strategy was explicit about the failures of this approach. Most notably, American aspirations for a more liberal — even if not democratic — China collided with the hard facts of what the Chinese Communist Party was willing to do to survive. The National Security Strategy stated, “For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China.” Even Richard Nixon justified engaging the Chinese Communist Party on the basis of hoped-for, long-term political change.[7] This hope became entrenched after the end of the Cold War removed the strategic logic of using U.S.-China relations as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Commercial, rather than strategic, engagement would supposedly moderate and ultimately liberalize China’s politics and economy.[8] Signs that the Chinese Communist Party was resisting the direction U.S. policymakers had envisioned arose early in the post-Cold War era, but the rise of Xi Jinping has brought American hopes of political reform crashing down. Early on, the party relentlessly shut down discussion of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 and jailed the movement’s student leaders. Chinese leaders also studied how best to use and shape market forces for the benefit of the Communist Party, giving the impression of regulatory liberalization while some in the business community became party members.[9] Signs of retrogression soon became unmistakable under Xi. The playbook for Xi’s leadership leaked out in what is known as Document No. 9 in the spring of 2013. The document identified perceived threats to the regime from, among other sources, universities, civil society, and the news media. Each has received special attention from the Xi government, and new regulations or legislation have expanded on the activities that must receive prior approval. The creation of concentration camps for Uighurs, the arrest of relatives of journalists who reported the story for a U.S.-government-funded news outlet, and the detention of Uighurs who are in contact with people outside China mark the extreme end of the party’s internal repression.[10] Lest readers think the Uighurs suffer from oppression by the Han Chinese majority rather than that of the party specifically, it should be noted that Beijing’s repression is broad. The party has cracked down on Chinese Christians while pressuring the Vatican to cede its authority to appoint church leaders in China.[11] Moreover, all Chinese citizens are subject to the ever-more invasive and comprehensive electronic surveillance slowly being integrated into a policy framework for inducing and coercing behavior the party wants.[12] Critics of the Trump administration’s aggressive approach argue that U.S.-Chinese relations after the Cold War were driven primarily by U.S. interests rather than a naïve hope that the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize. There was nothing wrong with past policy, these critics say, and U.S. presidential and policy statements about political liberalization did not represent what policymakers were actually thinking. As former U.S. ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy observed about today’s debate, “Such critiques often fail to distinguish between the way Washington publicly justifies its policies, by referring to values, and the way it actually formulates them, by putting national interests first.”[13] Those interests, however, seemingly became formulaic assumptions that went untested as China evolved. U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. For years, they proclaimed the same areas of overlapping interest: maintaining a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, arresting climate change, working for non-proliferation, and building commercial ties. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger highlighted these points in a 1997 speech entitled “Building a New Consensus on China.” Engagement, he argued, was needed to maintain cooperation on “the spread of weapons of mass destruction; our increasingly complex commercial ties; stability on the Korean peninsula; and the health of the global environment.”[14] More than 20 years have passed since Berger’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, yet the same areas remain singled out for cooperation despite Beijing’s changing behavior, growing military power, and increasing internal political repression.[15] And among those cited interests, the record is mixed. [quote id="1"] Cooperation on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction yielded uneven results, but key takeaways from U.S.-Chinese agreements never materialized. As Berger said in 1997, “China is neither as bad as some portray — [n]or as good as we would like.”[16] In 1985, Beijing and Washington signed a Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement — a so-called 1-2-3 Agreement — to facilitate the transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear expertise and equipment to China to help modernize its nuclear industry. The agreement included a Chinese commitment to build an export control system to monitor and certify the export of sensitive and dual-use technologies. That system remains unbuilt more than 30 years later. Instead, U.S. officials work through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs that often is outranked and outgunned politically by the companies it must regulate, and that is assuming the ministry is even prepared and able to act on a U.S. request. Commercial ties between American and Chinese firms have grown increasingly complex. Both sides have benefited from continued expansion, but Chinese political pressure has also mounted on U.S. companies. Surveys of foreign multinational companies in China have found growing pessimism regarding the regulatory and policy environment despite confidence in the country’s economic future.[17] Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative in the Trump administration who was also deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration, argued nearly a decade ago that many of the promised benefits of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) had failed to materialize. Proponents had argued that the trade deficit would shrink, that U.S. companies’ market access would improve, and that there would be no downside for the United States. Instead, the trade deficit grew. And while U.S. companies did get more access to Chinese markets, they continued to pay for that access through joint ventures and technology transfers. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in a sharp decline that began after China joined the WTO.[18] One of the most significant failures following in the wake of China’s incorporation into the WTO has been the persistence of intellectual property theft and its movement up the value chain from cultural products, such as movies, to telecommunications and semiconductors.[19] When Robert Kapp, then president of the U.S.-China Business Council, testified before Congress in support of granting China permanent normal trade relations and supporting its WTO ascension, he argued that leverage would be gained rather than lost by integrating China. Beijing’s participation in the WTO, he said, would give companies recourse to “such offensive habits as the requirement that foreign companies transfer technology in order to do business in China.”[20] Today, however, forced transfer remains a key element of Beijing’s strategy to acquire foreign technology, and the scale of China’s intellectual property theft arguably has increased.[21] Sustained Chinese cooperation on North Korea, meanwhile, has been at least as much a product of U.S. pressure as solicitation and persuasion. Since the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has consistently prioritized North Korea’s stability over preventing its nuclearization. The U.S. sanctions on Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, in late 2005, put pressure on Beijing and Chinese banks even as the equivalent of $24 million to $25 million of North Korean money — a small sum in the context of international relations — was frozen. The sanctions implicitly threatened Chinese banks doing business with North Korea and significantly restricted North Korea’s access to the international financial system, despite its access to China.[22] This pressure helped bring about another round of six-party talks. As pressure and scrutiny eventually lifted, Chinese companies renewed their efforts to skirt and undermine the sanctions regime.[23] The latest round of official Chinese cooperation began in April 2017 with the presidents’ meeting at Mar-a-Lago, during which Xi pledged to work with the Trump administration on North Korea. Beginning in June 2017, Beijing supported stronger sanctions in the U.N. Security Council five times, most notably in September and December.[24] As further cooperation failed to materialize, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, linked possible U.S. trade actions against China to outcomes on the Korean Peninsula, and implied that Chinese banks that continue to do business in North Korea also would be sanctioned.[25] Chinese cooperation on climate change has also been less than forthcoming. Although a number of agreements have been signed, rarely have funding commitments to back U.S.-Chinese initiatives for climate change and energy cooperatives been present.[26] The much-heralded 2016 climate agreement with the Obama administration committed Beijing to meeting benchmarks that it had already established domestically.[27] This has left cooperation mostly to the private sector, with mixed results, both because of Beijing’s industrial policies and its condoning of intellectual property theft. For example, in 2005, the Chinese state-owned company Sinovel began working with the American company American Superconductor (AMSC) on wind turbines and electricity distribution. The relationship fell apart in 2011, however, when Sinovel paid a former AMSC employee to steal the U.S. company’s source code and Sinovel then reneged on $800 million in contracts with that same company.[28] Taken together, what does all this mean? It is not that U.S.-Chinese cooperation was a fiction but, rather, that the areas of cooperation were intrinsically problematic. Pretending that these joint efforts were genuine or were anything other than a U.S. vision of China’s interests resulted in a frail superstructure. U.S. policymakers and commentators had to overlook Beijing’s failure to honor its commitments and pretend that the absence of Chinese actions was not a deliberate choice but, instead, a sign that decisions had not been made.

Obstacles to a New Approach

Locking in a new approach to U.S. policy toward China will be more difficult than many critics of the past engagement policy seem to think. Americans disagree about not only the degree to which the policy must change but also the degree of competitiveness that will be required. Former State Department officials Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner have suggested that the way forward begins simply: “The first step is relatively straightforward: acknowledging just how much our policy has fallen short of our aspirations.”[29] Many old hands, however, dispute the assertion that U.S. policy toward China has fallen short or failed to deliver on its promises. The policy basically worked, in their view, and few adjustments are necessary.[30] Even supposing, however, that U.S. experts on China and U.S.-Chinese relations agreed on the need for new policy initiatives or even a fundamentally different approach, more significant barriers must be overcome to move forward with new plans. The first such barrier is the relatively low degree of knowledge about China and the Chinese Communist Party at senior levels of the U.S. government and among American society in general. Ratner noted in a podcast interview this year that while senior U.S. officials seem to understand Ukraine and Syria in fairly granular detail, they repeatedly need to be reminded about basic geography and policy regarding China. The constant need for education wastes time and energy, and it inhibits a more far-reaching discussion about how to address the illiberal challenges of a China led by its Communist Party.[31] Such limited knowledge also makes it difficult for the president and others to appreciate the quality (or lack thereof) of China-related materials. They would have to rely almost entirely on instinct to evaluate the arguments presented to them. [quote id="2"] The low level of knowledge also leads to analogizing about China rather than assessing China for what it is. Analogies are unavoidable in the absence of direct knowledge. But the carefulness required in structuring useful comparisons has not been employed when China is likened to Weimar Germany or Xi Jinping to Charles de Gaulle.[32] The late Ernest May and Richard Neustadt argued that historical analogies had limited value unless they were structured deliberately. Because historical analogies rip events out of their context, such analogies may mislead more than they inform.[33] Americans’ relatively low level of knowledge about China leads to a second barrier: the Chinese Communist Party’s messaging about U.S. policy toward China. The party presents the policy options for dealing with China as a binary choice. Yet, only occasionally are such decisions truly so limited. Even the most glaring choice, recognizing the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan (Republic of China), is not so clear-cut, in part because many countries maintain ostensibly informal, but robust, diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As Singapore’s former senior-most diplomat, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan, described in a recent speech, “This technique of forcing false choices on you and making you choose between false choices is deployed within a framework of either overarching narratives or specific narratives. … The purpose is to narrow the scope of choices.”[34] One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces and propagandists regularly accuse the United States of containing China, employing a “Cold War mentality,” and stirring up the “China threat theory” to encourage other countries to demonize China. A final barrier to reaching a new policy position is that the United States — and presumably other countries that do not have as substantial a China-watching community — does not have a team to take the field. This is not so much a question of China-specific knowledge on the part of policy practitioners but, rather, the marriage of knowledge about China, policy tools, and competitive strategy. Too much of the existing talent has been conditioned by the long-held engagement policy. Engagement and competition require fundamentally different mind-sets and thinking through a different set of questions. Engagement as a policy direction presupposes that interaction is fundamentally good and that opening China to academic, business, and civil-society ventures is beneficial to U.S. interests. Competition, by contrast, raises first-order questions, such as whether there are long-term benefits to U.S. businesses operating in China or whether Beijing’s policies are incompatible with U.S. long-term interests. Building this team while transcending partisanship will not be easy. Americans inside and outside government have knowledge about China, policy, or strategic competition, but there are very few with expertise in all three. Ensuring that people with expertise in one or two of these areas gain the necessary additional knowledge requires not only time but also taking such individuals out of active roles while they focus on acquiring additional expertise.

A Toolkit for the Transitional Phase

Until a new China policy is more firmly locked in bureaucratically and a new consensus about China is reached, proposing an overarching strategy and set of objectives is premature. The U.S. discussion may be more open than it has been in years, but first-order questions about the ultimate objectives of China policy have not yet been reassessed and answered. The United States sits in a transitional phase, at least until the Trump administration solidifies bureaucratic policy guidance and a subsequent administration builds from its foundation. What directions succeeding administrations take, of course, may vary, regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican. For the near future, it is more appropriate to assess U.S. policy tools and how to maximize leverage rather than trying to pin down an overall strategy. Washington needs to expand its toolkit beyond the military dimension, regardless of what the future holds for U.S. policy and U.S.-Chinese relations. U.S. economic and military predominance has maintained stability in East Asia for decades. In recent years, Beijing has undermined and challenged the credibility of U.S. power — or at least Washington’s willingness to use it. Beijing’s steady expansion and consolidation in the South China Sea from 2012 onward exposed the gaps in U.S. military power in the region and Washington’s policy of deterrence. The Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal and subsequent island construction showed that Washington was not prepared to use military force or to place U.S. sailors and pilots in harm’s way to push back against China. These dilemmas also highlight the necessity of strengthening Americans’ psychological willingness to use leverage wherever it might be found. Refrains about the limitations of U.S. influence have more to do with a lack of conviction than a lack of ability. Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Marco Rubio of Florida put forward at least one alternative to using military force in China’s maritime periphery, but their bipartisan legislation to sanction Chinese firms engaged in island-building never went anywhere.[35]  Building U.S. capacity to compete with China more comprehensively and effectively will require a political-power-centric and opportunity-oriented research agenda, a concentrated effort to build leverage, and counterintelligence and counter-interference efforts to preserve the integrity of U.S. policymaking. A power-centric research agenda would evaluate the Chinese Communist Party’s susceptibility to pressure. Opportunities are fleeting, and attitudes change. One day, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party may not have the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army. Another day, he may have installed loyalists at the upper ranks. Leverage should be built over time and prepared for the moment when it can have the most impact. To make use of leverage at the point Chinese leaders are most vulnerable, the integrity of the U.S. policymaking system must be secure so that Washington can be ready to act when opportunity knocks. Each of these points is outlined more fully below.  A New Analytical Approach  First, U.S. policymakers need a different way of ordering their knowledge and thinking about China issues. Opportunities to influence the Chinese Communist Party in a significant way come along only once or twice in a political generation. The vicious “you die, I live” (你死我活) kind of politics that is practiced in China inevitably opens up leadership fissures. U.S. policymakers need to better understand how political power is wielded within the Communist Party. Shaping and responding to Beijing’s behavior requires influencing the individuals who decide policy. U.S. policymakers must understand the sources of Chinese political power to understand which ones Chinese leaders must control or neutralize in order to succeed and how, exactly, they do so. Understanding these leadership dynamics will facilitate Washington’s efforts to cajole or coerce Beijing by seeing opportunities as they arise. Most U.S. analysts examine the Chinese Communist Party through an institutional lens that largely excludes the human element of politics from the equation. The amount of rumor-mongering and deliberate disinformation fed to journalists makes it difficult to evaluate that human component of Chinese politics. Rather than try to sift the wheat from the chaff, those practicing the institutional approach focus on authoritative sources and the kinds of information that can be tracked through official media.[36] For example, in the discussion of Xi Jinping’s political power in 2014, one institutionalist narrowly evaluated Xi’s power according to how he had changed (or not changed) party slogans about the leadership core and collective leadership, concluding that Xi’s power was simply gifted to him by the party.[37] This approach ignored many of the reasons other analysts considered Xi powerful, because they related to subjective measures about elite networks, purges, and symbolic politics. It is critical to understand party institutions, but analysts cannot stop there on the assumption that Chinese politics has become institutionalized. The basic structure and guidelines within which the Communist Party operates are merely a starting point. The Chinese Communist Party is still ruling a country, and politics cannot be avoided. Resources — such as time, attention, and money — are limited, and they must be allocated according to political considerations. Wherever humans operate, there will be personal politics. The robust academic literature of organizational studies expresses the truism that no matter how meritocratic or rules-based an organization becomes, decisions about personnel at the leadership level will always be political. A healthy organization produces more potential leaders than it has positions to fill. Institutions, training, and promotion guidelines ensure a minimum level of competency and open the opportunity for promotion. Deciding who gets what position necessarily depends on personality, power, and networking.[38] The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. The age-old questions of “who decides?” and “who benefits?” are as important as the party lines in official propaganda and the content of party documents. Party leaders have empowered and undermined different party and state institutions, depending on the needs of the moment and their competitors’ strengths. Institutional arrangements to control state power, such as the Central State Security Commission, have also been created when organizational and technological change has given the party-state new capabilities to monitor, influence, or hurt the leadership. The institutions of the Chinese party-state need to be evaluated as more than mere technocratic expressions of rational governance.[39] [quote id="3"] Power also cannot be separated from individual politicians. Some Chinese leaders possess an intuitive sense of political symbolism and propaganda. Others know how to work the party bureaucracy. Still others carry meetings with the force of their personality. Human virtues and frailties are as much a part of the Chinese system as any other. Although no approach will describe a leader’s political instincts accurately and authoritatively every time, this human element cannot be dismissed. At the very least, important questions about how leaders exercise influence must be part of the discussion of contemporary China. Building Leverage Second, if political power is as personal as it is institutional within the Chinese Communist Party, then building leverage means focusing on what matters to individual leaders and the institutions that support them. The U.S. government has not pursued this path with any sort of regularity. The most obvious target is the vast wealth of Chinese party leaders. Not all of this wealth is tied up inside China. Some of it is entwined with China’s most significant multi-national companies or hidden in foreign banks, making the party leaders vulnerable to financial sanctions. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed in 2016, provides legal authority to target Chinese Communist Party leaders and their agents. The act allows Washington to block or revoke visas as well as to sanction the property of those who are responsible for, or acted as an agent of someone responsible for, “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Individuals can also be targeted if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.” Chinese abuses that qualify as gross violations and significant corruption have grown rapidly in the past several years, with examples including the detention and torture of the “709” rights lawyers — so named for the July 9, 2015, crackdown on lawyers and activists — as well as the detention of several hundred thousand Uighurs in concentration camps. Given the kind of direct pressure that could be brought to bear on Chinese leaders, such leverage must be used judiciously, if at all, on a day-to-day basis. Whether the stakes are sufficiently high depends on how clearly the administration outlines its objectives. Even within the previous engagement framework, a genuine opportunity to pressure the Chinese system toward liberalization — such as might have appeared in the early days of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang — could have constituted worthwhile use of such direct means to discredit opponents of political liberalization. Ultimately, the United States must build the knowledge and capacity to influence individual Chinese leaders knowing that such information could work under multiple policy frameworks, not simply the Trump administration’s strategic shift. The usefulness of such leverage also depends on what actions China may take in response. The same vulnerability of the Chinese system that creates opportunities for U.S. influence also creates risk. Communist Party leaders’ paranoia and self-awareness are filters for their perceptions: They see the United States as their principal foreign adversary and they know when they are exposed. They will act to shore up their position as Mao Zedong did with the Taiwan crisis in 1958 and by exploiting the Nixon-Kissinger gambit in 1971 and 1972, or as Deng Xiaoping did with Vietnam and the United States in 1978 and 1979 and in rebuffing American pressure after the June 4 incident at Tiananmen in 1989. Counterintelligence and Counter-Interference Third, any long-term strategy — especially one built around the idea of exploiting opportunities when they arise — must ensure the integrity of U.S. policymaking. This requires effective counterintelligence to prevent the penetration of U.S. policy circles for intelligence collection and building influence. The public record suggests that the state of U.S. counterintelligence — or that of other allied states — on China leaves much to be desired. Effective counterintelligence is not merely a question of capability but also one of integration with national strategy. As I and others in the U.S. intelligence community saw firsthand, counterintelligence functions are almost entirely separate from the rest of intelligence and policymaking.[40] Engagement as the dominant strain of China policy played down the need for counterintelligence — if interaction is good, the thinking went, then risk assessment of U.S.-China engagement is mostly unnecessary except in rare cases where U.S. laws were broken. The absence of a counterintelligence perspective meant that the Chinese Communist Party’s robust and comprehensive system for shaping foreigners’ perceptions went largely unnoticed, despite its demonstrable importance to party leaders.[41] The U.S. government has failed to prosecute or has bungled investigations into Chinese espionage often enough to warrant concern. The failures of counter-espionage may not, at first glance, appear relevant to the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference. Yet, the elements of the U.S. intelligence community and the Justice Department that perform counterespionage are the same ones that will take the lead on countering Chinese interference. If they have difficulty prosecuting (relatively-speaking) straightforward Chinese espionage cases, then countering Chinese Communist Party interference is likely to be too complicated for them.[42] Successful espionage prosecutions are the analytical, investigative, and legal training ground for the capabilities the U.S. government needs to deploy in order to counter the party’s covert, corrupting, and coercive interference. Failure to handle possible espionage cases well alienates many Chinese-Americans, who have reasonable concerns about rushes to judgment but whose cooperation is essential when Beijing tries to exploit the Chinese diaspora. Moreover, such weaknesses let those breaking the law in support of Communist Party interests know that the risk of consequences for their behavior is low. The U.S. government cannot be the only actor countering Chinese Communist Party interference. A democratic government’s resources focus on purely illegal activity. This means that academics, think tank researchers, and journalists have a significant role when it comes to exposing these operations and informing public debate.[43] In Australia, a handful of journalists reporting steadily since 2014 brought the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference in domestic politics to light and pushed it into the public discussion.[44] In New Zealand, one scholar cracked the news threshold by releasing a paper on the Communist Party’s united front work on the eve of last year’s election.[45] In the United States, a smaller number of people — primarily reporters for Foreign Policy (now at the Daily Beast) and the Washington Post[46] — helped put the party’s interference operations into public consideration. Without this attention, Australia arguably could not have overhauled its counter-espionage laws and passed legislation this summer aimed at transparency for elections and consequences for acting as a foreign agent.[47]

A New Starting Point

The toolkit outlined above reflects the requirements of crafting a long-term, competitive strategy. But rethinking the toolkit is only a beginning. A larger conversation is needed about this new period in U.S.-China relations. The past policy of engagement promoted ties of all kinds and at all levels, with only a few restrictions legislated by Congress or treaty commitments. Moving away from this approach will require new modes of thinking as well as reapplying American values to the question of how to engage with the Chinese party-state. First, recalibrating engagement with China requires a deliberate discussion of U.S. values, what those values mean, and how Washington should be prepared to act based on them. There is no substitute for this conversation. Vague assertions of supporting a liberal international order have proven insufficient as a lodestone for action. The absence of a U.S. response to Chinese aggression — not merely in the South China Sea but also with regard to intellectual property theft and coercion against U.S. citizens in the United States — emboldens the Chinese Communist Party. These issues demonstrate Beijing’s rejection of core democratic and capitalist values, suggesting the basic incompatibility of the two systems. Even if it were desirable to regulate all aspects of American interactions with the People’s Republic of China, public discussion would still be necessary. As noted above, government resources will focus on the illegal side of Chinese Communist Party activities, rarely if ever monitoring the broader scope of interaction. In a democratic state, there is no justification for sweeping government surveillance. This means that what is appropriate — rather than what is illegal — should be a matter of public debate. Is academic freedom in U.S. universities compatible with the values of the Confucius Institutes?[48] Should U.S. research labs collaborate with Chinese companies that work with the Chinese military? What degree of distance should Chinese organizations have from the party-state to be considered potential partners for U.S. organizations? These and similar questions cannot be divorced from American political and civic values. Second, the United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. Far too often in this bilateral relationship, agreements and commitments have been allowed to slide. Statements of what cannot be are forgotten in the face of Beijing’s willingness to act, while U.S. leverage has been undermined by an unwillingness to act. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong eloquently made this argument about the trade regime:
[Y]ou have to enforce the rules of free trade. You have to ensure that nations cannot abuse the rules, cannot force technology transfer, cannot prize their national champions, can’t steal intellectual property. If you don’t do this, if you don’t enforce the rules of free trade, what ends up happening is that over time, the free, fair, and reciprocal trading regime is weakened, and that’s to the detriment not just of the United States’s prosperity but to the prosperity of the region and the world as a whole.[49]
The most egregious example of not upholding standards is the lack of response to intimidation and coercion against U.S. citizens and residents on U.S. soil. During the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, Chinese security officials orchestrated violence against protesters and coordinated efforts to divert or block demonstrators in San Francisco. The U.S. government passed the identity of some of these Chinese officers to Australia so that Canberra could deny entry visas to them. But that appears to be the end of the U.S. response.[50] Rumors and reports of violence against practitioners of Falun Gong surface periodically, including at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. Education counselors from Chinese diplomatic missions visit Chinese students at U.S. universities or contact family members to intimidate them or request that they tell their child to take down social media posts. Yet, the full scale of the situation is difficult to ascertain. Many of the stories that come to journalists, scholars, and officials cannot be publicized, partly because the people involved fear retribution and it is often impossible to scrub identifying details while retaining the sense of injustice. Third, U.S. policymakers — as well as international affairs analysts and commentators — will need to become accustomed to the idea of asymmetric or sometimes disproportionate responses to Beijing. Reciprocity has gained traction, but the concept has little applicability beyond trade disputes.[51] The most contentious areas of U.S.-Chinese relations do not feature proportionate or reciprocal responses because the U.S. government and American society do not have a parallel structure to the Chinese party-state. For right and proper reasons, the U.S. government will not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in coercing overseas Chinese to adopt pro-U.S. behaviors. Unlike Beijing, Washington will not arbitrarily detain family members or seize business assets. Beijing’s denial of visas for foreign journalists does not lend itself to a tit-for-tat response. There are far fewer American journalists in China than Chinese journalists working for official media outlets in the United States. To create corresponding effects when an American journalist faces visa trouble would require alternative and probably disproportionate responses. [quote id="4"] Fourth, recalibrating U.S. policy toward China will entail costs. Individual, corporate, and even government interests almost certainly will be affected. The Chinese Communist Party was born out of a struggle, and its leaders fought their way up competitive ranks. Close to a million people enter the party each year after an arduous testing and interviewing regimen, and they continue to be evaluated throughout their careers.[52] Those who make it to the Central Committee are the .01 percent of party cadre. Beyond the rigorous evaluation and performance requirements, officials also need to worry about ambitious colleagues and blackmailers who seek to discredit them as they climb the greasy pole.[53] They and their willingness to compete should not be taken lightly. Already, in what appear to be the opening stages of a trade war, Beijing’s response to Trump administration actions has targeted U.S. farmers in areas supportive of Trump.[54] Simply put, competing effectively with China requires serious consideration; in particular, identifying America’s ultimate objectives in order to assess whether the sacrifices necessary to attain those goals are warranted.


Whatever the future holds for U.S.-Chinese relations, the status quo has been broken. The unaddressed inadequacies of engagement eroded the policy consensus around bilateral relations to such an extent that, even without a clear policy alternative, engagement has ended. Henry Kissinger, one of the original architects of the U.S. policy toward China that persisted through seven administrations, aptly described the current moment: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”[55] Although it would be useful to begin building a new consensus, the partisan climate of U.S. politics seems to preclude the sort of meaningful discussion that would lock in a sustainable bipartisan consensus, even though the next generation of policy hands in both parties think a new China policy is needed. Americans can discuss the tools and animating ideas that are needed to manage U.S.-Chinese relations and protect U.S. interests from a “revisionist China.” The conversation has moved to the point where concrete ideas of how to better understand the Chinese Communist Party and China, and how to be more competitive, must be fleshed out and debated. For many years, the critiques of U.S.-Chinese relations may have been on point, but the recommendations fell short of offering something distinct from U.S. policy at the time.[56] The approach outlined above is simple. Opportunities should be sought to apply effective leverage on Communist Party officials leading China. The barometer for these opportunities measures the ebb and flow of power across party leaders and institutions. When these opportunities arrive, Washington needs to be prepared to act and to do so in ways that go beyond reciprocity as a guiding principle. Ensuring that everything is prepared for these moments is a job for counterintelligence. Without secrecy to preserve U.S. leverage and the psychological willingness to use it, no one will be prepared to pull the trigger on pressuring China. If any particular theme runs through the failure of U.S. policy toward China, it is the U.S. government’s unwillingness to act to uphold American values and Chinese commitments. The stakes and interests involved in resolving this problem surely outweigh partisan considerations.   Peter Mattis is a research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a contributing editor to War on the Rocks. Mr. Mattis previously worked as a counterintelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency before leaving government service to work as editor of the China Brief and to be a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. Image: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command [post_title] => From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => from-engagement-to-rivalry-tools-to-compete-with-china [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 13:05:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 18:05:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [T]he United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 837 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 194 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For a comprehensive summary of these views, see, James Mann, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), especially 1–28. [2] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, December 2017, 3, [3] “U.S. Pledges Nearly $300 Million Security Funding for Indo-Pacific Region,” Reuters, Aug. 3, 2018, [4] Mark Leonard, “The Chinese Are Wary of Donald Trump’s Creative Destruction,” Financial Times, July 24, 2018,; Xu Yimiao, “China Should Cut Its Losses in the Trade War by Conceding Defeat to Donald Trump,” South China Morning Post, Aug. 10, 2018, [5] For example, Bilahari Kausikan, “Trump’s Global Retreat Is an Illusion,” Nikkei Asian Review, Jan. 31, 2018, [6] Other lesser, but nonetheless important, assumptions included that the Chinese Communist Party could accept the U.S.-led international liberal order, that a more prosperous China would be a more peaceful China, that Chinese Communist Party leaders are persuadable and could put down their Leninist view of world politics, and that the party’s propaganda apparatus would remain a domestic actor, not an international subversive threat. [7] Richard M. Nixon, “Asia After Viet Nam,” Foreign Affairs, October 1967, [8] Mann, The China Fantasy, 101–12. [9] Yasheng Huang, “How Did China Take Off?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 147–70,; Kellee S. Tsai, Capitalism Without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007); and David Shambaugh, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2008). [10] Adrian Zenz, “New Evidence for China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, May 15, 2018,; Simon Denyer, “China Detains Relatives of U.S. Reporters in Apparent Punishment for Xinjiang Coverage,” Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2018, [11] Wesley Rahn, “In Xi We Trust — Is China Cracking Down on Christianity?” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 19, 2018, ; Eva Dou and Francis Rocca, “Abide in Darkness: China’s War on Religion Stalls Vatican Deal,” Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2018, [12] Samantha Hoffman, “Social Credit: Technology-Enhanced Authoritarian Control with Global Consequences,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, June 28, 2018, [13] J. Stapleton Roy, “Engagement Works,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018): 185. [14] “Remarks by Samuel R. Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Before the Council on Foreign Relations,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 6, 1997. [15] For example, Roy, “Engagement Works,” 185; Thomas J. Christensen, “The Need to Pursue Mutual Interests in U.S.-China Relations,” U.S. Institute of Peace, Special Report no. 269, April 2011,; Nina Hachigian, Michael Schiffer, and Winny Chen, “A Global Imperative: A Progressive Approach to U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century,” Center for American Progress, Aug. 13, 2008, [16] Berger, “Remarks.” [17] Yoko Kubota, “U.S. Firms Say China’s Business Climate Is Warming, Survey Finds,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2018,; “USCBC 2017 China Business Environment Member Survey,” U.S.-China Business Council, 2017, [18] Robert E. Lighthizer, “Evaluating China’s Role in the World Trade Organization Over the Past Decade,” testimony before the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission, June 9, 2010, [19] Derek Scissors, “Sino-American Trade: We Know Where This Is Headed,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2018, [20] “Accession of China to the WTO,” hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, May 3, 2000. [21] “Report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property,” National Bureau of Asian Research, May 2013, [22] Josh Meyer, “Squeeze on North Korea’s Money Supply Yields Results,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2, 2006,; Jay Solomon and Neil King Jr., “How U.S. Used a Bank to Punish North Korea,” Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007, [23] Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1874, U.N. Security Council Report No. S/2016/157, Feb. 24, 2016, [24] Laura Zhou, “United Nations Agrees More Sanctions on North Korea, But Is the World Running Out of Options?” South China Morning Post, Dec. 23, 2017,; “China to Enforce UN Sanctions Against North Korea,” Guardian, Sept. 23, 2017, [25] David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey, “Trump Says China’s Stance on North Korea Influences His Trade Policy,” Reuters, Dec. 28, 2017, [26] Joanna I. Lewis, “The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change: Examining the Bilateral and Multilateral Relationship,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, China Environment Series (2010/2011), 7, Article The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change.pdf. [27] Mark Landler and Jane Perlez, “Rare Harmony as China and U.S. Commit to Climate Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 2016, [28] Janan Hanna, Christie Smythe, and Chris Martin, “China’s Sinovel Convicted in U.S. of Stealing Trade Secrets,” Bloomberg, Jan. 24, 2018, [29] Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2018), [30] For example, Jeffrey A. Bader and Ryan Hass, “Was Pre-Trump U.S. Policy Towards China Based on ‘False’ Premises?” Brookings Institution, Dec. 22, 2017,; Wang Jisi, J. Stapleton Roy, Aaron Friedberg, Thomas Christensen and Patricia Kim, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Eric Li, and Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “Did America Get China Wrong? The Engagement Debate,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2018) [31] Kelly Magsamen, Ely Ratner, and Ryan Evans, “To Compete with China, Can America Get Out of Its Own Way?” War on the Rocks, podcast, Feb. 7, 2018, [32] Rana Mitter, “Forget Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping Is More Charles de Gaulle,” South China Morning Post, Oct. 28, 2017, [33] Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1988). [34] Albert Wai, “S’pore Should Guard Against False Binary Choices in Chinese Public Diplomacy: Bilahari Kausikan,” Today [Singapore], June 27, 2018, [35] “Rubio, Cardin Introduce Bill Targeting Chinese Aggression in South China Sea,” Office of Marco Rubio, March 15, 2017, [36] For a practical discussion of authority in Chinese sourcing, see Paul H.B. Godwin and Alice L. Miller, “China’s Forbearance Has Limits: Chinese Threat and Retaliation Signaling and Its Implications for a Sino-American Military Confrontation,” China Strategic Perspectives, no. 6 (Washington: National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013): 29–37, [37] Alice L. Miller, “How Strong Is Xi Jinping?” China Leadership Monitor, no. 43 (Spring 2014), [38] For a general reference, see, Charles Perrow, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 14–20. For a Chinese Communist Party-specific reference, see Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph, and Mingxing Liu, “Getting Ahead in the Communist Party: Explaining the Advancement of Central Committee Members in China,” American Political Science Review 106, no. 1 (February 2012): 166–87, [39] Samantha Hoffman and Peter Mattis, “Managing the Power Within: China’s State Security Commission,” War on the Rocks, July 18, 2016, [40] For example, Michelle Van Cleave, “The Question of Strategic Counterintelligence: What Is It and What Should We Do About It?” Studies in Intelligence 51, no. 2 (2007): 1–14, [41] Peter Mattis, “An American Lens on China’s Interference and Influence-Building Abroad,” Asan Forum, April 30, 2018,; Anne-Marie Brady, Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). [42] Examples of potential failures to prosecute successfully include incidents involving former FBI informant Katrina Leung and University of Management and Technology President Yanping Chen. Examples of apparent rushes to judgment include allegations involving Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi, and National Weather Service hydrologist Sherry Chen. [43] As a matter of disclosure, I should note that I have played a small, but long-standing, role in public conversations related to the Chinese Communist Party’s interference efforts, especially in Australia and the United States, since 2014. I have spoken with reporters and been cited in numerous related articles published by, among others, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Broadcast Corp., the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, the Economist, and Financial Times. [44] Kelsey Munro, “A Free Press Is a Magic Weapon Against China’s Influence Peddling,” Lowy Institute Interpreter, Dec. 18, 2017, [45] Matt Nippert and David Fisher, “Revealed: China’s Network of Influence in New Zealand,” New Zealand Herald, Sept. 20, 2017, [46] Respectively, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Josh Rogin. [47] Matt Coughlan, “Parliament Passes Sweeping New Foreign Influence Laws,” Sydney Morning Herald, June 29, 2018,; John Garnaut, “Australia’s China Reset,” Monthly (August 2018), [48] Ethan Epstein, “How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms,” Politico, Jan. 16, 2018, [49] “Briefing on the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” State Department, April 2, 2018, [50] Zach Dorfman, “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies,” Politico, July 27, 2018, [51] Task Force on U.S.-China Policy, “U.S. Policy Toward China: Recommendations for a New Administration,” Asia Society and University of California San Diego, March 9, 2017, [52] Jun Mai, “The Long, Arduous Process to Joining China’s Communist Party,” South China Morning Post, July 1, 2016, [53] Dan Levin and Amy Qin, “True or Faked, Dirt on Chinese Fuels Blackmail,” New York Times, June 17, 2013, [54] Alexander Kwiatkowski, “Trade War Hits Trump Heartland, With Mines, Farms as Targets,” Bloomberg, June 15, 2018, [55] Edward Luce, “Henry Kissinger: ‘We Are in a Very, Very Grave Period,’” Financial Times, July 20, 2018, [56] Peter Mattis, “A Shaky Case for Chinese Deception,” War on the Rocks, Feb. 19, 2015, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 600 [post_author] => 179 [post_date] => 2018-05-29 17:38:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-29 21:38:37 [post_content] =>

As prime minister I intend to demonstrate my resolution to defend fully people's lives, our territory, and our beautiful ocean. Right now, at this very moment, the Japan Coast Guard and members of the Self-Defense Forces are defending Japan’s seas and skies off the coast of the Senkaku Islands. The security of Japan is not someone else's problem; it is a crisis that exists right there and now.[1]

–Shinzo Abe

With these words, part of the opening statement at his inaugural press conference after the December 2012 landslide election victory that returned him and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-Komeito ruling coalition to power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear that national security reforms would be a top priority for his administration. In the more than five years since, Abe has exercised decisive and pragmatic leadership. From a significant loosening of a decades-old ban on arms exports to a landmark Cabinet decision allowing Japan the limited exercise of collective self-defense, the Abe administration’s shifts on security policy have captured global attention.[2] They have also prompted domestic and international controversy. Internal institutional reforms that are less conspicuous but no less significant, especially the establishment of Japan’s first National Security Council, have transformed the country’s decision-making on security policy. Given the Abe government’s concrete achievements, the prime minister’s reputation as an ideological nationalist, and his repeatedly expressed desire for more ambitious changes, there is a robust debate about whether Abe — Japan’s longest-serving prime minister since 1972 — has “radically” transformed Japan’s security policy and spurred a fundamentally new trajectory for it, as some leading scholars contend.[3] Beyond important policy shifts directed by the Abe administration, experts have also judged the institutional reforms “the most ambitious reorganization of Japan’s foreign and security policy apparatus since the end of World War II.”[4] For others, Abe’s significant impact on policy suggests that scholars should pay much greater attention to the personal attributes and agency of individual leaders as a variable.[5] Wherever one stands in the debate about the particular significance of his achievements, it is clear that Abe, now in his sixth year in office, is one of Japan’s most consequential postwar prime ministers. With major geopolitical and economic shifts underway in the increasingly prosperous yet potentially volatile Asia-Pacific, a sober and comprehensive assessment of change and continuity in the Abe era, as well as its significance for Japan’s long-term strategic trajectory, is crucial. Since at least the mid-1960s, Japan’s advanced economy and technological strengths have granted it a unique status as the region’s “could-be” military great power. Yet baked into its post-1945 resurgence is the “pacifist” Article 9 of its U.S.-drafted occupation-era Constitution. This article, which has never been amended, says that Japan “forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” and pledges that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”[6] Although the practical policy implications of Article 9 have shifted significantly over 70 years of intense political contestation and in response to perceived changes in Japan’s external threat environment, significant self-imposed constraints remain on what Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), established in 1954, can and cannot do — especially concerning use of lethal force — and what capabilities it can and cannot procure.[7] In what one influential foreign policy voice once called Japan’s “grand experiment,” since 1945 the country has unilaterally eschewed “military power politics,” robust offensive capabilities, an indigenous nuclear deterrent, and a regional or global security role commensurate with its potential.[8] While gradually developing its robust self-defense forces, for security Tokyo has depended significantly on extended deterrence provided by Washington — its only formal treaty ally. Japan’s security trajectory, therefore, has direct implications for the United States and its own posture in Asia. The U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and 50,000 personnel from across the U.S. military are based in Japan. In light of Japan’s relatively passive postwar defense posture, a “radical,” or fundamental, transformation of the sort some allege is already underway would have significant potential to transform international relations across the Asia-Pacific, especially if other regional players — including the United States — adjust their own postures in response. The region’s geopolitical terrain is already shifting. It includes an increasingly powerful and assertive China that the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy explicitly calls “revisionist”; a nuclear-armed North Korea on the cusp of fielding a credible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser who departed the Trump administration this spring, referred to as “the most destabilizing development[…] in the post-World War II period”;[9] and deepening concerns about the long-term U.S. commitment to regional primacy, alliances, and the rules-based liberal international order upon which Japan has staked its security. This environment presents an opportune moment to assess the significance of the national security reforms Abe’s administration has enacted since 2012. This article builds on earlier studies debating the extent and pace of the “normalization” of Japan’s defense posture since the end of the Cold War.[10] It focuses on developments since Abe’s return to the prime minister’s office in 2012 and soberly engages the following core questions: With more than five years of hindsight and a landmark package of security legislation in effect since 2016, how transformative are the Abe government’s reforms in the area of national security? In light of what Japan’s leaders define as an increasingly “severe” regional security environment, how much has actually changed, and where are there continuities? How has Abe’s government been able to pursue its ambitious security agenda while avoiding the domestic political backlash that threatened previous prime ministers? After all, trying to do too much too quickly played a major role in the collapse of Abe’s first administration, from 2006 to 2007. This article is divided into three sections aimed at answering the three aforementioned questions, which, in turn, will help answer a more fundamental question: whether the Abe government represents a major turning point in the trajectory of postwar Japan.[11] The first section focuses on change. It identifies and assesses the significance of major reforms relevant to national security since 2012 in two areas: policy and domestic institutions. Although the former typically attracts most of the attention, the two are inextricably linked. Constraints imposed by domestic institutions have, for generations, impeded postwar prime ministers from seeking more transformative policy shifts. The second section focuses on continuity. It baselines Abe-era reform efforts in the trends that were present before he returned to office, and highlights persistent pillars of Japan’s security posture, several of which the Abe administration has tried, but thus far failed, to overturn. Acknowledging such oft-overlooked “dogs that didn’t bark” is crucial for a balanced understanding of Japan’s strategic trajectory, and to avoid overstating the pace and scale of the shifts that are underway, as well as the extent to which they are attributable specifically to Abe. To better understand how Abe’s government has succeeded where previous administrations (including his own a decade ago) have failed, this study’s third section aims to develop a nuanced explanation of the complex external and domestic factors at play. The interaction of these factors has effectively opened political space for the Abe government to go further and faster than its predecessors, yet it has also compelled it to significantly moderate or, in some cases, abandon key reform objectives. That said, this article’s conclusion identifies several policy areas where regional vicissitudes render major shifts more likely than ever before, though by no means inevitable. [quote id="1"] This study finds that national security reforms under Abe, in the aggregate, constitute a significant and historic shift for Japan, but also are a pragmatic and evolutionary response to Japan’s changing security environment. Important features of this reform program include the centralization of national security decision-making in the executive, the rationalization of force structure and posture to more effectively confront perceived threats, a “doubling-down” on the U.S.-Japan alliance coupled with an effort to expand Japan’s role within it, and the gradual deepening of Japan’s security ties with third parties. Though Abe’s government has achieved several of its coveted reforms, several other findings have significant implications for Japan’s trajectory in a post-Abe era. First, nearly six years into his second term, the story of security reforms since 2012 is hardly “all about Abe.” Most of the recent national security shifts build on longer-term trends that predate Abe and attracted support from moderates within and outside his own party. This strongly suggests that idiosyncratic factors such as the conservative Abe’s widely cited “ideology” and “nationalism” are acting, at most, as second-order drivers. Although Abe’s decisive leadership has been significant, his agenda also seems to have benefited from his being in the right place at the right time. Second, fundamental and long-standing — though often overlooked — constraints on Japan’s defense posture remain in place. On issues such as Article 9 revision, the ambitious agenda of Abe and his allies has been tempered by remarkably strong normative and domestic political headwinds. In short, barring major external or domestic political structural change, backsliding is unlikely and the current incremental reform trajectory is therefore likely to persist. Yet the failure of Abe’s government so far to achieve long-desired, ambitious reforms to central pillars of Japan’s security posture also demonstrates the persistent headwinds future prime ministers will continue to face.

Identifying Change: Japan’s Security Shift Under Abe

A controversial figure to many in and outside Japan, Abe returned as prime minister in 2012 as one of his generation’s most experienced political leaders and foreign policy experts. The grandson of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957-1960), one of Japan’s most consequential postwar leaders concerning security policy, Abe began his political career in the 1980s as secretary to his father, then-Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe. Immediately before becoming prime minister the first time, Abe the younger served as deputy (2001-2003) and then chief Cabinet secretary (2005-2006) during the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who held the office from 2001 to 2006. Abe’s time in Koizumi’s Cabinet was significantly shaped by Japan’s struggle to respond to growing U.S. calls for the JSDF to do more in a post-9/11 context, both within and outside an alliance framework. Abe emerged as one of Koizumi’s key advisers on security affairs and as Koizumi’s anointed successor. During his first term as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, Abe unabashedly championed ambitious national security reforms — in particular, revising the Article 9 “peace clause” of Japan’s Constitution or, short of that, reinterpreting it to overturn a self-imposed ban on collective self-defense; establishing a “Japanese-style national security council” (Nihon-ban NSC); and elevating Japan’s Defense Agency to ministry-level status. His first administration, however, was ephemeral, collapsing after only 365 days. Abe left office in 2007 having achieved only the last of those three goals. Five years later, voters rejected the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after a rare three-year experiment with the LDP in the opposition, and Abe returned as prime minister. As his inaugural press conference in December 2012 makes clear — especially in the context of rapidly worsening tensions with China over contested islands in the East China Sea — Abe considered the ruling coalition’s landslide victory a mandate to pursue his ambitious agenda. Yet, perhaps due to lessons learned during his first experience as prime minister, his government’s national security reform effort so far appears much more pragmatic and incremental than ideological or radical. Indeed, it has repeatedly dialed back its ambitions when confronted with strong political resistance. The longevity, stability, and moderating effect of key advisers — especially chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has held the position longer than anyone else in Japan’s history — also appear integral. Nevertheless, the Abe government has achieved significant national security reforms. National Security Policy Shifts A major push by the Abe government to transform Japan’s security policy and the roles and missions of its defense forces culminated in the passage of ambitious “peace and security legislation” in 2015 that formally took effect in March 2016. The legislation included revisions to 10 existing laws as well as a new International Peace Support bill.[12] Among other things, it provided the legal foundation for the controversial 2014 Cabinet decision to reinterpret the Article 9 “peace clause” to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense under specific conditions, as well as a major revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in 2015.[13] The legislation, key aspects of which had been in the works for years, effectively accelerated the post-Cold War trend of incremental expansion of the scope of the JSDF’s missions in response to Japan’s changing regional and global security environment. The primary aims of the legislation were to bolster deterrence to avoid armed conflict, especially through strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance; to protect Japanese nationals; and to better contribute to international peace and stability under “proactive pacifism” (sekkyokuteki heiwashugi).[14] More specifically, the landmark security legislation had implications for three categories of JSDF operations:[15] “Use of Force” (buryoku koshi) The security legislation moderately expanded the conditions under which Japan’s government may opt to employ the JSDF in response to an armed attack against a third country “that is in a close relationship with Japan,” or for “limited” collective self-defense. Before this expansion, it was considered unconstitutional for the JSDF to use force unless responding to a direct armed attack on Japan itself. Although this change is significant, especially for the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan’s right of collective self-defense may be exercised only under three relatively strict, globally unique conditions. Most importantly, the armed attack against a third party must itself pose a “threat to [Japan’s] survival” (kuni no sonritsu). As Japan’s 2017 defense white paper states, “exercise of the right of collective self-defense is not permitted for […] turning back an attack made against a foreign country.”[16] In other words, despite the Abe Cabinet’s reinterpretation of Article 9 in 2014, the expanded circumstances under which Japan may exercise the right of collective self-defense, which is afforded to all sovereign states under international law, remain limited on constitutional grounds.[17] Notwithstanding these constraints, and regardless of whether this right is ever exercised, the legislation significantly expanded opportunities for the JSDF to participate in bilateral and multilateral planning, training, and exercises. This is intended to enhance both deterrence and readiness, especially of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Peace Support Activities Recognizing that conflicts beyond areas surrounding Japan may have an “important influence on Japan’s peace and security,” the 2015 legislation also expanded the government’s ability to deploy the JSDF overseas in what it calls international peace support activities, albeit primarily in noncombat roles, such as ship inspections, search-and-rescue operations, and logistical support for U.S. forces. For example, since late 2017, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships have deployed near the Korean Peninsula to forestall attempts by North Korea to bypass international sanctions.[18] This support cannot be provided in combat zones, however, and must be temporarily suspended in the event that fighting breaks out. The legislation also allows for limited use of weapons in certain situations in which JSDF personnel, or others under their supervision, come under attack. Important limitations persist in these cases, too. For example, personnel are expected to evacuate if the area becomes a combat zone.[19] Peacetime Activities The 2015 security legislation also enables the JSDF to engage in “asset protection” missions, or to use weapons to protect foreign (presumably, mainly U.S.) military forces involved in peacetime activities that contribute to Japan’s defense, such as bilateral/multilateral exercises or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. The first such maritime escort mission occurred in May 2017, and the first aerial escort (of a U.S. B-1 strategic bomber) followed that November.[20] The legislation also enables the use of weapons in U.N. peacekeeping operations as well as in the rescue of Japanese nationals overseas under certain conditions, including with the consent of the state in which the operation takes place.[21] As with limited collective self-defense, significant restrictions unique to Japan persist. Nevertheless, these expanded authorities have created opportunities for expanded training, exercises, and contingency planning, thereby enhancing readiness and deterrence within and outside an alliance context.[22] [quote id="2"] Overall, the major components of the Abe government’s security policies are captured in Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy, released in December 2013.[23] Three major pillars of the strategy are “strengthening and expanding Japan’s capabilities and roles,” “strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance,” and actively promoting security cooperation with third countries in the Asia-Pacific and beyond,[24] each of which is intended to be mutually reinforcing. A brief overview of how these pillars manifest in terms of specific policies follows: Strengthening Territorial Defense The long-term trend of Japan’s evolving national security posture — which has accelerated under Abe — has been the gradual reconfiguration of JSDF force structure and posture to strengthen deterrence, improve situational awareness, bolster missile defense, and develop more expeditionary response capabilities. At the same time, the JSDF has sought to improve coordination and interoperability across its ground, maritime, and air services, and its ability to flexibly respond to an array of traditional security threats as well as novel challenges in the “gray zone” — contingencies that are neither a pure peacetime nor a traditional armed attack situation[25] — and in the realms of cyber and space. Shifting Southwest Since major diplomatic crises between Tokyo and Beijing in September 2010 and 2012, and as a significant expansion of the scope and frequency of China’s military and paramilitary activities in the East China Sea and western Pacific Ocean presents new and complex challenges, Japanese defense planners have come to see Japan’s remote southwestern islands, including the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, as more strategically significant yet also as increasingly vulnerable.[26] This operational challenge has prompted moving away from a Cold War-era defense orientation that emphasized a potential Soviet invasion through Hokkaido and toward China-centric challenges to the southwest. Building off landmark changes in the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines  released under the Democratic Party of Japan,[27] the Abe government’s first — and so far, only — National Defense Program Guidelines, issued in 2013, calls for the JSDF to function as a “Dynamic Joint Defense Force” and to significantly improve its capability to deter and, if necessary, to respond effectively to “an attack on remote islands.”[28] It has sought to bolster deterrence by improving intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as implementing shifts to force structure and posture of the JSDF and the Japan Coast Guard to strengthen their ability to respond with speed and flexibility.[29] In response to a surge in Chinese military and paramilitary operations near Japanese territory, a major focus of the Abe government’s reorientation has been the incremental militarization of Japan’s remote southwestern islands, including installing radar sites and anti-ship and surface-to-air missile units; procuring rapidly deployable capabilities closer to major western JSDF bases; significantly bolstering intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; doubling the number of F-15s stationed in Okinawa, the major southwestern hub for JSDF and U.S. forces in Japan; and, in the most distinct break with past practice, establishing Japan’s first amphibious forces since 1945. Japan’s new 2,100-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was formally stood up in Nagasaki in April 2018, has trained to retake remote islands occupied by foreign forces. Its establishment coincided with a major restructuring of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces, including the creation of a Ground Component Command tasked with controlling ground forces across Japan and bolstering their ability to deploy rapidly in various contingencies, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.[30] Finally, and consistent with the 2013 National Security Strategy’s call to “enhance the capabilities of the law enforcement agencies responsible for territorial patrol activities and reinforce its maritime surveillance capabilities,”[31] the Abe government has prioritized expanding the situational awareness, presence operations, and rapid-response capabilities of the front-line Coast Guard. In particular, it has built and deployed new ships to the Coast Guard’s regional headquarters in Okinawa to enable 24/7 patrols of the Senkakus, including establishing a dedicated 12-vessel Senkakus Territorial Waters Guard based in Ishigaki.[32] Spaces to Watch An update of Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines, expected later this year, may herald important additional changes. The same goes for the Mid-Term Defense Program, which was also last revised in 2013. In response to a perceived worsening of the North Korean threat in 2017, the Abe administration recently green-lighted the purchase of two Aegis Ashore batteries.[33] Other prominent and more controversial capabilities that Japan is reportedly considering include long-range cruise missiles and the remodeling of Izumo-class destroyers so that F-35Bs — not just helicopters — can land on their decks. Japan’s fiscal 2018 budget reportedly includes expenditures related to the introduction of some longer-range joint-strike missiles.[34] Although technically constitutional based on a 1950s government interpretation of Article 9, a long-range strike missile capable of hitting “enemy bases” in North Korea would be unprecedented.[35] So would landing U.S. F-35Bs on Japan’s large “helicopter-carrying destroyers.”[36] Depending on how this hypothetical policy shift is implemented, it could effectively turn Izumo-class destroyers into strike carriers — potentially an “offensive” (kogekigata) platform prohibited under a decades-old official interpretation of Article 9. It is important to emphasize, however, that these potential shifts are only under consideration. Previous governments have considered similar capabilities but ultimately decided not to pursue them. The U.S.-Japan Alliance Despite widespread assertions that Abe is pursuing a “nationalist” agenda, the second of three core features of his government’s national security strategy has been to reinforce Japan’s alliance with Washington, forged in the postwar occupation, as a foundational pillar of national security and the “cornerstone” of regional peace and stability. While bolstering U.S.-Japan defense ties is a long-term trend that predates Abe, it has accelerated since 2012. Indeed, Japan’s latest defense white paper, published in 2017, devotes more than 50 pages to the topic of “strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.”[37] Recent steps include establishing new institutional linkages, making political and legal commitments to support one another in a wider array of contingencies, and significantly expanding joint training and exercises. As captured in the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, recent institutional changes have strengthened bilateral planning, decision-making, intelligence-sharing, and flexible crisis response across a range of traditional and nontraditional scenarios (including the space and cyber domains) in peacetime, during a gray-zone contingency, or in the event of an armed attack. Less heralded but highly significant for allied coordination are the upgraded Bilateral Planning Mechanism and the new standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism, the latter of which enables frequent, real-time communication among civilian and uniformed alliance managers.[38] In 2014, as Chinese military and paramilitary operations in the East China Sea were surging and Beijing appeared to be probing U.S. commitments, President Barack Obama reaffirmed the alliance’s applicability to an armed attack situation over the Senkakus. President Donald Trump reaffirmed this commitment in 2017. Key Japanese developments include the aforementioned expansion of authorities under the 2015 security legislation enabling the JSDF to come to the aid of foreign (especially U.S.) forces under attack, albeit conditionally, and to engage in a wider array of training and exercises. In 2017, the first major Abe-Trump alliance joint statement included a U.S. “commitment to the security of Japan through the full range of capabilities, including U.S. nuclear forces.”[39] [quote id="3"] Finally, the changes in the alliance over the past six years have occurred in the context of a continuing broader U.S. strategic commitment, across several administrations, to the Asia-Pacific, captured most conspicuously in the widely-cited Obama administration’s rhetoric of a “rebalance” of U.S. military forces to the region.[40] A series of U.S. administrations have deployed America’s most capable military assets to the Asia-Pacific and to bases in Japan in particular. For example, the first overseas deployment of F-35s was to southwestern Japan in 2017. The United States has also expanded bilateral and trilateral training and exercises involving Japan, exported some of its most advanced platforms to Japan, and continues to work closely with Japan on advanced technical cooperation such as missile defense. In addition to new JSDF peacetime maritime and air escort missions, the 2015 security legislation facilitated a significant expansion of U.S.-Japan joint exercises. They increased from 19 in 2015 to 62 in 2017.[41] Bolstering Ties with Third Parties A third focus of national security strategy under Abe has been to build on the outreach of previous administrations and significantly expand Japan’s security ties with countries other than the United States, albeit with a clear focus on U.S. security partners in the region — such as Australia, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam — as well as further abroad, e.g., the United Kingdom and France.[42] In addition to complementing U.S.-led efforts to incrementally consolidate a “web” of mutually beneficial security ties among like-minded Asia-Pacific countries, Abe’s initiative also demonstrates Japan’s increasingly “proactive” contribution to regional security, creates opportunities for cooperation on priorities such as defense technology, and helps to emphasize Japan’s support for a rules-based regional order at a moment when the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned about the challenges posed by Beijing. Especially with regard to China’s policies toward territorial disputes, the Abe administration appears to see all maritime nations as having a fundamental shared interest in standing up to coercion from Beijing.[43] As Abe emphasized in a widely cited 2013 address,
Japan must work even more closely with the U.S., Korea, Australia and other like-minded democracies throughout the region. A rules-promoter, a commons’ guardian, and an effective ally and partner to the U.S. and other democracies, are all roles that Japan MUST fulfill.[44]
The Abe administration has since continued to promote deeper Japanese and U.S. security ties with Australia, with which Japan’s links have expanded significantly over the past two decades, India, and member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), several of which also have territorial disputes with Beijing.[45] Last year also brought a major revival of Abe’s 2007 call for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” — an initiative inspired at least in part by concerns about China’s trajectory. Although the Trump administration appears to have signed on to this initiative, its concrete policy implications are as yet unclear.[46] In this spirit, the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation emphasize “cooperation with regional and other partners, as well as international organizations,” and “the global nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”[47] Additional manifestations of Japan’s more proactive international security cooperation include enabling JSDF personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations to use small arms to defend peacekeepers from other countries and to jointly protect base camps,[48] as well as expanding partner capacity building and defense technology transfers, especially with Southeast Asian nations. One example is Japan’s first-ever proposal for an ASEAN-wide defense framework.[49] Japan’s recent deployment as part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation to South Sudan marked the first time the JSDF was allowed to provide small arms ammunition transfers to foreign peacekeepers and exercise new protection authorities.[50] Most recently, U.S. allies Australia and Canada have announced that they will deploy from U.S. bases in Japan in support of military activities that aim to catch evaders of sanctions imposed on North Korea.[51] Visiting forces agreements and expanded bilateral exercises with other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, are also reportedly under consideration and would constitute a major development.[52] Also notable is the Abe government’s move in 2014 to significantly loosen a decades-old ban on arms exports. This shift, though it has yet to bear much concrete fruit, opened up significant space for high-end defense technology cooperation with, and exports to, U.S. allies and partners. Japan’s National Security Strategy identifies defense equipment and technology cooperation as a means to strengthen indigenous defense capabilities, in particular by reinvigorating Japan’s struggling defense industrial base, as well as strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.[53] High-profile results include an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to sell Japanese submarine technology to Australia. Tokyo has also signed defense technology cooperation agreements with various countries beyond the United States, including Britain and France. Institutional Reforms: Strengthening Political Leadership of Decision-Making The unifying theme of the Abe government’s national security-relevant institutional reforms has been a concerted effort to consolidate executive (Cabinet-level) and prime ministerial control over foreign policy and national security decision-making. This focus is consistent with a general decades-old trend — also accelerated under Abe — of expanding prime ministerial power.[54] The goals for consolidating national security decision-making have been twofold: first, to ameliorate perceived institutional weaknesses, especially with regard to interagency coordination, strategic planning, and crisis management; and, second, to improve the government’s ability to expeditiously and flexibly cope with the increasingly complex security environment, which many in Japan view as uncertain — and worsening.[55] Since 2012, Abe and the prime minister’s office have played a more direct role in foreign policy decision-making than any previous administration.[56] Establishment of Japan’s National Security Council The single most significant reform to national security-relevant institutions since 2012 has been the establishment of Japan’s first National Security Council (NSC) in December 2013.[57] Announcing his plans that February, Abe said that the NSC “control tower” would be “centered on the prime minister” and tasked with “flexible and regular discussions of diplomatic and security affairs from a strategic perspective.” Its purpose would be to provide “an environment for rapid responses based on strong political leadership.”[58] Creation of the NSC was part of a much longer-term effort by previous prime ministers to more directly shape national security policy, in particular by strengthening the prime minister’s office and Cabinet relative to Japan’s bureaucracy, improving interagency coordination, and more directly involving JSDF officers in security policy discussions.[59] It also flows from an expansion of Japan’s conception of “national security” to encompass issues related to space, cyber, and the financial system as well as terrorism, nuclear counterproliferation, and gray-zone challenges. Accordingly, Abe has frequently convened the NSC to deliberate national security issues, broadly defined, and to make decisions. The council has also facilitated interagency coordination on matters of diplomacy, security, economics, and crisis management.[60] The NSC’s most important feature is its “four-minister meeting,” which brings together the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of defense for regular discussions of long- and short-term security concerns. Unlike its institutional predecessors (e.g., the 1986 Security Council), Japan’s NSC was set up to serve as an advisory committee and as a de facto decision-making body.[61] Having convened on a roughly weekly basis over its first four years — far outpacing that of any other postwar security institution — the council appears to be proving its mettle as a venue for regular and frequent top-level political deliberations on, and centralized leadership of, Japan’s national security affairs.[62] [quote id="4"] To support the NSC the Abe government created a National Security Secretariat in January 2014. Headed by a secretary-general and housed within the Cabinet secretariat, its staff averages 70 to 80 personnel. Most are civil servants seconded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense, including some uniformed JSDF personnel. Each individual is assigned to one of six teams — three with functional and three with regional focuses. The secretary-general — widely considered Japan’s de facto national security adviser — sometimes functions as Abe’s personal emissary to foreign leaders.[63] Over the past four years, the secretariat has taken the lead on interagency coordination for major national security documents, most prominently, Japan’s comprehensive National Security Strategy. Replacing the Basic Defense Policy, written in 1957, and reflecting the NSC’s more expansive conceptualization of national security affairs, the National Security Strategy runs the gamut from territorial defense to international energy and cyberspace matters. The strategy’s existence and content reflect the “politics-led, top-down” whole-of-government approach that motivated the creation of the NSC. So, too, does the secretariat’s function as a nexus within the Cabinet for consolidating the policies of Japan’s manifold agencies into a comprehensive national strategy.[64] After nearly five years, Japan’s NSC appears to have achieved a handful of key objectives. It has done much to address long-standing issues in Japan’s policy decision-making through advancing centralization, political leadership, and whole-of-government approaches to national security. For these reasons, it is already considered one of the most significant security-relevant institutional reforms in Japan’s postwar history.[65] Politicization of Bureaucratic Posts Relevant to National Security A second defining feature of the Abe government’s effort to consolidate political control of national security decision-making — one that has received less attention outside Japan — is its more assertive political review of bureaucratic personnel decisions and its willingness to intervene.[66] This effort is part of a broader push reflected in the establishment in 2014 of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs. The bureau, which subjects high-level administrative positions (e.g., deputy vice-minister and higher) to review by the chief Cabinet secretary and prime minister, has been domestically controversial.[67] Yasuo Fukuda, a former prime minister from Abe’s party, lambasted the bureau’s politicization of administrative appointments as tantamount to the “ruination of the state” (kokka no hametsu), even calling it the Abe Cabinet’s “greatest failure.”[68] Even before establishing the bureau, however, Abe had demonstrated a willingness to take a proactive role in bureaucratic appointments. Although such decisions are a matter of course in the United States and many other countries, in Japan, critics see the growing politicization of government appointments as violating well-established norms. Some of the concerns include fears of a “spoils system” or policy inconsistency, especially in light of what some refer to as the “revolving door” prime ministership — Japan had six prime ministers between 2006 and 2012. On the other hand, advocates of the Bureau of Personnel Affairs contend that ministerial control of personnel appointments has historically exacerbated pervasive bureaucratic “turf consciousness” (nawabari no ishiki), which in turn has incentivized powerful bureaucrats to prioritize ministerial interests over the “national interest.” In short, advocates see the bureau and the NSC as necessary countermeasures to these perceived weaknesses.[69] When it comes to national security appointments specifically, the Abe government has tapped individuals whose views and experiences appear compatible with its policy objectives. During Abe’s first administration, he opted for a more indirect approach. [70]  Since 2012, however, his government has been more hands-on. In 2013, the Abe administration appointed an active-duty Coast Guard officer as commandant — the first time this had ever happened. Previous commandants had been career bureaucrats with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.[71] Not coincidentally, the officer had operational experience in the waters surrounding the contested Senkaku Islands — the object of a long-running territorial dispute with Beijing that had worsened significantly by the time Abe returned to office in December 2012.[72] Perhaps Abe’s most controversial and security-policy-significant intervention was his late-2013 appointment of a new director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau — the powerful body of legal experts that effectively determines the official interpretation of Japan’s Constitution. Abe’s decision came as he was seeking the bureau’s blessing for the Cabinet’s effort to effectively “reinterpret” Article 9 to make constitutional what the bureau had for decades deemed unconstitutional: the exercise of Japan’s right of collective self-defense under international law.[73] Sidestepping the norm that outgoing directors-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau be replaced by their deputies, Abe appointed an outsider: the former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s International Legal Affairs Bureau. Reportedly, this official shared Abe’s view that the Cabinet had the authority to fulfill the prime minister’s desire to render collective self-defense constitutional.[74] The appointment was widely criticized by opposition parties and constitutional scholars as an affront to past precedent and on constitutional grounds.[75]

Plus ça Change…? Abe’s Incrementalism Amid Persistent Constraints

Although the Abe government’s security policy and institutional reforms constitute significant shifts, it is important to also acknowledge the foundational security principles and policies that have remained unchanged, to avoid conflating Abe’s rhetoric and his stated (or imputed) desires with actual policy changes, and to assess with appropriate measure the significance of specific policy shifts. Far from constituting a radical shift, even in the instances of major and significant reforms undertaken since 2012, in most cases the Abe government’s successes build on longer-term efforts that predate his administration. That these shifts have, in key instances, attracted supra-partisan support — as reflected in associated developments during the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), from 2009 to 2012 — and have not fomented a major popular backlash at the ballot box suggests mainstream, if at times grudging, popular support. In the aggregate, these findings carry important implications for Japan’s likely trajectory after Abe leaves office. Policy: More Status Quo than Revisionist  When evaluating the cumulative significance of Abe-era national security revisions through a lens of continuity, rather than change, the durability of decades-old, fundamental pillars of Japan’s security posture emerges as strongly as the evolutionary nature of the post-2012 changes. Especially when considered against the backdrop of the transformative changes reshaping Japan’s regional security environment, the persistence of Japan’s self-imposed constraints on the development and employment of military power is striking. Appreciating these external factors and internal limits is essential to understanding Japan’s strategic trajectory, as well as the prospects for major change moving forward. On key issues where Abe’s government has sought major changes and faced domestic political resistance, it has either moderated its ambitions significantly, such as introducing globally unique limitations on exercising collective self-defense, or abandoned them, as was the case with collective security. When it comes to fundamental mainstays of Japan’s national security — such as the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance or Japan’s non-nuclear principles — continuity is the defining feature of government policy. Absent more fundamental changes to these core pillars, the idea that the Abe era thus far represents a radical inflection point in Japan’s postwar security trajectory loses significant credibility. First, and most essentially, Article 9’s original text remains untouched. Despite repeated declarations since 2012 that amending Article 9 is his government’s “historic task,” Abe has not only failed to achieve revisions, but by 2017 had dialed back his stated ambitions to such a degree that he was prominently criticized within his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for abandoning past LDP positions.[76] The Abe government’s plan, announced in May 2017, aims to leave Article 9’s existing clauses untouched and proposes adding a new clause that states merely that the “existence” of the JSDF is constitutional.[77] Since the JSDF has existed for 64 years, and an overwhelming majority of the Japanese public already believes it is constitutional, one is hard-pressed to conceive of a less ambitious revision. Furthermore, though to many contemporary observers the first revision of Japan’s 1947 Constitution seems more likely than ever before, public opinion remains, at best, ambivalent.[78] Faced with various domestic political headwinds — including the reemergence of festering, though unrelated, scandals in spring 2018 — it is unclear whether Abe’s government will be able to achieve even the modest addition it proposed last year. Article 9 is the linchpin of Japan’s national security policy, and without a more ambitious revision of its first and/or second clauses, other core aspects of national security policy are far less likely to be radically changed. The persistence of Article 9 in its current form is both a symptom and cause of Japan’s continued reluctance to employ JSDF personnel overseas, especially in operations that may require the use of lethal force. Since 1954, no JSDF personnel have died in combat. Even after six years of Abe’s leadership and changes, globally unique conditions remain on the use of force outside an unambiguous armed attack on Japan, and “exclusive defense” (senshu boei) remains Japan’s “fundamental policy.”[79] To be sure, the Cabinet’s 2014 reinterpretation of Japan’s Constitution to enable the “limited” exercise of collective self-defense represents a historic policy shift. But even under the new interpretation, the Abe government agreed to impose three strict conditions bounding the circumstances under which Japan could actually exercise its collective self-defense right under international law. Most significantly, the armed attack suffered by the other state must itself pose an existential threat to Japan (kuni no sonritsu). What’s more, in the debate leading up to the Cabinet’s decision, Abe abandoned his hand-picked advisory panel’s recommendation to enable the JSDF to use force in U.N. Security Council-authorized collective security operations (such as the 1991 Persian Gulf War).[80] [quote id="5"] Although new and historically significant legal authorities came into effect in 2016, severe restrictions remain on allowing JSDF personnel to use weapons in peacetime, and there is significant political reluctance to do so.[81] In the historic deployment as part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation to South Sudan, Abe’s government withdrew the JSDF once the security situation deteriorated, presumably to avoid casualties abroad. The JSDF were withdrawn, then, without actually utilizing the new authority to “rush to rescue” (kaketsuke-keigo) — or using lethal (small-arms) force to come to the aid of other nations’ personnel.[82] Article 9’s second clause has particular significance for Japan’s force development options. A Cold War-era self-imposed ban on the JSDF’s acquisition of “offensive” (kogekigata) platforms of the sort that major military powers such as the United States, China, and Russia procure as a matter of course (aircraft carriers, ICBMs, strategic bombers) has been sustained based on a judgment that these platforms would constitute “war potential” and exceed the “minimum necessary” for self-defense. Another fundamental pillar of Japan’s national security posture — the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance — not only remains in place but the Abe government has doubled down upon it. Relative to declarations from leaders in the 1970s, especially Yasuhiro Nakasone, who would become prime minister in the 1980s and who famously referred to the alliance earlier in his career as a “semi-permanent necessity” (haneikyuteki ni hitsuyo) and called for autonomous defense (jishu boei),[83] calls for marginally more independent capabilities are hardly radical or even unique to Abe. In fact, they are generally supported in Washington. Even so, the 2015 revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation stipulates that the allies’ basic respective obligations under the 1960 security treaty remain unchanged. Deterring and, if necessary, responding to “an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan” remains the alliance’s primary mandate.[84] Japan is still under no treaty obligation to support the U.S. militarily. This of course does not necessarily mean that it would not. And the 2015 security legislation does enable, based on a political judgment, significant expansion of JSDF logistical support for U.S. operations, involvement in bilateral planning and exercises, and use of weapons in various peacetime contingencies. The aforementioned and now explicitly authorized “asset protection” mission reflected in the 2015 legislation expands the circumstances under which Japan can use weapons to defend a U.S. vessel under attack or that of other friendly nations if two conditions are met: that it is peacetime, and that the vessel is engaged in activities contributing to Japan’s defense. Even so, the JSDF can use weapons only to the extent necessary to repel the attack or to create an opportunity for retreat.[85] As a practical matter, Japan’s defense spending is not rapidly increasing and remains a major hurdle to any ambitious expansion of JSDF capabilities, roles, or missions. Despite widespread media hype about the Abe government’s “record high” defense budgets since 2013, in nominal yen terms, Japan’s 2018 defense budget is roughly commensurate with its 1997 spending. By comparison, during the intervening two decades, China’s official defense budget surged from one-quarter of Japan’s spending to four times the size of Japan’s defense budget. Regardless of Abe and other political leaders’ stated ambitions, without significant increases in defense funding, more fundamental changes to JSDF force structure or employment will be difficult. One recent study suggested that at least 40 percent of the defense priorities delineated in the Abe government’s 2018 budget request are underfunded.[86] The loosening of a long-standing ban on arms exports, which, in part, was intended to allow greater “bang for the buck” through economies of scale, has yet to attract any purchases of major platforms.[87] Other longtime, self-imposed constraints have remained more or less in place. Perhaps most salient, in light of recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, is that Japan continues to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The Abe government has repeatedly said that Japan’s long-standing “three non-nuclear principles” (hikaku san gensoku) — non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory — remain the country’s “fundamental policy.”[88] To be sure, in technical terms, Japan has long hedged against fears of U.S. abandonment and, in recent years, discussion has been more open about the possible need to move beyond these principles.[89] But these debates are hardly unprecedented. Prime ministers since the 1950s have held that “defensive” nuclear weapons would be constitutional.[90] Japan’s policies in this regard have not changed. This list, while not exhaustive, demonstrates that, despite important policy shifts initiated by the Abe administration since 2012, central pillars of Japanese security policy basically remain in place. Although significant in practical terms and historic in a national context, the Abe government’s alterations to Japan’s defense posture — up to and including limited collective self-defense — are best understood as evolutionary steps in response to a rapidly changing strategic environment. Despite Japan’s potentially volatile region, there is, as of yet, no clear evidence that the public would support more radical changes to Japan’s fundamental security principles, such as revising Article 9’s first or second clause to enable the abandonment of “exclusive defense” (senshu boei), much less pursuing autonomous military power outside a U.S.-Japan alliance framework, significantly ramping up defense spending, or acquiring nuclear weapons. Institutional Reforms: Evolutionary and Mainstream As discussed earlier, another major focus of national security reforms under Abe has been institutional; specifically, consolidating policy decision-making in the Cabinet, and the prime minister’s office in particular. Yet this trend also has a long legacy that predates Abe and is not unique to the LDP.[91] Previous long-serving LDP prime ministers have been proactive champions of administrative reforms, including Nakasone, who was prime minister from 1982 to 1987, Ryutaro Hashimoto, who held the office from 1996 to 1998, and Koizumi, who led from 2001 to 2006. Abe has built on the legacy of these and other predecessors, including former DPJ prime ministers.[92] Most prominently, the bills to establish the National Security Council (NSC) and the Bureau of Personnel Affairs received significant support from the DPJ.[93] The founding of Japan’s NSC was an outgrowth of a reform movement dating at least to the 1970s. That movement accelerated significantly after the September 11, 2001, attacks as Japan was called on to adopt a more proactive role in international security affairs and as its regional security environment grew more complicated. In 1986, Nakasone had established a “Security Council” (now defunct) with similar objectives to those that motivated the establishment of the NSC in 2013. Subsequent administrations reformed it incrementally.[94] Koizumi’s post-9/11 efforts, in which Abe played a central role as deputy and later chief Cabinet secretary, were of particular significance in centralizing foreign policy decision-making.[95] After additional reforms during the leadership of the DPJ, the March 2011 “triple disaster” (the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history triggered the tsunami that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster) and other crises revealed the deficiencies of existing crisis management and other national security-relevant institutions. In 2013, Abe, the ruling coalition, and the DPJ joined forces to establish the NSC.[96] [quote id="6"] Note also that with several high-profile exceptions mentioned earlier, most of Abe’s appointments related to national security have been relatively conventional. Although Article 68 of the Japanese Constitution requires only a majority of Cabinet ministers to be members of the Diet, all of Abe’s Cabinet-level national security appointments have been LDP politicians. Both foreign ministers in his second administration are generally considered to be more moderate than he is. Meanwhile, Abe’s chief foreign policy adviser, the National Security Secretariat secretary-general, is a retired Ministry of Foreign Affairs career diplomat. Although Abe’s most controversial intervention in bureaucratic personnel decisions, the appointment of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau director-general in 2013, was unprecedented, this Cabinet position has not historically been immune to political pressure. As Richard Samuels notes in a seminal 2004 study, powerful prime ministers in the past had pressured the bureau to achieve desired ends in national security policy. Most significantly, in the 1950s the bureau was pressured to declare that the establishment of the JSDF and, later, the possession of nuclear weapons would be constitutional, as long as they were for purposes of “self-defense.” In the 1980s, it judged arms exports to the United States constitutional. Nor has political frustration with the bureau been rooted strictly in the LDP. Since the end of the Cold War, influential politicians, including at least three who later became presidents of the erstwhile leading-opposition DPJ — Ichiro Ozawa, Naoto Kan, and Yoshihiko Noda — have criticized what they saw as overreach by the bureau. As Japan struggled to figure out its international role after 9/11, a LDP Diet member went so far as to introduce a bill in 2003 to disband the bureau. In Diet testimony, one of his colleagues told then-Prime Minister Koizumi, also a member of the LDP, “When interpretations of a bureaucratic agency of the government dominate the legislative process on such an issue as national security, it is a violation of the separation of powers among the three branches of government.” Perhaps most telling in the context of this study is the fact that, during his leadership campaign in 2002, Noda, a member of the DPJ who would later be Abe’s immediate predecessor as prime minister in 2011-2012, reportedly advocated for collective self-defense and pledged to appoint a sympathetic director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. Noda’s predecessor as prime minister, Kan, a fellow member of the DPJ who led from 2010 to 2011, had previously argued that “the fact that the CLB serves as the highest interpretive authority on the Constitution is itself a violation of the Constitution.”[97] Abe’s government has implemented major changes and flouted some norms concerning political influence over the bureaucracy. In particular, Abe was the first to decisively assert his will so conspicuously over bureaucrats of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. But the sentiment that inspired him was neither unique to him nor limited to his party. Placed in historical context, Abe-era institutional reforms appear far less outside the mainstream than much of the contemporary discourse would indicate. This suggests that Abe may not be as exceptional as is often assumed — a finding with significant implications for the era that follows his administration.

Accounting for Change … and Continuity: Japan’s Shifting Strategic and Political Context

To properly assess the significance of security shifts under the Abe administration and their longer-term implications for Japan’s trajectory, they must be considered in their international and domestic context. Failure to do so risks excessive, or unwarranted, attribution of causality to specific individuals, like Abe, or to idiosyncratic factors, such as ideology. The available evidence suggests that any explanation of developments in the Abe era requires a nuanced assessment of the complex factors at play. A perceived worsening of Japan’s external security environment has created political space for incremental rationalization of security policy shifts and decision-making to confront these challenges, even as long-standing, if contested and weakening, normative and domestic factors continue to provide powerful incentives for ambitious leaders to moderate their policy goals. Japan’s Increasingly "Severe" External Security Environment Abe’s return to power in late 2012 occurred as major changes were developing in Japan's regional security environment, creating a strategic context distinctly different from his first stint in office. Then, from 2006 to 2007, he failed to achieve most of his proposed national security reforms. More recently, of particular salience from Tokyo’s perspective have been the worsening threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea, China’s rapidly expanding military capabilities and newly provocative rhetoric and policies in the East China Sea, the growing prominence of qualitatively novel security challenges, including in the “gray zone” and cyber and space domains, and developments affecting alliance politics. North Korea From Japan’s perspective, over the past five years North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have evolved from longer-term security concerns to clear and present dangers. To some observers, most notably Abe himself, the despotic, internationally isolated regime of Kim Jong Un poses a threat that is unprecedented in Japan’s postwar history.[98] Since 2011, Pyongyang has conducted four nuclear tests, the most recent of which had an estimated yield of more than 100 kilotons (by comparison, the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 was roughly 15 kilotons). The previous North Korean regime sparked global alarm when it tested missiles in 1998, 2006, and 2009, but the Kim Jong Un regime has tested missiles at a rate that dwarfs that of its predecessor: 19 in 2014, 15 in 2015, 24 in 2016, and 20 in 2017.[99] North Korean missiles have also become qualitatively more advanced and more mobile (making them easier to hide and more difficult to destroy). They are also longer-ranged, and capable of delivering larger — potentially nuclear — payloads. In 2017 alone, Pyongyang conducted its first thermonuclear test, provocatively launched missiles over Japanese territory and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles it claimed could hit anywhere in the world, including Washington, D.C. North Korea also made specific threats against Japanese and U.S. bases. In January 2018, Abe summarized his take on the implications by saying “the security environment surrounding Japan is its most severe since World War II.”[100] China Over the past decade, the degree to which Japanese elites and the public see China as a national security concern has increased significantly. At the time of Abe’s first term, from 2006 to 2007, few outside national security circles paid much attention to Beijing’s quiet development of the world’s most robust arsenal of conventionally-tipped ballistic missiles, or to various other “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities aimed at deterring U.S. intervention in a regional conflict. Fewer still paid attention to China’s vast sovereignty claims in the South and East China Seas — including of five islands administered by Japan. Furthermore, until a political crisis with Beijing over the contested islands in 2010, the concept of “gray-zone situations” was not a major concern of most Japanese strategists.[101] Times have changed, and concerns about the security challenge posed by China are now mainstream and less abstract. In particular, those concerns deepened among the Japanese elite and broader public from 2009 to 2012, when Abe and his party, the LDP, were part of the opposition. Coupled with China’s symbolic replacement of Japan in 2010 as the world’s second-largest national economy, years of double-digit defense spending increases provided easily digestible evidence that the military balance of power was shifting. The day Abe’s first administration collapsed in 2007, Beijing’s official defense budget — widely considered to underreport actual military spending — was 356 billion yuan (about $45 billion), roughly the same as Japan’s. By 2017, it was more than one trillion yuan (or $151 billion) — nearly quadruple Japan’s. Beyond Beijing’s long-standing nuclear arsenal, of particular concern to Japanese strategists is China’s world-leading arsenal of advanced, conventionally-tipped ballistic missiles, which are capable of hitting Japanese territory, including U.S. bases on Japan, as well as its increasingly modernized air force, navy, and marines, all of which dwarf Japan’s in quantitative terms and are, in some cases, already superior qualitatively. Beyond these broad trends, Beijing’s coercive rhetoric and policies following major political contretemps in 2010 and 2012 over the contested Senkakus presented to many Japanese observers a concrete and high-profile China-specific contingency scenario that would pose a direct potential threat to Japanese territory. Since September 2012 — just three months before Abe returned to office — Beijing’s employment of military and paranaval forces (especially its Coast Guard) to coercively challenge Japan’s effective administrative control of the islands has transformed the operational environment, introducing a major source of uncertainty and risk, and creating circumstances to facilitate a potential fait accompli.[102] In response, Japan nearly tripled the frequency with which it scrambled fighters against approaching Chinese planes between 2012 and 2017, reaching an all-time annual high of 851 by April 2017.[103] In the "gray zone," between late 2012 and December 2017 Chinese government vessels entered the Senkakus’ territorial waters more than 600 times to assert Beijing’s sovereignty claim.[104] For these reasons and others, such as concerns about Chinese military activities elsewhere in the East China Sea and Western Pacific, Japan’s 2017 defense white paper devotes 34 pages to commentary on concerns about China, including Beijing’s “attempts to change the status quo by coercion.”[105] In short, during Abe’s time out of office and since his return in 2012, the nature and scope of the perceived challenge that China poses to Japan’s national security has transformed in highly visible ways.[106] A wide array of political leaders, not just Abe, have called for countermeasures. Indeed, major shifts were adopted by the DPJ while Abe’s party was out of power from 2009 to 2012, and in the September 2012 LDP presidential election that Abe won, all five candidates campaigned on the importance of adopting a harder line against China.[107] Changing Military Technology and the Growing Prominence of Cyber and Space Technological transformations have also shaped Japanese leaders’ perceptions of the regional security environment since Abe’s first administration. In particular, the proliferation of extremely fast ballistic and cruise missiles in Northeast Asia and the growing prominence of new security domains — space and cyber, in particular — have fundamentally changed the nature of and speed at which a security contingency could manifest and a political decision would need to be made about how to respond, as well as the national security interests that are potentially at risk. Meanwhile, China’s demonstrated willingness to use paramilitary forces to assert its territorial claims has introduced other novel deterrence challenges in the “gray zone.” Although public discourse often overlooks these key trends in favor of more conspicuous metrics, such as the construction of aircraft carriers or defense budgets, these changing aspects of the regional security environment are a major driver of reforms to Japan’s security policies and institutions, most of which were designed for far more conventional military threats during the Cold War. Alliance Politics The United States, Japan’s sole treaty ally, has played an important role in shaping Japan’s recent security reforms: First, for decades, Washington has called for Japan to adopt a more proactive security posture. This long-term trend found global impetus after 9/11. More recently, however, rapid changes to the security environment in East Asia have caused U.S. policymakers to return their focus to ways Japan can “do more,” not in terms of global operations (such as in Iraq and Afghanistan) but in the Asia-Pacific. Second, the emergence of qualitatively new threats combined with the relative decline in U.S. power have deepened long-standing Japanese insecurities. Although this trend significantly predates 2016, the Trump administration’s saber-rattling toward Pyongyang and its rhetorical ambivalence regarding U.S. global security commitments, coupled with North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear and missile capabilities, have exacerbated the uncertainties. Pyongyang’s apparent ability to threaten Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. with a nuclear-armed missile in particular has raised concerns about “decoupling” and the possible undermining of U.S. extended deterrence.[108] [quote id="7"] One important consequence of this changing strategic environment can be seen in the tension inherent in Japan’s “alliance dilemma”:[109] between Japan’s longstanding concerns about possible entrapment in U.S.-led wars if it gets too close and its fears that Washington may abandon its ally if it does not. In recent years, anxiety has shifted even further toward the latter. This concern about abandonment, in turn, has incentivized Tokyo to signal its commitment to a more “balanced” alliance (collective self-defense; asset protection) and to support U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy more broadly. The Abe administration supported key components of the erstwhile Obama-era “rebalance to Asia” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and has proactively expanded ties with U.S. security partners in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. It has also championed the concept of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” Thus, Japan’s strategic alignment decisions appear to be aimed at pulling the United States closer while Tokyo diversifies economic and security ties with other U.S. allies and partners. This stands in stark contrast to several other states in the region — the Philippines under the Duterte administration, for example — that appear to be hedging between China and the United States. After a brief flirtation with a more “independent diplomacy” by the short-lived administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama from 2009 to 2010,[110] the foreign policies of Abe and his immediate predecessors manifest little ambivalence at either the popular or elite levels concerning which way Japan should align itself strategically.[111] The Domestic Politics of National Security In light of this rapidly changing strategic environment, an emerging elite near-consensus among moderates and conservatives on the necessity of some reforms and greater public permissiveness regarding key security issues have created domestic political space for the Abe government to pursue its agenda. Nevertheless, widespread domestic political sensitivities concerning military affairs,[112] combined with the deceptive limits of Abe and his party’s political mandate, also counsel pragmatic and significant restraint. The interaction of these domestic forces helps explain why Abe has achieved more than his predecessors yet still fallen short of his most ambitious objectives. Deepening Pragmatism A major trend of post-Cold War Japanese national security politics has been the replacement of the ideological, pacifist left as the major anti-LDP political force with a moderate, pragmatic center-left. Even before Abe returned in 2012, a basic consensus on the need for some national security reforms was coalescing among mainstream parties, whereas decades before there was much less support: Japan’s domestic institutions and policies were not up to the challenge of its increasingly complicated security environment. Accordingly, though they disagree on many specifics, and while resistance exists even within the LDP to some of the more ambitious efforts at change, in recent years support has grown across the political spectrum for incrementally rationalizing Japan’s institutions and force structure and posture in response to a changing threat environment, strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, and expanding security ties with other U.S. security partners. For example, between the end of the Cold War and the Koizumi administration, Japan’s Diet passed more than a dozen pieces of security-related legislation, significantly expanding the JSDF’s roles and missions as well as Japan’s ability to participate in international security affairs. Since 2012, the intermittent “salami slicing” has accelerated.[113] The institutional and policy legacy of the left-of-center DPJ's years in power from 2009 to 2012 provides compelling evidence that political support for many of these reforms not only predates Abe but is not exclusive to his conservative party. For example, it was the Noda administration, from 2011 to 2012, that initiated the review process that ultimately resulted in the landmark 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation revision and that significantly loosened the 1976 “arms export ban” before the Abe government’s more conspicuous policy shift later. The DPJ had also been discussing establishing an institution like the NSC — something called for by the DPJ’s 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines. That 2010 document was also responsible for changing Japan’s basic defense orientation toward active deterrence and a highly mobile “dynamic defense force” able to expeditiously counter a threat anywhere in the country — including its remote southwestern islands — both shifts that the Abe government has built upon. It also mainstreamed the concept of gray-zone contingencies in Japan’s security lexicon, especially concerning a possible conflict in the East China Sea.[114] Furthermore, the NSC — widely associated with Abe and considered his administration’s most significant post-2012 institutional reform — was actually part of a supra-partisan reform movement aimed at bolstering political leadership over the bureaucracy. After its landslide defeat in 2012, the DPJ even reportedly shared a draft NSC proposal with Abe, cooperated in compiling the bill that established the council in 2013, and voted in support of it (the legislation passed the Diet 213-18).[115] Despite general support for certain incremental changes, since 2012 Japan’s domestic politics have been in disarray, with potentially significant implications for future reform efforts. On politically incendiary issues such as Article 9, major fault lines still exist between Abe and the opposition parties, and, though less appreciated, within the ruling coalition itself. Most recently, opposition party alignments have also been quite volatile, further clouding the waters. The erstwhile leading opposition left-of-center DPJ dissolved into smaller parties in 2016, a landmark event that has prompted a series of realignments across the opposition, with the dust yet to fully settle. On security affairs, key former members of the successor Democratic Party (which itself dissolved in May 2018) align more closely with the conservative LDP than with the nascent, more liberal offshoot Constitutional Democratic Party. Regardless of how opposition parties ultimately realign, however, significant backsliding on security reforms seems unlikely. The stark ideological “left-right” divide on security policy that defined Cold War-era national security politics is dying. Even the 2014 surge in voters who supported the left-wing Communist Party — which some pointed to as a resurgence of the ideological, pacifist left — appears to have been largely an artifact of formerly right-wing voters signaling opposition to the big two mainstream parties, not a backlash against Abe’s security agenda per se.[116] Public Opinion The precipitous collapse of Abe’s first administration in 2007 indicates the risks of Cabinet instability and excessive prime-ministerial ambition in a country where pacifist and anti-militarist sentiments, however amorphous, remain strong.[117] Yet the Japanese public’s views on security affairs — long a “third rail” of postwar politics — have moderated significantly over time, still more so in light of regional security developments. This has created a more permissive political environment for Abe’s agenda than was available a decade ago. Most remarkably, despite widely reported public protests and controversy, the backlash against the security reforms his administration has achieved so far has been ephemeral. Although the controversial July 2015 security legislation caused a major dip in his Cabinet’s support rating, within four months it was net positive again and remained so until unrelated political scandals emerged two years later.[118] Meanwhile, especially since 2012, public opinion data suggest four important trends related to national security: widespread identification of China and North Korea as “critical” or “important” threats to Japan’s “vital interests,” exceptional affinity toward America and confidence in U.S. economic and military strength, persistent and deepening antagonism and threat perceptions regarding China (the obvious alternative alignment partner), and increasing certainty that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the JSDF are the best ways to ensure Japan’s security. Generally speaking, Abe’s moves have been more or less consistent with these trends.[119] There was a striking drop in Japanese public confidence in the U.S. president after the 2016 election, but there is as of yet no clear indication it is translating into a major reduction of confidence in, or support for, the bilateral alliance.[120] Despite this more permissive environment, however, public concerns about external security hardly give the Abe government a blank check. On high-salience issues where public opinion is more ambivalent or actively opposed — e.g., a fundamental revision of Article 9’s first two clauses or enabling the JSDF to use force in a scenario that does not constitute a clear threat to Japan — Abe appears to have significantly dialed back. Had the 2015 security legislation reflected what had been reported in months prior as Abe’s original ambitions concerning collective self-defense or collective security, public backlash probably would have been much more severe. The Abe government’s ability to read the political winds appears to have significantly improved since 2007. Rhetoric or personal ambitions aside, the defining feature of his administration’s national security policy agenda since 2012 appears to be pragmatic incrementalism. Domestic Political Headwinds and the Paradox of Abe’s Electoral “Success” Based on the most conspicuous metrics cited by many observers — Diet seat totals and Cabinet support rates — the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition’s five consecutive national election victories since 2012 appear to have given Abe’s government a sizable mandate. Meanwhile, the enervation and fractiousness of the opposition, coupled with widespread public frustration after the three-year experiment without the LDP in power from 2009 to 2012, would suggest the elimination of an otherwise potentially potent political constraint. Yet the reality is different: The LDP’s Diet strength masks significant domestic political weakness, which itself belies the widespread and simplistic narrative of Abe and the LDP as “all-powerful” (Abe ikkyo). Paradoxically, the ruling coalition’s electoral success does not evince majority public support for the Abe administration, much less its national security agenda. In recent elections, the LDP has benefited significantly from historically low voting participation across all age groups and apparent widespread public disillusionment with the options. Turnout in the “landslide” election in 2012 that enabled Abe’s return as prime minister was the lowest of the postwar period (59 percent) — a more than ten-point drop from the 2009 election. Turnout fell a further seven points in the 2014 general election.[121] Meanwhile, between 1992 and 2012 voters who preferred the LDP over other parties shrank from a majority of the public to less than 20 percent. Voters with no party affiliation now make up the majority of the electorate.[122] And a recent public opinion poll showed that among those who support the Abe Cabinet, the primary reason is a lack of alternatives.[123] In short, while election results have granted Abe and the LDP robust backing among members of the Diet, other factors caution against making swift policy changes — especially on traditionally sensitive matters. Despite the LDP’s dominance of contemporary Japanese politics in terms of Diet seats, a significant minority of its Lower House candidates depend on Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, to get elected — a detail not widely appreciated outside Japanese journalistic and academic circles. It is no coincidence that the LDP and Komeito have cooperated in every national election since 1999 and ruled together in coalition whenever in power. Mutual stand-down agreements in single-member electoral districts are a vital source of both parties’ electoral success — and they inject a powerful codependence into the relationship. Given Komeito’s largely lay-Buddhist, pacifistic base, LDP ambitions on national security are constrained by a junior coalition partner that, despite its relatively small size, can exercise a virtual veto power.[124] As Komeito brags to its supporters, this effectively makes it, though a much smaller party, a kind of “opposition within the ruling coalition” and a powerful internal “brake” on the Abe administration’s ambitions in the security domain.[125] [quote id="8"] Although it is often overlooked outside Japan, Komeito’s role restraining the LDP’s security agenda is not new. This could be seen when Koizumi pursued a more ambitious global security agenda immediately after 9/11.[126] In the Abe era, Komeito helped water down the Abe Cabinet’s 2014 resolution formally “reinterpreting” Article 9. In particular, it pressured the administration to impose the three aforementioned conditions on the exercise of collective self-defense, and to abandon a push to enable collective security operations. The Abe government’s May 2017 proposal for a revision of Article 9, which would leave its existing clauses untouched and add a new clause asserting the constitutionality of the JSDF’s existence, surprised many commentators for its lack of ambition. Even within the LDP, Abe was criticized for abandoning the party’s far more transformative 2012 revision proposal. In stark contrast, his 2017 proposal was based not on the longtime position of his party but, rather, on a proposal tabled a decade earlier by Komeito, which has long opposed changing Article 9’s existing clauses. These two high-profile, behind-the-scenes concessions to Komeito indicate the smaller party’s influence not only because Abe has said multiple times that enabling collective self-defense and revising Article 9 rank among his administration’s highest priorities but also because they constitute core goals written into the LDP’s founding charter 63 years ago. The implication seems clear: Barring the fracturing of the ruling coalition or some kind of major structural change, the LDP’s electoral dependence on Komeito is likely to continue to hamstring Abe and future LDP leaders in the security domain.[127] Although the external security environment and Abe and his allies’ ambitions are undoubtedly major drivers of Japan’s evolving security posture, it is important to recognize the role that Komeito and other domestic political obstacles play as constraints on the administration’s agenda. It is also crucial for evaluating the prospects for major change in the years to come. With a transition to a new imperial reign in 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, the deck may be stacked against Abe achieving the more fundamental reforms he and his party have long sought — even if he is reelected in the September 2018 LDP presidential election.[128]

Conclusion: The Evolution Continues

Where one comes down in the debate about change versus continuity in Japan’s post-2012 security trajectory depends greatly on research design and definition of key terms, such as “radical” or “revolutionary.” Narrowly focusing on perceived (or imputed) policy shifts — especially without factoring in their precise content, causes, strategic context, and historical precedents — while overlooking significant continuities risks exaggerating the pace and scale of change, as well as the centrality of idiosyncratic factors such as a particular leader or ideology. A “radical” shift or a national security “revolution” in Japan would entail fundamental, transformative changes to the core pillars of its post-Cold War security policy. So far, at least, there is limited unambiguous evidence of this. What emerges from a more balanced, historically-baselined assessment of change and continuity over the past half-decade is a frustratingly nuanced picture: Abe is simultaneously the most consequential prime minister in decades in terms of national security reforms, yet one whose individual significance and degree of success in achieving his ambitions is often overstated. A defining feature of Abe’s approach during his second stint as prime minister has been a kind of evolutionary pragmatism. Abe has been remarkably decisive at crucial moments yet also cautious — pulling back when confronted with significant domestic political resistance. Security reforms in the Abe era are in large part a reaction to objectively identifiable, rapid changes to Japan’s external security environment. Baselined appropriately, those reforms embody a series of important shifts that build on a longer-term trajectory that precedes Abe’s time as prime minister, including the DPJ era. Key achievements of this reform effort include an increasingly powerful Cabinet and prime minister’s office to strengthen political control of foreign policy decision-making, the rationalization of force structure and posture to more effectively confront perceived threats, a doubling-down on the U.S.-Japan alliance, a central pillar of Japan’s security, and the gradual expansion of Japan’s security ties with third parties. These reforms facilitate an increase in the independent development and implementation of a comprehensive national strategy and create space for Japan to adopt a more active role in regional and global security, within and beyond an alliance context. As for the practical implications of arguably the most significant shift — the 2014 reinterpretation of Article 9 to allow for “limited” collective self-defense — much remains hypothetical. How Japan will respond in the event of an armed attack against an ally will inevitably hinge on the nature of the contingency and specific domestic and international political circumstances at the time.[129] At a minimum, the reinterpretation significantly expands the allies’ ability to plan bilaterally and exercise and train together in peacetime. [quote id="9"] Analytically, the empirical record thus far suggests another important takeaway: the importance of differentiating between Abe the individual and Abe the prime minister. To be sure, some of the content and speed of recent reforms appears attributable to Abe’s past experience, personal ambition, and decisiveness, as well as the exceptional stability of his Cabinets over the past six years. Whereas Japan’s “leadership deficit” and the frequent turnover of Cabinets before 2012 has been a near-constant point of contemporary political analysis,[130] the combination of assertiveness and pragmatism on display since 2012 suggests that Abe and his allies learned from political missteps during his first administration.[131] This may be one reason Abe appointed a “stabilizer,” Yoshihide Suga, as his first, and so far only, chief Cabinet secretary.[132] The “Abe era” is in its sixth year. As of this writing, a decline in public support due to several festering scandals unrelated to national security has raised questions about whether Abe will be able to continue as prime minister beyond a scheduled LDP presidential election in September 2018. Regardless, this study’s findings suggest potentially significant implications for Japan’s strategic trajectory after Abe. On the one hand, significant changes, reflected in robust new institutions (e.g., the NSC and its supporting 70-80 strong National Security Secretariat), laws, and policies, are already in place and are unlikely to be reversed. Many of these attracted supra-partisan support while domestic political backlash against key reforms, such as the controversial security legislation, has not translated into a major popular swing toward an opposition party that would seek to undo them. Barring transformative external or domestic political structural changes, backsliding is unlikely and the current trajectory of evolutionary reform is likely to persist. On the other hand, the fact that Abe’s government has not achieved more fundamental reforms despite his clear personal ambition for more radical changes, a security environment seen by the administration and public as increasingly severe, relatively high Cabinet support ratings for most of the past six years, and five major national election victories for the ruling coalition evinces the persistent political headwinds even very ambitious future prime ministers will continue to face. Particularly salient are the facts that the LDP continues to cooperate electorally and rule in coalition with Komeito, that Article 9’s first two clauses remain untouched, and that transformative increases to Japan’s defense budget appear unlikely. Including the years since 2012, the post-Cold War trajectory of Japan’s security posture seems best characterized not as a shift from “pacifism” to “militarism” — two deeply problematic terms permeating the discourse — but as an evolution from a fairly passive, isolationist Japan toward one that seeks to be more “proactive,” yet remains subject to self-imposed constraints. In 2018, Japan remains a remarkable outlier among major powers, especially in terms of restrictions on military force development and employment. Widespread claims of assertive “nationalism” and even alleged “militarism” in Japan’s foreign policy under Abe — ill-defined memes remarkably widespread within and outside Japan (especially in China and Korea) — create a lot of heat and very little light.[133] The first six years of national security reforms under the Abe administration hardly constitute a radical revolution. Yet past is not necessarily prologue. Japanese leaders’ assessments of the regional strategic environment will continue to be a fundamental variable in shaping national security debates. In particular, over the past 18 months North Korea’s testing of ICBMs it claims are capable of reaching Washington, and various aspects of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, have raised anxieties in Japan and emerged as factors with the potential to disrupt Japan’s foreign policy status quo.[134] These factors, coupled with the risk of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, heighten the ever-present possibility of more fundamental shifts to Japan’s security trajectory in the years ahead.   *For valuable feedback and input at earlier stages of this article, the author is grateful to participants in workshops held by Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Japan Chair. Particular thanks are due to Ashton Cho, Michael Green, Mari Kinoshita, Phillip Lipscy, and Satoru Mori. This research was assisted in part by a grant from the Abe Fellowship Program administered by the Social Science Research Council in cooperation with and with funds provided by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.   Adam P. Liff is Assistant Professor of East Asian International Relations in Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies. He is also an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. His research is available at He can be reached at ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => Japan’s Security Policy in the “Abe Era”: Radical Transformation or Evolutionary Shift? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => japans-security-policy-in-the-abe-era-radical-transformation-or-evolutionary-shift [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:14:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:14:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Widely considered Japan’s most powerful prime minister in decades, Shinzo Abe has responded to a changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific — including an increasingly powerful and assertive China and growing North Korean nuclear threat — by pursuing ambitious and controversial reforms. These have been aimed at strengthening executive control over foreign policy decision-making and bolstering deterrence through an expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ roles, missions, and capabilities within and beyond the U.S.-Japan alliance. Those reforms that his administration has achieved have invited claims that Abe is taking Japan on a radical path away from its postwar “pacifism.” However, a systematic analysis of both change and continuity during the Abe administration reveals that many of these reforms build on longer-term evolutionary trends that predate Abe and have attracted support from moderates within and outside his conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Just as importantly, several core pillars of Japan’s remarkably self-restrained defense posture remain in place, while Abe has pulled back from some of the more ambitious reforms he has championed in the past. Both points have important implications for Japan’s strategic trajectory, international relations in East Asia, and the U.S.-Japan alliance. Barring major external or domestic political structural change, Japan’s evolutionary reform trajectory is likely to continue. Yet the failure, so far, of Abe’s government to achieve its long-coveted, most ambitious reforms also indicates the persistent headwinds future prime ministers can expect to face. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [I]t is clear that Abe, now in his sixth year in office, is one of Japan’s most consequential postwar prime ministers. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Japan’s right of collective self-defense may be exercised only under three relatively strict, globally unique conditions. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [R]ecent institutional changes have strengthened bilateral planning, decision-making, intelligence-sharing, and flexible crisis response across a range of traditional and nontraditional scenarios. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Creation of the NSC was part of a much longer-term effort by previous prime ministers to more directly shape national security policy. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => When it comes to fundamental mainstays of Japan’s national security — such as the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance or Japan’s non-nuclear principles — continuity is the defining feature of government policy. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Placed in historical context, Abe-era institutional reforms appear far less outside the mainstream than much of the contemporary discourse would indicate. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Times have changed, and concerns about the security challenge posed by China are now mainstream and less abstract. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Despite this more permissive environment, however, public concerns about external security hardly give the Abe government a blank check. ) [8] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Security reforms in the Abe era are in large part a reaction to objectively identifiable, rapid changes to Japan’s external security environment. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 640 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 179 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Shusho Kantei, Abe naikaku sori daijin shunin kisha kaiken [Prime Minister Abe’s inaugural press conference], Dec. 26, 2012. [2] For an overview of the former, see Heigo Sato, “From the ‘Three Principles of Arms Exports’ to the ‘Three Principles of Defense Equipment Transfer,’” AJISS-Commentary, no. 197, May 14, 2014, For the latter, see Adam P. Liff, “Policy by Other Means: ‘Collective Self-Defense’ and the Politics of Japan’s Postwar Constitutional (Re-)Interpretations,” Asia Policy 24 (2017): 139-172, [3] Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy under the “Abe Doctrine”: New Dynamism or New Dead End? (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015); Christopher W. Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-Defense: Essential Continuity or Radical Shift?” Journal of Japanese Studies 43, no. 1 (2017): 93–126, [4] Eric Heginbotham and Richard Samuels, “Will Tokyo’s Arms Exports Help or Hurt U.S Interests in Asia?” Cipher Brief, July 14, 2017, [5] Giulio Pugliese, "Kantei Diplomacy? Japan's Hybrid Leadership in Foreign Security Policy," Pacific Review 30, no. 2 (2017): 152–168, 153, [6] The Constitution of Japan, Nov. 3, 1946, [7] Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [8] Kei Wakaizumi, “Japan’s Role in a New World Order,” Foreign Affairs 51, no. 2 (1973), [9] The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States, December 2017,; Uri Friedman, “The World According to H.R. McMaster,” Atlantic, Jan. 9, 2018. [10] Influential studies include Thomas U. Berger, “Alliance Politics and Japan’s Postwar Culture of Antimilitarism,” in The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Michael J. Green and Patrick M. Cronin (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1999), 190–207; Michael J. Green, Japan’s Reluctant Realism: Foreign Policy Challenges in an Era of Uncertain Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Jennifer M. Lind, “Pacifism or Passing the Buck?: Testing Theories of Japanese Security Policy,” International Security 29, no. 1 (2004): 92–121, - page_scan_tab_contents; Richard J. Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007); Andrew Oros, Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008). More recently, see Michael J. Green, Japan is Back: Unbundling Abe’s Grand Strategy (Sydney: Lowy Institute, December 2013); Sheila A. Smith, Japan’s New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, July 2014); Adam P. Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy: Abe the Evolutionary,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (May 2015): 79–99,; Hughes, Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy; Andrew Oros, Japan’s Security Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [11] This question captured the major theme of a February 2018 conference on “Japan under the Abe Government” held at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, at which an earlier version of this manuscript was presented. [12] For the official overview, see “Outline of the Legislation for Peace and Security,” Defense of Japan 2017 [13] The Guidelines provide a general outline of the scope of and respective responsibilities for operational coordination between the allies. They have been revised in 2015, 1997, and 1978. Full texts are available here: [14] Atsuhiko Fujishige, “New Japan Self-Defense Force Missions under the ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’ Policy: Significance of the 2015 Legislation for Peace and Security,” Japan Chair Platform, Center for International and Strategic Studies, July 21, 2016, [15] The following breakdown is adapted from Satoru Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction,” Tokyo Foundation, Dec. 2, 2015, [16] “Outline of the Legislation for Peace and Security.” [17] The practical implications of this reinterpretation are heavily contested, and even Abe’s own rhetoric on the issue at times appears contradictory. For a sample of the debate, see Michael J. Green and Jeffrey W. Hornung, “Ten Myths About Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change,” Diplomat, Jul. 10, 2014,; Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-defense”; Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [18] “In new role, MSDF patrolling waters around Koreas to foil oil smuggling,” Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2018, [19] Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction.” [20] “Analysis: Low-risk mission aimed at inuring public to SDF’s new role,” Asahi Shimbun, May 2, 2017,; “Japan-U.S. joint operations increase amid regional uncertainty,” Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2018, [21] Mori, “The New Security Legislation and Japanese Public Reaction.” [22] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [23] Naikaku Kanbo, Kokka anzen hoshō senryaku ni tsuite [About the National Security Strategy], Dec. 17, 2013. [24] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2014, 133–38, [25] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017, 63, [26] To minimize confusion, this chapter follows U.S. Board of Geographic Names convention and refers to the contested islands as the Senkakus. [27] Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and beyond, Dec. 17, 2010, (English translation is provisional). [28] Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2014 and beyond, Dec. 17, 2013, (English translation is provisional). [29] For an overview of these operations and Japan’s response, see Adam P. Liff, “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s Response,” in China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, ed. Ryan D. Martinson and Andrew S. Erickson (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, Forthcoming, 2018). [30] “GSDF to undergo biggest realignment since founding,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 23, 2018, [31] Cabinet Secretariat, National Security Strategy, December 2013, 16, [32] Katsuji Iwao, “Genchi rupo 11.11 Senkaku Kinpaku Kaijo Hoancho ‘Ishigaki Hoanbu’ wa ima” [“Frontline Report 11/11: Senkaku Strains, JCG’s ‘Ishigaki Security Division’ Now”], FACTA, January 2017, [33] "Japan to expand ballistic missile defense with ground-based Aegis batteries,” Reuters, Dec. 18, 2017, [34] “Having long-range missiles a matter of deterrence,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 31, 2018. [35] James L. Schoff and David Song, Five Things to Know About Japan’s Possible Acquisition of Strike Capability (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aug. 14, 2017), [36] “Goeikan 'Izumo', Kuboka he zenshin [Izumo Destroyer, Progressing Toward an Aircraft Carrier ],” Jiji, Apr. 27, 2018, [37] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017, [38] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, Apr. 27, 2015, For a critical overview of alliance institutions, see Jeffrey W. Hornung, Managing the U.S.-Japan Alliance: An Examination of Structural Linkages in the Security Relationship (Washington, D.C.: SPF USA, 2017), [39] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee,” Aug. 17, 2017, [40] The basic contours of the strategy and emphasis on alliances as central to regional peace and stability, however, date back at least to the Clinton administration’s “engage-and-balance” posture vis-à-vis China. Michael J. Green, By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 526. [41] “Japan-U.S. joint operations increase amid regional uncertainty,” Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 30, 2018, [42] For a non-exhaustive list of recent agreements beyond the United States, see Reference 46 “Situations Concerning the Conclusion of Agreements” in Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017. [43] Green, Japan Is Back. [44] Shinzo Abe, “Japan Is Back,” policy speech at Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb. 22, 2013, [45] Michael Heazle and Yuki Tatsumi, “Explaining Australia-Japan Security Cooperation and Its Prospects: ‘The Interests that Bind?’” Pacific Review 31, no. 1 (2018): 38–56, [46] Yuki Tatsumi, “Is Japan Ready for the Quad?” War on the Rocks, Jan. 9, 2018, [47] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [48] “GSDF to join PKO exercise of first time under new security law,” Asahi Shimbun, June 30, 2017, [49] Japan Ministry of Defense, “Vientiane Vision: Japan’s Defense Cooperation Initiative with ASEAN,” November 2016, For an overview of recent developments, see Catharin Dalpino, “Japan-Southeast Asia Relations: Both Push and Pull: Japan Steps Up in Southeast Asia,” Comparative Connections 19, no. 1 (May 2017): 123–130, [50] Michael Bosack, “What Did Japan Learn in South Sudan?” Diplomat, June 10, 2017, [51] “Australia, Canada to join surveillance on N. Korea sanctions evaders,” Mainichi Japan, Apr. 28, 2018, [52] Grant Wyeth, “Will Australia and Japan Finally Conclude a Visiting Forces Agreement?” Diplomat, Jan. 2, 2018, [53] Taisuke Hirose, “Japan’s New Arms Export Principles: Strengthening U.S.-Japan Relations,” Japan Chair Platform, Center for International and Strategic Studies, Oct. 14, 2014, [54] Harukata Takenaka, “Expansion of the Power of the Japanese Prime Minister and the Transformation of the Japanese Political System,” Working Paper, 2018. [55] Adam P. Liff and Andrew S. Erickson, “From Management Crisis to Crisis Management? Japan’s Post-2012 Institutional Reforms and Sino-Japanese Crisis Instability,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 5 (2017): 604–638, doi.10.1080/01402390.2017.1293530. [56] For a recent general overview of this trend drawing on English- and Japanese-language studies, see Aurelia George Mulgan, The Abe Administration and the Rise of the Prime Ministerial Executive (New York: Routledge, 2017), ch. 3. [57] For a focused English-language analysis of the form, function, and significance of Japan’s NSC, see Adam P. Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council: Policy Coordination and Political Power,” Japanese Studies (Forthcoming). [58] Shusho Kantei, Kokka anzen hosho kaigi no sosetsu ni kansuru yushikisha kaigi [Meeting of Experts Concerning NSC Establishment], Feb. 15, 2013, [59] On related points, see Yasuhiro Matsuda and Hideki Hosono, “Nihon: Anzen Hosho Kaigi to Naikaku Kanbo [Japan: Security Council and Cabinet Secretariat],” in NSC Kokka Anzen Hosho Kaigi, ed. Yasuhiro Matsuda (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2009), 279–281. [60] Ken Kotani, “Nihon-ban Kokka Anzen Hosho Kaigi (NSC) no kinoteki tokucho [Japan-style National Security Council (NSC) and its Functional Features]," Kokusai Anzen Hosho, March 2015, 61–75, 61–62. [61] Masafumi Kaneko, “Iyoiyo shido Nihon-ban NSC [Finally…Japan-style NSC Activates],” PHP Kenkyujo, 2013, [62] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [63] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [64] Kotani, “Japan-style National Security Council (NSC),” 61, 70–72; Matsuda and Saitō, “What’s the Ideal for Japan’s NSC?” 57. [65] Heginbotham and Samuels, “Tokyo’s Arms Exports”; Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [66] For a focused study on related issues, see Pugliese, “Kantei Diplomacy?” [67]Naikaku jinjikyoku, 5gatsu ni secchi [Cabinet Personnel Bureau to be established in May],” Nikkei Shimbun, Apr. 11, 2014,; “Japan’s powerful government personnel body blamed amid cronyism scandals,” Japan Times, Mar. 24, 2018, [68] “Kanryo ga kantei no kaoiro mite shigoto; Fukuda moto shusho Abe seiken hihan [Bureaucrats taking cues from Kantei, former PM Fukuda criticizes Abe administration],” Tokyo Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2017, [69] “Seijika shudo de kanryo no jinji wo ugokasu ‘naikaku jinjikyoku’ tte nani? [What is this cabinet personnel bureau (enabling) politicians’ leadership of bureaucratic personnel affairs?],” Page, Apr. 16, 2014, [70] For some examples from the 2006-2007 period, see Pugliese, “Kantei Diplomacy?” esp. 158–160. [71] “Kaijo Hoanchokan ni hatsu no genba shusshin [First-ever JCG commandant from the front lines],” Nikkei Shimbun, Jul. 18, 2013. [72] Yuji Sato, “The Japan Coast Guard protects the Senkaku Islands to the last,” Discuss Japan 35, Oct. 18, 2016, [73] Though the U.N. Charter has afforded all sovereign states this right since the 1950s, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau had previously interpreted Article 9 to allow the exercise of individual self-defense only, stipulating that although Japan had the right under international law to exercise collective self-defense, doing so would be unconstitutional. [74] “Abe’s Legal Aide on Defense Reform Steps down due to Ill Health,” Kyodo, May 16, 2014. [75] For an overview of Article 9’s evolving interpretation over time, including this particular development specific to the 2014 reinterpretation, see Liff, “Policy by Other Means.” [76] Reiji Yoshida, “Former defense chief courts controversy by questioning Abe plan to revise Constitution,” Japan Times, May 24, 2017, [77] “‘9jo ni Jieitai Meiki’ ‘Kaiken 20nen shiko mezasu’ [‘Article 9 JSDF existence’ ‘Aiming for Constitutional Revision in 2020’],” Mainichi Shimbun, May 3, 2017, [78] “Kenpo kaisei, sansei 51%...Jieitai ‘goken’ 76% [51% agree with constitutional revision…76% believe JSDF constitutional],” Yomiuri Online, Apr. 30, 2018, [79] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [80] Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy,” 86–87. [81] “Gov’t Outlines SDF’s Use of Weapons in Helping Foreign Troops under Attack,” Mainichi, Apr. 15, 2015. [82] Yuki Tatsumi, “Japan Self-Defense Force Withdraws From South Sudan,” Diplomat, Mar. 13, 2017, [83] Diet testimony cited in Samuels, Securing Japan, 7. [84] Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Japan-U.S. Security Treaty,” Jan. 19, 1960, [85] Liff, “Policy by Other Means,” esp. 170. [86] “Nearly half of Japan’s defense priorities underfunded,” Nikkei Asian Review, Jan. 6, 2018, [87] Michael Hadlow and Crystal Pryor, “Japan’s Defense Exports: ‘Three Years Sitting on a Stone,’” SPF USA Forum 12, Mar. 26, 2018, [88] Japan Ministry of Defense, Guidelines. [89] On the former, see Richard J. Samuels and James L. Schoff, “Japan’s Nuclear Hedge: Beyond ‘Allergy’ and Breakout,” in Strategic Asia 2013-2014: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013), 233–264. For a widely cited recent call to discuss Japan’s nuclear options by a former ambassador to Washington, see Ryozo Kato, “What’s at stake in allowing Japan a nuclear arsenal?” Japan Forward, Feb. 15, 2018, [90] For example, see Samuels and Schoff, “Japan’s Nuclear Hedge,” 237. [91] For a recent analysis incorporating a review of a much larger English- and Japanese-language literature, see Mulgan, The Abe Administration; Tomohito Shinoda, Koizumi Diplomacy: Japan's Kantei Approach to Foreign and Defense Affairs (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007). [92] Mulgan, The Abe Administration. [93] “Cabinet Personnel Bureau to be established in May,” Nikkei Shimbun; “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku [Japan-style NSC to Launch Next Week],” Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2013. [94] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” [95] Shinoda, “Koizumi Diplomacy.” [96] Liff, “Japan’s National Security Council.” On vote total, see “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku,” Yomiuri Shimbun. [97] Richard J. Samuels, “Politics, Security Policy, and Japan’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau: Who Elected These Guys, Anyway?” Japan Policy Research Institute, Working Paper, March 2004, [98] Shusho Kantei, “Abe Naikaku Sori Daijin nento kisha kaiken [Prime Minister Abe’s New Year Address],” Jan. 4, 2018, [99] “The CNS North Korea Missile Test Database,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, Nov. 30, 2017, [100] Shusho Kantei, “Abe Naikaku Sori Daijin nento kisha kaiken.” [101] A search for keywords “gray-zone” and “Senkaku” in the online database of the Japanese edition of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely circulated newspaper, returned no results for the 1997–2009 period. The first usage occurred in 2010, with a peak of 48 occurrences in 2014. [102] Liff, “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations in the East China Sea and Japan’s Response.” [103] Joint Staff Press Release,“Heisei 28nendo no kinkyu hasshin jisshi jyokyo ni tsuite [About Circumstances Concerning Emergency Scrambles in 2016],” Japan Ministry of Defense, Apr. 13, 2017, 3, [104] “Senkaku Shoto Shuhen Kaiiki ni okeru Chugoku kosen to no doko to Wagakuni no Taisho [Activities of Chinese government vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkakus and Japan’s Response],” Japan Coast Guard, [105] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2017. [106] For an overview of Japan’s complex policy concerns about China, see Sheila A. Smith, Intimate Rivals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). [107] “LDP Candidates Take Tough Line against China,” Kyodo News, Sept. 18, 2012. [108] Mira Rapp-Hooper, “Decoupling Is Back in Asia,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 7, 2017, [109] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461–95, doi.10.2307/2010183. [110] Leif-Eric Easley, Tetsuo Kotani, and Aki Mori, “Electing a New Japanese Security Policy? Examining Foreign Policy Visions Within the Democratic Party of Japan,” Asia Policy 9 (2010): 45–66, [111] Adam P. Liff, “Hedging to Balance: The Paradox of Japan’s China Strategy in the Abe Era,” Working Paper, 2018. [112] For seminal discussions of related normative factors, see Thomas U. Berger, “From Sword to Chrysanthemum: Japan’s Culture of Anti-Militarism,” International Security 17, no. 4 (1993): 119–50,; Oros, Normalizing Japan. [113] Generally associated with the seminal scholarship of Richard Samuels, Samuels himself credits Leonard Schoppa for introducing him to the “salami slicing” metaphor and notes its usage elsewhere. Samuels, Securing Japan, 226, endnotes 3–4. [114] Liff, “Japan’s Defense Policy,”: 81–83. [115] Sunohara, Nihon-ban NSC, 124–30; “Nihon-ban NSC Raishu Hassoku,” Yomiuri Shimbun. [116] Ko Maeda, “Explaining the Surges and Declines of the Japanese Communist Party,” Asian Survey 57, no. 4 (2017), doi.10.1525/as.2017.57.4.665. [117] For example, in a 2015 Gallup poll, only 11 percent of Japanese respondents expressed a willingness to fight for their country — dead last (the average among the 64 countries surveyed was 61 percent). “WIN/Gallup International’s global survey shows three in five willing to fight for their country,” Gallup International, 2015, [118] See aggregated poll data at “Japan Political Pulse,” Sasakawa USA, [119] Poll data cited in Liff, "Hedging to Balance." [120] A summer 2017 poll showed confidence in the U.S. president to “do the right thing in world affairs” declining from 78 percent to 24 percent after Trump’s election, “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership,” Pew Research Center, June 26, 2017, [121] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Kokusei senkyo no tohyoritsu no suii ni tsuite (Heisei 28nen 9gatsu) [Changes in national election voter turnout],” September 2016,; Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Kokusei senkyo no nendaibetsu tohyoritsu no suii ni tsuite (Heisei  28nen 9gatsu) [Changes in national election voter turnout by age group],” September 2016, [122] Aiji Tanaka, “Japan’s Independent Voters, Yesterday and Today,” Nippon, Aug. 16, 2012, [123] “NHK poll: Cabinet support rate at 46%,” NHK, Jan. 9, 2017, [124] In the 2014 election, the LDP may have lost as many as a quarter of the single-member districts it won. Adam P. Liff and Ko Maeda, “Explaining a Durable Coalition of Strange Bedfellows: Evidence from Japan,” Working Paper, 2018. [125] Quote comes from Levi McLaughlin, Axel Klein, and Steven R. Reed, “The Power of Japan’s Religious Party,” Wilson Center, Dec. 4, 2014, [126] J. Patrick Boyd and Richard J. Samuels, Nine Lives? The Politics of Constitutional Reform in Japan (Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2005), esp. 27–61. [127] Liff and Maeda, “Explaining a Durable Coalition of Strange Bedfellows.” [128] Tobias Harris, “Scandal Raises Doubts About Abe’s Ability to Win a Third Term,” Japan Political Pulse, Mar. 16, 2018, [129] For an argument that the 2014 reinterpretation entails a “genuinely radical trajectory” for Japan, see Hughes, “Japan’s Strategic Trajectory and Collective Self-Defense.” [130] Aurelia George Mulgan, “Japan’s Political Leadership Deficit,” Australian Journal of Political Science 35, no. 2 (2000): 183–202,; see also Ryo Sahashi and James Gannon, eds., Looking for Leadership: The Dilemma of Political Leadership in Japan (New York: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2015). [131] Mulgan, The Abe Administration, ch. 3. [132] On Suga, see Izuru Makihara, “Abe’s Enforcer: Suga Yoshihide’s Stabilizing Influence on the Cabinet,” Nippon, Sept. 25, 2014, [133] For a critical engagement of associated claims, see Jennifer Lind and Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki, “Is Japanese Nationalism on the Rise?” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in Atlanta, March 2016. [134] Alastair Gale, “Japan’s Abe to Meet Trump, With North Korea Testing Their Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Apr. 15, 2018, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 587 [post_author] => 173 [post_date] => 2018-05-15 04:40:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-15 08:40:52 [post_content] =>

1. Are the United States and China in a New Cold War?

By Iskander Rehman For over two decades, Western academics and policymakers have struggled to define the nature and scope of the challenge posed by China’s rise.[1] In the early 1990s, the U.S. spearheaded a series of efforts to better enmesh Beijing in the liberal international order, primarily by facilitating the communist behemoth’s access to foreign technology and markets. This policy was framed both as a net benefit for the global economy and trading system, and as a form of strategic down payment for the future. It was assumed that a wealthier, better-integrated, and more powerful China would slowly shed its insecurities and morph into a “responsible stakeholder.” Granted, democracy might not blossom overnight, but Chinese illiberalism would be tempered by pragmatic economic imperatives, diluted by the proliferation of digital communication technologies, and eroded by routinized interactions with Western-style democracies. In the meantime, modern Chinese authoritarianism — with its emphasis on collective leadership and technocratic efficiency — appeared to have provided a long-suffering people with a welcome degree of socio-economic stability after decades of bloody upheaval. Enthralled by the nation’s gleaming skyscrapers, continent-straddling highways, and meteoric rates of economic growth, some foreign observers even ventured that the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which appeared to have more successfully weathered the 2008 financial crisis than most, presented an alternative, and perhaps more viable, development model — the so-called “Beijing Consensus.”[2] Over the past few years, however, the mood within the Western commentariat has turned. Hopes that the PRC might somehow morph into a super-sized Singapore have largely dissipated. From its militarization of disputed islets in the South China Sea to its unabashed use of economic coercion against countries ranging from South Korea to Mongolia, China has become more, not less, assertive in its near-abroad.[3] Meanwhile, Beijing’s longstanding model of authoritarian governance — centered on collective decision-making and an orderly succession process — has precipitously crumbled. President Xi Jinping’s shift toward a strongman style of rule has been accompanied by an evolution, in parallel, of Chinese discourse and internal politics, which point to a more combative, jingoistic, and embattled regime. As many contemporary sinologists have noted, nationalism has progressively replaced Marxist revolutionary thought as the ideological cement of the PRC, though evidence of the latter persists in synergy with the former.[4] To cite just one example of this nationalist-Marxist complement, China’s unabashedly cynical attitude toward the law of the sea reflects a longstanding revolutionary conviction that international law is little more than the “agreed will of a number of states,” and a tool for ideological warfare.[5] This political evolution has resulted in nationalist revisionism — and more specifically the politics of anti-western ressentiment — becoming the ideological pillar of Xi Jinping’s China. Under his presidency, patriotic education campaigns have been revived, and the tone of public commentary has become more strident and critical of the United States, and of democracy’s perceived shortcomings.[6] China’s expenditure on internal security has outpaced its defense spending, and draconian new cyber and counter-terrorism laws have further curtailed individual freedoms.[7] By harnessing advances in big data, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition software, the Chinese state has considerably enhanced both its digital and physical surveillance capacities. It aims to export this dystopian suite of technological capabilities to fellow autocracies around the globe.[8] In short, the environment has become one of greater domestic repression, of fear of ideological contamination, and of more overt hostility toward the U.S.-led alliance system in Asia.[9] How, then, has the international community of China-watchers responded to this troubling evolution — to the collapse of the so-called “convergence myth,” and to the uncomfortable, nagging sensation that the West somehow “got China wrong,” or, in the words of a recent editorial in the Economist, that “the West has lost its bet on China?”[10] The natural impulse is to reach for historical analogies. Human beings spontaneously engage in analogical thinking when confronted with particularly thorny conceptual challenges, “seeking and comparing patterns” and inferring abstract ideas from one domain before applying them to another.[11] In an effort to better gauge the trajectory of the Sino-U.S. relationship, American analysts have begun doing just that. China’s proprietary attitude toward the South and East China Seas has thus been described as a new form of “Monroe Doctrine,” albeit with Chinese characteristics, and the past few years have borne witness to a steady stream of commentary that anxiously queries whether 21st century northeast Asia shares parallels to early 20th century Europe.[12] And as relations between Beijing and Washington have steadily deteriorated over the past decade, commentators have begun to question whether the United States and China now find themselves embroiled in a “new Cold War.”[13] In order to consider the appropriateness of that analogy, this roundtable has convened a stellar group of Asia-watchers and historically minded scholars. The immediate reaction of most of our contributors was to reject any such comparison as misleading or overwrought. In their joint contribution, Tiffany Ma and Brian O’ Keefe, from BowerGroupAsia and the National Bureau of Asian Research respectively, note that “despite the alluring simplicity of likening uncertainties in the present U.S. relationship with China to the zero-sum competition of the Cold War, significant differences make the analogy a poor fit.” Similarly, Michael Auslin of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University posits that the Cold War is a “misleading comparison” for the China-U.S. rivalry, and cautions that “adopting such a mindset overstates the threat China poses, confuses assessments of the challenge, and diverts Washington from crafting an appropriate strategy.” In making this case, several contributors note that the Sino-U.S. trade relationship — which has skyrocketed from two billion dollars in 1979 to six hundred and thirty-six billion dollars per annum in 2017 — binds both nations within a complex web of economic interdependence, the likes of which never existed between the Western and Eastern blocs during the Cold War. China and the United States are certainly competing, notes Robert Ayson of Victoria University of Wellington, but “largely within the same system.” More importantly, China has “a stake in the current order, and has benefited from globalization,” argues Elsa Kania of the Center for a New American Security, before stating that, “while China has not yet liberalized politically as a result of its deepening integration into the international order, it has arguably become more of a status quo power in certain respects, increasing its involvement in international issues and institutions” One could thus point to China’s proactive role in negotiating complex multilateral arrangements, such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the Paris Climate Accord, and to its move toward taking on a leading role in peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations.[14] Finally, and perhaps most obviously, the contemporary international system is not defined by a superpower duopoly, with both powers at the heart of competing alliance structures and universalistic systems of belief. Neither country is attempting to “bleed the other out” through a series of violent proxy wars, or to trigger a system-shattering turn in global affairs via the collapse of their adversary. As eminent Cold War historian Odd Arne Westad has noted, the Cold War was a “bipolar system of total victory or total defeat, in which neither of the main protagonists could envisage a lasting compromise with the other.”[15] It would seem at first glance, therefore, that there is little value to be gained from drawing such historical comparisons. Perhaps — as Auslin, Ayson, and Kania in particular suggest — it could even prove harmful, as it could forestall the collective formulation of a more coherent grand strategy toward China, one better tailored to the nature of the threat. This would comport with the wry observation made by Richard Evans, a renowned British historian, who writes that, “when people try to use history, they often do so not in order to accommodate themselves to the inevitable, but in order to avoid it.”[16] Even worse, repeatedly conjuring up the Cold War analogy could lead to “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” “entrenching strategic competition,” or playing into China’s deep-seated suspicions the United States seeks to enact a policy of containment in Asia. Not so fast, says Kori Schake of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. The Cold War analogy may not be perfect, but it is “still useful for thinking about the threats a rising China poses to the United States.” One should not be too hasty in dismissing its relevance, and in so doing run the risk of throwing the grand strategy baby out with the Cold War bath water. We already know that the strategic history of the Cold War is a lot richer, less linear, and more variegated than common wisdom would suggest.[17] Furthermore, Schake argues, “the circumstances that American leaders are facing today do bear some interesting resemblances to the Cold War, especially the mid-1950s.” Then, as now, the United States was traversing a crisis in strategic self-confidence, and had been plunged into domestic disarray. Then, as now, American policymakers found themselves pitted against an authoritarian power whose rise seemed almost inexorable. Moreover, claims Schake, there is a certain virtue in strategic clarity, and the Cold War comparison “helps give a sense of proportion to what America faces. Identifying China as an adversary clarifies U.S. strategic thinking on the matter and suggests policy courses of action commensurate to the challenge.” This is particularly important with regard to military planning. Indeed, highly diversified threat environments, with little to no ordering of potential adversaries, can complicate strategic assessments and undermine political-military coordination.[18] While our contributors may disagree on the overall usefulness of the Cold War analogy, all converge on the necessity to respond more coherently and decisively to a rapidly shifting balance of power in Asia. Although there will remain strong incentives on both sides for cooperation and conflict mitigation, the Sino-U.S. relationship has curdled into something more overtly rivalrous. Sheryn Lee of Macquarie University in Australia warns “We have already entered a new phase in Sino-U.S. relations, characterized by orthogonal conflict, playing out in cyber space, through 'gray zone' coercion, and influence operations.” As these areas of competition expand, overlap, and begin to bleed into each other, warns Kania, the United States must “also be wary of the risks of misperception and potential miscalculation that can arise within a classic security dilemma.” Our roundtable participants differ somewhat on their assessment of the severity of China’s military threat. Auslin claims neither the United States or China are “militarily organized to defeat the other as its primary enemy,” but subsequently concedes that Beijing’s pursuit of anti-access and area-denial capabilities (A2/AD) is geared toward neutering U.S. freedom of action and power projection in Asia. Lee expresses a high degree of confidence in America’s Third Offset Strategy, and believes its implementation will allow the U.S. military to preserve its technological and warfighting edge. Kania, however, warns that Chinese efforts to leapfrog its way forward in certain critical sectors — such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence — could allow it to “offset America’s current military-technological advantage in the Pacific and beyond.” Interestingly, the roundtable participants also diverge on whether China constitutes a more redoubtable geopolitical challenger than the Soviet Union. For Kania, “across all dimensions of national power, China is a far more formidable rival than the Soviet Union or modern Russia,” whereas for Schake, present-day China has “nowhere near the soft-power magnetism that communism did.” Ayson, for his part, points to China’s rather dismal-looking alliance portfolio, which pales in comparison to the diplomatic and military brawn of the Eastern bloc during the Cold War. And in varying degrees, all of our contributors express concern over the potentially debilitating effects of deepening domestic disunion in the United States, and of the long-term risks associated with an abrogation of U.S. leadership on issues such as human rights and free trade. Three short comments before ceding the floor to our contributors. First, observers have a tendency to underestimate the weight of China’s ideological challenge — and, perhaps more broadly, to dismiss the time old appeal of authoritarianism even within well-established democracies.[19] While the transatlantic debate on influence operations has largely focused on Russia, “down under” it is Beijing’s nefarious activities that have garnered the most attention.[20]  China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) undoubtedly constitutes one of the most ambitious grand strategic designs in modern history.[21] Looking beyond the more immediate concerns tied to debt traps and economic coercion, what political philosophy will undergird this monumental undertaking? Will this vast Eurasian circulatory system beat to the rhythm of Xi Jinping’s authoritarian heart, or will it be governed by the same rules and norms that have shielded the global commons from expropriation and enclosure since the end of World War II? Second, there is an additional hazard nested within an overly casual use of the Cold War analogy. By framing the Sino-U.S. competition as a fundamentally bipolar struggle, it lends strength to Beijing’s position that the future of Asian politics should be determined at the G2 level, by a Sino-U.S. condominium. Our contributors rightly highlight the importance of second-ranking and middle powers in the Indo-Pacific, none of whom would be comfortable with such a prospect. As Charles Edel noted in an excellent, recent essay,
The G-2 model appeals to some U.S. policymakers because it seems to hold out the promise of one-stop shopping for stability. But it is a false promise, for other major Asian states — most notably Japan, Australia, and India — would never accede to an order that placed their independence, sovereignty, and ultimately security in a subservient position, and these states would justifiably resent the United States for seeming to suggest that they should.[22]
Finally, if this roundtable has proven anything, it is that contemporary foreign policy discussions need more rather than less animated debates over the relevancy of different historical analogies. Hal Brands and William Inboden are right when they say that the only way to avoid being misled in the process is
to know enough history to understand that all analogies are imperfect, and that using them properly requires using them with great care and discipline. It requires pitting analogies against one another in competitive fashion, in order to see which is truly the better fit and in order to free policymakers from the trap of viewing the present through the lens of only a single historical comparison.[23]
Let this analogical debate, therefore, constitute but one intellectual salvo amongst many in an ongoing struggle to provide robust, interdisciplinary analyses of some of the world’s most pressing security issues. Iskander Rehman is the Senior Fellow for International Relations at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University. Prior to joining the Pell Center, Iskander was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the International Order and Strategy Program (IOS) at the Brookings Institution. He has also served as a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Stanton Nuclear Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and as a Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, all in Washington, D.C. 

2. Beware the Cold War Trap — It’s a Geopolitical Competition, Instead

By Michael Auslin A “new Cold War” is the latest fashion for describing the current state of Sino-American relations. Whether asserting that one is already underway or warning that one is imminent,[24] the phrase is popular with commentators and even the Chinese government itself.[25] It may indeed be natural to view the growing tensions between the world’s two largest powers through the familiar dyadic prism that shaped American and Russian strategic thinking after 1945. Yet the Cold War is a misleading comparison for the geopolitical competition between the United States and China. Adopting such a mindset overstates the threat China poses, confuses assessments of its true challenge to U.S. interests, and diverts Washington from crafting an appropriate strategy. At its potentially most damaging, a Cold War paradigm can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To say that Washington and Beijing are not in a Cold War-style dynamic, however, is not to deny that they are engaged in an intensifying, multilayered geopolitical competition for influence and power. The differences between the Cold War and contemporary Sino-U.S. relations should be obvious enough. First, the Cold War was an ideological struggle between two diametrically opposed systems, each of which sought to defeat, if not exterminate, the other. While China is officially communist, and while under current leader Xi Jinping it has increased the ideological component of its propaganda, it does not have the destruction of capitalism and the takeover of foreign governments as its primary political goal. Neither is the United States committed to bringing down the Chinese government as a step towards destroying the remnants of global communism. Second, China and the United States do not face each other militarily over a divided continent where travel between the two sides has been barred — as was the case between the United States and the Soviet Union in Berlin. Nor does China control a bloc of allied nations ruled by communist regimes that overthrew liberal governments. While China’s police state is among the most powerful in the world, it does not lead an organized bloc of allied police states. Moreover, despite Beijing’s growing military power and influence, Chinese troops are not stationed in foreign countries against local will, as was the case with the Soviet Union. While the militaries of the United States and China watch each other, often warily, and while war plans on both sides undoubtedly take into account all possible contingencies, neither country is militarily organized to defeat the other as its primary enemy. It goes without saying that the United States and the Soviet Union had nothing remotely comparable to the trade relationship between the United States and China, which reached $635 billion in 2017 (along with a $375 billion trade deficit in favor of China).[26] This includes approximately $68 billion in Chinese investment in the United States (in 2016), and the operation of hundreds of U.S. companies in China, along with more than $75 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment in China.[27] In addition, nearly 330,000 Chinese students study in the United States, according to a recent report, which dwarfs the number of Soviets who attended American colleges in the Cold War era.[28] Nor is the political relationship between Washington and Beijing, comprising dozens of official and unofficial meetings and summits each year, not to mention grassroots connections, comparable to the much more limited exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union. Beyond the statistics, however, is the fact that for a “cold war” to exist, both sides must acknowledge it as such. That is as much a function of mindset as it is of official policy. Thus, while the two countries’ militaries are increasingly concerned with the actions of the other, and while both capitals swing between engagement and periods of frosty relations, as far as we know, neither Washington nor Beijing formally considers the other to be an (or the) “enemy.” Regardless of whether it is fair to say that the Sino-American relationship is today the most important in the world, it is undoubtedly one of the most complicated and well-developed, and is unlike anything that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. And yet, there is no denying that the overall Sino-U.S. relationship has deteriorated over the past decade, and that attitudes on both sides have become increasingly critical of the other. If Washington and Beijing are not in a cold war, they are quite clearly in an increasingly competitive relationship that is global in nature. Long gone are the days of musing about a “G-2” or “strategic partnership,” and few if any in Washington expect Beijing to become a “responsible stakeholder,” as advocated over a decade ago by then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.[29] Moreover, despite multiple iterations of the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue — the highest level recurring diplomatic engagement between the two countries — little of substance has been achieved to reduce areas of friction or to create meaningful areas of cooperation, beyond the dialogue itself. Strategic Competition as Conventional Wisdom The Pentagon warned about “strategic competition” from China as early as the George W. Bush era.[30] Nevertheless, the concept only gained government-wide traction when it was enshrined in President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy, released in December 2017. That document described China as a “revisionist power” that is actively competing against the United States in order to shift the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region and supplant U.S. influence.[31] The new common wisdom in Washington circa 2018 is that China, under President Xi Jinping, is a strategic competitor. Like much common wisdom, this view is largely correct. Chinese competition has multiple facets, the foremost of which is its geographic scope. Not surprisingly, it is mostly focused in Asia proper, particularly in the region’s waters, or what is referred to as the “maritime commons.” Beijing both resents and feels threatened by Washington’s network of long-standing alliances, and aims above all at carving out a sphere for freedom of action within Asia that ensures its own access to the global maritime commons and pushes back direct military threats to its homeland. But radiating out from Eastern Asia are rippling waves of interest: the Indian Ocean, Siberia, the Persian Gulf, Africa, the Arctic Ocean, and Latin America. Chinese presence, engagement, and influence varies widely in these places, but no longer is there much doubt that Beijing desires to increase its role in each of these areas, whether it be for natural resources, transit routes, markets, or political support. Indeed, China often aims at overlapping goals, for example, by using infrastructure investment or foreign aid to secure political alliances or access to ports for Chinese civilian and military vessels alike. With these geographic concerns in mind, Beijing has set out to challenge U.S. supremacy in Asia using a diverse array of policies and tactics. The buildup of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is known well enough to need little comment here. Notable, however, is the adoption of an anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD), whose goal is to eliminate U.S. freedom of action in Asian waters during a crisis.[32] From a largely coastal defense force in the 1980s, the PLA Navy (PLAN) now conducts blue water operations around the globe, and in particular throughout the Indo-Pacific maritime commons. Having launched its first aircraft carrier and introduced new series of both attack and ballistic missile submarines, along with introducing supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles and the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, the PLA is aiming at becoming a high-tech, modernized, networked force that can compete with the U.S. Navy not only in numbers, but also in quality.[33] Similarly, the PLA Air Force is introducing new stealth fighter variants as well as advanced drones, in order to contest the skies of East Asia. It has also begun receiving the S-400 advanced integrated air defense missile system from Russia, adding to previous systems, thus making far more difficult any U.S. air operations over Chinese airspace.[34] And, in a military parade held just a few months after Donald Trump took office, Beijing showed off its newest intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose ranges can cover the entire continental United States.[35] The full scope of China’s military modernization is captured in annual reports by the Pentagon, with the 2017 edition noting the wide ranging reorganization of the military ordered by President Xi Jinping, as well as the increase in Chinese military activities throughout Asia and farther abroad.[36] In short, Beijing continues to develop and modernize its military into an effective tool of national power, one that appears directed, at least in part, against American strengths and ability to operate in the Asia-Pacific region. Competing Beyond the Military Realm Beijing’s geopolitical challenge transcends the military. Under Xi Jinping, Beijing has mounted significant political and economic initiatives designed to wrest influence from Washington. Perhaps best known is the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, or One Belt-One Road (OBOR), which Xi has made the centerpiece of his global economic agenda. At its most ambitious, OBOR will pledge as much as $1 trillion for infrastructure investment around Eurasia, creating a new network of trade routes running from east to west, as well as north to south — all designed to integrate the world’s largest trading region around a Chinese axis. With the Trump administration’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, China’s OBOR automatically increases in legitimacy, even if doubts persist over whether it will live up to its billing. Along with OBOR, Beijing has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to compete with the Japanese-managed Asian Development Bank and the U.S.-run World Bank, thereby offering a nascent financial architecture separate from the Western-dominated system that has shaped the global economy since 1945. When combined with Xi’s 2017 claim at the World Economic Forum that China will uphold the global free trade regime, Beijing is making a bold bid to supplant U.S. global leadership on economic issues, though skepticism abounds.[37] One dimension of the current Sino-U.S. geopolitical competition that has gotten relatively less attention than others is espionage. While all nations spy on one another in some manner, the cloak-and-dagger battle between China and the United States appears to have become particularly intense. Recent news reports of Chinese spies arrested in the United States, including a suspected mole who helped China’s security services dismantle America’s spy network inside China, purportedly leading to several executions, point to the increasing amount of dangerous interactions.[38] In 2016, Chinese agents kidnapped an American State Department officer in Chengdu and held him overnight for illegal questioning without informing the U.S. Consulate.[39] Meanwhile, at least two other Americans were charged with spying for China in 2017, one a former CIA officer and the other a State Department employee.[40] In addition, the Director of the FBI has warned that Chinese spies are posing as exchange students to gain access to leading American universities and research institutes and pass back cutting-edge research to the mainland.[41] The most consequential, pervasive, and endemic espionage activity may be that which is taking place in cyberspace. For years, PLA cyber units have been stealing corporate secrets from hundreds of companies, leading experts to assess that Chinese cyber espionage costs the U.S. economy up to $600 billion per year.[42] Beijing was also accused by the U.S. government of breaching the confidential records of the Office of Personnel Management, stealing the information of more than 22 million U.S. citizens, including those with government-issued security clearances.[43] Clearly, Beijing’s systematic targeting of American individuals, corporations, and government entities reveals an aggressive intent to weaken and disrupt elements of U.S. society. Nor is China’s competition with the United States limited to its dealings with the United States. The most contested aspect of Sino-U.S. relations may well be the question of how the region’s smaller powers align strategically. Beijing’s trade relations with smaller nations are increasingly seen as a means of gaining influence, using foreign aid as a means of securing political support and access to strategic ports throughout Asia. OBOR, meanwhile, seeks to link smaller states ever more closely to China, with potentially deleterious effects for U.S. trade relations in the region. Asia’s smaller states have long made clear that they do not want to be caught in between China and the United States, let alone be forced to choose sides. In reality, both Beijing and Washington have limits on how far they can push smaller countries. There is no likelihood of Washington forming a NATO-like regional security organization, even if it wanted to. It must instead continue to rely on its “hub-and-spoke” model of bilateral security alliances in the region. Similarly, despite China’s dominant economic position in Asia, it continues to find resistance to its increasing influence. Beijing is rightly seen as an often-overbearing actor — its very size makes smaller nations wary of its power. Washington is so far unwilling to promote a more robust liberal agenda in Asia, or explicitly call for greater cooperation among democracies. This leaves it focused primarily on security issues, and also constrained by the limits of its allies’ more modest capabilities. For its part, Beijing has little to say to the region’s democracies beyond promoting trade, while its illiberal partners, such as North Korea, Laos, and Cambodia, are weak, isolated, and largely irrelevant. This leaves most smaller nations in Asia the option of maneuvering between Washington and Beijing for their own interests, variously prioritizing economics, politics, or security. The fear of entrapment by either great power is a major driving factor in the policies of smaller nations, and so most attempt to remain equidistant between the two. For America’s allies, the calculation is more complicated because they must take into account their treaty obligations without alienating Beijing. Australia and the Philippines, in particular, have struggled with maintaining that balance, given their dependence on Chinese economic ties. Competition Doesn’t Mean Cold War Perhaps above all, Asian nations want to avoid a new cold war. Any attempt to portray Sino-U.S. competition in such terms deeply concerns most Asian capitals, even Japan, which is probably the most hawkish of U.S. allies. Such a formulation is counterproductive, as well as objectively misleading. Adopting a Cold War paradigm to explain contemporary Sino-U.S. relations would logically lead to attempts to organize Asian countries in a formal bloc against Beijing, which will fail, and to contain China, which will lead to a dangerous deterioration of the relationship. Instead, Washington should continue to recognize that it is engaged in a persistent, open-ended strategic competition with China for influence in Asia and beyond. Holding the line against a weakening of America’s role in Asia should be paramount. Preserving a credible American military posture in the region that includes responding to Chinese aggressive actions such as cyber espionage should also be a priority, as much to send a signal to Beijing as to protect U.S. interests. The competition for ideas should be a part of U.S. policy as well, and ought to include promoting further democratization in the region (or at least trying to prevent further democratic erosion), as well as promoting the benefits of high-level free trade agreements that can help foster prosperity. Yet such a policy approach does not require labeling China as an “enemy,” let alone a global ideological rival. The interdependence of both countries’ economies, as well as certain, if limited, shared goals on issues like climate change, means that there will be some opportunities for cooperation. With Xi Jinping now seemingly positioned to stay in power indefinitely, the United States must maintain a firm line against China while approaching the relationship from a position of strength.[44] Such steadfastness may in turn cause China to moderate some of its more aggressive behavior, though any short-term change in China’s political system is highly unlikely. Beijing sees the competition with Washington as a long game. U.S. policymakers should adopt a similar mindset without creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of great power conflict.   Michael Auslin is the Williams-Griffis Fellow in Contemporary Asia at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His most recent book is End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region (Yale University Press).

3. Competition Aplenty, But No Cold War

By Robert Ayson It's not difficult to envision a future where the competitive side of Sino-U.S.  relations overshadows its cooperative dimension. Since the early days of the Barack Obama administration, if not before, it has become clear that the more China translates its economic power into diplomatic and military influence, the more that the United States will seek counteractive measures. For the Donald Trump administration, such measures have relied on America's military superiority, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. By giving less weight to trade and diplomatic multilateralism than its predecessor, the Trump approach downplays the collaborative possibilities in America's relationship with China. And because it places such a strong emphasis on military power, the new administration is making contentious interactions between the two countries all the more likely. Primed for Competition To be sure, any competitive relationship takes at least two sides to tango. There is no question that China would like to have the dominant position in wider Asia, an ambition that threatens America's long-standing estimation of its own vital interests. For many years that prospect has seemed out of reach. But China’s growing strength and influence, coupled with a ruler who wishes to more confidently assert Beijing's preferences abroad, brings it closer to realizing its goal of gaining a position of regional leadership. Ever sensitive to the changing balance of power with the United States, Beijing may have seen Donald Trump's arrival in Oval Office as an opportunity to exploit, even if this meant heightening the risks of competition. In an era when the U.S. president is tarnishing America’s hard-won international reputation, the argument that China lacks soft power appeal needs re-evaluating. Xi Jinping’s grandiose claim that China is the new champion of economic globalism[45] is an example of Chinese messaging that attracts while Trump repels. Meanwhile, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) reflects a more upbeat vision of Asia’s future than America’s abandonment of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Between Xi Jinping’s regional ambitions and several near-term decisions facing the United States, the chance that competition between the two countries will intensify is increasing. If, for example, the Trump administration follows through on the president’s threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods,[46] economic competition could escalate. And if Kim Jong-Un disappoints Trump in their pending summit meeting, and the United States takes provocative military action against North Korea following dashed expectations of denuclearization, the United States and China could come into direct conflict on the Korean Peninsula for the first time in nearly 70 years. Counterintuitively, even if the White House decides not to use preventive force against North Korea, avoiding that war would make it more likely that Washington and Beijing compete more intensely over other contested spots. In the South China Sea, for instance, China wishes to reduce America's military reach and the United States wishes to avoid the further extension of Beijing's expanding assertions of control. China and the United States are also wrestling diplomatically. China has been trying to persuade America's allies and partners in Asia that they might be better off distancing themselves from Washington. South Korea and the Philippines come to mind as examples of this effort in North and Southeast Asia, respectively. Both are traditional U.S. allies, and both have seen China attempt to use a combination of charm and coercion to peel them away from the United States. There is also some element of ideological competition between China and the United States. The former is showing developing countries that they do not need to be democratic to be rich, while at the same time the leader of the free world appears to regard democracy as overrated. The cooperative aspects of Sino-U.S. relations, which in theory could encourage mutual restraint and a positive sum outlook, are more fragile and narrowly based than the issues that engender competition between China and America. The two great powers certainly have some common economic interests, and have both benefited from the economic interdependence that exists between them. Growing trade and financial ties between the United States and China have raised the costs of conflict between them. But close economic connections are no guarantee of peace: Europe’s powers were, after all, highly interdependent in 1914. Paradoxically, the economic interactions that have allowed China to flourish have also allowed it to change the distribution of power in a region where the United States wishes to remain preeminent. Moreover, as Japan's relations with China demonstrate, very close economic connections can coexist with serious diplomatic and military tensions. There are other dimensions in which Beijing and Washington have interests in common. Both would like to prevent third parties from provoking local conflicts that could drag in either country. One example is the Sino-U.S. modus vivendi when it comes to Taiwan: Both great powers have indicated to Taipei that pressing for independence is not an option. Despite some early wobbles,[47] President Trump has not upset the status quo on Taiwan, but many in Washington would like to see him take a firmer line with Beijing.[48] More immediately significant are the overlapping but also competing interests that the United States and China bring to the situation with North Korea. In the early months of the Trump administration, the new president was willing to give Beijing the benefit of the doubt when it came to helping the international community reign in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program. But he has also shown signs of impatience with Xi’s reluctance to apply the totality of economic pressure on North Korea — something Washington wants and Beijing would rather avoid. Cold, but Not a War With plenty of competition ahead between the United States and China, and with obstacles strewn in the path toward deeper collaboration, it seems reasonable to wonder whether these two great powers are sliding into a Cold War. But this bilateral contest — even if it becomes increasingly severe — should not be mistaken as the 21st century version of the east-west conflict that dominated the post-World War II world until the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are several reasons why the Cold War analogy is misplaced. First of all, China is competing with the United States largely within the same system. As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s and early 1960s, by contrast, the centralized economies of the Soviet bloc represented an entirely alternative system to the capitalist west. Can China's BRI and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank be viewed as alternatives to U.S. and western-led approaches? Yes, they can. But do they suggest that Beijing is abandoning its western capitalist connections? Not so much. Smaller liberal countries like New Zealand, which are participating in these new arrangements, do not see themselves as signing up to an entirely separate Chinese sphere of economic influence. To the contrary, the New Zealand government insisted it would not be part of TPP negotiations if the aim was to exclude or contain China.[49] Far too many Asia-Pacific countries wished U.S. and Chinese approaches to regional economics were complementary. They know that China may be seeking to rework some of the rules of the international game, but it is by no means clear that Beijing is trying to create an entirely separate one. That’s because China has benefited significantly from the international order that it is sometimes accused of seeking to dismantle. Another reason the Cold War analogy is inappropriate is that Beijing does not hold the same position that Moscow and Washington once enjoyed. At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union sat at the apex of the Western and Eastern blocs respectively. Their highly unequal relations with allies is a reminder that the Cold War dominated international politics not merely because of the existence of the two superpowers, but because so many other states were on one side or another. Even the non-aligned movement — which sought to eschew choosing sides — was defined in relation to that divide. Today’s China has nothing like the Soviet bloc at its disposal. Several of its neighbors, especially in continental Southeast Asia, are accommodating China’s rise and are willing to acknowledge its local dominance. Beijing would like to expand that group to include maritime Southeast Asia and potentially beyond. Much further afield, China has developed close relations with a number of developing countries, including several African states that rely extensively upon its aid and investment.[50] But these are not Marxist-Leninist-Maoist look-alikes. China wants its friends and partners to tolerate the political system it has developed for itself. But it is not engaged in a revolutionary campaign to entice them to copy China's one-party state. China’s rule is a negative one: Don't criticize or interfere in China’s politics. It encourages inaction rather than the adoption of a particular ideologically driven political system. What’s more, China lacks allies who are willing — or, as was the case with the Soviet Union, required — to be part of a Beijing-led military coalition. China has no equivalent to the Warsaw Pact, whose imposed unity encouraged the creation of the alliance standoff with what became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). China does have a partner in Russia. The two have a shared interest in diluting America's primacy in world affairs and in encouraging a multipolar world, where possible. Russian leaders are also keen to protect the country’s brand of authoritarian politics against the decadent appeal of Western liberalism. And yet, it is easy to overstate the unity between Beijing and Moscow. We cannot take seriously the idea that they speak with one voice, still less that Russia is willing to submit to China's direction, or vice versa. One might be forgiven for superficially comparing China's encroachment on the South China Sea to the Soviet Union’s Cold War efforts in Eastern Europe. Beijing is creating new facts on the “ground” in maritime Asia,[51] and new ground on which those facts can be built. But most of this is happening on hitherto unpopulated — or legally non-existing — features that China claims as part of its own sovereign territory. There is no bloc being built here. China may have satellite dishes in the South China Sea, but it has no satellite countries. Some governments in maritime Southeast Asia may have little choice but to put up with China's spreading presence. But this does not make them Chinese allies or even willing puppets. So what does Beijing's great answer to the Soviet bloc of the Cold War consist of? North Korea? Cambodia? Pakistan on alternate days? Not Iran — Tehran is too independent for that. Not Turkey if China needs dutiful partners. It’s an awfully short list. Turning to the United States, for all of its traditional allies in Europe and Asia, it can hardly boast of leading a tight and cohesive western bloc today. To help create a new Cold War, Washington would need to frighten its prospective allies about the threat from China to the point where they were willing to suspend their independence for the sake of the team. But there is little sign of this happening, especially under the Trump administration. If the new Cold War adversary is really China, European countries are showing absolutely no appetite for a Soviet era type of containment. Indeed, they have been falling over themselves to economically court Beijing and dilute their criticisms of China’s human rights record. In turn, China has been increasing its economic and political influence with a series of smaller European states.[52] But this doesn’t mean these polities are completely on China’s side in a wholesale division of the planet. In Asia, Washington would find it hard to gather allies that would be willing to treat China as a threat that needs to be contained. Nor would many countries in the region be willing to separate themselves from the motley crowd of China supporters. The Obama Administration’s experience with its “pivot to Asia” proved this point. To the extent that the rebalance worked in Washington’s favor, it built links with newer partners who were unwilling to definitively choose the United States over China, but who still wanted America to balance China's growing influence. The Trump administration, and its successors, will struggle in vain to find a bloc of countries willing to walk away from lucrative relationships with China. Regarding the military factor, which is the Trump administration’s focus, any possible anti-China coalition would be very small: It might include Japan, although Tokyo seems interested in developing its own independent capacities to use force in order to give itself more options should Washington prove unreliable. It’s possible Australia would join such a coalition, although the southern anchor of the American alliance system in Asia has been reluctant to join U.S. freedom of navigation operations, which doesn’t bode well for its cooperation.[53] Who else is ready and able? Singapore simply couldn’t function without strong commercial ties with China. If America adopts a Cold War mentality in Asia, its list of loyal followers would be small. Beware a Hot War We shouldn't spend too much of our time worrying about the dangers of a new Cold War between the United States and China. But we do have reason to be worried about the possibilities of a hot war. If the olive branch extended by North Korea to South Korea and the United States proves to be full of thorns, Washington would find itself back in an increasingly dangerous standoff with Pyongyang. The use of force by either country could have dramatic implications for the United States and China: not in the form of a new Cold War or some kind of peaceful coexistence that mirrors detente, but in a military battle. The task for countries in the region, therefore, is not to help China and the United States avoid a Cold War. It is to keep them from ending Asia’s lukewarm peace.[54]   Robert Ayson is Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and author of Asia's Security (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

4. Beyond Cold War: Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition

By Elsa B. Kania Beijing has long called for the United States to abandon what it calls its “Cold War mentality” (冷战思维). Today, that critique, long a staple of official Chinese propaganda, is starting to ring true as the United States once again emphasizes great power rivalry in identifying China as a strategic competitor.[55] The notion of a “new Cold War” may be a convenient conceptual framework for the intensifying competition between the United States and China, but Washington should indeed abandon Cold War prescriptions for containing China. At best, such an approach would play directly into the hands of China’s propaganda machine. Instead, the United States must recognize that China’s ambition for what it describes as “national rejuvenation” constitutes a challenge that eclipses the Cold War in both complexity and consequence. An Unrivaled Challenger Across all dimensions of national power, China is a far more formidable rival than the Soviet Union or modern Russia. For better and worse, China’s quest for “national rejuvenation” — with ambitions to “regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world” — has already started to shift the world order’s center of gravity.[56] China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, enabled by its integration into the global economy, has created both positive dividends and negative externalities for the United States and the world. Its quest to become a “superpower” in science and technology could enable China to emerge as a new center of innovation, including in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies. Meanwhile, the Chinese military is pursuing rapid modernization and defense innovations that could offset — rather than match, as the Soviet military did — America’s current military-technological advantage in the Pacific and beyond. There is no clear precedent for the challenge that China poses today. In particular, the level of economic interdependence between China and the United States, which has often been mutually beneficial, further complicates matters, since such entanglement can be exploited to asymmetric advantage. Certain Chinese policies and practices — particularly tactics for transferring technology that range from outright theft of intellectual property to forced technology transfers — have proven damaging to U.S. interests and distortionary to global trade.[57] At the same time, mastery of economic statecraft has given China greater influence, even over U.S. allies and partners. China has also sought to expand its sphere of influence, just as a rising United States asserted the Monroe Doctrine. But China’s ambitions already are very global in scope and scale, stretching from Asia to the Arctic.[58] Going forward, China’s defense of its ever-growing national interests may mean that its influence — and perhaps even its military power — will extend in parallel. Relative to the Cold War, the ideological dimension of this competition has been less obvious thus far, but it may prove to be a considerable challenge going forward. At a time when U.S. soft power is diminished,[59] global public opinion of the United States and China is now similarly positive, while favorable perceptions of China have increased considerably.[60] Despite the clumsiness of Chinese propaganda, the success of the “China model” has rendered its approach attractive to illiberal and developing states, at a time when global faith in democracy is diminishing precipitously. A recent study estimated that nearly three in ten Americans would support an “authoritarian alternative” to democracy.[61] Meanwhile, traditional instruments of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) power, including such “magic weapons” as the United Front Work, have been reinvigorated to advance influence and often even interference in the politics of democracies from Australia to Peru, furthering Party-State interests.[62] While their efficacy can be limited, the global deployment of such tools has provoked acute concerns about the “sharp power” of authoritarian influence worldwide.[63] This kind of “political warfare” has a long history,[64] and countering it requires forced transparency that exposes and counters these “covert, corrupt, coercive” activities, while strengthening the resilience of our democracies.[65] Perils of Cold War Thinking Given these challenges, the United States may be tempted to revert to an established playbook of containment. After all, the Soviet Union also pursued a sphere of influence within its near abroad, and U.S. containment proved effective in preventing it from extending such influence globally. However, in today’s complex, globalized world — in which economics is China’s primary means of influence — such a strategy is unlikely to prove feasible, let alone successful. In particular, an attempt to disentangle the U.S. and Chinese economies — or even simply to cut such a Gordian knot — could be deeply damaging to the United States and highly disruptive to the world economy. Although Xi Jinping’s efforts to position himself as a champion of free trade should be met with serious skepticism, it is true that China has a stake in the current order and has benefited from globalization. While China has not yet liberalized politically as a result of its deepening integration into the international order, it has arguably become more of a status quo power in certain respects, increasing its involvement in international issues and institutions, in response to U.S. urgings that it become a “responsible stakeholder.”[66] Moreover, were the United States to revert to a “Cold War mentality,” concentrating primarily on countering and containing China’s economic resurgence and expanding influence, it might only accelerate the emergence of a more Sino-centric world order. A U.S. decision to pursue tactics that risk alienating U.S. allies and partners — such as imposing indiscriminate tariffs — could backfire. In reaction, Beijing’s attempts to create an alternative institutional architecture, including the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) may achieve greater traction, possibly at the expense of more U.S.-centric institutions, like the World Bank.[67] At the same time, Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative aims to accelerate the emergence of a more Sino-centric order by reshaping the geopolitics and economics of Eurasia.[68] If U.S. actions, such as import tariffs, raise the specter of protectionism, it could increase the relative attractiveness of the economic opportunities that China promises, notwithstanding the strings that will likely be attached. It is still possible for the United States to confront China on its anti-competitive behavior, by enacting aggressive industrial policies, for example, and to exert pressure for deeper regulatory changes that are favored by some reformers within China.[69] The perils of a Cold War approach to China are most acute in the military domain. The more the United States flexes its military muscles in Asia, the more it will inadvertently bolster Beijing’s narrative that U.S. “hegemonism,” rather than Chinese assertiveness,[70] is to blame for exacerbating regional tensions.[71] U.S. strategy must ensure that any further military presence in the region is balanced by greater security cooperation with allies and partners. And, perhaps more critically, the United States must engage economically, including a reconsideration of the merits of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As U.S.-China military competition intensifies — from the seas to space to the cyber domain — the United States must also be wary of the risks of misperception and potential miscalculation that can arise within a classic security dilemma.[72] At the same time, the United States must avoid falling into the trap of overinvesting in the military dimension of competition and neglecting other core sources of strength, lest it find itself making the same mistakes that undermined the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[73] U.S. strategy toward China must balance and reconcile concurrent competition and cooperation. In particular, it is critical to engage with China in order to mitigate risks to strategic stability that may arise. This includes deepening the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China, for example, through the new joint strategic dialogue mechanism.[74] The realities of rivalry should not undermine joint efforts to mitigate shared threats, from North Korea to cyber crime to climate change. Increasingly, it may become difficult to justify sustaining such cooperation unless tangible outcomes arise from it. It is therefore important to begin where shared threats and interests converge, and to focus on systemic challenges that cannot be resolved without the involvement of the world’s most powerful and vulnerable stakeholders. For instance, the United States and China were the two nations most adversely impacted by the WannaCry ransomware outbreak in May 2017,[75] which has since been attributed to North Korea.[76] In the case of the Mirai botnet, vulnerabilities in Chinese Internet of Things (IoT) devices enabled its creation and the launching of massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that caused major disruption to the Internet.[77] Future U.S.-China cooperation to counter high-end cyber crime and enhance IoT security could prove viable and mutually beneficial. It is clear that such global issues and systemic challenges cannot be readily resolved without cooperation. Rivalry and Rejuvenation Going forward, the United States should not fear, but rather must embrace, cooperation with China as a catalyst for an “American rejuvenation.” While aspects of a Cold War paradigm may be applicable to this strategic competition, U.S. strategy should instead articulate a new vision that accounts for the complexity of U.S.-China competition and cooperation in a chaotic and uncertain world. In the process, the United States must recognize and reaffirm its commitment to its core values and enduring advantages — the vibrancy of its democracy, the freeness and openness of its society, and the dynamism of its innovation ecosystems. And yet, America must not take these strengths for granted, at a time when there are troubling indicators of democratic breakdown,[78] a resurgence of hatreds and prejudice that is antithetic to U.S. values,[79] and inadequate investment in the technologies that will shape America’s future.[80] As China pursues its national rejuvenation, the United States must undertake its own revitalization — fortifying its democratic institutions; battling the demons of hatreds both old and new; and embracing new frontiers of innovation, including through concentrating on education, openness to immigration, and sustained funding for basic scientific research. At a time of crisis and anxiety, the United States must rise to the challenge of an ascendant China.   Elsa B. Kania is an Adjunct Fellow with the Center for a New American Security’s Technology and National Security Program. She focuses on Chinese defense innovation in emerging technologies in support of the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative at CNAS, where she also acts as a member of the research team for the new Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and National Security. 

5. Are the United States and China really in a new Cold War? A View from the Region

By Sheryn Lee Has the Cold war returned? Yes, if we are to believe current media and policy discussions about the state of Sino-U.S. relations.[81] Meanwhile, in response to American plans to expand its strategic reach in Asia, Beijing has repeatedly accused Washington of a “Cold War” mentality and of misreading Chinese military modernization.[82] Parallels have been drawn to the bipolar and openly antagonistic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, with some comparing U.S. policy in Asia to “containment” and arguing that bipolarity is returning once again to global politics. According to this theory, the post-Cold War period of American unipolarity is declining, a rising China will not “subordinate itself to Pax Americana,” and the ensuing Sino-U.S. strategic competition will divide the international order.[83] However, despite the seemingly appealing description of another Cold War-type clash of ideologies, there are several problems with using that era of bipolarity as a template for understanding current Sino-U.S. affairs. The Cold War was an extreme form of strategic competition that divided the globe into two ideological poles. It was openly antagonistic in political, ideological, economic, and military terms, leading to proxy wars and a nuclear arms race. In contrast, U.S. relations with China are far more complex and Asia’s changing regional balance of power is nowhere near settled. And despite labelling China a “strategic competitor” in its 2018 National Defense Strategy,[84] the United States has not actively sought to contain China, nor has it contested China’s every military advancement, as it did the Soviet Union. We should therefore resist the urge to apply stark terminology to what is, in reality, a complex Sino-U.S. relationship that continually fluctuates between cooperation and conflict. The Art of the Deal One of the key dimensions of the Cold War was the clash of ideology between the communist Soviet Union and the democratic West. Although there is a clash of values between the United States and China today, it is not polarized to the same degree. The 2018 National Security Strategy argues that China and Russia “are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”[85] But if the United States is competing for influence, China and Russia are less damaging to its efforts than the overall posture of the Trump administration. With the pending introduction of trade tariffs, the commitment to increase its defense expenditure and military capabilities, and the alleged collusion of some members of President Donald Trump’s team with Russia during the 2016 election campaign the United States is damaging its soft power. Trump has openly praised strongmen such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Tayyip Erdogan, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Rodrigo Duterte. He has also reduced the emphasis of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, ended U.S. leadership on climate change, and undermined the “rules-based” global order the United States effectively built and has maintained over many decades. Indeed, as some eminent U.S. political scientists have argued, there has been an “underlying erosion of democratic norms” in America since the 1990s of which Trump is merely a symptom.[86] Trump’s “fiery, populist nationalism” challenged American internationalism and espoused a return to isolationism and protectionism.[87] It is no surprise, then, that interpersonal relations between Trump and President Xi Jinping have been warm. In fact, Trump was the only Western leader who expressed sympathy for Xi’s moves to becoming “President for life,” and the White House refused to criticize China for removing the two-term limit on its presidency. Both leaders are symptomatic of their political systems and both have transactional approaches to international relations. “Chairman” Xi has effectively ended China’s era of “collective leadership” and created a cult of personality similar to Mao, this time based on the “Chinese Dream” slogan. Similarly, Trump claims to “drain the swamp” in order to “Make America Great Again.” These programs of national rejuvenation are based on economic nationalism and the pursuit of national interests. This is not the “intense competition between rival political ideologies” that unfolded during the Cold War that affected the “global distribution of power among states.”[88] Moreover, it is important to remember that Sino-U.S. relations have only been recast by Trump in the past year — previously Beijing and Washington maintained cooperation on the key issues of global economic growth, climate change, and nuclear security. What could upend the Trump-Xi friendship is not a clash of liberal and authoritarian ideologies but rather a clash of economic policies — in essence, the “deal-based order” both leaders have promoted. Trump seeks to preserve the American economic might that has financed American military superiority and underpinned the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. The United States has played a key role in China’s economic development as the largest purchaser of Chinese products and through technology transfer agreements. Trump seeks to overturn this by following through on his campaign promise of reducing China’s trade surplus with the United States, including employing protectionist measures. His administration is seeking to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese imports, namely information technology, apparel, and consumer electronics, as redress for Chinese intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices.[89] On the other hand, Beijing has repeatedly vowed to defend its “legitimate rights and interests.” In reaction to Trump’s declaration of a 25 percent tariff on steel imports, China’s metal industry urged the government to target U.S. coal and other sectors located in Trump’s electoral support base.[90] Nevertheless, the possibility of a “trade war” is not tantamount to the emergence of Cold War bipolarity. There is No Arms Race During the Cold War, American containment of the Soviet Union prevented it from using “the power and position it won from [the Second World War] to reshape the postwar international order.”[91] Consequently, the democratic West and communist East structured both their conventional and nuclear armed forces in relation to one another. The interaction between arms acquisition programs resulted in increases in the size and destructive capabilities of their militaries. This was “punctuated by several intense nuclear crises, an arms race in which each side accumulated tens of thousands of powerful hydrogen bombs, and proxy wars in which millions died.”[92] China is on a trajectory to threaten America’s position in Asia, but it is not there yet. In Asia today, much regional and U.S. concern stems from annual increases in Chinese defense expenditure and the rapid transformation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which also involves the reorganization of its strategic command structures. However, China’s defense spending has never exceeded 2 percent of GDP, nor has the PLA achieved parity to the technological sophistication of U.S. armed forces, particularly in modern command and control (C4ISR) systems. What’s more, China’s long-term military modernization does not begin and end with combating America’s presence in Asia. Its military modernization — particularly upgrades to its naval and associated air capabilities — has been an ongoing political and strategic process driven by several overlapping impulses. Starting in the 1970s, China recognized the potential strategic and economic value of controlling its maritime approaches, which had been largely ignored under Mao Zedong.[93] Realizing this aspiration has involved a drastic realignment of its traditional force structure — expanding from its previous exclusive focus on homeland defense to include both territorial defense and expeditionary duties.[94] Although Washington’s focus has now shifted towards recognizing China as a “strategic competitor,” the American military retains a global force posture in order to meet global deployment requirements, meaning its capability development is driven by more than just the PLA. America’s armed forces pursue qualitative military modernization and innovation to maintain technological superiority. This is done in a cost-effective way to ensure that advanced weapons acquisitions have a lasting effect not just on American security commitments in Asia, but also its global “command of the commons.” Although the PLA is eroding American regional capabilities in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and ballistic missile defense, American Third Offset Strategy technologies — such as quantum machine learning, artificial intelligence-human collaboration, and network enabled autonomous weapons — are presumably not only far ahead of the PLA’s military transformation but also able to counter the ability of American adversaries to disrupt the C4ISR network that is central to modern American warfighting.[95] Coping with Change It is unlikely that changes in the regional balance of power will result in the emergence of bipolarity on the order of what existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Regional observers have long lamented the lack of a credible Asia policy due to Washington’s polarized partisanship and stagnant economy. This began well before Trump’s impulsive policy decisions — the region criticized George W. Bush’s prioritization of the Global War on Terror over his commitment to Asia, and asked the Obama administration whether the regional “pivot” or “rebalance” would ever become a reality. Consequently, countries such as Japan, Australia, India, and South Korea have long been preparing for the worst-case scenario of Asia “Without America.”[96] Although Sino-U.S. relations are now framed as a “strategic competition,” its effect on Asia is markedly different than that of Cold War bipolarity. On the one hand, American allies and partners remain invested in the bilateral system of “hubs and spokes,” as well as the complex network of minilateral arrangements and regional forums meant to maintain the delicate regional stability. Countries are diversifying their foreign policies through minilateral initiatives, ranging from attempts to reinvigorate “The Quadrilateral” — the United States, Japan, India, and Australia — to the proliferation of enhanced security and strategic partnership bilateral agreements between the “spokes.” In addition, despite Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the remaining 11 countries signed an amended agreement in March 2018, expressing a commitment to ratifying an “effective, rules-based and transparent trading system.”[97] On the other hand, nation-states tend to act in their own national interests before they act for the collective good of the region. Therefore, coping with changes to the regional balance of power has also resulted in increased investment in self-reliant defense capabilities. This makes for a more uncertain and contested geostrategic environment, increasing the risk of miscalculation and misadventure. Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam are modernizing blue water power projection, ASW, and maritime constabulary capabilities. Countries such as Japan and South Korea are also manufacturing indigenous defense technologies that capitalize on technology transfer agreements with the United States, with the long-term objective of decreasing the reliance on foreign purchases. These efforts should not be viewed as enhancing collective security or containment strategies by like-minded countries against China. They are neither coordinated nor integrated with one another. Responses to China’s actions, moreover, are varied, a key example being the South China Sea. Vietnam has invested in land reclamation and militarization activities on its occupied islands in the South China Sea.[98] Australia has resisted calls for conducting freedom of navigation operations in the area, citing that it would “unilaterally provoke an increase in tensions,”[99] while the Philippines has eschewed multilateral discussions and opted to negotiate bilaterally with China to resolve its dispute in the West Philippine Sea, despite its favorable ruling at the U.N.-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration.[100] Cold War 2.0? The debate about whether the current state of Sino-U.S. competition is a repeat of the Cold War reflects the uncomfortable uncertainty in predicting the outcomes of the next transformation in the balance of power. It is unsurprising, then, that the debate looks to the history of hegemonic power transition for answers. And history suggests that peaceful power transitions are rare and the odds are not good for the U.S.-Sino case.[101] This guiding framework and the Trump administration’s emphasis on economic nationalism and a “zero-sum” approach only reinforces the current trend to focus on the conflictual aspects of this relationship and to draw stark conclusions. But the United States and China are not in a new Cold War. Instead, they are locked in a strategic competition that is becoming fiercer but is constrained by an understanding that each needs the each other, and that pursuing “defeat” would simply be too costly. This does not mean that serious conflict between the two is impossible. The Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea disputes loom large in this respect. But their competition is not a total struggle on a global stage. This is good news. The bad news, however, is that we have already entered a new phase in Sino-U.S. relations characterized by orthogonal conflict, playing out in cyber space, through “gray zone” coercion, and influence operations. The West has realized it “got China wrong.”[102] But a Cold War paradigm does not get China right.   Dr. Sheryn Lee is a Lecturer in the Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University, Sydney. You can email her at  

6. A New Era of Major Power Competition, Not a New Cold War

By Tiffany Ma and Brian O’Keefe As China continues to pursue an ambitious agenda for its long-term economic and political rise, Washington has openly acknowledged that some of Beijing’s aspirations challenge its fundamental interests in the Asia-Pacific. Despite the alluring simplicity of likening uncertainties in the present U.S. relationship with China to the zero-sum competition of the Cold War, significant differences make the analogy a poor fit. The reality is that the United States and China are more interconnected, and the current international system is more complex, than at any point during the Cold War. Looking back at the Cold War may situate current dynamics in a broader historical context, and the analogy may offer certain insights. But it is dangerous to confuse the past with the great power competition — as well as the elements of cooperation —  that are currently playing out in the Indo-Pacific region. Cold War Criteria Despite the pervasiveness of the term “cold war” in discussions about great power relations today, it is important to recognize that the period from 1945 to 1991 grew out of a unique confluence of twentieth-century disasters with lingering nineteenth-century tensions between capitalism and socialism.[103] The United States and Soviet Union were the last powers standing after two world wars and the Great Depression. Facing one another’s nearly equal power and antithetical worldviews, each “side” embraced its ideology in identity-laden terms, casting itself as virtuous and its opponent as dangerous and depraved. The two superpowers lived largely separate lives. They did not trade, and they maintained few significant political linkages. Under the totality of their competing visions, each took steps that threatened the existence of not just the other’s society but of the entire world. Because the confrontation eventually spanned the globe, less powerful states were inevitably drawn in, sometimes unwillingly. Any attempt to characterize the current relationship between China and the United States as a new Cold War would need to fulfill several criteria. First, it would require a strongly bipolar distribution of power, in which other states are pulled toward one of the two roughly equal poles. Second, the superpowers and those aligned with them would need to be living essentially disconnected lives from those aligned opposite them, save perhaps shared membership in a few major international institutions. Third, China and the United States would have to pursue zero-sum policies against one another across all issues of mutual concern, not just military policies. And finally, each side would need to be so sensitive to the military balance between them that signs of an arms race would emerge, posing perilous risks to humanity. How does the Sino-U.S. relationship fare according to these four measures? Not very well. With respect to bipolarity and the alignments of smaller states, China does not compare to the Soviet Union, which controlled an array of client states that made it possible to wage proxy wars against the United States. Today, the United States maintains defense treaties with dozens of states throughout the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Americas,[104] while China counts only North Korea as an ally. Moreover, since the fall of the Cold War bipolar order and the triumph of American preeminence, the world has gradually been moving toward a multipolar structure. Power in the region is distributed more diffusely than it was during the Cold War[105] — a trend only partly driven by China’s rise. China and the United States do not live separate existences, as was the case with the United States and the Soviet Union. Elements of cooperation and interdependence have in fact featured in U.S. policy toward China since the Nixon administration, from Cold War alignment against the Soviet Union to jointly tackling climate change in the 21st century. Today, China is the United States’ top trading partner, with bilateral trade in goods alone reaching an all-time high of nearly $636 billion in 2017,[106] and two-way foreign direct investment flows likewise achieving record levels of more than $60 billion in 2016.[107] An unprecedented 329,000 Chinese students studied in the United States in 2017,[108] and in 2014, the number of U.S. students in China surpassed 100,000.[109] The Cold War saw nothing of the sort. What’s more, cooperation between China and the United States has broadened across a range of issues, including space, cyber, conservation and wildlife, and counterterrorism. Military-to-military engagement has also matured over the decades, including direct exchanges at the senior and staff levels, a growing number of confidence-building measures, and Chinese participation in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific naval exercises.[110] China is also far more integrated into a variety of international institutions than the Soviet Union ever was. It participates with the United States in premier multilateral bodies including the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the G20, and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. China also contributes to U.N. peacekeeping operations. The significance of China’s record in these entities is a subject of debate given its complicated history — including the fact that the People’s Republic of China was not “present at the creation” of key institutions. Yet the point remains that Beijing has been seen as a partner in resolving difficult international challenges in a way that Moscow never was. Third, while the United States and China differ in their economic and political systems, they have not, since the normalization of relations, let ideology define their relationship. China has not sought to export its ideology as the Soviet Union did, aggressively, during the Cold War. Of course, Xi Jinping recently stated that China’s experience could offer other countries “a new option” for development without concomitant pressure to reform politically.[111] And some scholars have dubbed China’s economic model sui generis and an existential threat to trade multilateralism and the centrality of the WTO.[112] Nonetheless, talk of a so-called “Beijing Consensus” seems overplayed.[113] Beijing remains a beneficiary of the liberal international economic order shaped by Washington, and the United States and its partners possess the multilateral means to address Chinese practices should they collectively choose to utilize them. While ideological differences between the United States and China do not mirror Cold War spheres of influence, political differences and geopolitical ambitions are deepening competition in other ways. Xi Jinping’s vision, as sanctioned by party elites, is leading to a more assertive foreign policy agenda and a more prominent role for Beijing on the world stage. In its actions and rhetoric, China has begun to shape and challenge its external environment. This is particularly evident in the South China Sea land reclamation activities,[114] the expansive Belt and Road Initiative,[115] Beijing’s efforts to alter the cross-Strait status quo,[116] and Xi’s declaration that China will “take an active part in reforming and developing the global governance system.”[117] Moreover, Beijing’s goal of national rejuvenation reflects a desire to increase China’s power and status — although, as with the Cold War analogy, one should not rush to equate the Chinese Communist Party’s present aspirations to those of some bygone imperial era. Like the Cold War, the military domain features prominently in U.S.-China relations. During the Cold War, an arms race was driven by the desire to sustain military and technological parity. The specter of conflict and escalation to nuclear war meant that both sides’ militaries and national security apparatuses were postured for direct confrontation. For the United States and China, similar concerns exist, yet neither views the other as its singular security concern. In its most recent national security strategy,[118] the United States prioritizes major power competition with both China and Russia in addition to other threats. For Beijing’s part, unification with Taiwan has been and continues to be the main focus of PLA planning and modernization, and China has prepared for U.S. intervention through asymmetric means.[119] Accidental escalation between the United States and China over regional hotspots is certainly conceivable. However, both countries have strong incentives to avoid unwarranted escalation — both lack the capacity and constituencies for major conflict.[120] The character of strategic stability also differentiates the Sino-U.S. security relationship from Cold War dynamics. Strategic stability in the Cold War context largely referred to arms race stability and crisis stability. In the Sino-U.S. context, the concept of strategic stability is more expansive, including new factors, such as mutual vulnerability and interdependence, and new strategic domains.[121] In addition, strategic stability may function on several levels, including regional balance, strategic nuclear force balance, and the overall bilateral relationship.[122] A broader definition of strategic stability acknowledges complexities in the U.S.-China relationship that did not exist between the United States and the Soviet Union. A more nuanced understanding of strategic stability recognizes that stability could be affected by increased tensions across a range of different issues — and, conversely, that more potential avenues exist for strengthening stability as well. What Sino-U.S. Competition Means The current state of Sino-U.S. relations is competitive. However, that competition is occurring between interlinked economic and geopolitical partners and is more likely to play out within international institutions and rules than through proxy wars. Managing this type of geopolitical competition is a more complex task than outright containment or conflict in the traditional sense, because the two powers are neither friends, given the level of strategic distrust, nor foes, given the high degree of interdependence. Nor are they equals. The United States has clear advantages that have been generated by its “long-standing lead in the development and deployment of new technologies, and the unmatched ability of its huge and dynamic economy to carry the costs of military primacy.”[123] While the overall future of the U.S.-China relationship is still highly uncertain, three specific trends are relatively clear. First, cooperation between China and the United States will become more difficult to pursue systematically. China’s integration into the international system suggests that some level of cooperation with the United States is conducive to both sides’ interests and economic growth. However, rhetorical tensions are building, and the United States is retreating from traditional tenets of trade and diplomacy, potentially risking harm to the very international institutions it has long championed.[124] The two sides will have to find ways — both individually and together — to keep cooperation on track. Second, the contest for regional leadership will increasingly occur within a multipolar system. China has long preferred a multipolar regional order featuring a less prominent U.S. role, and it has taken actions to undermine U.S. leadership in Asia in order to facilitate such a change.[125] The Trump administration believes that China seeks not only “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term” but also “displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”[126] Still, it is important to note that usurping U.S. dominance would not guarantee China global preeminence. The Asia-Pacific region will serve as a litmus test of China’s long-term global ambitions and influence. Third, the rift between the United States and China over notions of international order will continue to widen. Successive U.S. administrations have seen the creation and maintenance of international order as critical for promoting U.S. interests, though the discourse would benefit from a systematic or comprehensive definition of order.[127] Under the current administration, U.S. presidential rhetoric on alliance relationships has been unprecedentedly transactional and inconsistent,[128] while Washington’s tone toward China has undergone a shift — as reflected in more frequent references to China as a “revisionist” power.[129] The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, recently channeled a widespread Washington view when he testified that Beijing is using its military and economic power to erode the free and open international order.[130] While China certainly poses unprecedented challenges to U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific, the “revisionist” designation carries its own risks. As one China expert has observed, “it seems now that any Chinese attempts to accumulate or exercise power are labelled as undermining the international order or revisionist.”[131] In this respect, the Cold War’s confrontational identity discourse can serve as a warning. If the United States defines China as revisionist and itself as the defender of the international order, both powers may become more likely to intensify strategic competition and miss opportunities for further cooperation. Implications for Smaller Powers Navigating this new era is proving ever more challenging for the major powers, but secondary powers in the Asia-Pacific are confronted with an even more precarious predicament. Smaller states must increasingly hedge their strategies to manage relations with China, a leading economic partner, and with the United States, the region’s primary security provider. Evidence of that hedging can be seen in the reticence of some non-claimant states to take a stronger position, whether individually or collectively through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on the South China Sea disputes and in their tentative, often heavily caveated, interest in the China-centered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative. While smaller states do not want to be caught in the middle of Sino-U.S. strategic competition, avoiding it is increasingly difficult given the growing friction over issues of regional order and leadership. The ability to hedge is further complicated by what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats calls uncertainty over “the willingness and capability of the U.S. to maintain its international commitments” — a factor that may lead some countries to orient their policies, particularly on trade, away from the United States, at least for the time being.[132] As much as smaller states may prefer to engage in a hedging posture, recent years have also seen a noticeable trend in balancing behaviors.[133] Countries in Asia are increasingly pursuing both internal and external balancing strategies vis-à-vis China — by investing internally in their own militaries, as well as deepening external strategic partnerships and alliances. The complicating reality of China as the main trade partner to most in the region has compelled some Southeast Asian nations to “diversify their strategic relationships, beyond a binary choice between Beijing and Washington.”[134] Increasingly, Southeast Asia is looking to India, Japan, and Australia as partners for cooperation. The shift toward multipolarity appears to open up more balancing options for smaller states to manage the effects of Sino-U.S. competition. Conclusion What is perhaps most revealing about the analogy of a “new Cold War” is not so much the comparison itself, but the fact that people are resorting to it. Observers are groping for an analytical framework to make sense of the complexities of Sino-U.S. competition, the nature of America’s interconnectedness with China, the stark differences between China and the Soviet Union, and the changes that have taken place in the international system since the Cold War. And yet, analogies merely compare. They do not explain or predict. The Cold War analogy ultimately produces less insight than oversight when it comes to understanding the current state and future trajectory of U.S.-China relations.   Tiffany Ma is a senior director at BowerGroupAsia, a government affairs and public policy consulting firm that specializes in the Asia-Pacific, and a Nonresident Fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research. Brian O’Keefe is a Research Assistant for Political and Security Affairs at The National Bureau of Asian Research.

7. America Faces the Stakes and Style of a Cold War in Asia

By Kori Schake Every American president since 1990 has emphasized the cooperative nature of relations between the great powers and the prospect that rising powers could be co-opted into the existing international order. President Donald Trump, in his 2017 National Security Strategy, instead placed the focus on conflict, especially with China, proclaiming that, “after being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned.”[135] The tone is almost celebratory, a harkening back to a time when the country and its challenges seemed clearer. But are we really seeing the emergence of a new Cold War with China? The circumstances that American leaders are facing today do bear some interesting resemblances to the Cold War, especially the mid-1950s. Now, as then, there is anxious concern about the success and durability of the U.S. economic system. People who had lived through the Great Depression and America’s near-run victory over two authoritarian economic powerhouses didn’t have the luxury of believing in the natural superiority of the American way of life. Americans have arguably never been as safe or as prosperous as they are now. Yet, especially with real wages stagnant and the 2008 financial collapse, Americans worry that free market liberalism is no longer competitive with the dynamism of an authoritarian China. This anxiety parallels very closely with CIA estimates from the 1950s about the Soviet economy overtaking the U.S. economy.[136] What is more, the weaknesses of the American economy are a major theme in Chinese discussions of their increasing power and global prominence.[137] Comparing Then and Now The two eras bear a number of similarities. The first has to do with social and political division. In the decade following the end of World War II, America’s domestic political order was badly frayed — then even more so than it is now. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was holding hearings seeking to uncover traitors in the Army and State Department, writers were prevented from working because of their politics, and the military was enforcing an end to segregation of schools in the South. Then, as now, America faced an authoritarian regime with ambitions to change the rules of the international order. In both eras, America had a tendency to overstate the strengths of its competitor and underestimate its own.[138] Then, as now, America’s success was deeply reliant on holding together fractious allies whom it worried were insufficiently concerned with the threat and inadequately cooperative to provide the basis for U.S. strategy. We often romanticize the golden age of alliance commitment, so it merits remembering that in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Dulles concluded that “the NATO concept (was) losing its grip in Europe.”[139] The final similarity between the Cold War and the contemporary challenge that China poses is the risk that the adversary possesses “superior military capabilities in certain local areas,” and that those capabilities “can be exercised without substantial risk of provoking general war.”[140] In both eras, the United States has lacked confidence that its general military strength could be tailored to counter localized advantages of the adversary. Yet there are important differences between the early Cold War and today’s concerns about a rising China. For one thing, China is much weaker internationally than the Soviet Union was. While we may fear China’s ideological appeal, it has nowhere near the soft-power magnetism that communism did, especially for states just emerging from colonial control in the post-World War II era. China has sought to build attractive narratives with its Confucius Institutes and the Belt and Road Initiative that echoes the Marshall Plan. Yet both face major hurdles after China’s attempts to intimidate independent scholars overseas and its seizures of foreign ports and other infrastructure as collateral for non-performing loans to smaller foreign governments. Smaller regional powers have grown especially skittish amid suspicions that Chinese lending terms have been unduly lenient in order to create debt-for-equity swaps, giving China control over other nations’ infrastructure.[141] China has no allies to speak of and seems to want only tributaries. Its main appeal is overtly commercial, leaving it vulnerable to the collapse of its influence concurrent with any economic setbacks it might experience. China is also economically dependent on global market access in ways the Soviet Union never was. That market dependence gives the United States more tools with which to craft strategy. But the United States, too, is different than it was during the Cold War. While Trump’s National Security Strategy talks about great power competition, it is difficult to imagine any recent president thinking, as Eisenhower did, that if the United States went to war against the Soviet Union, he should be impeached for sending reinforcements to Europe, because the American military would be needed in the United States for “reestablishing order in American cities after the (nuclear) exchange.”[142] Also, the current president does not seem to believe in “the security of the stalemate” that produced strategic stability between great powers during the Cold War.[143] Nor do recent American presidents worry that “if we wage such a war to establish respect for free government in Europe and Asia, we won’t have that type of government left ourselves.”[144] There was, especially during the early years of the Cold War, a healthy modesty about America’s ability to affect the world, particularly through the use of military force. Eisenhower’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Arthur Radford, once remarked that the United States
can only contribute by deterring military action, thus borrowing time during which the political, economic, and psychological programs of the Free World can function. The relative strengths of the opposing Blocs will, to a large extent, be determined by the success of the non-military elements of our national security strategy.[145]
One may hear echoes of that sentiment from the current defense secretary, but less so by elected leaders in either the executive or legislative branches of government. America has grown so powerful, and so flabby in its strategic thinking, that its presidents no longer believe, as Eisenhower did, that the nation’s chief executive owes the people both security and solvency. Contemporary presidents of both parties have had their senses so dulled by the exorbitant privilege of affordable debt that they have become inured to the risk that penury may force military capitulation (as the United States imposed on Britain during the 1956 Suez crisis). Given these many differences between the 1950s and today, it bears asking, does the Cold War analogy do more harm than good? No. Even with all these variations on the theme, the Cold War analogy is still useful for thinking about the threats a rising China poses to the United States. The comparison helps give a sense of proportion to what America faces. Identifying China as an adversary clarifies U.S. strategic thinking on the matter and suggests policy courses of action commensurate to the challenge. The most vital challenge in this regard is recognizing the value of friendships and alliance relationships that allow the United States to share the burden of a long struggle and foreclose assets to its adversary. The comparison also suggests the magnitude of effort that will be required, over an extended period of time, to preserve U.S. autonomy. And not just governmental effort, although that, too, will need to be much more serious and coordinated than it has been since the collapse of America’s Cold War adversary. It will also require civil society to mobilize its businesses and faith communities, its schools and language and family networks, and all the panoply of strengths free societies have in abundance but that the government does not control. The Choices Facing Asia’s Small States Asia’s smaller states have to worry not only whether the United States is able to repeat its previous success against a major adversary, but also whether it will choose to do so. Being the hegemon of the international order requires a state to have both the ability to set the rules and the willingness to enforce them. America’s recent behavior has called both aspects of that equation into doubt. The United States currently has a president who does not appear to believe in mutually beneficial trade, and who is burning through goodwill that accrued to the United States by legitimating its power through international institutions and norms by which lesser powers have been able to participate in shaping the rules that bind the international order. Can the United States continue to set rules for other countries when its own society is so divided, and the world is in the midst of a technological revolution? Any rules that the United States sets might be perceived as predatory at a time when the president doesn’t seem to subscribe to mutually beneficial trade and looks at America’s allies as burdens, often treating them poorly. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether Americans will be willing to enforce international order as new competitors rise, weapons of mass destruction proliferate, and the homeland comes to feel itself at risk to the same worrying degree it did during the Cold War. Asia’s smaller states have fewer sentimental claims on American attention than do its long-standing allies, which claim bonds of values and shared history, making the reliability of American guarantees correspondingly paler. Given China’s economic heft and the degree to which the economies of smaller Asian states are interwoven with China’s, refusing Chinese investment to curtail its influence would be prohibitively costly for these countries. They could bilaterally lash themselves to the U.S. mast or choose non-alignment, leaving them exposed to China’s depredations. However, neither option offers much appeal. Alternatively, smaller powers could pursue a dual-track policy of tacit acceptance of Chinese international policies coupled with maintaining enough military power to drive up the cost of conflict to China, as Finland did in response to the Soviet Union. Probably the best option is the one that is most widespread in Asia: encouraging economic interaction while hedging against exposure by cultivating American interest and engaging in frenetic cooperation with other “rise of the rest” countries. Banding together to cascade training and equipment, demonstrate a growing sense of collective security, reduce their exposure either to U.S. abandonment or Chinese pressure, and set consensual terms for economic and political action is probably the best any of Asia’s smaller countries can achieve. What’s at Stake The Cold War comparison provides a bracing recognition that America could fail. It gives a sense of what the consequences would be of losing autonomy. For nearly forty years, the jury was out on whether the United States and its allies were winning the Cold War. That America won was a highly contingent outcome. Just because the United States overestimated Soviet power does not mean it is overestimating China’s potential now. Nor does it mean — having succeeded before in overcoming all obstacles and mistakes — that the United States will remain capable of repeating that hat trick.   Kori Schake is the deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the author of Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony.   Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: Are the United States and China in a New Cold War? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-are-the-united-states-and-china-in-a-new-cold-war [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-19 14:22:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-19 18:22:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => We asked a group of experts to discuss whether the tensions between the United States and China amount to a 21st century Cold War. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1239 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 173 [1] => 174 [2] => 175 [3] => 176 [4] => 177 [5] => 178 [6] => 75 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] See, for example, David Shambaugh, “Containment or Engagement of China? Calculating Beijing’s Responses,” International Security 21, no.2 (1992): 180-209. [2] For a good summary of the debate surrounding the so-called “Beijing consensus,” see Katrin Bennhold, “What is the Beijing Consensus?” New York Times, Jan. 28, 2011, [3] For a good overview of China’s growing tendency to resort to economic coercion, see Evan Feigenbaum, “Is Coercion the New Normal in Chinese Economic Statecraft?” Macro Polo, Jul. 25, 2017, [4] Jessica Chen Weiss, Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). [5] On early communist China’s attitude toward international law, see Hungdah Chiu, “Communist China’s Attitude Toward International Law,” American Journal of International Law 60, no.2 (1966): 245-267. On how this continues to partially condition China’s attitude toward the law of the sea, see Iskander Rehman, India, China, and Differing Conceptions of the Maritime Order (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, June 2017), [6] Simon Denyer, “China’s President Takes Campaign for Ideological Purity Into Universities, Schools,” Washington Post, Dec. 12, 2016, [7] Adrian Kenz, “China’s Domestic Security Spending: An Analysis of Available Data,” China Brief 18, no.4 (2018), [8] See Josh Chin and Clement Burge, “Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19 2017,; and Jun Mai, “Ecuador Fights Crime Using Chinese Surveillance Technology,” South China Morning Post, Jan. 22, 2018, [9] Adam P. Liff, “China and the U.S. Alliance System,” China Quarterly 233 (2018): 137-165, [10] See Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs 97, no.2 (2018): 60-71,; and “How the West Got China Wrong,” Economist, Mar. 1, 2018, [11] Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (New York: Basic Books, 2013). [12] See, for example, John J. Mearsheimer, “Can China Rise Peacefully?” National Interest, Oct. 25, 2014,; Edward N. Luttwak, The Rise of China Versus the Logic of Strategy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); and Robert Dujarric, “China is not Imperial Germany of the Twenty-First Century,” South China Morning Post, Jul. 25, 2014, [13] Cary Huang, “Trump Versus China: Is This the Dawn of a New Cold War?” South China Morning Post, Feb. 18, 2018, [14] See Rosemary Foot, “Doing Some Things in the Xi Jinping Era: The United Nations as China’s Venue of Choice,” International Affairs 90, no. 5, (2014): 1085-1100. [15] Odd Arne Westad, “Why This is Not a New Cold War,” Foreign Affairs Snapshot, Mar. 27, 2018, [16] Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 50. [17] See Odd Arne Westad’s magisterial new history of the Cold War, which explores its varied effects and manifestations over the decades and across multiple regional subsystems. Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (New York: Basic Books, 2017). [18] See, for example, Emily O. Goldman, “Thinking about Strategy Absent the Enemy,” Security Studies 4, no.4 (1994): 40-85. [19] See Aaron Friedberg, The Authoritarian Challenge: China, Russia and the Threat to the International Liberal Order (Tokyo: Sasakawa Peace Foundation, 2017),; and Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence (Washington, DC: National Endowment for Democracy, 2017), [20] Jamil Anderlini and Jamie Smyth, “The West Grows Wary of China’s Influence Game,” Financial Times, Dec. 19, 2017, available at [21] For a seminal discussion of the BRI, see Nadege Rolland, China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2017). [22] Charles Edel, “Limiting Chinese Aggression: A Strategy of Counter-Pressure,” American Interest, Feb. 9, 2018, [23] Hal Brands and William Inboden, “Wisdom Without Tears: Statecraft and the Use of History,” Journal of Strategic Studies (2018), [24] Russell Flannery, “Is a U.S.-China Cold War in the Cards?” Forbes, Apr. 3, 2018, [25] “China Accuses U.S. of ‘Cold War Mentality’ with New Nuclear Policy,” Reuters, Feb. 4, 2018, [26] U.S. Census Bureau, “Trade in Goods with China.” [27] Neil Gough, “Chinese Firm Takes Stake in U.S. Investment Bank Cowen,” New York Times, Mar. 29, 2017,; “U.S. Relations with China,” Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Sept. 13, 2017, [28] Stephanie Saul, “On Campuses Far From China, Still Under Beijing’s Watchful Eye,” New York Times, May 4, 2017. [29] See, for example, Robert Zoellick and Justin Yifu Lin, “Recovery: A Job for China and the U.S.,” Washington Post, Mar. 6, 2009,; 1999 Chinese Embassy statement at; and Zoellick speech, archived at [30] See, for example, U.S. Department of Defense, Report to Congress: The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2005, [31] The White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States, December 2017, For a representative analysis, see Timothy R. Heath, “America’s New Security Strategy Reflects the Intensifying Strategic Competition with China,” RAND Corporation, Dec. 27, 2017, [32] For an institutional study on the development of the People’s Liberation Army, see Roger Cliff, China’s Military Power: Assessing Current and Future Capabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); for up to date assessments of Chinese military strength, see the Department of Defense annual reports on Chinese military power, most recently, The Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017, May 15, 2017, For A2/AD, see Andrew Krepinevich, Barry Watts, and Robert Work, Meeting the Anti-Access and Area-Denial Challenge (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, 2003), On the PLAN, see Ronald O’Rourke, “China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities,” Congressional Research Service, Apr. 25, 2018, [33] The best overview of recent weapons development is in The Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 2017; see also “China’s Naval Modernization,” [34] Christopher Woody, “Russia Is Reportedly Shipping Its Advanced S-400 Anti-Aircraft Missile System to China,” Business Insider, Jan. 19, 2018, [35] Steven Jiang, “China Shows Off Newest Weapons in Huge Military Parade,”, Jul. 30, 2017, [36] The Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, 2017. [37] Xi’s speech can be found at [38] Among other reports, see Adam Goldman, “Ex-C.I.A. Officer Suspected of Comprising Chinese Informants Is Arrested,” New York Times, Jan. 16, 2018, [39] Ali Watkins, “China Grabbed American As Spy Wars Flare,” Politico, Oct., 11, 2017, [40] See Josh Gerstein, “Ex-CIA Officer Charged with Spying for China,” Politico, June 22, 2017, and Joseph Tanfani, “U.S. Diplomat Arrested, Accused of Conspiracy with Chinese Intelligence Agents,” Los Angeles Times, Mar., 29, 2017, [41] Tim Johnson, “FBI Says Chinese Operatives Active at Scores of U.S. Universities,” McClatchy News, Feb. 14, 2018, [42] The leading cyber espionage report, by Mandiant Corporation, can be found at; for assessments of economic costs, see The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, “Update to the IP Commission Report,” National Bureau of Asian Research, 2017, [43] Ellen Nakashima, “Hacks of OPM Databases Comprised 22.1 Million People, Federal Authorities Say,” Washington Post, July 9, 2015, [44] “China Scraps Presidential Term Limits, Clearing Way for Xi’s Indefinite Rule,” Bloomberg News, Mar. 11, 2018, [45] Noah Barkin and Elizabeth Piper, “China’s Xi Positions Himself as Champion of Globalization at Davos,” Huffington Post, Jan. 17 2017, [46] Edward Alden, ”The Trump Tariffs on China: A Perilous Moment,” CFR Blog, Mar. 22 2018, [47] Tom Phillips et al., ”Trump’s Phone Call with Taiwan Risks China’s Wrath,” Guardian, Dec. 3, 2016, [48] Patrick Temple-West, ”GOP Pressures Trump on Taiwan as China Issues Threats,” Politico, Feb. 2, 2018, [49] “New Zealand gov’t rejects TPP China containment: trade minister,” Global Times, June 30, 2015, [50] Irene Yuan Sun, Kartik Jayaram, and Omid Kassiri, Dance of the Lions and the Dragons, McKinsey and Company, June 2017, Themes/Middle East and Africa/The closest look yet at Chinese economic engagement in Africa/Dance-of-the-lions-and-dragons.ashx. [51] “Comparing aerial satellite images of China’s Spratly Outposts,” Asia Maritime Transparency Institute, Feb. 16, 2018, [52] Laurens Cerulus and Jakob Hanke, “Enter the Dragon,” Politico Europe, Oct. 9, 2017, [53] James Laurenceson, “Will Australia Join South China Sea FONOPs? Don’t Count on It,” Asia Unbound, Mar. 2, 2017, [54] Rosemary Foot, “China and the United States: Between Cold and Warm Peace’, Survival 51 No. 6 (2009): 123-146. [55] Department of Defense, “Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Advantage,”; The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017, [56] See, for instance: “Commentary: Milestone Congress points to new era for China, the world,” Xinhua News Agency, Oct. 24, 2017, [57] For a full accounting, see: Office of the United States Trade Representative Executive Office of the President, “Findings of the Investigation into China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974,” Mar. 22, 2018, 301 FINAL.PDF. [58] Anne-Marie Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, (Cambridge University Press, 2017). [59] Joseph Nye, “Donald Trump and the Decline of American Soft Power,” Project Syndicate, Feb. 6, 2018, For contrast, on Chinese sharp power, see: “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” National Endowment for Democracy, Dec. 5, 2017, [60] “In global popularity, U.S. and China – not Russia – vie for first,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 23, 2017, [61] Lee Drutman, Larry Diamond, and Joe Goldman, “Follow the Leader: Exploring American Support for Democracy and Authoritarianism,” Voter Study Group, March 2018, [62] Peter Mattis, “What We Talk About When We Talk about Chinese Communist Party Interference in the Public Square,” War on the Rocks, Mar. 7, 2018,; Anne Marie Brady, “Magic Weapons: China's political influence activities under Xi Jinping,” Wilson Center, Sept. 18, 2017,; Alex Joske, “Beijing Is Silencing Chinese-Australians,” New York Times, Feb. 6, 2018,; “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence,” National Endowment for Democracy, Dec. 5, 2017, [63] “Sharp Power.” [64] Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao, “The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics,” Project 2049, Oct. 14, 2013, [65] John Garnaut, in personal capacity, “Testimony to US House Armed Services Committee,” Mar. 21, 2018, [66] For an extensive consideration of this debate (that illustrates that these debates have remained ongoing over decades), see Alastair Iain Johnston, “Is China a Status Quo Power?,” International Security 27, no. 4 (Spring 2003):5–56, [67] For more on AIIB, see, for instance, the following report: Scott Morris, “Responding to AIIB,” Council on Foreign Relations, Sept. 1, 2016, [68] For a deeper analysis of these issues, see Nadège Rolland, China's Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative, National Bureau of Asian Research, May 2017, [69] Scott Kennedy, “Surviving March Madness in U.S.-China Trade Relations,” CSIS, Mar. 28, 2018, [70] Alastair Iain Johnston, “How new and assertive is China's new assertiveness?” International Security 37, no. 4 (2013): 7-48. Chen, Dingding, Xiaoyu Pu, and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Debating China's assertiveness,” International Security 38, no. 3 (2014): 176-183. [71] For one typical take in Chinese state media, see, for instance: “U.S.-called freedom of navigation is hegemonism in disguise,” Xinhua, Nov. 19, 2015, [72] Robert Jervis, “Cooperation under the security dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (1978): 167-214. [73] It would be ironic if the United States were to become the victim of its own techniques of competitive strategy, which Chinese leaders may have studied more closely. [74] “U.S., Chinese Military Leaders Sign Agreement to Increase Communication,” DOD News, Aug. 15, 2017, [75] “Tens of thousands of Chinese firms, institutes affected in WannaCry global cyberattack,” South China Morning Post, May 15, 2017, [76] “Press Briefing on the Attribution of the WannaCry Malware Attack to North Korea,” Dec. 19, 2017, [77] “Chinese firm admits its hacked products were behind Friday's DDOS attack,” Computerworld, Oct. 23,2016, [78] Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “This is how democracies die,” Guardian, Dec. 21, 2018,; Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, (New York: Crown, 2018). [79] For more context, see Heidi Beirich and Susy Buchanan, “2017: The Year in Hate and Extremism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Feb. 11, 2018,; See also David Sterman, “Terrorism in America After 9/11,” New America,; For a recent case, see: Kelly Weill, “Suspected White Supremacist Died Building ISIS-Style Bombs,” Daily Beast, Apr. 12, 2018, [80] Report by the MIT Committee to Evaluate the Innovation Deficit, “The Future Postponed: Why Declining Investment in Basic Research Threatens a U.S. Innovation Deficit,” Apr. 2015, Postponed.pdf . [81] See for instance, Geoff Dyer, “US v China: is this the new cold war,” Financial Times, Feb. 21, 2014,; and Yan Xuetong, “Trump can’t start a Cold War with China, even if he wants to,” Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2018, [82] “China accuses US of ‘Cold War mentality’ with new nuclear policy,” Reuters, Feb. 8, 2018, [83] See Christopher Layne, “The US-Chinese power shift and the end of Pax Americana,” International Affairs 94, no. 1 (January 2018): 89-111; Randall Schweller, “Opposite but Compatible Nationalisms: A Neoclassical Realist Approach to the Future of US-China Relations,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics 11, no. 1 (March 2018): 23-48; and Øystein Tunsjø, The Return of Bipolarity in World Politics: China, the United States, and Geostructural Realism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018). [84] U.S. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, January 2018, 1, [85] The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017, 2, [86] Interview with Uri Friedman, “How’s Democracy Holding Up After Trump’s First Year,” Atlantic, Jan. 13, 2018, [87] Hal Brands, “US Grand Strategy in an Age of Nationalism: Fortress America and its Alternatives,” The Washington Quarterly 40, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 74-75. [88] Stephen M. Walt, “I Knew the Cold War. This Is No Cold War,” Foreign Policy, Mar. 12, 2018, [89] Takeshi Kawanami, “US set to hit China with tariffs up to $60bn over intellectual property theft”, Nikkei Asian Review, Mar. 14, 2018, [90] “China metal producers urge Beijing to retaliate on US tariffs,” Reuters, Mar. 9, 2018, [91] John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War, 2nd edn, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 4. [92] Walt, “I Knew the Cold War.” [93] Daniel M. Hartnett, “China’s Evolving Interests and Activities in the East China Sea,” in The Long Littoral Project: East China and Yellow Seas—A Maritime Perspective on Indo-Pacific Security, ed. Michael A. Devitt and Catherine K. Lea (Alexandria: Center for Naval Analyses, September 2012), 83-86. [94] Timothy R. Heath, “Developments in China’s Military Force Projection and Expeditionary Capabilities,” Testimony presented before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Jan. 21, 2016, [95] Robert Martinage, Toward a New Offset Strategy: Exploiting US Long-Term Advantages to Restore US Global Power Projection Capability (Washington DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014), 34, [96] Hugh White, “Without America: Australia in the New Asia,” Quarterly Essay 68 (Black Inc, 2017). [97] Australian Government, “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement,” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mar. 8, 2018, [98] “Vietnam builds up its remote outposts,” CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Aug. 4, 2017, [99] Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop quoted in Lisa Murray, “Foreign Minister Julie Bishop won’t provoke in the South China Sea,” Australian Financial Review, Mar. 8, 2018, [100] Liu Zhen, “China, Philippines to set up negotiation mechanism to resolve South China Sea disputes,” South China Morning Post, Oct. 22, 2016, [101] See Kori Schake, Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017). [102] “How the West got China wrong,” Economist, Mar. 1, 2018, [103] Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (Basic Books, 2017). [104] United States Department of State, U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements, [105] National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008), and Pubs/2025_Global_Trends_Final_Report.pdf. [106] United States Census Bureau, Top Trading Partners - December 2017, - total. [107] Thilo Hanemann, Daniel H. Rosen, & Cassie Gao, “Two-Way Street: 2017 Update: US-China Direct Investment Trends,” Rhodium Group & The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, May 2017, [108] Stephanie Saul, “On Campuses Far from China, Still under Beijing’s Watchful Eye,” New York Times, May 4, 2017, [109] US-China Strong Foundation, [110] Roy D. Kamphausen with Jessica Drun, “Sino-U.S. Military-to-Military Relations,” in “U.S.-China Relations in Strategic Domains,” Travis Tanner & Wang Dong, eds., National Bureau of Asian Research, Special Report, no. 57, April 2016, 103–118, [111] Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” Work Report of the 19th Party Congress, Oct. 18, 2017,'s_report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf, 9. [112] Mark Wu, “The ‘China, Inc.’ Challenge to Global Trade Governance,” Harvard International Law Journal 57, no. 2 (Spring 2016): 261–324. [113] Scott M. Kennedy, “The Myth of the Beijing Consensus,” Journal of Contemporary China 19, no. 65 (June 2010): 461–477. [114] See “Imagery,” Maritime Awareness Project, National Bureau of Asian Research, [115] Nadège Rolland, China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (National Bureau of Asian Research, 2017). [116] Abraham Denmark, “China’s Increasing Pressure on Taiwan,” Asia Dispatches, Jan. 30, 2018, [117] Xi, Work Report of the 19th Party Congress, 54. See also, “Xi Calls for Reforms on Global Governance,” Xinhua, Sept. 28, 2016, [118] The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017, [119] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017 (Washington, D.C, May 15, 2017), [120] Timothy R. Heath & William R. Thompson, “U.S.-China Tensions Are Unlikely to Lead to War,” National Interest, Apr. 30, 2017, [121] Thomas Fingar & Fan Jishe, “Ties that Bind: Strategic Stability in the U.S.-China Relationship,” Washington Quarterly 36, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 125–138,; Eric Jacobson & Phil Goldstein, “Emerging Challenges in the China-US Strategic Military Relationship,” Center for Global Security Research Workshop Report, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, May 8, 2017, [122] International Security Advisory Board, “Maintaining U.S.-China Strategic Stability,” Oct. 26, 2012, [123] Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 215. [124] Edward Alden, “Trump, China, and Steel Tariffs: The Day the WTO Died,” Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 9, 2018, [125] Robert Sutter, “Does China Seek to Dominate Asia and Reduce US influence as a Regional Power?,” Paper for the series “Reframing China Policy: The Carnegie Debates,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Apr. 20, 2007, [126] United States Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge, January 2018, [127] Michael J. Mazarr et al., “Understanding the Current International Order,” RAND Corporation, 2016,, 54. [128] On the potential consequences of this rhetoric, even amidst consistent military deployments and treaty commitments, see Mark S. Bell & Joshua D. Kertzer, “Trump, Psychology, and the Future of U.S. Alliances,” in “Assessing the U.S. Commitment to Allies in Asia and Beyond,” Sharon Stirling, ed., German Marshall Fund of the United States, Collection, no. 11, Mar. 2018, 6–13, [129] National Security Strategy, 2017. [130] Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., Statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. Pacific Command Posture, Mar. 15, 2018, [131] Oriana Skylar Mastro, “China’s End Run around the World Order,” Cato Unbound, Mar. 14, 2018, [132] Daniel R. Coats, “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Mar. 6, 2018, [133] Adam P. Liff, “Whither the Balancers? The Case for a Methodological Reset,” Security Studies 25, no. 3 (2016): 420–459. [134] Joshua Kurlantzick, “Southeast Asia Seeks New Partners in the Era of ‘America First’,” Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 14, 2018, See also, Max Fisher and Audrey Carlsen, “How China is Challenging American Dominance in Asia,” New York Times, Mar. 9, 2018, [135] The White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States, December 2017, [136] Angus Maddsien, “Measuring the performance of a Communist Command Economy: Evaluating the CIA Estimates For the USSR," Review of Income and Wealth 44, no. 3 (September 1998), [137] Liu He, “Overcoming the Great Recession: Lessons from China,” M-RCBG Associate Working Paper no. 33, Harvard Kennedy School, 2014, [138] James Fallows, “How America Can Rise Again,” Atlantic (January/February 2010), [139] “Memorandum by the Secretary of State, September 6, 1953,” Foreign Relations of the United States 1952-1954, National Security Affairs, vol. II, part 1, doc. 88, 457-460, [140] “National Intelligence Estimate 100-5-55: Implications of Growing Nuclear Capabilities for the Communist Bloc and the Free World, June 14, 1955,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, National Security Policy, XIX, doc. 27, p. 86, par. 31, [141] Elizabeth Redden, "Confucius Controversies," Inside Higher Education, July 24, 2014,; “Maldives: Trouble in Paradise,” Japan Times, Feb.13, 2018, [142] “Diary Entry by the President’s Press Secretary (Hagerty), February 1, 1955,” Foreign Relations of the United States 1955-1957, National Security Policy, vol. XIX, doc. 8, p. 40, [143] “Memorandum of Discussion at the 230th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, January 5, 1955,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, China, vol. II, doc. 2, p. 26, [144] “Memorandum of Discussion at the 257th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, August 4, 1955,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, National Security Policy, vol. XIX, doc. 30, [145] “Memorandum from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Radford) to the President, Washington: Military and Other Requirements for National Security, Apr. 17, 1956,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, National Security Policy, vol. XIX, doc. 73, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Iskander Rehman 2. Beware the Cold War Trap — It's a Geopolitical Competition, Instead, by Michael Auslin 3. Competition Aplenty, but no Cold War, by Robert Ayson 4. Beyond Cold War: Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition, by Elsa B. Kania 5. Are the United States and China Really in a New Cold War? A View from the Region, by Sheryn Lee 6. A New Era of Major Power Competition, Not a New Cold War, by Tiffany Ma and Brian O'Keefe 7. America Faces the Stakes and Style of a Cold War in Asia, Kori Schake ) ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 606 [post_author] => 180 [post_date] => 2018-05-05 14:26:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-05 18:26:43 [post_content] =>

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

  "Here we go again." "It’s Groundhog Day with North Korea." "We’ve seen this script before." These sorts of refrains have been common among North Korea watchers — and those who play them on TV — ahead of the summit slated for June 12 in Singapore between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump. After significant brinkmanship over whether the meeting would take place, the on-again, off-again summit looks likely to be held as originally planned. The United States has engaged North Korea in two major denuclearization processes, not to mention separate inter-Korean and multilateral efforts, over the past quarter-century. All have failed to produce the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that the United States has sought on the Korean Peninsula.[1] Some skeptical of the bilateral summit charge that this history of failure is likely to repeat itself. Meanwhile, optimists suggest that something new in the upcoming process has opened the possibility of a different outcome.[2] History can be a useful guide to avoid repeating mistakes, but events are rarely as neat and tidy as a sound bite seems to suggest. The history of nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as multilateral discussions such as the six-party talks, is far more complex than most voices in the media and policy circles acknowledge. This history offers cause for pessimism, optimism, and caution about current prospects for denuclearization.[3]

Pessimism: Denuclearization Is Harder Now Than During Past Efforts

Many of those who are pessimistic about the Trump-Kim summit point to failed efforts to achieve complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization and ask why this time should be any different. In one sense, the pessimists are not pessimistic enough. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last major diplomatic efforts at denuclearization. In the intervening years, the possibility of denuclearization has become even more distant. This section contrasts the situation today with the state of the North Korean nuclear threat when the 1994 Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the 2005 six-party talks were reached. Seen through that lens, contentions that history may repeat itself underestimate the current challenge. In Brief: The Agreed Framework and Six-Party Talks There have been two major diplomatic efforts to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. In the early 1990s, North Korea initiated an international crisis by taking provocative steps toward developing a nuclear bomb: removing fuel rods from its five-megawatt plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and initiating its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which North Korea had legally pledged to forego nuclear weapons. The United States engaged Pyongyang in an effort to resolve the crisis, and the two sides signed the Agreed Framework in 1994. In short, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, and political promises, including specific efforts toward the normalization of bilateral relations.[4] The Agreed Framework faced challenges in implementation, however, and collapsed in late 2002 and early 2003. The United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia initiated the six-party talks later in 2003.[5] Seeking to distinguish between the 1994 framework’s temporary freeze on nuclear production and a more comprehensive and lasting goal, the six countries announced, after two years and four rounds of negotiations, that they “unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”[6] The 2005 joint statement of those talks laid out the basic principles of a nuclear deal that would be refined more specifically in a pair of implementation agreements two years later. In late 2008, however, the participating countries reached an impasse over important technical verification issues. Whereas in 1994 North Korea had pledged to freeze its nuclear program, in 2005 Pyongyang promised to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, normalized diplomatic relations, and negotiations toward a “permanent peace regime.”[7] Although the two sets of negotiations were different in important ways, the broad structure was consistent: North Korea promised to move away from nuclear weapons in exchange for a similar basket of incentives. Denuclearization Today The North Korean nuclear program of 2018 is not the nuclear program of 1994, when Washington and Pyongyang negotiated the Agreed Framework. It is not even the nuclear program of 2005, when the six-party talks produced its joint statement. Since these diplomatic milestones, Pyongyang’s nuclear development and long-range missiles have advanced in major ways, crossing a series of critical technical barriers. These programs have grown significantly more difficult to reverse since earlier denuclearization efforts were underway. Since the 1990s, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown from a theoretical capability to an actual one. North Korea’s first nuclear test occurred in 2006, a year after the joint statement of the six-party talks was released. Before this, the North Korean leadership could not be confident that their efforts to build a nuclear bomb would actually work. Indeed, the North’s first nuclear test produced more of a whimper than a bang. The explosion yielded less than one kiloton, prompting a variety of theories about why it had been a low-yield test. As such, the fundamental challenge for these earlier negotiations was to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear weapon and to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its attendant programs. These efforts resembled something like the more recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in the sense that American negotiators and their allies could capitalize on North Korea’s uncertainty about whether it could succeed in building a bomb and crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold. Today, by contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un controls a nuclear arsenal that has benefited from six tests. His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. After the 2006 nuclear test produced a lower-than-expected yield, then-leader Kim Jong Il ordered a second test, in 2009, that erased any doubt about North Korea’s basic ability to build and detonate a nuclear weapon.[8] North Korea’s third nuclear test, in 2013, came amid Pyongyang’s pronouncements that the test provided critical information that would help the regime’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear weapon in order to mount it on a missile. The third test may also have utilized uranium in its bomb design. The regime’s previous tests used plutonium, thus, testing weapons using this second path to the bomb expanded its capabilities. North Korea’s fourth test, in 2016, demonstrated the country’s thermonuclear capability for the first time.[9] The fifth and sixth tests, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, sought bigger yields still.[10] Rather than preventing North Korea from crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold, the denuclearization challenge has become much harder: Somehow, the genie must be put back in the bottle. [quote id="1"] Meanwhile, North Korea has steadily advanced its ability to develop, test, and field operational ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons. Critically, the regime has diversified its ballistic missile force to create a survivable second-strike capability, thereby securing an essential element to deter its primary adversary, the United States.[11] In 1994, North Korea was capable of striking some American bases and allies but not the U.S. homeland. That year — the same year Washington and Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework — North Korea began producing its Nodong medium-range ballistic missile and fielded the missile the following year. The Nodong could strike South Korea and most of Japan but still not the United States.[12] In 1998, North Korea flight-tested its Taepo Dong-1 prototype, which flew over Japan, rattling the Japanese government in particular and accelerating Tokyo’s cooperation with Washington on missile defense. The flight test ushered in a new round of missile diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang maintained a unilateral moratorium on long-range-missile flight tests for six years, refraining from launching another Taepo Dong rocket until 2006.[13] As the two sides negotiated the Agreed Framework and, later, the joint statement of the six-party talks, North Korea did not have the capability to hit the United States with its missiles. Today, however, North Korea is perilously close to having a demonstrated delivery vehicle to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Since coming to power in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has ordered scores of missile launches, including long- and short-range ballistic missiles. Both long- and short-range ballistic missiles can test technologies used in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[14] In 2017, North Korea conducted three ICBM flight tests. After the third test, Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear deterrent complete.[15] While this claim was probably premature,[16] Kim expressed confidence that his country had attained a complete package of miniaturized nuclear weapons and survivable delivery vehicles that could reach the continental United States.[17] The main components of North Korea’s fissile material production have also shifted significantly. In the leadup to the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea had only one fissile material production site: the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The site was known, surveilled, and, in theory, could have been verifiably frozen with reasonable confidence. By the time of the six-party talks, the United States was aware of a nascent and covert North Korean uranium enrichment program that violated its Agreed Framework pledges. The CIA publicly disclosed to Congress its judgment that North Korea had started this program in 2000.[18] Other assessments date the origins of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment as early as 1996.[19] Regardless of whether Pyongyang started its uranium enrichment program then or in 2000, plutonium production was North Korea’s sole route to the bomb in 1994 and its primary but not exclusive nuclear production capability in 2005. Today, North Korea acquires substantially more fissile material for weapons from its well-established uranium enrichment facilities than it does from its plutonium program. Pyongyang’s uranium program also has more growth potential than its plutonium program in absolute terms. One unclassified research project estimated that by 2020, North Korea’s only five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon could produce 14 nuclear weapons from plutonium, while two centrifuge plants could produce about 56 weapons from uranium.[20] Put another way, the North Korean uranium enrichment program produces far more fissile material for nuclear weapons today, and its higher annual output is central to the growth of Pyongyang’s arsenal over time. When it comes to trying to negotiate verifiable denuclearization, the distinction between the plutonium and uranium routes to the bomb is critical. In 2010, North Korean officials showed the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to a prominent U.S. nongovernmental delegation. The manner and speed of the facility’s construction suggested strongly that this was not the country’s first enrichment facility.[21] Commercial satellite imagery and other publicly available sources offer no proof of a third enrichment facility, but that should not provide much comfort. It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. [quote id="2"] This should concern American policymakers as verification was the shoal upon which the six-party talks foundered.[22] During those talks, Washington wanted to conduct soil and nuclear waste samples to verify North Korea’s claims; Pyongyang refused. The “Second Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” agreed to on Oct. 3, 2007, outlined what would be required of North Korea to disable its five-megawatt reactor. The agreement did not explicitly require North Korea to allow these samples to be taken but stipulated that disablement would proceed in a “verifiable” manner.[23] Washington interpreted this to mean it could use sampling to verify Pyongyang’s actions under the second-phase agreement before it proceeded. Pyongyang, however, saw things differently: It wanted to save the issue of sampling for a “third phase” agreement, at which point it could either demand additional concessions and use the sampling issue as a bargaining chip, or not agree to sampling at all.[24] Verification is, of course, central to any sustainable agreement. And the devil is in the details. These kinds of technocratic aspects, which political leaders tend not to ponder, have derailed high-level, multiyear diplomatic initiatives. Diplomatic efforts could again sink over critical technical details if negotiators do not learn from the past. While Kim Jong Il may have hoped during negotiations in the 1990s and again during the six-party talks that his and his father’s decades-long efforts to develop nuclear weapons would someday provide a deterrent against U.S. invasion, his son, Kim Jong Un, has this capability. In the past, North Korea’s nuclear program was aspirational. Today, it is an active part of the country’s national defense. Before, verifying a deal focused primarily on a plutonium program was difficult. Now, the prominence of the uranium program in addition to the plutonium program makes the challenge even greater. It is not the same river.

Caution: New Leaders on Both Sides

In addition to the technical advancements in Pyongyang’s nuclear program since the last two major diplomatic efforts, important political changes have taken place in North Korea and the United States. During the Agreed Framework negotiations and the six-party talks, Kim Jong Il was effectively at the helm. Although North Korea’s founder and charismatic leader, Kim Il Sung, was in power until his death in 1994, and famously held important roles such as receiving former President Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang amid the crisis, Kim Il Sung told a Western reporter that by 1992 his son was running the country.[25] Kim Il Sung tapped his son as his successor in 1980 and gradually shifted power to him. As such, the Agreed Framework and six-party talks were, for North Korea, essentially a Kim Jong Il production. Today, Kim Jong Un is in charge and his personal stamp can be seen on nuclear diplomacy. Kim the youngest differs substantially in ruling style and approach from his father, something that matters greatly for the current round of summits. Kim Jong Il was an introverted micro-manager. Living in the shadow of his larger-than-life father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il closely controlled process and avoided public appearances. While Kim Il Sung was known for his charisma, Kim Jong Il could not even manage to give the annual new year’s day address. Instead, he instituted a policy of publishing the annual statement as an editorial in three newspapers.[26] Imagine if an American president decided to forego the annual State of the Union address and instead published his views on the White House website. That would be less of a break from past precedent than Kim Jong Il’s decision. Kim Jong Il gave one — or possibly two — extremely short speeches in his entire tenure. He was also absent from public view during the first three years of his formal reign, citing the traditional mourning period after his father’s death. Kim Jong Un is a different kind of leader. He has explicitly modeled himself after his still-revered grandfather rather than his relatively unpopular father.[27] He has brought back the annual new year’s day address. He appears in public with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, something Kim Jong Il had avoided. Kim Jong Un has also resurrected the Korean Workers’ Party, restarting the long-defunct party congresses. Tapes smuggled out of North Korea in the 1980s showed Kim Jong Il privately expressing insecure views of his personal stature that are consistent with his psychological profile.[28] In contrast, Kim Jong Un exudes confidence and has shown himself ready to personally lead the current round of nuclear diplomacy through a series of summits with South Korea, China, and the United States. It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. On the critical issue of his ruling style, Kim Jong Un has parted ways with his father. It stands to reason, then,[29] that his priorities and methods concerning nuclear diplomacy may not be a carbon copy of his father’s approach. Kim Jong Un proposed summit diplomacy with Trump, rather than having lower-level officials work toward a possible capstone summit by hashing out the details first. The younger Kim has taken the political risk upon himself and made it more difficult to blame subordinates for possible diplomatic failure. Leaders are always important in high-stakes diplomacy, but the summit approach makes their personality and predilections even more central to the outcome. The United States is only at the head of a long trail of diplomacy, and it is not at all clear that previous journeys foreshadow the current one. On the American side, there is also a new sheriff in town. The United States negotiated the Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the six-party talks under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Their administrations had different views on diplomacy with North Korea. Senior members of the Bush administration criticized the Agreed Framework negotiated under Clinton, which suffered a number of implementation challenges, including — but not limited to — the revelation of North Korea’s nascent uranium enrichment program.[30] The differences between the two U.S. administrations were stark enough that some insiders dubbed the Bush administration’s approach “ABC — Anything But Clinton.”[31] The Bush administration, however, quickly shifted to its own diplomatic effort with the North Koreans after the final collapse of the Agreed Framework. This time around, there were more seats at the table, different areas of emphasis, and intra-government intrigue,[32] but two things remained constant: the basic parameters of seeking a complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea, and recognition that this would require some reciprocal and unpopular concessions. With a few notable exceptions, the two U.S. administrations operated — at the most general level — alike. [quote id="3"] Donald Trump fashions himself a new kind of political leader. His engagement in tit-for-tat rhetorical barbs in 2017 — such as when he threatened to bring down “fire and fury”[33] on North Korea, or when he called Kim Jong Un “little rocket man”[34] — marked an outlier for American presidential behavior. Trump’s public comments about military options — including limited military strikes that could not denuclearize North Korea by force but, it was hoped, would push Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table — prompted substantial criticism about the wisdom of such an approach.[35] Trump quickly shifted gears in 2018, however, by accepting Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, conveyed through the South Korean president. He has sent Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang twice — first as director of the CIA and secretary of state-designate and then as secretary of state — to advance the summit and secure the release of three unjustly imprisoned Americans.[36] Trump’s policy tools, including carrots, such as peace regime negotiations and sanctions relief, and sticks, including renewed sanctions and military moves, remain roughly the same as those available to his predecessors. But his willingness to meet Kim Jong Un early, to call off the summit, and to recommit to it within days demonstrates the greater element of uncertainty as to how the United States will begin and sustain a diplomatic process with the North Koreans. The men entering the river are different.

Optimism: Allies, Peace Regime, and Learning

Achieving complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a tall order. Getting it on the cheap or for free is taller still. If success is framed in these terms alone, there is little room for optimism. If, however, progress is defined as concretely minimizing the North Korean nuclear threat and moving toward an ultimate goal of denuclearization in such a way that the benefits to national interests outweigh the costs of concessions, then there is room to be optimistic. In short, optimists can argue that a successful agreement is one that leaves the United States and its allies better off than they are in the current situation and on the current trajectory. The U.S.-South Korean combined approach, serious consideration of creating a peace regime, and the real possibility of learning from past agreements together provide reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way forward in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. The U.S.-South Korean Combined Approach North Korea gains tactical advantage when it can split the United States from its Northeast Asian allies, specifically South Korea. The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. North Korea has long favored bilateral diplomacy with the United States in hopes of sidelining South Korea and Japan. Tensions in the U.S.-South Korean alliance have also challenged previous efforts to maintain a united front against North Korea. Han Sung-joo, who served as South Korea’s foreign minister during the Agreed Framework negotiations, noted that then-South Korean President Kim Young-sam wanted to ensure the Americans were not “too soft” on the North Koreans. At the same time, the South Korean president did not want to raise the risk of military conflict that threatened to destroy his capital. The conservative South Korean president, worried about his domestic political support, also needed to assure his people that the United States was closely consulting him at every turn.[37] He wanted to make sure the American approach was neither too hot nor too cold at each stage of negotiations and sought to communicate this to South Koreans. The United States and South Korea were not in lockstep during the Agreed Framework, and Seoul worried about not having direct access to the North Koreans on a matter central to its national security. Kim Young-sam’s successor, Kim Dae-jung, came from the opposite end of the South Korean political spectrum and wholeheartedly endorsed engaging North Korea. Kim Dae-jung made history with the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 — just five months before the election of George W. Bush. Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy” sought to change North Korean behavior through unconditional engagement, while Bush settled on a more confrontational approach to North Korea’s objectionable actions. Alliance managers sought to keep the two sides linked, but it remained an ongoing challenge.[38] Differences among allies are inevitable, but the combined approach provides reasons for optimism that this time may be different. Never before has an inter-Korean summit, let alone two, been explicitly set up ahead of a U.S.-North Korea summit. The South Korean presidential office recognizes that it cannot push North Korean denuclearization alone and has sought to influence U.S. engagement with the North Koreans as well as its own. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met early success with balancing his policy of engaging North Korea while keeping the United States firmly invested in the process. The road is long, and it will become even more difficult. The two sides will face tough choices and trade-offs as the North Koreans begin to articulate their core demands. Nevertheless, Washington and Seoul have gotten off to a solid start. Peace Regime In contrast to previous diplomatic rounds, North Korea’s long-held demand to negotiate a peace treaty to replace the armistice and formally end the Korean War seems to be on the table. The Agreed Framework did not mention a peace regime or peace-treaty negotiations, but it opened the door to four-party talks —among the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China — on these topics.[39] The Agreed Framework contained U.S. security guarantees to Pyongyang but lacked a specific and concrete quid pro quo on denuclearization and a peace regime. The 2005 joint statement promised to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”[40] The Russians convened the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group in Moscow three times. It was one of the five working groups of the six-party talks, but it did not produce concrete outcomes. The United States favored discussing a peace regime after North Korea denuclearized, and Pyongyang did not want to wait.[41] The six-party talks, in practice, produced an agreement for denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief and aid. Demanding that North Korea denuclearize amounts to asking it to voluntarily relinquish the world’s most powerful weapons. And reminders that its nuclear development violates international law do not move Pyongyang. Likewise, sanctions relief and aid can contribute to North Korea’s economy but would not supplant the security that it believes nuclear weapons provide. Declassified documents from Pyongyang’s socialist-bloc allies demonstrate that, in the 1970s, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung saw peace-treaty negotiations as a means to try to reduce and ultimately end the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. One of his senior party officials told a friendly foreign delegation in 1972,
The international public sees as just and honest our proposal to conclude a peace treaty between the two Koreas, to withdraw American forces and to reduce the militaries. If we conclude a peace treaty, the Americans would have no reason to stay there.[42]
The intervening four decades have produced varying assessments of North Korea’s intentions and objectives regarding peace regime negotiations. The United States will have to wait for Kim Jong Un’s articulation of his specific demands to adjudicate between competing assessments. One thing, however, is fairly certain: North Korea will seek to supplant its perceived security losses from denuclearization with phased and reciprocal adjustments to the U.S. military presence on and around the Korean Peninsula. How is this good news? Most analysts say that North Korean denuclearization is simply impossible.[43] Kim Jong Un does not want to go the way of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, who, lacking a nuclear deterrent, met their violent deaths after U.S.-led or -supported military operations. The peace regime issue brings to the fore difficult trade-offs and options for the highest-level decisions by elected U.S. leaders and American allies. After hearing the North Korean demands, seeking to negotiate them down, and considering the verifiable implementation measures, the United States and its allies will face a basic decision: Is the trade-off worth it at any stage? Elected leaders may have to consider difficult adjustments to the U.S. military presence on the peninsula, such as the size and scope of military exercises, strategic asset deployment, and the nature of the permanent presence in exchange for verified, late-stage steps toward denuclearization. They may decide that whatever deal is on the table with North Korea is not worth the cost, but an acceptable deal might be laid out as well. Having North Korea’s demands communicated directly from its leader to America’s is superior to wading through the many contrasting assessments of what North Korea really wants. Learning The Trump administration has the benefit of being able to learn from the past. Secretary of State Pompeo has noted repeatedly that he has read the CIA’s history of negotiations with North Korea and vowed not to repeat past mistakes. Unlike the Agreed Framework negotiators, Pompeo has historical points of reference on negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear program. One lesson is the importance of blocking North Korea from pocketing concessions. If Pyongyang can reverse its concessions, the United States and its allies must be able to do the same. This simple lesson has not been followed in earlier negotiations. In 2007, the six parties agreed to “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” which laid out in specific terms the first round of reciprocal steps to implement the 2005 agreement. North Korea pledged to disable its Yongbyon reactor, allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the disablement, and issue a “list of all of its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement.” The “parallel” action from the United States included removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, lifting sanctions imposed through the Trading with the Enemy Act, and providing an initial tranche of heavy fuel oil as energy assistance.[44] North Korea’s disablement procedures were temporary, reversible, and intended to elicit further implementation protocols that did indeed come. When the six-party talks failed in 2008 over verification issues, North Korea was in a position to expel IAEA inspectors and move to restart the Yongbyon reactor immediately, though it delayed the restart for several years. After North Korea expelled the inspectors, the United States quickly reimposed by executive order the same authorities found in the Trading with the Enemy Act,[45] and North Korea lost out on deliveries of heavy fuel oil. The United States could not, however, reinstate North Korea on the terrorism list immediately. Once removed, relisting legally required North Korea to commit another terrorist act, and the United States did not reimpose this designation until 2017.[46] While some have argued that the United States could have relisted North Korea earlier under certain legal interpretations, the sort of “snapback” sanctions like those embedded in the Iran nuclear agreement did not exist to discourage North Korea from trying to pocket concessions in the first place. In the absence of an external enforcement mechanism or a broader relationship that keeps other international agreements on track, carefully crafted quid pro quos that have equal degrees of reversibility and importance can help sustain lasting agreements by maintaining the same incentive structure for both sides to continue abiding by the terms. [quote id="4"] Learning from history also requires a balanced understanding of past events. Since writing history is the practice of selecting which past events are significant enough to merit recording, there is always room for author bias. A one-sentence history of North Korea-related nuclear negotiations could simply note that no effort has achieved North Korea’s complete denuclearization. At this most basic level, American and allied negotiators failed to meet their core objective. If one delves more deeply, however, the history quickly becomes more complex. Both nuclear agreements delayed and degraded North Korea’s nuclear program — and a reciprocal price was paid for these concessions. The Agreed Framework verifiably froze for eight years North Korea’s plutonium program, which was its only fissile material production facility at the time of the negotiations. North Korea had three plutonium reactors under construction ahead of the Agreed Framework — one five megawatts, one 50 megawatts, and one 200 megawatts. The smallest of the three was the most developed, but the Agreed Framework effectively put the nail in the coffin of the other two.[47] Some point to a counterfactual to highlight the value of this nuclear agreement: “Experts estimate that without the Agreed Framework, North Korea could have hundreds of nuclear weapons at this point.”[48] But the Agreed Framework was a nuclear agreement, not a plutonium agreement, and North Korea cheated by initiating a uranium enrichment path to the bomb during the framework’s shaky years of implementation. The United States provided North Korea with more than $400 million in energy assistance. South Korea and Japan contributed additional significant sums through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).[49] Concurrently, the United States and its international partners provided humanitarian assistance to North Korea during its late 1990s famine, which was never explicitly linked to the nuclear agreement. Critics charged that the aid propped up the regime amid its greatest existential crisis since the Korean War.[50] Likewise, the six-party talks verifiably shut down North Korea’s plutonium reactor for six years. It did not concretely address, however, the nascent but growing uranium enrichment threat. North Korea also received sanctions relief, some of which was not reversed until last year. Pyongyang was returned its unfrozen assets from a Macau bank and, more significantly, changed its banking practices to limit America’s ability to impose the same type of financial pain using the same tool.[51] Proponents and opponents of engagement argue about what would have happened without these agreements. But counterfactuals are a dangerous analytical tool. It is impossible to know what would have happened if one historical variable had shifted. Would North Korea have more than 100 nuclear weapons today with three functioning plutonium reactors had there been no Agreed Framework? Or would the regime have collapsed under its own weight without the Western aid? It is impossible to say. Everyone has preconceived ideas and biases, but critical readers of this history who seek to genuinely learn from the past should be equally wary of counterfactuals that support or oppose preconceived ideas.


History is messy. Neither proponents nor opponents of the Trump-Kim summit should feel confident that history is on their side. History reveals reasons for pessimism, optimism, and caution. Attempting to critically engage the history of these nuclear negotiations can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. Given the paucity of concrete data on Kim Jong Un and his decision-making, humility in analysis is warranted. Confident statements about what the North Korean leader seeks before he tells us are misplaced. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last nuclear deals, but the two sides seem to be getting closer to a formula for a possible deal. Any deal — if one is indeed possible — is likely to involve difficult trade-offs for both sides. Experts can help illuminate public debate on the merits of these trade-offs, but elected leaders will ultimately need wisdom for the hard decisions ahead. Patrick McEachern is an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is co-author of North Korea, Iran, and the Challenge to International Order (Routledge: 2018). The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Roman Harak [post_title] => Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => marching-toward-a-u-s-north-korea-summit-the-historical-case-for-optimism-pessimism-and-caution [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:17:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:17:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The history of denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula gives reason for pessimism, caution, and optimism. Attempting to critically engage that history can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 639 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 180 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The effort toward complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization is known as CVID. [2] The South Korean government has been at the forefront of the optimists, arguing that this round of summits could portend a different outcome than past attempts. See its website dedicated to the series of summits — called Peace, A New Start — and articles such as that by Xu Aiying and Sohn JiAe, “Inter-Korean Summit Makes Headlines Around the World,” Peace, A New Start: 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, May 1, 2018, For a critique arguing that history suggests greater pessimism around the summits, see Bruce Klingner, “Nice Try, North Korea and South Korea, But Your Pledges Are Airy, Empty Confections,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2018, [3] “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is standard language that has been used throughout post-Cold War diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear program. It is in the 1992 “Joint Declaration of South And North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the 1994 Agreed Framework, the 2005 “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” and the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, among other agreements. As operationalized in these agreements and pursued in practice, the phrase refers to the elimination of North Korean facilities that can produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons and verified removal of any nuclear weapons on the peninsula. [4] For a more thorough overview of the 1994 Agreed Framework, see Kelsey Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, August 2017, [5] For an overview of the six-party talks, see Kelsey Davenport, “The Six-Party Talks at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, July 2017, [6] Department of State, “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” Sept. 19, 2005, [7] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks.” [8] For more on North Korea’s first nuclear test, see Emma Chanlett-Avery and Sharon Squassoni, North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Motivations, Implications, and U.S. Options (Washington: Congressional Research Service, Oct. 24, 2006), [9] Thermonuclear weapons, also known as hydrogen bombs, utilize fusion and can produce a more powerful blast, while atomic weapons utilize fission. For a short and readable article on the difference and its application to North Korea, see Stephanie Pappas, “Hydrogen Bomb vs. Atomic Bomb: What’s the Difference?” Live Science, Sept. 22, 2017, [10] “North Korea Nuclear Tests: What Did They Achieve?” BBC, Sept. 3, 2017, [11] Patrick McEachern, “North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine Under Kim Jong Un,” APLN Policy Brief, Dec. 21, 2017, [12] “No Dong 1,” Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project, accessed June 1, 2018, [13] Alex Wagner, “Albright Visits North Korea; Progress Made on Missile Front,” Arms Control Association, November 2000, “North Korea Test-Fires Several Missiles,” New York Times, July 4, 2006, [14] The U.N. Security Council has criticized North Korea’s ballistic missile development and demanded the suspension of “all ballistic missile related activity” in a series of resolutions since North Korea’s 2006 Taepo Dong-2 launch. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, adopted in 2006, demands that North Korea suspend “all ballistic missile related activity.” The Security Council’s demand is not limited to missiles of a certain range given the ability to test components of long-range missiles using short-range launches. Likewise, the resolutions’ wording effectively demands the cessation of rocket launches configured as a space launch for satellites as these launches also can be used to test and refine technologies for long-range ballistic missiles. [15] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [16] Kim’s claim is probably premature given some additional technical hurdles and unfinished business on some systems such as the GORAE-class ballistic missile submarine. [17] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [18] CIA, Untitled Unclassified Estimate, Nov. 19, 2002, GALE Document Number KQUSOP990053924. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf later noted that Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan delivered centrifuges to North Korea in 2000, as recounted by Sigfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Siegfried S. Hecker, “What I Found in North Korea: Pyongyang’s Plutonium Is No Longer the Only Problem,” Foreign Affairs, Dec. 9, 2010, [19] A prominent North Korean defector claimed that a decision to enrich may have been made as early as 1996, and the South Korean foreign minister asserted the same. North Korean imports of the critical components followed in subsequent years. Kim Yong Hun, “North Korea Obtained HEU from Pakistan,” DailyNK, Aug. 11, 2010, Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Started Uranium Program in 1990s, South Says,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2010, [20] For an excellent technical discussion, see David Albright, “North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities: A Fresh Look,” Aug. 9, 2017, Albright cautions that these estimates are “rough” and require a variety of informed assumptions about North Korea’s nuclear operations, bomb design, and other variables. Numbers cited here are rounded to the nearest whole nuclear weapon and reflect median estimates for “weapons equivalents.” [21] Siegfried S. Hecker, “Nuclear Developments in North Korea,” (Stanford University: Center for International Security and Cooperation, Mar. 20, 2012), [22] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011). [23] Department of State, “Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” Oct. 3, 2007, [24] Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Limits Tests of Nuclear Site,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 2008, [25] Kim Hakjoon, Dynasty: The Hereditary Succession Politics of North Korea (Stanford, CA: Walter Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2015), 101. [26] Patrick McEachern, Inside the Red Box: North Korea’s Post-Totalitarian Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 43–44. [27] Andrei Lankov, “NK’s Founding Father, Kim Il-Sung,” Korea Times, Apr. 17, 2016, [28] Barbara Demick, “Secret Tape Recordings of Kim Jong Il Provide Rare Insight into the Psyche of his North Korean Regime,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 2016, [29] For a more in-depth discussion of differences in ruling style and approach between Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, see Patrick McEachern, “Centralizing North Korean Policymaking Under Kim Jong Un,” Asian Perspective (forthcoming). [30] Charles Kartman, Robert Carlin, and Joel Wit, “Policy in Context: A History of KEDO, 1994–2006” (Stanford, CA: Center for International Security Cooperation and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, June 2012), [31] James B. Steinberg, “The Bush Foreign Policy Revolution,” Brookings Institution, June 1, 2003, [32] Mike Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008). [33] Noah Bierman, “Trump Warns North Korea of ‘Fire and Fury,’” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 2017, [34] “Trump Calls Kim Jong Un ‘Little Rocket Man’ on Twitter,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 2017, [35] For the most comprehensive and succinct criticism of the idea of limited military strikes, see Abraham M. Denmark, “The Myth of the Limited Strike on North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, Jan. 9, 2018, [36] Carol Morello, Anna Fifield, and David Nakamura, “North Korea Frees 3 American Prisoners Ahead of a Planned Trump-Kim Summit,” Washington Post, May 9, 2018, [37] “Living History with Former ROK Foreign Minister Han Sung-joo,” Beyond Parallel, Dec. 5, 2016, Choe Sang-hun, “Korean Crisis Is Different This Time,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009, [38] Charles L. Pritchard, Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2007). [39] James L. Schoff and Yaron Eisenberg, Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula: What’s Next? (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, May 2009), 3, [40] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” [41] R. Michael Schiffer, “Envisioning a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism,” in Understanding New Political Realities in Seoul, ed. L. Gordon Flake and Park Ro-byug (Washington: Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, 2008), 59–78. [42] P. Urjinlhundev, “Protocols of the Talks between Mongolian and North Korean Government Delegations,” Mar. 17, 1972. [43] For a sophisticated statement of this position and its implications for policy, see Sung Chull Kim and Michael D. Cohen, eds., North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2017). [44] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” Feb. 13, 2007, [45] The White House, “Letter – Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to North Korea,” Jan. 2, 2015, [46] Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger, “Trump Returns North Korea to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2017, [47] Federation of American Scientists, “Yongbyon,” Mar. 4, 2000, [48] Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance.” [49] Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, Foreign Assistance to North Korea (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 2014), [50] For a succinct and contemporary review of competing arguments for and against aid, among other considerations, see Robert A. Manning and James Przystup, “Starve North Korea — Or Save It? Right Now We’re Doing Both,” Washington Post, June 23, 1996, [51] John Park and Jim Walsh, Stopping North Korea, Inc.: Sanctions Effectiveness and Unintended Consequences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Security Studies Program, August 2016), 16, ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 544 [post_author] => 161 [post_date] => 2018-04-10 06:00:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-10 10:00:41 [post_content] =>

1. Max Boot’s Revisionist Look at Vietnam

By Mark Atwood Lawrence Could the United States have won in Vietnam if only Americans had made different decisions about how to fight the war there? For the most part, academic historians have said no. The South Vietnamese state was so flawed and the reservoir of Soviet and Chinese support for the communist war effort so vast, runs the argument, that Washington had no meaningful chance of victory, no matter how adroitly it used its vast power.[1] However, a small handful of historians has long begged to differ. These “revisionists” argue that the United States could have achieved its goal — a secure, anti-communist South Vietnam capable of enduring into the indefinite future — if only it had chosen its methods more wisely. To be sure, proponents of this outlook vary widely in their assessments of precisely what went wrong and what could have been done better. Some focus on military decisions, others on the political or diplomatic realms. But the basic point is the same: American leaders stole defeat from the jaws of victory through bad choices. The “lost-victory” argument first took root in the wartime years, when Lyndon Johnson’s critics excoriated him for failing to wage the war with sufficient boldness. It gained new traction in the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger and his supporters assailed Congress for reneging on U.S. obligations to defend South Vietnam following the 1973 ceasefire, sabotaging a peace deal that would otherwise have established a secure nation.[2] Such views gained additional legitimacy a few years later when revisionism jumped from the realm of naked partisanship into the world of history writing. In America in Vietnam, the first comprehensive revisionist account of the war, political scientist Guenter Lewy contended that the war was winnable if the United States had only prioritized counterinsurgency operations. Lewy also blamed antiwar activists for creating the myth that the United States was inevitably doomed by the complexities of Vietnamese politics.[3] Retired Army Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. followed in 1982 with On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, which took revisionism in a different direction by criticizing civilian leaders for doing too little to mobilize the American public and the U.S. military for failing to use its overwhelming conventional superiority to block the infiltration of supplies and troops from North to South Vietnam.[4] But the real heyday of Vietnam revisionism has been the last couple of decades, when a new group of authors has drawn on mountains of newly available source material to make the case in unprecedented detail. First came Lewis Sorley’s A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, which argues that U.S. forces fought effectively in the years after the Tet Offensive and commanded the battlefield to an extent unrecognized by the politicians who pulled the plug on the American military effort.[5] A few years later, Mark Moyar published Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, which delves into the years before the arrival of U.S. combat forces. During that time, argues Moyar, American advisers working alongside South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem made steady progress toward bolstering a viable state. But craven political leaders, abetted by self-serving journalists, torpedoed the whole enterprise by conspiring in Diem’s overthrow, an event that exacerbated South Vietnam’s problems and opened the way to disaster.[6] Now comes Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, an engaging book that, like Moyar’s study, focuses on lost opportunities in the years before the major escalation of U.S. forces. But Boot makes the case in a fresh and distinctive way — through a biography of Edward G. Lansdale, one of the most fascinating and complex figures in the pantheon of American Cold Warriors. Boot makes no effort to disguise his admiration for Lansdale. The Air-Force-officer-turned-CIA-operative possessed, in Boot’s view, a unique blend of creativity, cultural sensitivity, charisma, and doggedness that made him an exceptionally effective practitioner — indeed, a “maestro” — of counter-insurgency warfare and nation-building in far-off lands. The book focuses first on Lansdale’s work in the Philippines, where he played a key role in defeating the communist Huk insurgency and in rallying Filipinos behind the pro-Western liberal Ramon Magsaysay in the 1953 presidential election. Boot then shifts to Vietnam, where Lansdale attempted to work similar magic in the mid-1950s. This mission started off well enough: Lansdale helped Diem survive innumerable threats to his rule and then lay the foundations of a secure Vietnamese state by winning over his population and suppressing communist opponents. But all this promise evaporated when U.S. leaders abandoned Diem and scrapped Lansdale’s counterinsurgency methods in favor of a conventional war that, in Boot’s view, had no chance of succeeding. Boot writes,
The course that the United States was now embarked on was not just a mistake; it was a catastrophe that would profoundly alter American foreign policy for decades to come, and it might conceivably have been avoided if only Washington policymakers had listened to the advice of a renowned counterinsurgency strategist who had been present at the creation of the state of South Vietnam.
Nor does Boot hold anything back in offering Lansdale up as a model for the 21st century. Over the years, other revisionists — mostly, like Boot, hawkish foreign policy pundits with positions at think tanks rather than academic institutions — have aimed to influence ongoing policy debates by encouraging confidence about the efficacy of U.S. power when properly applied. But Boot, who has championed counterinsurgency tactics in earlier books, takes this presentist agenda to a whole new level.[7] In Lansdale’s story, Boot contends, lie valuable lessons about how to fight insurgencies and how to shape the behavior of unreliable allies. “His practices could be emulated by contemporary advisers in countries ranging from Mali to Mexico,” the book insists. In the reviews that follow, four eminent scholars sink their teeth into Boot’s core claims about Lansdale’s accomplishments and his relevance for our own times. Each raises serious questions about Boot’s analysis, as one might expect at a time when, despite the resurgence of revisionism in some quarters, most academic specialists remain skeptical at best. But these reviews offer far more than mere reassertion of long-standing conventional wisdom. Each delves into a different aspect of the book and raises important questions relevant not just to Boot’s study but to the larger proposition that the United States possesses the power and know-how to shape foreign societies through Lansdalean arts of persuasion. The first review comes from Gregory A. Daddis of Chapman University and author, most recently, of Withdrawal: Reassessing America’s Final Years in Vietnam (2017), which rebuts revisionist claims about the war in the early 1970s. Daddis criticizes Boot on various fronts but attaches particular importance to Boot’s thin attention to Vietnamese perspectives. The book, complains Daddis, takes an “American-centric” approach that unpersuasively casts Lansdale in the role of “enlightened imperialist” while depicting Diem as a passive and needy recipient of American advice. Daddis also contends that Boot fails to reckon with new evidence of Hanoi’s determination starting in the early 1960s to mount a major war in the South, making Lansdale’s insistence on counterinsurgency methods hopelessly ill-suited to the basic military situation. The second reviewer is Walter C. Ladwig III of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and author of The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (2017). While most reviewers of Boot’s book have understandably focused on the sections dealing with Vietnam, Ladwig offers fresh analysis by focusing on the parts concerning Lansdale’s time in the Philippines. Central to Boot’s argument is Lansdale’s alleged ability to promote constructive change in the Philippines through personal charm and gentle persuasion — a combination of traits that Boot suggests could also have worked in Vietnam if given a chance. Ladwig questions this whole chain of thinking by suggesting that, in fact, the United States got its way in the Philippines as much through coercion as through Lansdale’s friendly partnership with Magsaysay. Heather M. Stur of the University of Southern Mississippi and author of Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (2011) provides the third review. Stur zeroes in on Boot’s extensive analysis of Landsale’s relationships with the two women in his life, his wife Helen and his mistress (and eventually second wife), a Filipina known as Pat Kelly. Boot attaches huge importance to this triangle, partly because he is the first author to use Lansdale’s extensive correspondence with both women but also because Lansdale’s conflicted affections map so neatly onto his role as intermediary between America and Asia. But Stur takes Boot to task for failing to give the women authentic agency and especially for buying into orientalist clichés about the mysterious sexual allure of Asia. Like Daddis, Stur wonders whether Lansdale was, on the whole, more an old-fashioned imperialist than the tolerant, enlightened man whom Boot describes. Finally, Jon Askonas, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, echoes Daddis by criticizing Boot for ignoring the perspectives of the Vietnamese and other peoples on the receiving end of Lansdale’s counterinsurgency projects. But he also goes in a different direction by questioning whether Lansdale was, at the end of the day, more a shrewd student of social dynamics or a delusional oddball whose skills have been wildly exaggerated by Boot and other admirers. Fortunately, Askonas concludes, Boot’s biography is so expansive and detailed that attentive readers can reach behind Boot’s enthusiastic spin on his subject and find evidence of the less attractive possibility. Mark Atwood Lawrence is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin and Director of Graduate Studies at the Clements Center for National Security. He is author or editor of several books about the Vietnam War, including The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. He is now working on a book about U.S. policymaking toward the developing world in the Vietnam era.

2. Vietnam and the White Man’s Burden

By Gregory A. Daddis “He was there creating Vietnam in 1954.” So proclaimed journalist Max Boot during an interview moderated by a fawning Gen. (ret.) David Petraeus at the New York Historical Society in January 2018. The topic of the evening’s discussion was Boot’s latest book, The Road Not Taken, a biographical tome on former U.S. Air Force officer and CIA operative Edward Lansdale.[8] Petraeus found Boot’s biography on Lansdale “wonderful” because it “offers lessons for the present day.” “You should know,” responded Boot. “You literally wrote the manual on counterinsurgency.” The former four-star general’s adulation should not come as a surprise. Much of the 2007 surge in Iraq, overseen by Petraeus himself, was predicated on assumptions similar to those that Lansdale held about local peoples immersed in a civil war. Internal political dissension wracked both the Iraqis and South Vietnamese. Both societies were engaged in internecine war. Both apparently required outside guidance from enlightened Americans to put their countries on a path toward democracy. One might even ask if Petraeus, reading The Road Not Taken, saw himself as part of a counterinsurgency lineage that ran from T.E. Lawrence through Lansdale to the general himself. Given Boot and Petraeus’s obvious desire to fashion Edward Lansdale into a usable figure for today’s conflicts, it seems worthwhile to question a major argument in The Road Not Taken. How responsible was Lansdale for the creation of South Vietnam? For Boot, the answer is clear. Lansdale was already his “country’s most successful political warrior” of the entire Cold War era.[9] He “masterminded the election of Ramon Magsaysay” in the Philippines, according to Boot in his New York interview. The American was a decisive factor in prevailing over the 1955 sect crisis that threatened South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem’s political future. Lansdale traveled extensively, taught “psywar” techniques to Vietnamese soldiers, wrote a counterinsurgency strategy, and “took on the herculean challenge of trying to consolidate Diem’s power.”[10] Moreover, Boot argues, Lansdale was “right to doubt Diem’s political acumen.”[11] Thus, throughout The Road Not Taken, Lansdale is portrayed as an enlightened imperialist who uses his charm and empathy to befriend local leaders and then gently guide them, as would a tolerant parent, through the tribulations of political adolescence. This American-centric view of the Cold War surely is not without precedent. Many U.S. policymakers came out of World War II with a deep-seated faith in their ability to transform societies abroad and inoculate them from the contamination of communist influence. Modernization theorist Walt Rostow argued in The Stages of Economic Growth, that “traditional” societies too could mature into modern nations if only they followed the developmental model of the United States.[12] It is no surprise that the American experience served as the model for such philosophers. Yet what if we take Boot’s claims about Lansdale and shift the lens of analysis to the Vietnamese themselves? How did local leaders view this supposedly modern-day Lawrence of Arabia? Perhaps unsurprisingly, these local leaders did not revere Lansdale in the same way Boot does. The endnotes of The Road Not Taken contain few, if any, materials from Vietnamese sources. Readers rarely hear local voices in this story except for those filtered through Americans. Like Lansdale, Boot has no fluency in the Vietnamese language (nor did Lansdale even speak French which makes one question how much insight he truly could have gained during his two-year stint in Vietnam from 1954 to 1956). A new generation of scholars on Vietnam, however, are far better equipped than Boot to judge Lansdale’s accomplishments, and they are less reverential of the American. Edward Miller, for instance, finds Diem and his inner circle crafting their own strategy for political consolidation in South Vietnam. To Miller, Diem was careful to accept any U.S. advice and support “only on his own terms, in ways that furthered his designs.”[13] Boot certainly acknowledges that Lansdale’s advice was “eclipsed by the influence of Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and his sister-in-law.”[14] But here the storyline remains firmly embedded in an American-centric worldview because Lansdale functions as a convenient North Star. “If only” Diem had been wiser, more compliant, less obdurate. If only he had listened to the wise American, things might have turned out differently. This counterfactual approach reaches its crescendo as the Lyndon B. Johnson administration decided to Americanize the war in mid-1965. If only Lansdale had been able to prevail over the bureaucracy and convince Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to embrace a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy — so admired by Petraeus — then the American war might have evolved along a different path. Yet, as Boot tells us, “McNamara had little time for Lansdale.”[15] By considering the Vietnamese perspective, such “if only” arguments ultimately fall flat. While Boot correctly argues that Diem’s coup and assassination in November 1963 proved a major turning point in U.S. decision-making on Vietnam, he errs in assuming that Lansdale’s advice continued to make sense in 1964 and 1965. In short, Boot views the war in Vietnam as static. It was not. After Diem’s overthrow, the Hanoi Politburo, now under the influence of General Secretary Le Duan, decided upon a strategy aiming for a “decisive military victory.” Scholarship based on Vietnamese rather than only American sources offers important perspective. Lien-Hang Nguyen’s excellent work on Hanoi’s wartime decision-making clearly demonstrates that Le Duan had committed in late 1964, if not earlier, to achieving a military victory in South Vietnam. In early 1965, for instance, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) doubled its ranks for what Politburo leaders feared was an upcoming battle with American troops.[16] Lansdale may not have wanted to fight a conventional war, but Le Duan certainly did. One wonders how Lansdale’s prescriptions on counterinsurgency were at all relevant to the threat of North Vietnamese regiments infiltrating down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. Boot never says, instead placing blame on McNamara and the U.S. military commander in Vietnam, William C. Westmoreland, for committing to an ill-advised strategy of attrition. The “if only” counterfactuals stack higher and higher. Returning to Boot’s endnotes, such flawed argumentation begins to makes sense. Boot has marshaled no primary sources from the military command — no command policies, no private messages from Westmoreland to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, no after-action reports from U.S. combat units in the field. Instead, old clichés are recycled in mechanical fashion. Thus, in Boot’s storyline, Westmoreland had turned the entire South Vietnamese countryside into one ruinous “free fire zone” where “victory was a high body-count.”[17] In reality, U.S. military strategy proved far more comprehensive than Boot allows. Even before the introduction of American combat troops, Westmoreland was laying out a concept of operations that noted the dual threat to the South Vietnamese countryside — from “large well-organized and -equipped forces including those that may come from outside their country” and from “the guerrilla, the assassin, the terrorist and the informer.”[18] Moreover, allied pacification plans from 1964 onward consistently stressed the importance of securing the population and the importance of the political contest for the people’s loyalty.[19] To Petraeus, though, Boot offered a different, more spiteful account: Westmoreland thought “Lansdale was an idiot.” Yet, quite simply, there is not a shred of evidence in the historical record to support this bogus assertion. This is not meant to defend Westmoreland. Clearly, U.S. military strategy in Vietnam failed to achieve its aim of promoting a stable, independent, non-communist South Vietnam. Rather, a deeper analysis of the American war in Vietnam illustrates far more nuance than depicted in The Road Not Taken. But for his “if only” history to persuade, Boot requires convenient bogeymen. If only the U.S. governmental bureaucracy had listened to Lansdale. If only McNamara and Westmoreland were as discerning as Lansdale. If only the South Vietnamese had been more compliant apprentices. This last point seems most central — and most pernicious — in Boot’s admiration of Edward Lansdale. At its core, The Road Not Taken is a story of an enlightened imperialist. A white Westerner swoops in with only his wit and personal magnetism to captivate the local leaders and offer them a path toward modernity. That the traditional society never realizes its full potential has less to do with the imperialist himself than with those too feeble of mind to accept his advice and munificence. Like ancient lore passed down in an oral tradition from generation to generation, this revisionist recasting of history as a white man’s burden surely holds allure for those like Boot who aspire to a new global American empire.[20] Such narratives reinforce the nationalistic sense of self in the minds of many Americans like him. They bolster claims to American exceptionalism. But these fanciful tales also nudge the reader away from deeper questions that surely would be more profitable when studying the American experience during the Cold War era. Was it wise for the United States to intervene in a civil war over Vietnamese identity? Could a white foreigner with no language skills truly understand the local political community, which he aspired to mentor? Why, throughout the war in Southeast Asia, did far too many Americans see themselves as superior to the Vietnamese, both north and south? And how did this experience illustrate the limits of American power abroad? To engage in such a retrospective, to tackle these deeper questions, undoubtedly is an uncomfortable exercise. But history should be more than a “dose of patriotic therapy.”[21] Counterfactual storytelling based on “if only” narratives may satisfy emotionally, but they hardly impart a history that embraces complexity. Max Boot wants his reader to believe that if only Edward Lansdale had prevailed, history might have unfolded in dramatically different ways. Yet widening the historical scope to include more than just American voices, to evaluate why historical actors made the decisions they did rather than what they should have done, reveals a different, perhaps less satisfying, conclusion. Lansdale’s was a road not taken because it was a road not feasible. Gregory A. Daddis is an associate professor of history and director of Chapman University’s MA Program in War and Society. His most recent book is Withdrawal: Reassessing America’s Final Years in Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2017).

3. Friendly Persuasion is Not Enough: The Limits of the Lansdale Approach

By Walter C. Ladwig III Providing aid and advice to local governments’ counterinsurgency campaigns, rather than directly intervening with American forces, has recently been identified as a more cost-effective way to counter irregular threats to U.S. interests.[22] The challenge that such undertakings have repeatedly faced in the past is that partner governments often have their own interests and priorities which can diverge significantly from those of Washington.[23] Consequently, a host of observers have pointed out that while the United States has provided its partners with extensive assistance to combat insurgents and terrorist groups, an inability to convince them to adopt its counterinsurgency prescriptions or address what Washington sees as the political and economic “root causes” of a conflict has repeatedly emerged as a major impediment to success.[24] In the absence of sufficient influence to convince a local government to address these shortcomings, critics suggest that significant American aid and support can actually reduce its incentives to address domestic discontent or govern inclusively, which can render a supported regime less stable than it would have been without U.S. assistance.[25] Based on his study of the life and career of Edward Lansdale, Max Boot has suggested that future advisors can find a template for influencing local governments in Lansdale’s “art of friendly persuasion.”[26] One of the Cold War’s most colorful characters, Lansdale’s career spanned Madison Avenue, the U.S. Air Force, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Lansdale rose to prominence as the advisor, confidant, and friend of Philippine Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay during the Hukbalahap Rebellion (1946 to 1954). Under Lansdale’s mentorship, Magsaysay professionalized and depoliticized the Philippine armed forces, which enhanced their effectiveness in the field, while also working to ensure that free and fair elections in the country were not thwarted by vested political interests.[27] In 1949 the Hukbalahap guerrillas possessed some 12,000 men under arms and more than 100,000 active sympathizers.[28] By 1954, however, facing defeat on the battlefield and seeing an opportunity to achieve social change via the ballot box, the Huks were willing to give up their armed struggle. The tools Lansdale employed to influence and mentor Magsaysay were patience, understanding, and above all friendly persuasion to build trust with his counterpart. The CIA operative would later seek to employ the same means to shape the behavior of another U.S. partner in Southeast Asia, the leader of the fledgling Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem.[29] In calling attention to the importance of advisory efforts, Boot does a real service. Unfortunately, a narrow focus on Lansdale himself and an over-reliance on the man’s own account of events in the Philippines leads to mistaken conclusions about cause and effect. A broader reading of U.S. involvement in the Huk Rebellion raises questions about the degree to which American influence stemmed from friendly persuasion and the utility of that technique to, in Boot’s words, “influence allies to take difficult but necessary steps such as fighting corruption without risking a blowup or backlash.”[30] Pressure Not Persuasion in the Huk Rebellion There is no question that Lansdale and Magsaysay formed a highly effective partnership that helped transform the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency strategy. Yet, at the end of the day, as secretary of national defense, Magsaysay was but one part of the administration. As my own study of U.S. patron-client relations in counterinsurgency demonstrates, their relationship was embedded in a far more coercive American influence strategy that pressured, rather than persuaded, the Philippine government to reform.[31] Despite the communist links of the Hukbalahap insurgents who were attempting to overthrow the government of President Elpidio Quirino, the American view was that the roots of the insurgency were socio-economic rather than strictly political. Guerrilla fighters primarily took up arms in response to abuses by the security forces, electoral fraud, and a lack of access to sufficient agricultural land.[32] Consequently, in countering the insurgency, as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed, “military measures … can only be a temporary expedient. Remedial political and economic measures must be adopted by the Philippine Government in order to eliminate the basic causes of discontent among the Philippine people.”[33] Unfortunately, Quirino was disinclined to undertake these redistributive reforms because the base of his ruling Liberal Party benefitted from the existing political and economic status quo. The Philippine government did eventually take steps to address some of the rural discontent driving support for the insurgency. They introduced a minimum wage for agricultural workers and significantly revised the government’s tax policy that enhanced revenue in an equitable fashion to pay for the war and enhanced social spending. These reforms, which had been opposed by the Philippine government, did not come about via friendly persuasion, but by attaching tough conditions to American aid. In the words of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, American assistance was “firmly conditioned on satisfactory performance by the Philippine Government,” rendering it “as a lever to obtain such performance.”[34] This lever worked. As a contemporaneous scholar of Philippine politics, David Wurfel, wrote,
Few would have dared predict six months earlier that the Philippine Congress could pass in short order two laws, such as the minimum wage and the increased corporate income tax . . . In sum, the leverage of proffered foreign aid had produced the legislative authorization for social change probably not possible otherwise.[35]
A similar approach was taken in the military realm. At the start of the conflict, counterinsurgency operations were the responsibility of the Philippine Constabulary, a national paramilitary police force whose corrupt and abusive ways created more insurgents than they captured.[36] Under the authority of the secretary of the interior, the constabulary often functioned as hired thugs for the country’s large landlords who employed them to terrorize agricultural workers. Recognizing the role of the constabulary in stimulating support for the insurgency, the commander of the U.S. Joint Military Assistance Group urged Quirino to depoliticize the force by putting them under the control of the Department of National Defense and assigning the Philippine army primary responsibility for combatting the insurgents. The Philippine president resisted because such reforms would constrain the Liberal Party’s ability to use the constabulary to suppress their political opponents — which is precisely what the American advisors intended. The United States eventually succeeded in forcing the Philippine government to restructure its armed forces, subordinate the constabulary to the less politicized Department of National Defense, and give the army the lead in counterinsurgency operations, but once again it was tough conditions on U.S. military aid — even in the face of a growing insurgent threat — not friendly persuasion that achieved the result. Magsaysay’s own rise to power from congressman to secretary of national defense was due, in part, to American coercion. This is not to say that Magsaysay was an American creation by any means—he possessed his own political base and the patronage of leading Filipino politicians—but his candidacy received a boost from U.S. pressure. The details remain somewhat murky since the American officials involved actively attempted to downplay their role to avoid undercutting Magsaysay’s credibility.[37] Douglas MacDonald recounts a claim that “President Truman sent a telegram directly to Quirino telling him to appoint Magsaysay as Secretary of Defense or risk losing U.S. military aid.”[38] Boot’s version of events echoes Cecil Currey in crediting Assistant Secretary of State Livingston Merchant with delivering the same message, while the State Department’s Director of the Office of Philippine Affairs, John Melby maintains that he was the one to instruct Quirino that future U.S. military aid was linked to Magsaysay’s appointment.[39] When the Philippine president shrugged and replied, “You know, you’re asking me to commit political suicide,” Melby allegedly responded, “Yes, I know that, but unless you do it there’s no more American military aid forthcoming.”[40] In the face of this threat, Quirino acquiesced. Common to all of these accounts is an American threat to cut off military aid to a partner government that was on the back foot in its battle against an insurgency. This was persuasion, but it certainly wasn’t friendly. Once in office, the effect of Magsaysay’s military reforms was bolstered by American pressure being wielded on his behalf. Magsaysay managed to engender dramatic improvements in the army’s rank-and-file as well as the junior officer corps. However, the effectiveness of the military was hampered by the fact that it was still led by the architects of the Philippine government’s initial abusive and ineffective response to the Huk insurgency, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mariano Castañeda, and the constabulary commander, Brigadier Alberto Ramos. Castañeda was a corrupt yet affable figure who refused to cooperate with Magsaysay’s reform efforts and was not seen by senior Philippine leaders to be sufficiently competent for command of the military.[41] Ramos was even worse: A known Japanese collaborator, the U.S. embassy in Manila judged that “beyond protecting perpetrators of abuses,” the brigadier had “done nothing but draw his breath and his salary.”[42] Although replacing the duo might have enhanced military effectiveness, the two men had played a key role in delivering the fraudulent 1949 election to the Liberal Party. Moreover, after several recent coup attempts in the region, Quirino was particularly fearful about the loyalty of his armed forces and favored reliability over capability. Magsaysay’s predecessor as Secretary of National Defense had resigned when Quirino refused to fire Castañeda and Ramos for mismanaging the anti-Huk campaign. Magsaysay ended up issuing a similar ultimatum to Quirino, however, this time around the threat was bolstered by the American decision to condition $10 million in military aid on the immediate retirement of the pair.[43] Under duress, Quirino complied. As Magsaysay turned his attention to ensuring free and fair elections in the country, he alienated his former patrons in the ruling Liberal Party who stood to lose from legitimate polls. These senior politicians worked to constrain his authority, undo his reforms, and remove him from office. However, it was implicit and explicit threats to cut American military aid, not friendly persuasion, that shielded Magsaysay and his reform efforts from domestic political enemies.[44] Whether in the economic, the military, or the political realm, pressure not persuasion was the main source of American influence over the Philippine government. Such was the judgement of the American ambassador in Manila, Myron Cowen, who advised Washington that although the United States successfully shaped the Philippine government’s policies in a number of areas, we “must recognize that without exception, [these reforms] were made possible only by continuously applied pressure.”[45] When the Americans did not deploy pressure via conditions on aid to support Magsaysay, he was far less effective. Having won the presidency in a landslide in the 1953 election at the head of a broad coalition, it was expected that Magsaysay would continue his reforming ways from the highest office in the land.[46] With the Huk rebellion defeated, however, the United States was far less concerned about redistributive reforms in the Philippines and no longer intervened on the new President’s behalf. Consequently, Magsaysay’s various attempts at socio-economic reforms foundered at the hands of vested interests. By this time, however, Lansdale was no longer involved in events on a day-to-day basis, having been dispatched to South Vietnam by CIA director Allen Dulles. The lesson Lansdale drew from his narrow perspective in the Philippines was that a combination of patience, shared hardship, and an exhibition of sincere empathy could foster the personal chemistry necessary to influence an embattled American partner. He presumed that the trust and confidence inspired by a sympathetic advisor could lead a previously reactionary or repressive government to willingly rein in abuses by the security forces, combat corruption, implement civic-action programs (health, education, public welfare, etc.), and undertake other reforms that would rally the population to the government’s side. Consequently, Lansdale would prove to be just the first of many American officials in Saigon who would search in vain for a “Vietnamese Magsaysay” to save the country.[47] Modern Magsaysays? The purpose of recounting these events is not to quibble over the historiography of U.S.-Philippine relations, but to ask: What this can tell us that is relevant for today? Friendly persuasion was an effective influence tool in Lansdale’s relationship with Magsaysay in no small part because the latter’s interests and aims were already closely aligned with those of the U.S. Magsaysay had fought with an American affiliated guerrilla unit during World War II, he shared many of his American partners’ assessments of the problems facing the Philippines, and as a congressman, he cooperated closely with the U.S. military assistance group.[48] In short, as Douglas MacDonald writes, “…Magsaysay was an American liberal reformer’s dream come true. A dynamic, charismatic, honest and compassionate leader dedicated to democratic values is a rare commodity in any country, not just in the Third World.”[49] In contrast, more coercive strategies were necessary to influence Quirino because his interests and those of the U.S. diverged in key respects. The Philippine and American governments agreed that preventing the Huks from seizing power was important, but the way they wanted to go about it was quite different. For Quirino, maintaining his office was a competing priority and both rival political elites and the nation’s armed forces were potential threats to his power. Consequently, the types of reforms and policy changes the United States was pushing in the Philippines — redistributive economic reforms, ending patronage politics in the military, and holding clean elections — were resisted because, irrespective of their utility as counterinsurgency measures, they directly challenged the interests of his key supporters and therefore his hold on power. If you are lucky enough to have an authentic domestic reformer with no internal opposition as your partner, friendly persuasion may be an effective influence tool. It is unlikely to be sufficient, however, to convince a less enlightened leader to risk reforms that they believe could lead to their overthrow or worse. This raises a key question: In the future is the United States more likely to work with regimes whose interests are closely aligned or those who diverge significantly? To put it differently, are Magsaysays more common or Quirinos? Sadly, recent academic research on the subject suggests that the latter is far more common.[50] Advising a government in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism suffers from a phenomenon that economists call adverse selection.[51] This is a situation where, due to the specifics of a transaction, the only actors who wish to participate are “bad” ones. Adverse selection often occurs in insurance markets, like automobile insurance, where the people who most want collision insurance are those who drive a lot or otherwise self-assess that they are more likely to have accidents. If there wasn’t a law requiring people to have insurance, the people seeking coverage would not be a representative sample of all drivers, but only the riskiest ones. There is a parallel phenomenon with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.[52] Since effective, legitimate governments rarely lose control of substantial portions of their country to terrorists or insurgents, the only regimes needing external assistance to combat domestic political opponents are almost by definition flawed in some key respects—be they weak, incompetent, fraudulent, abusive, or all of the above. In turn, the same governmental shortcomings that facilitate the emergence of an insurgency also undercut the effectiveness of the counterinsurgent response.[53] Even if they have the capacity to do so, local governments are rarely eager to address such problems as their core supporters frequently benefit from the country’s political and economic status quo. It is perhaps unsurprising that after a year serving as the senior U.S. advisor to the South Vietnamese I Corps, Col. Bryce Denno cogently observed in his 1963 end-of-tour report that:
It would be a miraculous coincidence if a host nation in a war of counterinsurgency were to share identical objectives with the U.S. or arrive at identical solutions to problems that arise. Hence, it behooves the U.S. to seek ways in which it can influence the host nation to act in a manner compatible with U.S. interests in a war which we are financing to a large extent and otherwise supporting.[54]
Consequently, Denno advised his superiors:
The development of techniques and means to increase U.S. leverage in Vietnam is the single most important problem facing us there and it will be a fundamental problem in any future counterinsurgency effort in which we become involved.[55]
No matter how much aid you give a country or how many advisers you send, if you cannot prevent the local government from employing these resources to pursue its own agenda, or from prioritizing political reliability in the armed forces over military effectiveness, the assistance effort will come to naught. One does not have to revisit the unhappy American experience in Vietnam to understand the limits of friendly persuasion in such circumstances, but merely look at the recent U.S. experience in Iraq.[56] The Bush administration expected that their partner, Iraqi Prime Minister Nori al-Maliki, would embrace its strategy of overcoming the insurgency by bringing Kurds and Sunnis into the political process alongside the Shia majority. Instead, Maliki prioritized bolstering his position among radical Shia political groups, turned a blind eye to violence against Sunnis, and favored sectarian loyalists rather than professional officers in the Iraqi Security Forces.[57] The Bush administration never tried to compel Maliki to change his ways, even though his actions were undermining American efforts in Iraq.[58] Instead, the Iraqi leader was provided with unconditioned aid and support to persuade him to make better choices. President Bush personally sought to mentor Maliki and in his own words provided him with unstinting “advice and understanding” in the belief that “Once I had earned his trust I would be in a better position to help him make the tough decisions.”[59] Bush specifically notes that he “was careful not to bully him or appear heavy-handed.”[60] This approach failed to restrain Maliki’s sectarian agenda, which prevented the military gains from the 2007 surge from being translated into positive political outcomes and arguably laid the foundation for the rise of the Islamic State.[61] Toward the Future With large-scale U.S. military interventions seemingly at an end, it appears that advisory missions will be a key component of U.S. efforts in the so-called War on Terror. In a coda to his phenomenally researched and detailed account of Edward Lansdale’s career, (“Lansdalism in the Twenty-First Century”), Boot suggests that the quixotic CIA officer can provide a useful role model for future American advisors, both civilian and military.[62] Lansdale’s advocacy of patience, understanding, cultural awareness and local solutions for local problems are all to be commended. It is similarly difficult to disagree with Lansdale’s focus on the political dimensions of civil war, or as Boot writes, the belief “that there was more to defeating insurgencies than killing insurgents.” Unfortunately, Lansdale’s partnership with Ramon Magsaysay does not provide a template for addressing what Boot describes as “the key American shortcoming” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam: “the inability to constructively guide the leaders of allied states in the direction desired by Washington.”[63] The emergence of a popular, capable, indigenous reformer in Magsaysay was a unique circumstance that is unlikely to be replicated in other settings. Moreover, whether Lansdale realized it or not, American influence over the Philippine government was primarily the result of pressure and tough conditions on aid, which strengthened Magsaysay’s hand vis-à-vis reactionaries opposed to his reforms. Lansdale’s life story makes an entertaining read and his model of friendly persuasion is a wonderful ideal, but the strategy is unlikely to be sufficient in practice. Walter C. Ladwig III is an Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and the author of The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017) from which materials in this essay are drawn.

4. The Woman Question in Max Boot’s Tale of Edward Lansdale

By Heather Marie Stur During a party at Edward Lansdale’s Saigon villa in 1956, Lansdale performed a traditional Philippine dance called tinikling, and it was not awkward. A photograph of the moment shows Lansdale in a white tunic and cropped pants, smiling joyfully as he taught the dance to a friend. He was not an embarrassed white man clumsily attempting a native dance in a cringeworthy demonstration of good will. It was Lansdale at his most comfortable: as the life of a multicultural party where a Philippine dance broke the ice between his American and Vietnamese friends. The snapshot depicted Lansdalian diplomacy in action, in which cultural exchange on the ground with ordinary people was an essential tactic in nation-building strategy. Max Boot’s engaging biography is one of only a few works that examines Lansdale, whose belief in cultural sensitivity and commitment to individual liberty continues to inform American counterinsurgency theory. In the early 1950s, Lansdale’s successful training of Ramon Magsaysay to assume the presidency of an independent Philippines and neutralize the Hukbalahap rebellion became the model U.S. policymakers would attempt to replicate in South Vietnam. While working in Vietnam, Lansdale got closer than any other American to Ngo Dinh Diem, the man meant to be a Vietnamese Magsaysay. Things didn’t work out in Vietnam quite the way they did in the Philippines, though. Diem alienated the Buddhist opposition and was never popular with the masses. After Diem was assassinated, Washington replaced Lansdale and his CIA team with combat troops. Yet Lansdale’s influence remained in the “hearts and minds” approach to pacification that Gen. Creighton Abrams advocated. Lansdale himself spent the better part of two decades in Southeast Asia, save a brief detour to the Caribbean to try and topple Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba. From the Office of Strategic Services to the CIA, from the Philippines to Vietnam, from the United States to Asia, Lansdale traversed the transpacific world in a life’s work that bridged Tales from the South Pacific and The Ugly American. In his career, Lansdale embodied the “ugly American” — a misunderstood moniker that refers not to an American tourist behaving badly but to a diplomat willing to roll up his sleeves and get down at the village level for a drink, a meal, a walk, and a conversation to learn about local customs, values, and needs. It is one of two sides of Lansdale that Boot’s portrait reveals. In that form, Lansdale was a maverick who possessed an innate curiosity about humanity in all its diversity.[64] Boot makes a compelling claim that racism did not appear to have tainted Lansdale’s view of Asia at a time when U.S. policymakers referred to Filipinos and Vietnamese as “little brown brothers.” It was a key example of the chasm between Lansdale and the risk-averse policy establishment, a rift made all the wider by Lansdale’s unwillingness to accept received wisdom about nation-building. The tragedy that emerges from Boot’s telling of the Vietnam War story resulted from Washington’s impatience with what Lansdale understood to be the slow processes of cultivating political stability, fostering economic development, and establishing a national identity. As unconventional as Lansdale was in his career, he was an everyman in his personal life, and this is where Boot’s book contributes something new. Other scholars, notably Edward Miller, Mark Moyar, and Lewis Sorley, have written about the possibilities for Vietnam had Americans made different choices regarding Diem and the war.[65] While Boot’s focus on Lansdale is unique, the broader theme of “what might have been” is established in the historiography. What we know much less about is the impact of U.S. foreign relations on the lives and marriages of deployed personnel, their families, and local populations from the 1940s onward as part of U.S. military and diplomatic expansion. (In the afterword, Boot speculates that Lansdale might have had a Vietnamese mistress, in addition to his long-time Filipina paramour.) In Boot’s narrative, Lansdale’s love life was not the sideshow but the main event. It shaped him, his work, and, by extension, U.S. intervention in Asia. From the collections of personal letters Boot accessed, he pieces together a picture of an international post-World War II generation in which foreign relations shaped and were influenced by the women in the lives of American men overseas. Helen Lansdale represents the diplomatic and military wives whose husbands were stationed at U.S. embassies and military bases all over the world. Pat Kelly, a Manila newspaper staffer who volunteered to be Lansdale’s guide through rural Luzon, symbolizes the local women who caught the attention of American men abroad. Kelly, whose given name was Patrocinio Yapcinco, was from Tarlac Province, a Huk stronghold in central Luzon. Her husband, James Kelly, an Irish-Filipino orphan, died of tuberculosis in 1944, and Pat got a job to support herself and her baby daughter, Patricia. Pat eventually went to work for the United States, and she was assigned to work as Lansdale’s guide and interpreter. Sometimes the intersections of the personal and the political determined the course of international relations. Had Pat and Ed not met, Ramon Magsaysay might not have ascended to the presidency of the Philippines, providing the United States with its model for South Vietnam and sealing the fate of Ngo Dinh Diem. Lansdale might not have requested to return to the Philippines. Perhaps without realizing it, Boot validates the “cultural turn” in diplomatic and military history. Gender and sex influence the behavior of diplomats, military officers, and intelligence agents in ways that end up charting or shifting the courses of foreign relations and war. Boot is very clear about the importance of Lansdale’s wives (he married Kelly after Helen died in the 1970s), noting their roles in “some of his most consequential decisions, such as his return to the Philippines for a second, history-altering tour in 1950.”[66] He claims to be the first writer to have read Lansdale’s letters from both wives, which “provide the most intimate and complete account that will ever be available of Lansdale’s thinking — and they reveal the hitherto unrevealed importance of his love affair with Pat to the narrative of his life.”[67] Boot’s portrayal of the women in Lansdale’s life is provocative because, according to a recent piece he wrote for Foreign Policy, 2017 was the year Boot “got woke” to his white male privilege.[68] Unfortunately, neither Boot’s new consciousness nor the weight he places on Lansdale’s relationships with his wives inspired him to flesh out the Lansdale love triangle. His depiction of Helen Lansdale is one-dimensional, and his discussions of Pat Kelly are, at times, tied to old tropes about the exotic Orient and its alluring women. In Boot’s version of Lansdale’s romantic drama, Pat Kelly was beguiling while Helen Lansdale was prematurely gray. Pat teased and flirted while Helen was quiet. Pat was exciting while Helen was boring. It is as though Boot is trying to excuse Lansdale’s dalliances by making Helen the problem, implying that someone so dull couldn’t possibly satisfy an adventurous man of the world like Lansdale, and, let’s face it, men must be satisfied. That is their privilege. All of this may have been true, but Boot’s flat sketch of Helen leaves out the broader contexts that help explain her behaviors and motives. She was a complex human being just as her husband was. Social and cultural expectations likely limited her options and influenced her personal decisions as much as Lansdale did. Mr. and Mrs. Lansdale weren’t making love on a beach in California because he was overseas, and she was back home playing both mother and father to two sons. Boot remarks that Helen Lansdale refused to ask for a divorce when she learned of her husband’s affair, but a truly “woke” character study of the first Mrs. Lansdale would include a discussion of the limited financial and legal options she would have faced as a divorcee, not to mention the emotional and psychological effects on her and her sons. There was more at stake than Lansdale’s belief in his ability to win hearts and minds in Asia, his desire for adventure, or his longing for Pat Kelly. Lansdale himself understood this, which is why he didn’t simply quit his American family when Helen wouldn’t seek a divorce. Meanwhile, Kelly is important to the story not because she was a bewitching Filipina, but because she helped Lansdale break into rural Philippine society where he learned the most about the Huk insurgency. Kelly was a high school classmate of Luis Taruc, the Huks’ military leader, in Tarlac City in central Luzon, and she was able to get Lansdale remarkably close to the rebels. To his credit, Boot writes Kelly with much more empathy and depth than what he offers Helen. He acknowledges Kelly’s strategic importance, asserting that “it was her role as an invaluable intermediary and interpreter, not only of language but also of customs and mindsets, that would account for so much of his success with the Filipino people.”[69] Kelly played a vital role in one of America’s most successful nation-building efforts and had a long history of working for the United States, including years with the U.S. War Damage Commission and the U.S. Information Agency at the U.S. embassy in Manila. As Boot explains, Kelly was fairly unconventional in Philippine society as a working woman who became the head of her family after her husband and her father both died in the 1940s. Boot brings Kelly to life and illustrates her importance to the mission primarily through Lansdale’s letters and the author’s interviews with those who knew Kelly. From a methodology perspective, Boot’s book is a good example of how personal papers and oral histories can offer important details on military missions, policymaking, and other “official” business. Despite Kelly’s important role in U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in the Philippines, it would not be surprising if her voice is absent from the archival record. Her race and her gender would have ensured that her American male colleagues would not have written her recommendations into an official report, and if they did, they likely would not have credited her. It is not clear whether Boot looked for Kelly in the records of the War Damage Commission or the U.S. Information Agency where she had worked, but were Kelly still alive, it would be fascinating to talk with her and learn her opinions of U.S.-Philippine relations, her country’s history and future, and her married lover. That Boot made the effort to craft a fairly vibrant portrait of Pat Kelly leaves readers wondering why he did not do Helen the same courtesy even though Lansdale’s relationship with her is also important to his life story. Having spent most of her adult life as a housewife, Helen likely would not appear in archival documents, but published sources on American women in the Cold War era would have provided some context for understanding the women of Helen’s generation. This type of background information might have helped Boot speculate about why Helen behaved and responded to her husband in the ways that she did. While Boot develops Kelly as an agent of her own history, he comes close to orientalism when describing the “mysterious East” as he sets the scene for the moment Lansdale and Kelly met. He writes, “As long as Western men have been journeying to the Orient (a term that once encompassed all of Asia and North Africa), they have, inevitably, fallen in love with the women they found there.”[70] Does Boot believe that, or is he referring to what men of a different era thought? He continues by describing the “Age of Discovery” as “an age of sexual discovery, with all kinds of tropes and innuendos that are now considered racist.”[71] But it’s not just that standards for polite conversation have changed. Europeans’ “erotic fascination” with the Far East was part of a broader imperial culture that used race, gender, and sexuality to justify Europe’s subjugation of its African and Asian colonies and establish power dynamics between Europeans and people of color. Boot does not discuss this context except to mention Edward Said’s orientalism, the theory that 19th-century Europeans crafted an exotic, romanticized image of the Middle East that rationalized Europe’s exploitation of colonized subjects. Boot concedes that “[t]here is an element of truth in the charge” but then counters with: “… the exploitation was not entirely one-sided—many poor Asian women saw relationships with Westerners as an opportunity for economic betterment”.[72] Poor Asian women exploited Western men? In colonialism? An author who claims to understand his white male privilege and “the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience” wrote this?[73] By accusing impoverished Asian women of manipulating Western men for a chance at a more financially secure future, Boot demonstrates a surprising obliviousness to the power dynamics that would have prevented such reverse exploitation. Boot lets quotes such as the Times’ Richard Bernstein’s comment about “an Eastern erotic culture that had always been more frank and less morally fastidious about sexual needs than the Western Christian erotic culture” hang without analysis.[74] Failing to delve into meaning and context, Boot misses an opportunity to challenge an outdated Western image of Asia by describing the prudish nature of Diem-era Vietnamese society. It’s important context for the time period in which Lansdale was stationed in Vietnam. Concerned citizens worried about the corrupting effects of American men and Western culture on Vietnamese women and traditional values. As J. William Fulbright noted, the Americans, not the Vietnamese, were responsible for turning Saigon into a brothel.[75] Boot’s link between Sir Richard Burton’s orientalism and Lansdale’s Southeast Asia is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The 1904 opera tells a tragic love story of an American naval officer and a Japanese teenaged girl who bears his son and then commits suicide when her lover returns to Japan with his American wife. Speculating that “[n]o doubt there were many such heartbreaks — and even some suicides — that resulted from liaisons between Western men and Asian women,” Boot then brings readers to the love story of Edward Lansdale and Pat Kelly.[76] Boot’s description of Helen Lansdale as “an old-fashioned, self-conscious ‘lady’ who had gone to a finishing school and behaved according to the prim standards of the early twentieth-century provincial American upper class” sets her up as the inhibited wife who drove her husband into the arms of a “livelier” Asian woman.[77] What does it all mean for our understanding of Lansdale and U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia? Was Lansdale a Western explorer who “inevitably” fell in love with an Asian woman? Does Boot believe Lansdale was the Cold War-era descendant of a 400-year-old lineage of white men drawn to the “alluring Orient?” If so, can we extrapolate that the orientalist framework that Europeans used to justify imperialism also informed U.S. intervention in Asia in the twentieth century?[78] Does Boot believe that the United States acts in the world just like its imperial European forefathers? Where does Pat Kelly fit into this framework? Does Boot see her independence and political acumen as an anomaly, or as a real-life example that complicates the romanticized image of Asian women? Absent a discussion of the colonial context in which Europeans developed the idea of the exotic Orient and the ways in which similar racial constructs have shaped U.S. foreign relations, it is unclear why Boot introduced Lansdale’s relationship with Kelly in this framework. Lansdale is actually an interesting character through which to explore these issues. Boot describes his long fascination with Asia, from his wearing of a sarong while in college to his interest in Filipino folk music, none of which indicates racism or anything else insidious. Lansdale’s willingness to meet Filipinos and Vietnamese on their terms and to go into villages to assess the attitudes of local people suggests a genuine desire to assist in these nations’ political development. Based on the evidence Boot offers, Lansdale did not appear to see himself as a man on a civilizing mission to uplift the darker races. Boot could have used Lansdale and Kelly to challenge the mysterious Asia construct rather than presenting it as the natural explanation for their relationship. Lansdale, the ugly American, believed that native people had important things to tell him about their country’s future. Kelly was an employee of the U.S. government, not a dragon lady or a sexually exotic object. In his letters, Lansdale wrote that he was drawn to Kelly’s mind as much as her body, and if that was true, then he deserves more credit than Boot gives him when he places him in the same category as earlier European colonizers. Boot’s tendency to provide lengthy quotes — usually from love letters between Lansdale and Kelly — without analysis or broader context is a flaw that runs throughout the book. Perhaps Boot believes discussions of the cultural constructs that influenced Lansdale’s relationships with his women belong in dense academic tomes and might bore a popular audience. But analysis need not be laden with tedious jargon, and the American public gets the complicated issues regarding gender, sex, women, and the patriarchy. The #metoo movement has proven that. Analysis can also prevent readers from mistaking the writer for being uninformed or, worse, an apologist for the orientalism of Victorian imperialists. This should be especially important to an author who has announced that his consciousness is raised, and that he now understands that the oppressive forces of racism and sexism are real. Sometime in the mid-1950s, Helen Lansdale stood beside her husband as he received a medal from Vice President Richard Nixon. While Edward Lansdale lived an adventure-filled career in the Pacific world, taking a mistress as he attempted to save the free world, his wife remained stateside doing the heavy and largely unnoticed work of maintaining a façade of normalcy even as it threatened to collapse. In her role on the home front, Mrs. Lansdale was not unlike all the other military and diplomatic wives who spent the Cold War years as single parents, filling their days with children’s activities, trips to the grocery store, and luncheons, but wondering in the lonely hours where their husbands were, who they were with, and why ordinary family life wasn’t enough for them. We know the story of Edward Lansdale the CIA agent, and what might have been in Vietnam, but Max Boot lets us in on a more universal tale. Edward and Helen Lansdale got married. They tried to play husband and wife and parents like they thought they were supposed to. The exigencies of U.S. national security gave Mr. Lansdale an honorable escape from the monotony of family life, while respectability required Mrs. Lansdale to quietly stand by her man. According to the conventions of the time, it would not have been appropriate for her to travel through a Southeast Asian jungle by jeep. But Americans did not hold Filipinas to the same standards. It was perfectly fine for them to drive into a war zone if they were from the same town as the leader of the local insurgency and spoke both English and Tagalog. And so Pat Kelly became part of Ed Lansdale’s fantasy, but even if his first wife had agreed to a divorce, it would have been difficult for Lansdale to make her part of his life back home. Boot points out that when Pat and Ed first met in the late 1940s, the United States was not kind to Asians, as anti-Asian immigration laws and Japanese internment illustrated. Americans likely would not have seen Pat Kelly, employee of the U.S. War Damage Commission and crucial operative in the counterinsurgency mission in the Philippines. They would have only seen her race. Heather Marie Stur, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and a fellow in USM’s Dale Center for the Study of War & Society. 

5. Everything but Politics: America’s Counterinsurgency Blindspot

By Jon Askonas Max Boot has left no stone unturned in his extensive biography of Edward Lansdale, debonair ad man-turned-counterinsurgent. Boot’s tome contains, among other things, informed speculation on Lansdale’s sex life, psychoanalysis of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsburg’s piano-playing, asides on Graham Greene’s novels, and short biographies of almost every character in the extensive cast of would-be American counterinsurgents, Filipino and Vietnamese politicos, and various world historical figures. This makes what was left out of The Road Not Taken all the more revealing. Boot’s mission is to make the case for “Lansdalism,” a variant of counter-insurgency characterized by winning “hearts and minds” through civic action (honest elections, government reforms, political persuasion) to legitimize governments and put pressure on insurgents.[79] According to Boot, Lansdale’s approach would have been far less costly than the massive armed military intervention in Vietnam, and might have actually worked. Boot believes Lansdalism provides a template and inspiration for future U.S. counterinsurgency efforts. But to support this argument, Boot selectively emphasizes details from Lansdale’s life that result in an oversimplified telling of the story: In Vietnam, Lansdale is foiled by bureaucratic insouciance, corrupt Vietnamese leaders, stubborn American politicians, and soldiers dedicated to “conventional warfare.” Boot’s oversimplification highlights this otherwise excellent biography’s most notable flaw. In making his case, Boot fails to contend with the ultimate sources of both Lansdale’s successes in the Philippines and his failures in Vietnam — the political desires of insurgents and of the people in the nations where Lansdale worked. Never is the possibility considered that people simply might not be buying what Lansdale — and Boot — are selling. Because Boot is a powerful storyteller, this failure isn’t immediately obvious. In both the Philippines and Vietnam, we are introduced to the players on both sides of the conflicts, and their relationships with each other are given dramatic life. But Boot’s political analysis never gets past this superficial layer. Why, exactly, are the Huks of the Philippines up in arms? Boot gives us little insight, except for a few slogans and a single oblique reference to a land-owning elite.[80] We learn nothing of the centuries of exploitation under the Spanish, nor that the postwar regime Constabulary destroyed more peasant villages than the Japanese did in their attempt to suppress the government.[81] Besides an innate charisma and popular touch, we never learn why Filipino politician Ramon Magsaysay might have had broad political appeal. This is not to suggest that the programs Lansdale embarked upon with Magsaysay (reforming the Army, improving elections, and resettling former insurgents with land, among others) were not valuable. However, throughout the book, one gets the sense that native populations, whether in the Philippines and Vietnam or in Iraq and Afghanistan, are primarily acted upon. If the wise Lansdalian counterinsurgent follows the right recipe, the native population cannot help but come around to the American position. There is no sense that they could legitimately choose otherwise. This political blindspot is particularly egregious in Boot’s treatment of Vietnam. He had time enough in his book for a short examination of Allen Dulles’ womanizing and spent pages on Hubert Humphrey’s relationship with LBJ. But he left no room for an analysis of Vietnam’s colonial history, nor for a discussion of why the South Vietnamese regime could be so easily associated with the imperialists, what the average rural resident might want, or why Ho Chi Minh remained such a popular figure. Not a jot is spent exploring the relative effectiveness of Southern and Northern propaganda or comparing relations between rural and urban residents or the rich and the poor. Choices that were in fact highly political and intentional are subsumed under the categories of excess violence due to notions of “conventional war,” “corruption” among military and civilian officials, and interpersonal feuds among both American and South Vietnamese leaders. Boot (following the work of Mark Moyar) identifies the 1963 overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem as a critical inflection point in the course of the war,[82] but says little about the political tensions his regime was causing, focusing instead on the dissatisfaction of the generals and the impatience of the American diplomatic and press corps.[83] He adopts Lansdale’s conviction that in Vietnam, “what was missing was a high-level American official who could influence allies to take difficult but necessary steps such as fighting corruption without risking a blowup or backlash.”[84] Boot thinks the same is true for both Iraq and Afghanistan. But client leaders are usually acutely aware of their interests, needs, and political pressures. They do not need a “stiff talking to” from some Yankee, but rather a reconfiguration of the incentives they face, which may be quite deep-seated.[85] Lansdale’s laser-sharp focus on the importance of building South Vietnamese state legitimacy was unique and laudable, but American leaders from JFK to Richard Nixon understood more or less the same thing. The problem for all of these American decision-makers (including Lansdale) was figuring out how to support the South Vietnamese without corrupting or distorting the regime, all the while attempting to keep both the Viet Cong insurgency and North Vietnamese infiltrators at bay. Boot’s tendency to oversimplify is present throughout the book, especially regarding the complicated story of the American war effort in Vietnam. Boot tells us that Lansdale was avant garde in reading Mao in the 1950s. He wasn’t. Due to America’s involvements in Asia, military leaders were already reading and discussing the writings of Mao and Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap.[86] Boot argues that the conventionally minded soldiers (symbolized by Robert McNamara and Gen. William Westmoreland) ignored the human and political element. Yet the bibliography indicates Boot never consulted the actual records of MACV (the American military command in Vietnam) or its predecessor, which tell a much different story. Boot relies on Lewis Sorley’s narrative of the war (blaming Westmoreland for America’s heavy-handed strategy and praising Gen. Creighton Abrams for his belated attempt to turn things around), and ignores Gregory Daddis’ authoritative and detailed historical work rebutting most of Sorley’s claims.[87] If these flaws don’t ultimately undermine the book, it’s in part because Boot is a faithful interpreter of Lansdale himself. It would be hard to claim that Boot is projecting his ideas about counterinsurgency onto Lansdale. If anything, Boot is usually (though not always) circumspect about Lansdale’s zanier ideas, self-serving misconceptions, and occasional fables. In Boot’s book, one can find evidence to support both Lansdale the genius and Lansdale the crank. Though he wants us to see Lansdale through the eyes of his admirers, as an honest, savvy, warm counterinsurgency guru, Boot is honest in admitting that criticisms about Lansdale have merit as well. Thus, Boot conveys Daniel Ellsburg’s loving assessment of Lansdale as a “very shrewd, smart guy”, but also tells us that most of Lansdale’s bureaucratic rivals viewed him as “nutty, lightweight, stupid.”[88] The book contains ample evidence supporting both the case for Lansdale’s shrewdness and for his nuttiness. Lansdale’s naïveté about the political roots of insurgencies is emblematic of his place riding the line between idealism and delusion. To his dying day, he affirmed the universal appeal of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.[89] If only, he thought, Vietnam’s leaders were good enough, honest enough, and liberty-loving enough, Vietnam’s people would be sure to follow. It’s hard to reconcile Lansdale’s enthusiastic tinkering in other peoples’ governments with those ideals. Boot concludes the book by arguing that, in lieu of extensive intervention or aid, America could parachute “skilled political operatives” like Lansdale into dusty countries the world over to “subtly influence the course of an important, if obscure, conflict.” One cannot help but admire Boot’s wistful romance and self-delusion, reminiscent of Lansdalian plots to destabilize Castro with fireworks or win the Vietnam War with an accommodating soothsayer. Without a generous dose of realism and humility about the ultimate political forces driving an insurgency, Lansdalism risks turning into a kind of fantasy about plucky Americans manipulating local leaders with a wink and winsome smile (all for their own good, of course). Rather than his approach to counterinsurgency, Lansdale’s true enduring legacy may be his guileless optimism wedded to an unfalsifiable belief in the universal appeal of American political ideals. It is to Boot’s great credit that he has included enough unvarnished historical material that different interpretations of Lansdale’s life are available within the book itself. Outside of the sections on U.S. military operations in Vietnam, the biography gives a credibly balanced and detailed overview of the man’s complex life and times — not an easy feat. Boot is right that we have a lot to learn from Lansdale. Guided as he was by intuition, there is no doubt that Lansdale in practice was superior to Lansdale in theory. And no one can argue that in America’s counterinsurgencies we have spent too much time listening to “the natives,” lavished too many resources attempting to force actual reform, or hewed too closely to our traditional democratic and constitutional principles. It’s similarly hard to argue with Lansdale’s and Boot’s belief that the civic action approach to counterinsurgency is far less costly than any of the strategies the United States employed in Vietnam and Iraq. Despite the book’s shortcomings, in giving this extraordinary and inspirational American figure his due, Boot has done us all a service. Jon Askonas is a predoctoral fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin and a DPhil Candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the relationship between organizational adaptation and post-war “forgetting,” using case studies from U.S. Army efforts in Vietnam and Iraq.   Flickr: Rocklin Lyons [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: Lost Opportunities in Vietnam [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-lost-opportunities-in-vietnam [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 12:57:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 16:57:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 161 [1] => 162 [2] => 163 [3] => 165 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For an overview of such arguments, see Gary R. Hess, Vietnam: Explaining America’s Lost War (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2009). [2] An old but fascinating account of these charges is Jeffrey P. Kimball, “The Stab-in-the-Back Legend and the Vietnam War,” Armed Forces and Society 14, no. 3 (Spring 1988): 433-458. [3] Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). [4] Harry G. Summers Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1982). [5] Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1999). [6] Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). [7] Especially Max Boot, Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 2002). [8] Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (New York: Liveright, 2018). Max Boot, interview by David H. Petraeus, New York Historical Society, New York, Jan. 9, 2018, [9] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 311. [10] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 234. [11] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 209. [12] W.W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1960). [13] Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), 86. Similarly, Jessica M. Chapman argues that a closer reading of Vietnamese sources “suggests that politico-religious leaders acted more rationally than Lansdale presumed.” In Jessica M. Chapman, Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, The United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 77. [14] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 281. [15] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 367. [16] Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 76. [17] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 475. [18] COMUSMACV to CINCPAC, “Concept of Operations—Force Requirements and Deployments, SVN,” June 13, 1965, in The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking in Vietnam [Senator Gravel ed., 5 vols.] (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971-1972), IV: 606. [19] The best one-volume account of allied pacification plans remains Richard A. Hunt, Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds (Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1995). [20] Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire,” The Weekly Standard, Oct. 15, 2001, [21] Edward T. Linenthal, “Anatomy of a Controversy,” in History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, eds. Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), 62. [22] Spc. Noelle Wiehe, “1st SFAB combat advisor teams train for upcoming Afghanistan deployment,” U.S. Army, Jan. 16, 2018, [23] Stephen Biddle et al., “Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Effectiveness of Security Force Assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies 41, no. 1-2 (2018): 89-142; Walter C. Ladwig, III, “Influencing Clients in Counterinsurgency: U.S. Involvement in El Salvador’s Civil War, 1979-92,” International Security 41, no. 1 (Summer 2016): 99-146. [24] Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977); D. Michael Shafer, Deadly Paradigms: The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Benjamin Schwarz, American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador: The Frustrations of Reform and Illusions of Nation Building (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 1991). [25] William E. Odom, On Internal War: American and Soviet Approaches to Third World Clients and Insurgents (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991). [26] Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2018); Max Boot, “Win The War on Terror with Lansdale’s Cold- War Era ‘Friendly Persuasion,’” USA Today, Jan. 9, 2018, [27] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 122-124, 138. [28] Charles T.R. Bohannan, “Antiguerrila Operations,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 341, no. 1 (May 1962), 21. [29] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 211. [30] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 602. [31] Walter C. Ladwig, III, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relationships in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [32] Benedict J. Kerkvliet, The Huk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 164. [33] “Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Johnson), Sept. 6, 1950,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, East Asia and the Pacific, Volume VI, Doc. 837, [34] Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 107. [35] David Wurfel, “Foreign Aid and Social Reform in Political Development: A Philippine Case Study,” American Political Science Review 53, no. 2 (June 1959): 466. [36] Walter C. Ladwig III, “When Police are the Problem: The Philippine Constabulary and the Hukbalahap Rebellion,” in Policing Insurgencies: Cops as Counterinsurgents, ed. C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 24-25. [37] Myron M. Cowen, Letter to Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, Feb. 18, 1952, Box 6, Myron M. Cowen Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, [38] Douglas J. Macdonald, Adventures in Chaos: American Intervention for Reform in the Third World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 326. [39] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 113; Cecil B. Currey, Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1989), 84. [40] Oral History Interview with John F. Melby, Truman Library & Museum, Nov. 21, 1986, 239, - 239. [41] The Chargé in the Philippines (Chapin) to the Secretary of State, Jan. 5, 1951, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, Asia and the Pacific, Vol. VI, Part 2, [42] Chargé in the Philippines to the Secretary of State. [43] Macdonald, Adventures in Chaos, 152. [44] Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 133. [45] Macdonald, Adventures in Chaos, 155. [46] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 162-163. [47] For mention of the repeated attempts to replicate the Philippines template in Vietnam, see David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), 126; Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 240; Nick Cullather, Illusions of Influence: The Political Economy of United States-Philippines Relations, 1942-1965 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 98. [48] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 110-112. [49] Macdonald, Adventures in Chaos, 183. [50] Biddle et al., “Small Footprint, Small Payoff,” 98-101; Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 22-51. [51] Carmen M. Alston, “Adverse Selection,” Encyclopedia Britannica, [52] Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 28. [53] Daniel L. Byman, “Friends Like These: Counterinsurgency and the War on Terrorism,” International Security 31, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 79-115. [54] Bryce Denno, “Senior Officer Debriefing Reports: Vietnam War, 1962–1972,” July 19, 1963, Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA, [55] Denno, “Debriefing Reports.” [56]  For studies of U.S.-Vietnamese relations, particularly in the context of security force assistance, see Ronald H. Spector, Advice and Support: The Early Years, 1941-1960 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1983); Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 67-107. [57] Bernard Trainor and Michael Gordon, The End Game: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (London: Atlantic Books, 2015), 290-292. [58] Linda Robinson, Tell Me How This Ends: General David Patraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009), 36. [59] George W. Bush, Decision Points, (New York: Random House, 2010), 362. [60] Bush, Decision Points. [61] Peter Beinart, “The Surge Fallacy,” The Atlantic, Sept. 2015, [62] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 599. [63] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 602. [64] Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2018), 15. [65] Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013); Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007). [66] Boot, The Road Not Taken, XVLII. [67] Boot, The Road Not Taken. [68] Max Boot, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 27, 2017, [69] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 73. [70] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 67. [71] Boot, The Road Not Taken. [72] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 68. [73] Boot, “White Privilege.” [74] Boot, “White Privilege,” 67. [75] Heather Stur, Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 58. [76] Boot, The Road Not Taken, 69. [77] Boot, The Road Not Taken. [78] Key works that explore orientalism in a U.S. context include: Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999); Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2008); Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [79]  Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (New York: Liveright, 2018), 601-602. [80] Boot, Road Not Taken, 76. [81] Andrew Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2006), 58. [82] Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009), xiv-xv. [83] Boot, Road Not Taken, 405. [84] Boot, Road Not Taken, 602. [85] Walter Ladwig III, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relationships in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2017). [86] Jon Askonas, “A Vicious Entanglement, Part IV: If Only the North Vietnamese Had Read Galula,” Oct. 6, 2017, [87] Daddis has written a trilogy of books dismantling the notion that a simple focus on “the conventional war” or on the use of force is to blame for America’s loss in Vietnam: No Sure Victory (2011), Westmoreland’s War (2015), and Withdrawal (2017), all Oxford University Press. [88] Boot, Road Not Taken, 470. [89] Boot, Road Not Taken, 529. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Mark Atwood Lawrence 2. Vietnam and the White Man's Burden, by Gregory A. Daddis 3. Friendly Persuasion Is not Enough: The Limits of the Lansdale Approach, by Walter C. Ladwig III 4. The Woman Question in Max Boot's Tale of Edward Lansdale, by Heather Marie Stur 5. Everything but Politics: America's Counterinsurgency Blindspot, by Jon Askonas ) ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 503 [post_author] => 147 [post_date] => 2018-02-28 12:36:48 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-28 17:36:48 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Debating the Role of Extended Nuclear Deterrence in East Asia

By Matthew Fuhrmann Extended nuclear deterrence remains central to world politics in light of growing concerns about Chinese, North Korean, and Russian ambitions. Terence Roehrig’s new book, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella contributes to the scholarship on this important issue.[1] The book provides a helpful overview for anyone seeking to understand the dilemmas that the United States faces when attempting to protect allies with nuclear threats, especially when it comes to Japan and South Korea. Roehrig’s central argument is that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not especially useful for deterring attacks because nuclear threats lack credibility. Nevertheless, the American nuclear umbrella remains significant in East Asia because it reassures allies and promotes nonproliferation. The contributors to this roundtable recognize the value in Roehrig’s book but also highlight some of its limitations. Their reviews raise important questions that carry implications for both alliance politics and nuclear proliferation. The degree to which readers agree with Roehrig’s arguments may depend on their general attitudes about the role of nuclear weapons in international relations. Some scholars and policymakers believe that the world would be safer if countries placed a smaller emphasis on nuclear weapons. Many individuals in this camp embrace the “global zero” movement — an international campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons — and the 2017 treaty that bans nuclear weapons.[2] Another school of thought suggests that nuclear weapons should not be eliminated because they produce desirable political effects, at least for the countries that possess them. In this view, having a reliable nuclear arsenal allows the United States to deter attacks with greater ease, while without it, major war would be more likely. This roundtable captures unique views about the (dis)utility of nuclear weapons. Two commentators, Crystal Pryor and Eric Gomez, argue that Roehrig may place too much emphasis on nuclear forces. Pryor questions whether the benefits of the U.S. nuclear umbrella outweigh the costs. She accepts Roehrig’s argument that U.S. nuclear threats lack credibility in the context of extended deterrence. Yet Pryor challenges the notion that U.S. nuclear forces reassure officials in Seoul or Tokyo. She points to many other factors that keep both of these countries nonnuclear, including international norms, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and American coercive pressure. Moreover, the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear umbrella is dangerous, Pryor argues, because it raises the risk of catastrophe due to miscalculation. She therefore concludes that the United States should consider eliminating the nuclear dimension from its alliances with Japan and South Korea. Both the United States and its allies might be better off if they downplayed the role of nuclear weapons in their alliance relationships. Gomez reaches a similar conclusion, albeit for slightly different reasons. He argues that conventional capabilities, especially precision strike weapons and ballistic missile defense systems, can take the place of U.S. nuclear forces. As U.S. allies develop these capabilities, the need for the U.S. nuclear arsenal may diminish. To substantiate this argument, Gomez considers three conflict scenarios where the U.S. defense commitment might come into play: Chinese occupation of islands in the East China Sea, a North Korean invasion of South Korea, and Pyongyang’s first use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. nuclear umbrella is most relevant for the third scenario, according to Gomez, yet it may not even be effective in deterring a North Korean nuclear attack. He concludes that nuclear weapons “should not be an albatross around the neck of America’s security policy in East Asia.” The other reviewers (Christopher Twomey and Andrew O’Neil) are more sanguine about the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in East Asia. They suggest, contrary to the other commentators, that Roehrig understates the potential significance of the American nuclear umbrella in extended deterrence. Twomey suggests that U.S. nuclear weapons could be relevant for counterforce missions against North Korea, given the difficulties in locating and destroying Pyongyang’s missiles and other relevant military technology. He also cites evidence suggesting that Japanese and South Korean officials believe that U.S. nuclear forces enhance extended deterrence — not just symbolic reassurance — even though those weapons may be used under extreme circumstances only. Twomey also posits that nuclear weapons are more likely to enter the fray in a dispute over Taiwan than in Japan or South Korea, a topic Roehrig does not extensively analyze in his book. O’Neil likewise maintains that nuclear weapons are more relevant to the landscape in East Asia than Roehrig’s book leads us to believe. Roehrig’s argument that extended deterrent nuclear threats lack credibility rests, in part, on the existence of a nuclear taboo — the strong opprobrium of nuclear first use.[3] O’Neil is less convinced that normative aversion to using nuclear weapons renders them ineffective for extended deterrence in East Asia. He substantiates this argument by highlighting the apparent weakening of the nuclear taboo during the Trump administration. Recent experimental evidence supports this view, showing that the American public is less averse to nuclear first use than previous research would lead us to believe.[4] O’Neil also worries more than Roehrig about the possibility of independent nuclear arsenals in East Asia. Despite the presence of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, he argues, Japan and South Korea may seek their own nuclear weapons as North Korea’s nuclear capabilities increase in the years and decades ahead. Whether or not one agrees with Roehrig’s argument, his book is an important part of the debate about the future of nuclear weapons. Ultimately, the contributions in this roundtable point out the need for more extensive research and thinking about the role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century.   Matthew Fuhrmann, PhD, is Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University. He is also an affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and a Carnegie Corporation of New York Andrew Carnegie Fellow (2016-18).

2. Nuclear Umbrella or Nuclear Albatross?

By Eric Gomez Despite stringent international sanctions, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have developed at breakneck speed and show no sign of slowing down. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” approach to the problem has little to show besides growing fear of a U.S. preemptive strike and a war of words between two colorful leaders. Yet North Korea’s ability to hold the United States homeland at risk with a nuclear weapon raises important questions about the future of extended deterrence commitments and especially the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan.[5] China’s growing military power also presents a serious, albeit less urgent, challenge to extended deterrence. Improvements in weapons technology, extensive organizational reforms, and assertive moves in disputed areas like the South China Sea stoke regional fears that China’s rise may not be peaceful. As Beijing narrows the local balance of power gap with the United States, security commitments made by Washington decades ago could become harder to maintain.[6] A relatively calm U.S.-China relationship suggests a very low probability of a serious crisis for the foreseeable future, but U.S. policymakers must keep this long-term challenge in the back of their mind as they contend with the immediate crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Both the North Korea and China challenges make Terence Roehrig’s book, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, a valuable tool for American analysts grappling with questions of extended deterrence in an increasingly volatile Northeast Asia. The book opens with an excellent summary of deterrence theory before laying out the history of the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Japan and South Korea. Roehrig uses this accessible blend of theory and history to explore the future of both extended deterrence and the nuclear umbrella. Although Roehrig treads somewhat cautiously in his analysis, and has left some important strategy and policy debates under-discussed, his is an otherwise exceptional book that offers a great starting point for future research. Roehrig makes two important arguments about the nuclear umbrella and the role it plays in extended deterrence. First, he argues that “The nuclear umbrella [over Japan and South Korea] likely does little to deter anything other than nuclear war, because threats to use nuclear weapons…are simply not very credible.”[7] During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were the best way for the United States and its allies to offset the large militaries of North Korea and China. Today, however, modern conventional weapons provide the United States and its allies with other means for countering quantitatively superior adversaries without the same need for nuclear weapons. As Roehrig writes, “The United States has numerous, potent conventional options that would have similar strategic effects [as nuclear weapons] on an adversary and would be highly credible.”[8] Roehrig does acknowledge that the destructive power of nuclear weapons coupled with ambiguity over the conditions that would lead to their use may be valuable for deterrence, but the book’s core take-away is that the nuclear umbrella is real but is not, in the end, credible for its primary purported aim of deterrence. Second, Roehrig argues that the nuclear umbrella is vital for alliance reassurance and for maintaining a generally strong relationship with Japan and South Korea. He writes, “Despite the significant credibility problems of nuclear weapons in extended deterrence…the nuclear umbrella is an important political signal that reflects and helps buttress the overall health of the alliances.”[9] According to Roehrig, closing the U.S. nuclear umbrella would likely have greater costs than benefits. Tokyo and Seoul are highly sensitive to U.S. actions that weaken the nuclear umbrella. For example, Roehrig argues that Japanese analysts and officials were very concerned by the Obama administration’s decision to retire the Tomahawk Land-Attack Nuclear Cruise Missile (TLAM/N) in the early 2010s.[10] He also notes that South Korea embarked on a covert nuclear weapons program in the 1970s after regional events — the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and rapprochement with China — called into question the reliability of the nuclear umbrella.[11] Closing the nuclear umbrella at a time of intense uncertainty would likely exacerbate regional tension despite the fact that the U.S. pledge to use nuclear weapons is so difficult to make credible. As Roehrig states, “To remove the umbrella based on the lack of credibility may be a serious negative political signal and a modification of the status quo that would be very disturbing to allies.”[12] Thus the United States finds itself in a strategic catch-22. It is practically impossible for Washington to make the nuclear umbrella credible as a deterrent due to the military and reputational problems attendant with nuclear use, so allies can never be completely reassured. However, if Roehrig’s assessment is correct, the costs of abandoning this dubious position would likely outweigh the benefits. While Roehrig does a commendable job explaining the current state of extended deterrence and the nuclear umbrella, his analysis does not dive deeply enough into what the future may hold. On the whole, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella is a valuable resource for understanding how these three countries arrived at the current moment. Yet Roehrig misses an opportunity to discuss in detail some important issues related to extended deterrence that could have major policy implications in the years to come. For starters, the U.S. nuclear umbrella is not the only component of America’s extended deterrence commitments to Japan and South Korea. Yet Roehrig only briefly touches upon this fact in the book.[13] A strong Japan and South Korea armed with conventional precision strike and ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities could reduce the relative importance of the nuclear umbrella in extended deterrence. While the U.S. nuclear umbrella may still be valuable for deterring the use of a nuclear weapon, it is substitutable. Eventually, stronger U.S. allies could enable Washington to adopt a more restrained force structure and strategy in East Asia. Japan and South Korea are making significant investments in conventional strike and BMD that bolster their contribution to extended deterrence, with each country emphasizing different capabilities based on their particular threat perceptions. Tokyo’s close cooperation with Washington on BMD was prompted by North Korean satellite launches and ballistic missile tests that flew over Japanese territory. This emphasis on BMD fits into Japan’s defensively-oriented military posture and the importance Tokyo places on close cooperation with the United States as part of its overall defense strategy. The Japanese military is also improving its conventional strike capabilities, though these developments are in a much earlier stage compared to BMD cooperation with the United States.[14] Moreover, while North Korea provides the immediate impetus for Japan’s pursuit of conventional strike capabilities, the long-term threat they are intended to counter is China.[15] Tokyo does not want a defense posture independent of the United States and places great emphasis on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but even historically pacifist Japan realizes it must play a greater role in providing for its own defense as regional threats grow more serious.[16] By contrast, South Korea’s approach to conventional strike and BMD is driven entirely by North Korea. Recent developments in its defense posture stress independence from, rather than integration with, the United States. After North Korean military forces sank a South Korean warship and shelled an offshore island in 2010 “[South Korean] leaders…concluded that to deter North Korea from further provocations, it needed to have its own capability to strike targets throughout [North Korea].”[17] South Korea now possesses an impressive array of conventional ballistic and cruise missiles and has developed two operational concepts that call for early strikes against North Korean leadership targets, missile sites, and the city of Pyongyang in the event of a conflict.[18] South Korea can, in theory, use these conventional strike forces unilaterally. Roehrig notes this, stating that “…South Korea is not reliant solely on U.S. conventional strike or the nuclear umbrella to preempt or retaliate.”[19] However, South Korea’s conventional strike capability depends on U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for targeting. Until Seoul develops more sophisticated ISR, its strike capability will not be fully independent from the United States. South Korea’s search for military options independent from the United States extends to BMD. Seoul is anxious to develop indigenous BMD systems, and has repeatedly rejected invitations to integrate its capabilities with American and Japanese systems. This does not mean that South Korea will go it alone completely on BMD; Seoul has participated in training simulations with the United States and Japan and hosts a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery near the city of Seongju. But South Korea’s longstanding antipathy toward Japan makes it wary of becoming enmeshed in a regional BMD architecture that links its fate to its former colonial overseer. Three Overlooked Scenarios While Roehrig’s book is a good foundational text on modern extended deterrence in Asia, it fell short in addressing the three most likely conflict scenarios that could invoke U.S. extended deterrence commitments: China establishing military control over disputed islands in the East China Sea; a North Korean invasion of South Korea; and the first use of a nuclear weapon by North Korea. In each scenario, the political and psychological rationales that Roehrig establishes for maintaining the nuclear umbrella persist, but he does not address the declining relative importance of U.S. nuclear weapons as South Korea and Japan develop their ability to implement deterrence by denial using conventional capabilities and BMD. Only in the third scenario does the U.S. nuclear umbrella offer unique deterrence value, and even there it generates risks of its own. East China Sea One of Japan’s most pressing short-term security challenges is maintaining its control over islands in the East China Sea that China also claims. While the possibility of China initiating a large-scale conflict against Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands is unlikely, lower-level friction is entirely plausible. As Roehrig states, “Conflict in gray zones…is of greater concern, along with the possibility that a small-scale or accidental clash could escalate.”[20] Beyond traditional war, Japanese strategists have been preoccupied deterring lower-level aggression in general, and they specifically seek to deter a fait accompli in which China seizes disputed territory and threatens escalation should Japan try to restore the status quo ante. The U.S. nuclear umbrella is ill-suited for deterring such gray-zone scenarios in the East China Sea. It strains credulity to think U.S. leaders could convince Beijing that it will use nuclear weapons to prevent or reverse the seizure of uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea. According to Daryl Press’s book on credibility, “Leaders assess the credibility of threats by comparing the expected costs of carrying out those threats against the interests at stake.”[21] Press’s views on credibility have been overturned in recent years by new research, but none of the new literature disputes his emphasis on the balance of interests for making credible threats.[22] The U.S. nuclear umbrella plays no plausible role in a gray-zone scenario involving Chinese aggression in the East China Sea because the U.S. stake in uninhabited rocks is too negligible to risk Chinese nuclear retaliation. As Fiona Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel’s work on China’s nuclear strategy argues, “[Chinese analysts] implicitly assume that the stakes would be too low for the United States…and that Washington would either restrain or abandon its allies if defending them gave rise to a situation in which the United States would need to threaten to use nuclear weapons.”[23] While the U.S. nuclear umbrella offers little protection in an East China Sea scenario, improved conventional strike capabilities would allow Japan to implement a deterrence-by-denial approach much more credibly. As Roehrig explains in his chapter on deterrence theory, “Deterrence by denial seeks to defeat an attack or…to make an aggression so costly that it would not be worth attacking in the first place.”[24] Intelligence gathering assets, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles stationed on nearby Japanese islands, and maritime patrol ships and aircraft would make it very difficult for China to covertly seize territory and would provide highly credible non-nuclear options for defending Japanese territorial claims. Beijing does possess a quantitative advantage in ships and aircraft, but Tokyo does not need parity with China to effectively impose high military costs that could deter Chinese overreach. A North Korean Invasion The U.S. nuclear umbrella is also unnecessary to deter a North Korean invasion of South Korea due to Seoul’s increasingly powerful conventional forces. South Korea’s geography creates predictable invasion routes that are heavily fortified by American and Korean troops who have had years to train for stopping such an invasion. Moreover, South Korea’s offensive conventional strike capability allows it to hold North Korean leadership targets at risk with weapons that would almost certainly be used in the event of an invasion. Roehrig states, “It is not clear that [North Korea] is any more deterred by the threat of nuclear weapons than it is by the likelihood of an overwhelming conventional response that would have the same strategic effect.”[25] Roehrig points out that the U.S. nuclear umbrella “adds another layer of punishment” for North Korea should it invade, but Washington would probably hesitate to make good on its nuclear threats. Putting aside the reputational and normative costs of violating the nuclear taboo, there are strong operational downsides to using nuclear weapons in an invasion scenario that Roehrig does not emphasize enough. A U.S. nuclear attack meant to blunt an invasion would necessarily entail strikes against North Korean troops near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) because this is where the majority of troops are permanently deployed. Fallout from these strikes would be a major hazard to both civilians close to the DMZ (Seoul is only 35 miles away) and defending allied troops. The contamination caused by nuclear strikes against North Korean targets in the country’s interior would kill civilians, complicate a conventional counter-attack into the North, and make post-conflict stabilization more dangerous.[26] While it is impossible to prove a negative in this case — that is, that the U.S. nuclear umbrella does not deter a North Korean invasion — the conventional superiority of U.S. and South Korean forces represents a more credible and effective deterrent than that umbrella. North Korean Nuclear First-Use Of the three scenarios examined here, the U.S. nuclear umbrella is probably most valuable for deterring North Korea from resorting to nuclear first-use, but even under this scenario the umbrella is hardly an unmitigated good. The logic of the nuclear umbrella for deterring a nuclear strike by North Korea rests on punishment. If Kim Jong Un uses a nuclear weapon first, he would be inviting U.S. nuclear retaliation in kind, as well as, in all likelihood, the end of his regime. Yet consider for a moment the technical characteristics of North Korea’s nuclear forces and its unfavorable military balance vis-à-vis the United States. In this context of nuclear and conventional inferiority, its nuclear weapons should be most valuable for heading off a U.S. preemptive strike against its nuclear forces and political leadership.[27] The U.S. nuclear umbrella may be a credible deterrent, but it may also indirectly fuel a North Korean escalatory first-strike strategy if conflict breaks out. In other words, it is just as likely that North Korean nuclear first-use prevents U.S. nuclear retaliation by raising the stakes of an ongoing conflict. The United States may be able to soothe Pyongyang’s itchy trigger finger by adopting a “no first-use” pledge, but, as Roehrig shows, ambiguity over nuclear first-use is a defining feature of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.[28] It is also unclear whether North Korea would believe such a U.S. pledge. Preventing a Nuclear Liability The U.S. nuclear umbrella should not be an albatross around the neck of America’s security policy in East Asia. As Tokyo and Seoul improve their conventional military capabilities, the relative importance of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for deterring many types of regional conflicts should decrease. Stronger Japanese and South Korean conventional forces could more credibly deter a variety of likely conflict scenarios than nuclear weapons, and the United States should encourage allies to take up more of the burden for regional security. If the United States is able to place greater responsibility for deterring conflicts on the conventional prowess of its allies, it could then afford to scale back its own force posture in East Asia and pursue a more restrained regional strategy.[29] Roehrig offers persuasive insights into why scrapping the nuclear umbrella is inadvisable, but neither should U.S. strategy hinge on a tool that cannot credibly address the region’s most important challenges.   Eric Gomez is a policy analyst for defense and foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute.

3. The Nuclear Umbrella is Necessary, But Is It Adequate?

By Andrew O’Neil These days it is hard to believe, but less than ten years ago, a number of observers were predicting the gradual demise of extended nuclear deterrence. The heady rhetoric surrounding President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech,[30] calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, encouraged a climate in which advocates of disarmament optimistically foreshadowed the declining currency of nuclear weapons. Implicit in this vision was a conviction that America’s closest allies had a responsibility to disavow the nuclear umbrella in order to strengthen global momentum for disarmament. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review[31] and preceding Congressional Strategic Posture Commission[32] provided a key reality check on this assumption. Both reviews revealed an intense anxiety on the part of policymakers in Japan and, to a lesser extent, South Korea over whether the Obama administration would move to enshrine a sole-purpose commitment — that the United States would only use nuclear weapons in response to others’ nuclear use — in U.S. nuclear doctrine.[33] This anxiety stemmed from two specific concerns. The first was operational in nature. Defining the circumstances in which the United States would not use nuclear weapons was seen as detracting from the strategic ambiguity underpinning extended deterrence, a vagueness that U.S. allies preferred. For Japanese strategists in particular, keeping Chinese and North Korean planners guessing over the “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear responses to provocations was one of the key ways extended deterrence worked. Removing this through a sole-purpose declaration was therefore seen as operationally sub-optimal. The second was related to existential worries over the long-term credibility/reliability of the American nuclear umbrella and the broader alliance security commitment of the United States. While proponents of a sole-purpose declaration argued that it would send a critical signal about the decreasing value of nuclear weapons in international relations, and would serve to further deflate proliferation pressures, most U.S. allies were ambivalent. For Japan and South Korea, the nuclear dimension of security reassurances from Washington was (and still is) seen as a sign of the greater depth of U.S. commitment to their security. Put another way, the U.S. willingness to consider using nuclear weapons in defense of its allies — and in the process exposing the American homeland to retaliation — deepens the credibility of U.S. security guarantees in the eyes of those allies. Japanese officials made it clear to U.S. policymakers that a sole-purpose policy would be received negatively in Tokyo. Even Australia, which for some time has declared that only a nuclear attack on Australia would activate the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conveyed its unease to Washington over the prospect of a no-first-use commitment, noting that, as a valued ally, it expected to be “consulted closely on the specific details” before any decisions were made.[34] America’s alliances with Japan and South Korea are not the only ones the United States has in Asia. However, they remain the most important alliances for two key reasons. The first is that the depth of the political ties and operational commitments underpinning both alliances is arguably only surpassed by the institutional depth of NATO. The second reason is that both of these U.S. allies confront immediate, and potentially intractable, threats to their security from the world’s newest nuclear power that also happens to be the world’s most aggressive and unpredictable state — North Korea. In his outstanding new book, Terence Roehrig explores the underlying dynamics of the nuclear dimension of the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) alliances.[35] Given how central the nuclear umbrella is to America’s alliances in Asia and Europe, it is striking how few high-quality, contemporary accounts of this kind have been published. Along with Brad Roberts’ 2016 book[36], Roehrig’s new work, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War, represents the most significant contribution to the literature on extended nuclear deterrence in recent years. Using a wide variety of sources, and drawing on his high-level knowledge of the topic, Roehrig provides a comprehensive account of the Cold War experience, the contemporary threats “that drive the nuclear umbrella,” Japanese and South Korean perceptions of extended nuclear deterrence, and U.S. capabilities, doctrine, and force planning. In light of the Trump administration’s haphazard approach to alliance management, the mixed signals Trump himself has been sending regarding the “value” the United States gains from its allies, and the administration’s apparently more permissive attitude toward the possibility of nuclear proliferation on the part of Japan and South Korea,[37] the publication of Roehrig’s book is exquisitely timed. Yet, the book’s contemporary relevance does not detract from the depth of historical awareness that informs its analysis. Roehrig rightly acknowledges that the origins and early days of the nuclear umbrella in Northeast Asia continue to shape the dynamics of extended nuclear deterrence relationships with Japan and South Korea today. Because of its ability to reach back into history, contextualize the present, and envision a series of future scenarios, this is a book that will make a significant and lasting contribution to our understanding of the nuclear umbrella. Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella is underpinned by three interlocking arguments. The first is that, while the nuclear umbrella is real in the sense that the United States maintains the systems and strike capabilities to use nuclear weapons in defense of its allies, it is highly unlikely that any American president would authorize the execution of such a mission. The second argument is that the nuclear taboo is still pervasive in U.S. thinking despite America maintaining the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal, and notwithstanding some of the Trump administration’s muscular rhetoric in relation to the role of nuclear weapons in American strategy. The third argument is that, paradoxically, although the credibility of the American nuclear umbrella is low, its existence helps demonstrate U.S. commitment to its Asian allies, including persuading allies to forgo the option of obtaining a nuclear arsenal themselves. It’s Unlikely any U.S. President Would Authorize a Nuclear Strike in Defense of Japan or South Korea Roehrig finds implausible any scenario in which a U.S. president launches a nuclear strike in response to an armed attack by North Korea or China. This is not due to a lack of commitment to defend South Korea or Japan. On the contrary. According to Roehrig, the extraordinary conventional strike power of U.S. forces will more than adequately do the job of inflicting unacceptable damage on any state that attacks an American ally, irrespective of whether this attack involves the use of nuclear weapons: “Given the power and precision of U.S. conventional weapons, their use can have strategic effects similar to nuclear weapons, and threats to use them are far more credible.”[38] This argument has understandable appeal for many strategists. Indeed, it pivots off Thomas Schelling’s timeless distinction “between national homeland and everything ‘abroad’ [being] the difference between threats that are inherently credible, even if unspoken, and the threats that have to be made credible.”[39] At the same time, Roehrig’s argument goes to the heart of a concern on the part of many policymakers in allied capitals that the United States may fail to live up to its rhetorical assurances in the moment of truth. They worry that everything would not be on the table in the event of war, which would fundamentally contradict and undermine long-standing U.S. assurances to close allies, in Europe as well as Asia. These assurances, while at times ambiguous, have nevertheless been predicated on an assumption that a nuclear attack on an ally would almost certainly trigger a nuclear response. Such an assumption is built into NATO’s military doctrine and has been a key feature of alliance discussions in Northeast Asia over several decades. In the entirely plausible event that North Korea initiates the use of nuclear weapons against the South, there would be significant pressure for a matching response, irrespective of whether conventional forces could deliver equivalent devastation. As perverse as it may sound, a U.S. president would face compelling incentives to respond in-kind to a nuclear attack on Japan or South Korea in order to uphold the credibility of America’s alliance commitments worldwide, especially those in Europe. Any decision by a U.S. president not to respond in-kind to a North Korean nuclear attack would probably spell the end of the nuclear umbrella in Europe and raise serious questions about the very future of the NATO alliance. A legitimate question would be whether the United States intended to take the same approach in the event Russia launched a nuclear attack on a NATO ally. Senior U.S. officials undoubtedly appreciate the wider implications and costs of non-use in such circumstances, and this would certainly influence the equation of any decision-making process following a North Korean nuclear strike on Japan or South Korea. The Nuclear Taboo Remains Pervasive in U.S. Thinking The tradition of nuclear non-use is said to be a strong thread running through American strategic policy. As the only state to have fired nuclear warheads at another nation, the United States faces perhaps unique normative constraints in using nuclear weapons. Roehrig argues that,
U.S. [nuclear] use, especially first use, but also in retaliation, would lower the firewall and make it more difficult to begin rebuilding nuclear norms so that others did not resort to nuclear weapons too quickly in the future against either the United States or another country…Washington would be setting a precedent for the utility and acceptability of using nuclear weapons.[40]
In the context of its alliances with Japan and South Korea, from Roehrig’s perspective, this logic remains just as compelling. There can be little doubt that the tradition of U.S. nuclear non-use is rooted in a normative aversion to repeating Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, it is important not to exaggerate the influence the nuclear taboo will have over U.S. decisions going forward. Since the Eisenhower administration, U.S. nuclear doctrine has swung between high-barrier and low-barrier approaches to nuclear use. We now appear to be entering a period when those barriers are being lowered even further. Coming on the heels of President Trump’s thinly-veiled nuclear threats against North Korea throughout 2017, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review endorses an unprecedentedly permissive approach to nuclear employment. This includes reference to nuclear use in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” that encompass attacks on U.S. and allied infrastructure in addition to civilian populations and command and control assets.[41] Said to reflect President Trump’s personal views on the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in the broader menu of U.S. military options, the 2018 review indicates a significant watering down of the nuclear taboo. Under an administration that has demonstrated a blatant disregard for global norms and an absence of integrated strategic thinking when it comes to America’s role in the world, Roehrig is perhaps overly optimistic regarding what he portrays as a fixed normative aversion to nuclear use in U.S. policy. Despite the Lack of Extended Nuclear Deterrence Credibility, It Still Reassures Allies Strategic policy is full of paradoxes, and even contradictions. So Roehrig’s argument that Japan and South Korea remain reassured by a nuclear umbrella that lacks credibility should not be dismissed. He maintains that “despite questions of credibility, an uncertain umbrella retains value as a deterrent.”[42] Because adversaries like North Korea can never be sure that the United States will not use nuclear weapons, it retains a useful effect as a deterrent. With respect to the more difficult proposition of reassuring allies of the credibility of the nuclear umbrella, Roehrig maintains that it is important to contextualize this in terms of the levels of confidence in the broader U.S. security commitment: “So long as both allies retain confidence in the overall U.S. defense commitment and the costs of going nuclear are sufficiently high, Japan and South Korea will continue their nonnuclear status.”[43] Again, Roehrig may be taking his optimism too far here. As he acknowledges, domestic calls for an indigenous South Korean nuclear force have become more bullish as Pyongyang has doubled down on its nuclear program. In Japan, pressures to proliferate have historically been more of a slow burn. Yet, those pressures should not be underestimated in light of North Korea’s propensity to leverage its nuclear force for coercive purposes and China’s expanding strategic footprint.[44] Japanese policymakers watch U.S. nuclear behavior with rapt attention and remain highly sensitive to any indication Washington may be watering down its extended deterrence commitments. In Seoul, anxiety over U.S. abandonment persists in parallel with concerns about potential decoupling (due to the Trump administration’s tendency to fixate on the North Korean threat to the U.S. mainland).[45] As North Korea’s capacity to strike targets in Northeast Asia with nuclear weapons becomes increasingly likely, an uncertain nuclear umbrella may no longer be adequate to contain those domestic pressures in Tokyo and Seoul to obtain their own nuclear arsenal. In other words, assumptions about “the nuclear umbrella being ‘good enough’ when it is part of a strong, credible alliance may not stand the test of time.”[46]   Andrew O’Neil is Professor of Political Science and Dean in the Business School at Griffith University. Before joining academia in 2000, he worked as a strategic analyst with Australia’s Department of Defence.

4. Is it Time to Rethink the "Nuclear" in "Nuclear Umbrella"?

By Crystal Pryor The concept of extended deterrence — the threat of retaliation to dissuade adversaries from attacking allies — has been central the United States’ relationships with many of its treaty allies since the Cold War. While the concept itself is fairly straightforward, whether and how extended deterrence works is more complicated. The success of extended deterrence has always depended on credibility, which itself is based on two factors — capability and resolve. The United States has long had the capability to use nuclear weapons in defense of its allies, but whether it has the resolve to do so, particularly against another nuclear-armed adversary, is another question entirely. Scholars have yet to reach a consensus on how a state can best convince both friends and adversaries that it possesses that resolve.[47] The threat environment in contemporary Northeast Asia has reignited a discussion about the relevance and credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. China’s growing military capabilities pose one kind of challenge. But it’s the possibility that North Korea might be able to reach the United States with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that has led to doubts about U.S. credibility in Japan and South Korea. During the Cold War, a common question was whether the United States would trade Paris or Berlin for New York or Washington. Today, it is whether the United States will trade Seattle or Los Angeles for Seoul or Tokyo. In the so-called second nuclear age,[48] policymakers are again raising fears of the United States “decoupling” from its alliances. Decoupling represents the breakdown of extended deterrence, in which the United States backs away from its commitment to its allies’ security (or allies break away from the United States). President Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and policies have accentuated these concerns. In such a context, it is worth noting that Terence Roehrig’s latest book, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War, is the only comprehensive text exclusively focused on Japan and South Korea’s relationship to the U.S. nuclear deterrent.[49] As the policy world agonizes over the future of a nuclear Asia, Roehrig’s book is a welcome addition as a scholarly reference on this topic. The primary dilemma he addresses is the continued centrality of the nuclear umbrella for the United States and its allies despite the very low probability of it ever being employed. Roehrig puts forward several interconnected arguments: First, the umbrella is an important signal to allies and adversaries, and a key part of the region’s security architecture. Second, withdrawing the nuclear umbrella would disrupt security relations with U.S. allies. Third, the existence of the nuclear umbrella, even with a miniscule likelihood of use, deters would-be attackers. And fourth, the nuclear umbrella limits the spread of nuclear weapons. Some of these arguments have greater merit than others, but on the whole they tend to justify, rather than scrutinize, the received wisdom on nuclear deterrence. Differential Threat Perceptions Among Allies The book’s greatest strength is as a useful reference for understanding the role of the U.S. nuclear umbrella in Japan and South Korea. In comparing the two countries, Roehrig explains the differential threat perceptions of North Korea and China in Japan and South Korea, respectively. While Japan and South Korea both view North Korea as a threat, it is a more palpable challenge to South Korea given their shared border. As for China, Japan — unlike South Korea — views it to be a regional rival. As Roehrig notes, China is South Korea’s largest trading partner by far and also holds at least some of the cards with respect to North Korea. He offers an illustrative example of the Japan and South Korea’s divergence on China in his discussion on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Japan has funneled billions of dollars to jointly develop BMD with the United States. Meanwhile, China is concerned that U.S. deployment of BMD in the region is undercutting its strategic deterrent, and that North Korea simply serves as a convenient excuse.[50] In deference to China’s warnings, and despite the threats it faces from North Korean missiles, South Korea has been a reluctant participant in U.S. BMD efforts, instead developing its own capability called Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD). Japan and South Korea also differ in their stance on possessing nuclear weapons. In light of the growing threats from North Korea, many South Koreans have called for re-deployment of U.S. tactical weapons or even development of South Korea’s own nuclear arsenal.[51] Japanese people, in contrast, have retained what might be described as a “nuclear allergy,” due to their experience during World War II.[52] While the average Japanese citizen is opposed to the introduction or development of nuclear weapons, Roehrig details the secret agreements made between the Japanese government and the U.S. government on nuclear weapons, as well as the Japanese elite’s desire to maintain breakout capability through a civil nuclear program. According to Roehrig’s sources, Japan maintains its civil nuclear capability — even after the 2011 Fukushima disaster — at least in part for the latent ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Why Not Use the Nuclear Umbrella? Despite the existence of the nuclear umbrella, the United States is very unlikely to use nuclear weapons in defense of its Asian allies. Roehrig highlights several reasons why the United States would hesitate to use nuclear weapons in a conflict with North Korea, even in response to a nuclear attack. Militarily, the residual effects of nuclear strikes against North Korea would complicate South Korea-U.S. military actions, follow-on operations, and occupation. Regionally, dangerous residual effects would spill across borders into South Korea, China, and Russia. Due to its mountainous geography, an effective attack against North Korea would require the use of many nuclear weapons in a confined space. The fallout from these detonations would affect civilians in North and South Korea and likely civilians in neighboring countries as well. Roehrig also discusses the “nuclear weapons taboo,” the international norm against the use of nuclear weapons.[53] He argues the United States would face high reputational costs for using nuclear weapons, even if it were responding to North Korean first use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Strategically, using nuclear weapons sets a dangerous precedent, especially in first use, but also in retaliation. Finally, using nuclear weapons would complicate nonproliferation efforts because it would not only make future use more acceptable, but other countries might also seek to develop nuclear weapons as a result. Smaller countries like North Korea already see nuclear weapons as a great equalizer. The United States’ use of nuclear weapons in war would legitimate them and make them appear even more valuable. Roehrig says the United States can avoid all of these pitfalls and drawbacks by instead using its precise and lethal conventional weapons, which it currently maintains in the region and beyond. After developing the various arguments for not using nuclear weapons against North Korea, the most pressing security threat in Asia, Roehrig emphasizes that it is even more difficult to envision a scenario involving the use of nuclear weapons against China. Therefore, the nuclear umbrella, rather than intended for use in war, “is part of a broad effort to deter the use of nuclear weapons, provide reassurance to Japan and South Korea of the U.S. defense commitment, contribute to overall credibility of the alliance, and convince Tokyo and Seoul that they do not need their own nuclear weapons.”[54] What Good Are Unusable Weapons? Roehrig claims the nuclear umbrella reassures Japan and South Korea and symbolically enhances those alliances, but is it really what keeps Tokyo and Seoul from developing their own nuclear weapons? What about the cost of development and maintenance of nuclear weapons, or international opprobrium for violating the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons?  The decision to pursue nuclear weapons would also mean renouncing a security guarantee of protection with unparalleled U.S. conventional capabilities. Roehrig largely avoids discussing these potential explanations for why Japan and South Korea have not gone nuclear. Relatedly, the proffered U.S. nuclear umbrella was not likely the main driver for Australia (which is not discussed in the book) to forego nuclear weapons capability.[55] Furthermore, as the book acknowledges, the main challenge in the region today lies not in outright war but rather in the so-called gray zone — encompassing China’s actions in the South and East China Seas and North Korean cyberattacks — activities that can escalate to war if managed poorly. Roehrig writes that, “In the end, the nuclear umbrella likely does little to deter anything other than nuclear war…”[56] Therefore, vaunting the nuclear umbrella in the face of gray-zone contingencies does not deter them, but instead heightens the risk of miscalculation on both sides. For example, a cyberattack against critical infrastructure in the region could quickly escalate to full-blown conflict. The nuclear umbrella would not stop this escalation, and if nuclear weapons were ultimately used in retaliation, the effects to the region would be devastating. President Trump is currently engaged in a (rhetorical) campaign of “fire and fury” — not steady assurance to either allies or adversaries — that itself may spiral into serious consequences. Also troubling is the potential for an “emotional” response to an attack against the United States or its allies that leads the U.S. president to use nuclear weapons.[57] Doubling down on the nuclear umbrella in response to North Korea’s (or China’s) provocative actions, as Roehrig suggests, sends the wrong signal, and in fact risks leading to an unintended nuclear war over a small-scale incident. Roehrig, therefore, fails to convince skeptics that the United States’ Asian allies are safer under the nuclear umbrella than without it. Relying on Nukes to Prevent the Spread of Nukes? Roehrig believes the promise of the nuclear umbrella keeps nuclear proliferation at bay, yet acknowledges a real tension between the umbrella and stated nonproliferation goals. He addresses this issue in the context of President Barack Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons,[58] along with shifts in U.S. nuclear force posture. There is also discord between the nuclear umbrella and Japan’s so-called nuclear allergy, as well as its professed commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Japan is the only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against it in war. As such, its support of any movement to abolish nuclear weapons globally is essential. Yet Japan’s emphasis on the nuclear umbrella undermines its ability to unequivocally advocate for nuclear abolition. If Japan did not seek cover under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, it could be a stronger voice against nuclear weapons. The problem with emphasizing extended nuclear deterrence is that it makes nuclear weapons seem more important than they are. Roehrig asserts that U.S. nuclear promises have many benefits, including preventing Japan and South Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons of their own, but he does not actually demonstrate as much. The more the United States, Japan, and South Korea emphasize the importance of nuclear weapons for deterrence, the more that weaker or threatened countries such as North Korea will want them. The U.S. nuclear umbrella inevitably generates pressures to develop weapons elsewhere. After all, the umbrella preceded North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Finally, if the nuclear umbrella were retracted today but the alliances remained solid, it is unlikely that Japan and South Korea would invest in building nuclear weapons anew — particularly if doing so directly threatened their alliance with the United States. In exchange for closing the nuclear umbrella, the United States can invest in various diplomatic initiatives and conventional military mechanisms to reassure its allies. Time for a Nuclear Pivot The time has come to move away from Cold War thinking. Models of deterrence that were relevant then should not be applied wholesale to the modern nuclear age. First, there is a dramatic difference between the former Soviet Union and North Korea or China today. The nuclear umbrella does not have the same relevance now as it did during the Cold War, when it was intended to protect U.S. allies against an overwhelming Soviet nuclear attack. In any future contingency in Asia, the United States is much more likely to draw on BMD and conventional weapons than nuclear weapons. Second, the commitment to maintaining the nuclear umbrella has negative implications for arms control, such as in Russia, because it creates incentives for the United States to resist a further draw-down of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Third, with the passage of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, states under the nuclear umbrella find themselves in a quandary.[59] Japan, for one, advocates a world without nuclear weapons, but also demands protection based on them. The Japanese people will eventually hold its policy elite to account for this hypocrisy. Disarmament advocates can build on Roehrig’s assessment of the dubious credibility of nuclear deterrence in Asia to reach the conclusion that the United States should retract the nuclear umbrella, rather than maintain it as he prescribes. If the world would be a safer place with fewer nuclear weapons, the United States can get the ball rolling by eliminating an already empty promise to use nuclear weapons in Asia. Japan and South Korea can assist global processes of nuclear disarmament by shifting their attention to the more realistic elements of their alliances with the United States, like BMD and conventional deterrence, and by continuing to publicly foreswear the development of nuclear weapons.   Crystal Pryor is program director and research fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. Before joining Pacific Forum CSIS, she held a postdoctoral fellowship in the U.S.-Japan relations program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. Dr. Pryor is currently focusing on nonproliferation in Asia while developing a research agenda on cybersecurity policy. Dr. Pryor received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Washington, master’s degrees in political science from the University of Washington and the University of Tokyo, and B.A. in international relations with honors from Brown University.

5. Stable Umbrellas: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

By Christopher P. Twomey Strategic rivalry in Northeast Asia is likely to be a major source of security tension in the 21st century. Beyond the major implications stemming from North Korea’s increasingly robust arsenal, long simmering security tensions among China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are deepening the nuclear element in their competition. Terence Roehrig’s new book is a useful resource for understanding precisely what the book’s title describes: Japan, South Korea, and the United States’ Nuclear Umbrella.[60] While cognizant of the challenges posed by strategic dynamics in Asia and noting tremendous impediments to nuclear retaliation in the face of an attack on U.S. allies, Roehrig is nevertheless optimistic about the positions of United States, South Korea, and Japan. Throughout the book, he evaluates a range of arguments advocating major shifts in U.S. and allied strategic postures, including the development of new, smaller nuclear weapons; the forward deployment of nuclear weapons ashore; and the indigenous development of such weapons in Tokyo or Seoul. In the end, Roehrig finds these arguments overstated and unnecessary. He concludes that under current U.S. posture, “…the nuclear umbrella remains an important political signal that is an integral part of regional security architecture.”[61] This insight about the viability of the current nuclear umbrella to regional stability is important, but hardly the book’s only contribution. Roehrig also provides a nice conceptual overview of extended deterrence and the challenges it raises, drawing constructively on recent work on reputations, credibility, and resolve — all without becoming excessively theoretic. But where the book proves most valuable is in providing a comprehensive compilation of policy statements and diplomatic engagement as expressions of U.S. extended deterrence commitments to Japan and, especially, South Korea.[62] The evolution of these policies is subtle and nuanced, and Roehrig’s meticulous analysis captures this well. While the book emphasizes declaratory policy, signaling, and diplomatic engagement, it contains solid discussions of related capabilities for all players. It also lays out the challenges posed by China’s military rise and evolving North Korean conventional and strategic capabilities.[63] Roehrig’s broadly positive message is reassuring. Still, if one explores the topic of nuclear weapons and extended deterrence in Asia beyond Japan and the Korean Peninsula, there is stronger grounds for pessimism about the region than his analysis concludes. So while this book is commendable in many respects, issues that it addresses only in passing — and sometimes not at all — are important in their own right and complicate the somewhat rosy picture that Roehrig conveys. But this is not to suggest Roehrig oversimplifies his analysis. The book superbly illustrates the importance of moving beyond analyzing countries in pairs (or “dyads”) when the reality of regional relations is much more intertwined. Without trivializing the differences between Japanese and South Korean circumstances, Roehrig notes “the nuclear umbrella for each U.S. ally is, in many respects, an interconnected commitment.”[64] He has done an excellent job examining one set of regional interactions in the nuclear (and missile defense) realms. But in so doing he has focused on the issues where there is more room for optimistic appraisal. The context of strategic rivalries outside Japan and South Korea, and extended deterrence in relation to new military technologies (like precision-guided munitions, low-yield nuclear weapons, space-based systems, and cyber weapons), introduces additional dangers unaccounted for in Roehrig’s analysis. Competitive relationships — not just cooperative ones — involve interconnected commitments, and Asia is rife with such complex interactions. U.S. behavior towards North Korea, for example, affects Chinese perceptions of crisis stability in its relationship with the United States. Japanese missile defense systems developed to face North Korea also complicate China’s strategic calculus.  And Pakistani nuclear modernization drives a response in India which has implications for China.[65] In other words, broadening the geographic and technical scope of analysis creates more grounds for pessimism. A Conventional Fight May Not Be Enough Central to Roehrig’s optimistic conclusion are his assumptions about the limited marginal contribution that new types of nuclear weapons, or changes in the current deployment pattern of nuclear weapons, make compared to advanced conventional capabilities. But that conclusion must be based partly on an evaluation of the conventional military balance. While Roehrig briefly notes challenges posed by China’s military modernization, much more could be said. For instance, U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea find themselves vulnerable to some coercive leverage since they fall within the range of China anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) weapons.[66] As China’s military modernization increases their vulnerability, it is likely that Chinese interests will evolve in a way that will clash with Japanese (and to a lesser extent, South Korean) interests.[67] While Asia hands commonly think of the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands as the most likely object of conflict between China and Japan, there are other potential battlegrounds that may be more problematic. One need not believe that Chinese geopolitical ambitions are insatiable[68] to recognize that China and Japan will differ on preferred outcomes regarding Taiwan, a unified Korea, the status of the South China Sea and its surrounding states, and other issues. As the shifting conventional balance facilitates expanding China’s interests in these areas, new areas for nuclear posturing and rivalry may develop. Beyond the implications of a deteriorating conventional military balance, other grounds for pessimism about Asia’s strategic future stem from the role of nuclear weapons during a hypothetical war in North Korea. Roehrig is certainly correct to assert that nuclear weapons, whether held by Washington, Seoul, or even Tokyo, would do little to address low-level provocations or gray-zone conflicts.[69] And while some loose talk in 2010 did connect those provocations to failures of strategic deterrence,[70] serious analysis would look elsewhere to explain those cases, such as North Korea’s willingness to take big risks. But deploying new types of U.S. nuclear weapons in unconventional ways might help address entirely different strategic goals, like preventing decoupling and advancing the counter-force mission. With the North Korean development of mobile missiles, at least those with regional range, the counter-force fight becomes dramatically more difficult. Were an intense conflict to break out on the Korean peninsula and include any significant North Korean use of WMD against either civilians or combatants, U.S. leaders (and their South Korean counterparts) would come under tremendous pressure to prevent further use. Given imperfect intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, knowing exactly where North Korean mobile missile launchers are will prove difficult at best. Relying on the precision of advanced conventional munitions in a degraded electromagnetic environment also has risks. Korea’s mountainous terrain further complicates such targeting. North Korea defense planners already make use of deeply buried bunkers for command and control of nuclear weapons, as well as for warhead storage. It also uses caves for “scoot and shoot” artillery tubes; some variation of this could similarly protect mobile nuclear launchers. While the use of U.S. nuclear weapons is far from a silver bullet against any of these tactics, small-sized nuclear weapons can have area effects that overcome imperfect ISR, modestly moved weapons, and penetration disadvantages against bunkered systems. Forward deployment of nuclear weapons, while perhaps raising some “use or lose” concerns that Roehrig correctly notes,[71] would also decrease the response time for their use in ways that can ameliorate some of the above North Korean advantages. One area for future research based on Roehrig’s work would be detailed net assessments of what an extensive conventional military conflict might look like and how nuclear weapons (particularly, lower yield ones) could contribute to it. Such a study should, in addition, build on the points that Roehrig develops regarding the added dangers of introducing weapons into such conflicts by, for example, exacerbating the problems of nonproliferation, expanding war to include other regional players, and maintaining proportionality for the sake of keeping conflict limited. Taiwan and the Nuclear Umbrella Roehrig’s work could also be expanded to take into account the position of Taiwan. All studies are, by necessity, limited in scope. However, follow-on work relating to Taiwan is needed for several reasons. Certainly, the Cold War-era parallel between Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea warrants some discussion: All three were treaty allies in the 1950s-70s; all hosted U.S. nuclear weapons during the Cold War; and like South Korea, Taiwan had to be dissuaded from pursuing its own nuclear weapons. Today, like both Seoul and Tokyo, Taipei, finds itself on the weak side of a deteriorating conventional military balance vis-à-vis China. Although the U.S. security commitment to Taiwan today is vastly different than it was during the Cold War — not to mention from the commitments given to Japan and South Korea — the United States does nevertheless have “certain obligations” under the Taiwan Relations Act, obligations that are gaining particular emphasis today from the Trump administration. Roehrig makes a number of good points regarding the low stakes in conflicts over gray-zone crises, arguing that in the absence of an intense conventional fight, nuclear diplomacy should not be expected to play much of a role in such low-level regional conflicts.[72] But in any Taiwan conflict scenario, it gets much easier to imagine an intense conventional conflict that includes nuclear posturing in some way. Indeed, Taiwan’s political status is arguably the only plausible issue that would force conflict between the United States and China and involve nuclear posturing, or at least, it is the most plausible out of many implausible conflict-triggering issues. By extension, Taiwan is relevant to Roehrig’s study because a war there could very well drag Japan (and South Korea) in, despite their strong desires to stay out. Similarly, developing the capabilities necessary to intervene in any Taiwan conflict may drive the United States to think about its strategic posture in the region in the future. In that case, the capabilities the United States has in Asia for such a contingency would necessarily play some role in defining the context of Sino-American rivalry. Seoul and Tokyo have to assess alliance commitments in relation to that broader rivalry. As much as South Korea and Japan may want to avoid involvement in a Sino-U.S. conflict over Taiwan, their strategic position is affected by any U.S. engagement over Taiwan, and in the final disposition of such a conflict if it occurred. The Credibility Problem Finally, Roehrig’s differentiation between the credibility of the United States actually using nuclear weapons and the utility of the political symbolism of those weapons is a difficult contrast to draw. I have written myself of the ways that military organizational cultures can shape interpretation of the balance of power, so I am broadly sympathetic to this sort of argument.[73] Still, in this case (indeed, in any case) the source of that symbolism needs to be laid out explicitly: What does the nuclear umbrella commitment suggest or imply to whom, and why? Is this simply a matter of educating U.S. allies about the limited utility of nuclear weapons in these contexts (and as noted above, additional work is necessary on this score before one can conclusively assert such a claim)? Roehrig approvingly shares Dennis Healy’s famous quote that “5 percent credibility of American retaliation to deter… but 95 percent credibility to reassure [allies],”[74] which is intuitively appealing but not well validated through rigorous empirical study. Ally reassurance is a task that falls primarily to diplomats, even when military capabilities are involved. Deterrence of adversaries — and sending the corresponding signals — tends to rely more directly on military capabilities per se. Furthermore, at least some Japanese and South Korean officials expect that there are circumstances in which nuclear weapons would be used.[75] Those circumstances are no doubt exceedingly narrow. But it is the existence of such scenarios that makes extended nuclear deterrence credible, not purely their symbolism. This review has highlighted areas where additional work can build on the robust foundation Roehrig lays down in his carefully structured and clearly argued book. Roehrig’s study highlights the complexity of interactions in this issue area and the widening scope of the challenges it poses.  If policymakers err in managing these relationships — both in deterrence and assurance — the scale of the ensuing catastrophe will be appalling.   Christopher P. Twomey, PhD, is an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of The Military Lens: Doctrinal Differences and Deterrence Failure in Sino-American Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). The views expressed in this review are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent any U.S. official policy or assessment. Image: Wikimedia Commons [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: The Future of Extended Deterrence [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-future-extended-deterrence [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 13:02:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 17:02:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Our reviewers respond to Terence Roehrig's new book, "Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella," and ask some tough questions about the purpose and future of extended deterrence. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 147 [1] => 148 [2] => 149 [3] => 150 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Terence Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence after the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [2] For an overview of this debate, see George Perkovich and James M. Acton, eds., Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A Debate (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2009). [3] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007). [4] Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” International Security 42, no. 1 (2017), 41-79. [5] Benjamin Haas, “South Korean Media Call for Country to Build its Own Nuclear Weapons,” The Guardian, Sept. 4, 2017,; Mira Rapp-Hooper, “Decoupling is Back in Asia: A 1960s Playbook Won’t Solve These Problems,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 7, 2017, [6] Eric Gomez, “A Costly Commitment: Options for the Future of the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Relationship,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 800, Sept. 28, 2016. [7] Terence Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 187. [8] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 156. [9] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella. [10] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 110–111. [11] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 126, 148. [12] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 36. [13] On Japanese efforts, see Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 116–120. On South Korean efforts, see Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 140–145. [14] Franz-Stefan Gady, “Japan’s Defense Ministry Confirms Plans to Buy Long-Range Stand-off Missiles,” The Diplomat, Dec. 11, 2017, [15] Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki, “Japan Plans Missile to Test Chinese Strategy in East China Sea,” Financial Times, Aug. 17, 2016,; Clint Richards, “Japan’s New Remote Island Defense Plan,” The Diplomat, Aug. 13, 2014, [16] Jennifer Lind, “Japan’s Security Evolution,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 788, Feb. 25, 2016. [17] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, 142. [18]Franz-Stefan Gady, “South Korea to Build New Ballistic Missile Targeting North Korea,” The Diplomat, Oct. 23, 2017,; Jun Ji-hye, “3 Military Systems to Counter N. Korea: Kill Chain, KAMD, KMPR,” The Korea Times, Nov. 1, 2016,; Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, 141-143. [19] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 143. [20] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 64. [21] Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 25. [22] Van Jackson, Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Alex Weisiger and Keren Yarhi-Milo, “Revisiting Reputation: How Past Actions Matter in International Politics,” International Organization 69, no. 2 (March 2015): 473-495. [23] Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel, “Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability,” International Security 40, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 35. [24] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 15. [25] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 185. [26] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 188-190. For a more sympathetic assessment of the effects of nuclear strikes against North Korea see Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 9-49, especially 27-32. [27] Vipin Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t Be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” The Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017, [28] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 183. [29] Ted Galen Carpenter and Eric Gomez, “East Asia and a Strategy of Restraint,” War on the Rocks, Aug.10, 2016,; Barry Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [30] Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague as Delivered, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009, [31] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010, [32] William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger, America’s Strategic Posture: The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009). [33] See Andrew O’Neil, Asia, the US and Extended Nuclear Deterrence: Atomic Umbrellas in the Twenty-First Century (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 66, 90-91. [34] Department of Defence, “Australian Position on the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review,” (Attachment A), Aug. 6, 2009, 4. [35] Terence Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [36] Brad Roberts, The Case for US Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016). [37] Van Jackson, “Let’s Make a (Nuclear) Deal: Bargaining, Credibility, and the Third Offset Strategy,” Contemporary Security Policy 38, no. 1 (2017): 35–40. [38] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 181. [39] Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 36. [40] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 171. [41] U.S. Department of Defense,  Nuclear Posture Review, Jan. 2010, [42] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 197. [43] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 197–98. [44] David W. Kearn, “China’s Expansion in the South China Sea: A Return to Great Power Politics,” HuffPost, June 12, 2015, [45] For a good analysis of this phenomenon, see Mira Rapp-Hooper, “Decoupling is Back in Asia: A 1960s Playbook Won’t Solve These Problems,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 7, 2017, [46] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 197. [47] For arguments that question the significance of reputation or credibility, see Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threat (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2005); and Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996). For a more recent rejoinder suggesting that reputation, and more specifically, resolve matters in international affairs, see Alex Weisiger and Keren Yarhi-Milo, “Revisiting Reputation: How Past Actions Matter in International Politics,” International Organization 69, no. 2 (2015): 473-95. For the role of reputation in U.S.-North Korea relations, see Van Jackson, Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). [48] See, for example, James R. Holmes, “The Second Nuclear Age,” The Diplomat, Oct. 16, 2012,; and Gaurav Kampani and Bharath Gopalaswamy, Asia in the ‘Second Nuclear Age,’ Atlantic Council, 2017, [49] Terence Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [50] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 118. [51] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “A History of US Nuclear Weapons in South Korea,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73, no. 6 (2017): 349–357, doi:10.1080/00963402.2017.1388656. [52] See Maria Rost Rublee, “The Future of Japanese Nuclear Policy,” Strategic Insights 8, no. 2 (April 2009): 4, [53] Nina Tannenwald, “The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use,” International Organization 53, no. 3 (Jan. 1999): 433–468, doi:10.1162/002081899550959. [54] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 175. [55] See Christine M. Leah and Crispin Rovere, “Issue Brief #1 — Chasing Mirages: Australia and the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella in the Asia-Pacific,” Wilson Center, Mar. 11, 2013, [56] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella,187. [57] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 179. [58] Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague as Delivered, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009, [59] “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, [60] Terence Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella: Deterrence After the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017). [61] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea, and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 9-10. [62] There is probably more to say about South Korea in the strategic realm, given Japan’s nuclear allergy and the more proximate threat faced by Seoul. Still, interesting work in English suggests some reason for further concerns in the Japanese case: Satoshi Machida, “Who Supports Nuclear Armament in Japan? Threat Perceptions and Japan’s Nuclear Armament,” Asian Journal of Political Science 22, no. 2 (May 4, 2014): 128–46. [63] Although not his primary goal, the study would have benefited from more discussion on the evolving nuclear strategy for China, e.g., as done in Michael S. Chase and Arthur Chan, “China’s Evolving Strategic Deterrence Concepts and Capabilities,” The Washington Quarterly 39, no. 1 (Jan. 2, 2016): 117–36. Roehrig is on solid ground building from Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel, “Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability,” International Security 40, no. 2 (Oct. 1, 2015): 7–50. But there is more movement apparent in Chinese doctrine even in their perspective. This contributes to his somewhat overly optimistic conclusions, as discussed below. [64] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 183. [65] My own work on such interlocking effects is presented in Christopher P. Twomey, “Asia’s Complex Strategic Environment: Nuclear Multipolarity and Other Dangers,” Asia Policy, no. 11 (2011): 51–78. [66] And Taiwan as well; see discussion below. The best discussion of this is found Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia,” International Security 41, no. 1 (July 2016): 7–48. [67] On the recent shifts in the military balance between the U.S. and China in potential areas of contestation, see Eric Heginbotham et al., The US-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017 (Rand Corporation, 2015). [68] And I certainly do not. M. Taylor Fravel and Christopher P. Twomey, “Projecting Strategy: The Myth of Chinese Counter-Intervention,” The Washington Quarterly 37, no. 4 (Jan. 10, 2015): 171–87. [69] On the enduring utility of gray zone strategies, see Van Jackson, “Tactics of Strategic Competition: Gray Zones, Redlines, and Conflicts before War,” Naval War College Review 70, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 39-61. [70] Gordon Chang, “The Failure of Deterrence in Korea,” World Affairs, March 26, 2013 [71] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 147. [72] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 186. [73] Christopher P. Twomey, The Military Lens: Doctrinal Differences and Deterrence Failure in Sino-American Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). [74] Roehrig, Japan, South Korea and the United States Nuclear Umbrella, 194. [75] The extensive advanced fuel cycle work in Japan and South Korea are important tangible expressions of nuclear signaling in those countries, emphasizing their ongoing concerns Tristin Volpe conceptualizes such programs as supporting “latent” nuclear capabilities that generate significant political benefits. Tristan A. Volpe, “Atomic Leverage: Compellence with Nuclear Latency,” Security Studies 26, no. 3 (July 3, 2017): 517–44. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Table of Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Matthew Fuhrmann 2. Nuclear Umbrella or Nuclear Albatross? by Eric Gomez 3. The Nuclear Umbrella Is Necessary, But Is It Adequate? by Andrew O'Neil 4. Is It Time to Rethink the "Nuclear" in "Nuclear Umbrella"? by Crystal Pryor 5. Stable Umbrellas: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? by Christopher P. Twomey ) ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 468 [post_author] => 137 [post_date] => 2018-02-13 04:00:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-13 09:00:33 [post_content] => According to most theories of nuclear proliferation, North Korea did not stand much of a chance of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons. As an economically backward, neopatrimonial regime subject to the threat of preventive strikes and war, North Korea should have failed. Few theories gave it a sporting chance of successfully nuclearizing. Yet here we are, staring down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-sized barrel of the world’s 10th nuclear weapons power.[1] 2017 was a banner year for the North Korean nuclear weapons program, as Kim Jong Un sprinted to develop a range of missile capabilities — including a credible ICBM capability — and a thermonuclear weapon. A program that was once derided as a joke, especially after its first purported nuclear test in 2006, is now anything but that. Why did academic theories of nuclear proliferation so seriously underestimate North Korea, and how should we adjust our theories to better account for future nuclear proliferators, so that we do not repeat that mistake? Understanding why academic theories failed to forecast North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is important for reasons of both policy and scholarship. From a policy perspective, theories of proliferation ideally would help governments forecast the most probable future proliferators, such that decision makers could design effective policy interventions ahead of time, either to help forestall acquisition or prepare for its consequences. The fact that academic theories generally failed to predict North Korean acquisition calls into question whether they can reliably serve this sort of role. From a more parochial scholarly perspective, identifying why academic theories failed to forecast North Korean acquisition of nuclear technology is important, particularly in the context of the recent “renaissance” of nuclear security studies.[2] Given the large sums of money and human effort that have gone into studying nuclear proliferation in the last decade, the academic community needs to be clear and accountable in identifying not only our advances, but also our failures and blind-spots. We begin this article by tracing North Korea’s nuclear program through time, discussing the various moments when it began, halted, and could have been potentially stopped, and then, finally, taking a look at its final sprint to the nuclear weapons finish line. We then take stock of how various theories of nuclear proliferation fared in predicting North Korea’s success in acquiring nuclear weapons. Few fare well, particularly those theories that focused on North Korea’s security environment, access to technology and foreign supplies, and regime type. Theories examining North Korea’s orientation toward the international economy and the United States fare better, but even these do not provide full explanations for North Korean behavior. Next, we discuss how to move forward as a research program, given that nuclear proliferation is both a rare event and not a fully predictable process. This is not a call to abandon current theories of proliferation by any means, but is instead intended as a wake-up call — academic theories underestimated North Korea, and they therefore need to be adjusted to take into account what we have learned from this failure. Specifically, we argue that academic theories should reconsider the role of threats of military force, economic development, foreign technological support, and regime type, and place greater emphasis on the ability of proliferators to prevent or withstand the pressure of coercive nonproliferation measures. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for nonproliferation policy, arguing that the North Korea case underlines the limits of export control policies and unilateral sanctions, the importance of timely policy intervention and inducements, and the fragility of nonproliferation bargains to domestic political dynamics.

A Brief History of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

The Early Years: January 1960-January 1992 North Korea’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons began in the early 1960s, when it requested Soviet and Chinese help with developing a nuclear weapons program. Both declined, but Moscow agreed to train North Korean nuclear scientists and help Pyongyang develop a peaceful nuclear program. After China tested its first nuclear device in October 1964, North Korea approached Beijing with another request for aid in nuclear weapons development, which was again refused. Over the next decade and a half, North Korea continued unsuccessfully to seek nuclear assistance from abroad, including from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and, again, from the Soviet Union and China. By the end of the 1970s, North Korea decided to pursue a program on its own, with Kim Il Sung ordering the development of a gas-graphite reactor at Yongbyon, which could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.[3] North Korea deliberately chose a reactor design that used natural uranium and did not require heavy water, thus minimizing dependence on external supplies.[4] Indeed, in describing North Korea’s program more than a decade later, a U.S. official observed, “Of all the nuclear weapons programs in the Third World, this is the most indigenous.”[5] By the mid-1980s, the reactor at Yongbyon was complete. Meanwhile, the United States and Soviet Union began to take notice of North Korea’s suspicious nuclear activities. In 1985, at Washington’s urging, Moscow convinced North Korea to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in exchange for a Soviet agreement to provide power reactors.[6] In September 1986, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report concluded that, “whether [or not] the current nuclear developments in North Korea reflect a nuclear weapons program, they represent a considerable developing capability.” However, the same report noted, “If North Korea intends to pursue a nuclear weapons program, it has made its job much more difficult by signing the NPT.”[7] By 1988, despite having signed the NPT, North Korea still had not reached a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Meanwhile, signs emerged that Pyongyang might be building a reprocessing facility, which could be used to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel. This combination of red flags led the CIA to observe that “close scrutiny of the North’s nuclear effort is in order,” even though it admitted, “we have no evidence that North Korea is pursuing a nuclear weapon option.”[8] The following year, after a Washington Post story drew attention to North Korea’s reprocessing facility and potential nuclear weapons program, North Korea publicly denied that it was seeking nuclear weapons.[9] Around this time, the U.S. government concluded that North Korea was indeed pursuing nuclear weapons.[10] That conclusion was bolstered by evidence that North Korea was testing sophisticated conventional explosives at Yongbyon, indicating that Pyongyang could be developing an implosion-type nuclear weapon.[11] Over the next two years, North Korea’s sense of insecurity sharpened, as its Soviet ally collapsed and both Russia and China sought to improve relations with Seoul. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia worked to convince North Korea to accept IAEA safeguards. But Pyongyang demanded the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the peninsula along with a negative security assurance as a precondition for accepting any such safeguards.[12] When the IAEA Board passed a resolution in September 1991 calling on North Korea to implement a safeguards agreement, a North Korean official suggested his government would only do so if the U.S. “nuclear threat” dissipated and “if the pressure put upon us is removed.”[13] [quote id="1"] A few weeks later, as part of an initiative to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal globally as the Cold War wound down, President George H.W. Bush announced that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons would be withdrawn from foreign bases. This led the North Korean government to announce, “If the United States really withdraws its nuclear weapons from South Korea, the way of our signing the nuclear safeguards accord will be opened.”[14] U.S. government officials around this time also were considering an initiative whereby both South and North Korea would be asked to commit to not reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which would help address proliferation risks but would go beyond North Korea’s obligations under the NPT.[15] U.S. nonproliferation efforts finally bore fruit in late 1991, when North Korea agreed to accept IAEA safeguards and reached an agreement with Seoul under which the two countries pledged not to develop nuclear weapons.[16] The leaders of North and South Korea also agreed to a nonaggression pact.[17] The nuclear agreement, formally concluded in January 1992, additionally required the two Koreas to refrain from enrichment, reprocessing, and hosting nuclear weapons, to be verified by bilateral inspections.[18] In the same month, as a gesture of good will toward Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul announced that they would cancel their joint military exercises for the year, leading North Korea to finally sign an IAEA safeguards agreement.[19] The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis: February 1992-May 1994 The momentum toward nonproliferation and improved relations on the Korean Peninsula did not last long. In February of 1992, as North Korea stalled on ratifying the safeguards agreement, U.S. officials warned that Pyongyang might only be a few months away from a rudimentary weapons capability.[20] Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence suggested that North Korea was continuing construction on its reprocessing facility, hardening it against potential attack, and perhaps removing equipment prior to inspections.[21] In the spring of 1992, North Korea finally ratified the safeguards agreement, submitted its declaration of nuclear activities to the IAEA, and allowed inspections, but this only roused further concerns. Inspectors uncovered several inconsistencies in the North Korean declaration, found evidence that equipment had been removed from the reprocessing plant (which North Korea had previously denied existed), and were refused access to several undeclared sites suspected of storing nuclear waste. IAEA analysts also determined that North Korea had likely produced more than the small amounts of plutonium to which it had admitted.[22] Over the course of that summer, the United States, Russia, China, and Europe all pressured North Korea to comply more fully with the IAEA. Meanwhile, China restored diplomatic relations with South Korea and Russia began to loosen ties with Pyongyang.[23] As an October 1992 U.S. Defense Department memo observed, “What is becoming clear is that North Korean non-cooperation is more evident as IAEA becomes more aggressive in its inspections.”[24] In early 1993, with the Clinton administration now in office, the United States and South Korea announced that they would hold their annual military exercise — which had been canceled the year before — making reference to North Korea’s lack of full compliance with the IAEA and North Korea’s failure to agree to a bilateral inspection regime with South Korea. For its part, the IAEA demanded that North Korea allow special inspections of its suspected nuclear waste storage sites, giving Pyongyang 30 days before it would refer the issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).[25] In March, as the military exercise began, North Korea declared it would withdraw from the NPT in 90 days, leading the IAEA Board of Governors to turn over the issue to the UNSC. After China signaled it would not support sanctions against North Korea, the United States again turned to diplomacy, offering to hold talks with Pyongyang on a range of issues — including military exercises, security assurances, and nuclear inspections — if it would be accommodating on the nonproliferation issue.[26] Although China opposed North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, it feared that strong sanctions might cause the regime to collapse, leading to a refugee crisis on its borders.[27] Over the summer of 1993, talks with the United States led North Korea to suspend its NPT withdrawal. The United States agreed to help North Korea acquire light-water power reactors in exchange for North Korea’s cooperation with inspections.[28] By the end of the year, however, North Korea was again dragging its feet on inspections, seeking a broader grand bargain with the United States as its price for cooperation.[29] At the same time, U.S. officials concluded that North Korea may have already acquired enough plutonium for a nuclear device,[30] causing the United States to try to line up support for sanctions at the United Nations, an effort again obstructed by China.[31] After North Korea agreed to allow new IAEA inspections in March 1994, the United States and South Korea announced that they would suspend their joint military exercises and hold additional talks with Pyongyang.[32] But North Korea blocked inspectors from visiting parts of its reprocessing facility at Yongbyon, leading the IAEA to pull out its team.[33] This, in turn, led Washington to cancel scheduled talks with North Korea, announce that it would indeed hold its military exercise with South Korea, and begin reinforcing its military posture in the region, including moving Patriot missile batteries to South Korea.[34] With North Korea warning that the peninsula was “on the brink of war,” China again signaled opposition to U.N. sanctions.[35] Soon thereafter, Secretary of Defense William Perry publicly stated that a military strike was a possibility if diplomacy and sanctions failed.[36] After another U.S. negotiation attempt failed, North Korea began unloading spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor,  laying the groundwork for the separation of additional plutonium. In June, IAEA Director Hans Blix declared that the agency had permanently lost the capability to verify whether North Korea had diverted nuclear materials for use in a weapons program. As tensions continued to rise, the United States proposed an arms embargo against North Korea at the United Nations, while both South and North Korea prepared for possible military conflict.[37] The Agreed Framework and its Demise: June 1994-March 2003 The North Korean nuclear crisis was only defused when former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea in June and met with Kim Il Sung. Carter identified a potential bargain that would involve the United States agreeing to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang in exchange for a North Korean commitment to allow IAEA inspections, to not refuel its reactor, and to refrain from further reprocessing of spent fuel.[38] A few weeks later, Kim Il Sung died and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il, who finished the nuclear negotiations his father had started.[39] In October 1994, after several months of negotiations, the United States and North Korea concluded the Agreed Framework. The deal required Pyongyang to freeze operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, agree to inspections, remain in the NPT, move toward implementation of the 1992 denuclearization pact with South Korea, and not reprocess any more spent fuel. In exchange, Washington agreed to provide North Korea with heavy oil, to help it acquire two light-water power reactors, and to move toward broader improvements in relations, including increased diplomatic contacts, removal of sanctions, a negative security assurance, and, ultimately, normalization of relations.[40] By the late 1990s, however, the Agreed Framework had run into difficulties. Partly due to congressional opposition, the United States was behind in delivering the promised benefits to North Korea.[41] In particular, the United States was late in starting construction on the light-water reactors and had been repeatedly late in providing oil. It also had lifted few sanctions and had maintained North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terror. Meanwhile, there were no substantial moves toward normalization.[42] Then, in 1998, the United States detected the construction of a large underground complex in North Korea, which officials worried might be a covert nuclear site.[43] That same year, North Korea tested a new medium-range ballistic missile, the Taepodong-1, firing it over Japan and into the sea.[44] The test was especially concerning because it indicated that North Korea would soon have the ability to target all of Japan.[45] Washington responded by threatening to scuttle the Agreed Framework, leading North Korea to allow an inspection of the underground site in question. Although no evidence of nuclear activity was found, U.S. intelligence soon began to notice indications that North Korea was procuring components for an enrichment program, possibly with aid from Pakistan.[46] Indeed, around this time, North Korea began receiving assistance in enrichment from the AQ Khan network.[47] Despite these challenges, a few signs of cooperation emerged at the tail end of the Clinton administration. Clinton put former Secretary of Defense William Perry in charge of coordinating North Korea policy, who worked toward renewed cooperation.[48] Instead of confronting North Korea over its rudimentary enrichment program and threatening to pull out of the Agreed Framework, the Clinton administration decided to pursue additional negotiated agreements. After all, North Korea had technically been complying with its obligations under the Agreed Framework, which focused on its plutonium program — a far bigger proliferation threat than its nascent enrichment program at the time.[49] In late 1999, Pyongyang agreed to a missile test moratorium in exchange for the easing of U.S. economic sanctions,[50] and in late 2000, the United States and Pyongyang held a series of high-level meetings, including a trip by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to North Korea to discuss the missile issue.[51] In December 2000, with his administration’s time running short, President Clinton decided to pause the negotiations, putting the ball in the court of the incoming George W. Bush administration.[52] [quote id="2"] The Bush administration, opposed to a policy of accommodation toward North Korea, initially halted negotiations and insisted on harsher terms, including broader inspection rights and limits on North Korea’s conventional force posture.[53] In October 2002, after the 9/11 attacks and North Korea’s inclusion in the Bush administration’s “Axis of Evil,” the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium enrichment program. Recriminations and threats between the two sides soon caused the Agreed Framework to break down, leading North Korea to kick out inspectors, withdraw from the NPT, and restart nuclear activities at Yongbyon.[54] The Bush administration, for its part, cut off oil shipments and suspended construction on light-water reactors in North Korea.[55] North Korean officials began citing U.S. military actions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq as justifying their need to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, there are indications that Kim Jong Il was seriously concerned about the prospect of U.S. military action in 2003.[56] Why did the Agreed Framework break down? It seems reasonable to conclude that both sides bear some of the fault. Although North Korea clearly violated at least the spirit of the agreement by starting a secret enrichment program, it is also clear that the United States was not following through on its own obligations. The key problem, as Siegfried Hecker points out, was that “Washington saw the Agreed Framework primarily as a nonproliferation agreement,” while North Korea “viewed the political provisions of the Agreed Framework, which called for both sides to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations, to be the heart of the pact.”[57] This fundamental asymmetry in how the Agreed Framework was understood may help explain both the failure of the United States to pursue broader improvements in relations in a timely fashion, as well as the North Korean decision to pursue an enrichment capability when the Agreed Framework was not playing out as it had envisioned. It also suggests that a desire for improved relations with Washington has been an important motivation for North Korean decision-makers, which perhaps implies that “carrots” are as or more important than “sticks,” in dealing with Pyongyang, a point we return to below. Crossing the Finish Line: April 2003-December 2017 Despite withdrawing from the NPT, North Korea continued to seek economic, diplomatic, and security benefits in exchange for limiting its program, threatening to test a nuclear device or export nuclear materials if its demands were not met.[58] While the Bush administration would not agree to these demands, it did begin negotiations with Pyongyang in the context of the Six-Party Talks, beginning in August 2003 and continuing until 2009. These talks were organized and hosted by China and also included South Korea, Japan, and Russia.[59] At the end of 2004, the IAEA Director concluded that North Korea likely possessed enough plutonium for four to six bombs.[60] The following year, U.S. intelligence detected the construction of a tunnel that could be used for a nuclear test, while Pyongyang continued to demand concessions from the United States, including the provision of power reactors, which had been promised in the Agreed Framework.[61] In September 2005, during the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks, North Korea committed in principle to denuclearization in exchange for political and economic concessions.[62] Nevertheless, despite this progress, the United States imposed sanctions on entities involved in North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and levied an array of financial sanctions intended to cut down on Pyongyang’s illicit economic activities.[63] In July of 2006, with the Six-Party Talks on hold due to North Korean opposition to America’s sanctions policy, Pyongyang tested six missiles, leading the UNSC to impose sanctions banning missile-related trade with North Korea.[64] In early October, North Korea warned it would soon conduct its first nuclear test, citing U.S. hostility and sanctions as justification.[65] A few days later, despite international warnings, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, although the low yield suggests the device did not work as intended, measuring less than one kiloton.[66] The UNSC responded by imposing new sanctions on North Korea, covering trade in armaments and luxury goods, although provisions allowing for the inspection of North Korean cargo were weakened by Russian and Chinese opposition.[67] Soon thereafter, at Chinese prodding, Pyongyang announced it would return to the negotiating table.[68] In February 2007, an agreement was reached by the six negotiating parties, which called on North Korea to freeze its plutonium program and accept inspections at Yongbyon in exchange for the lifting of certain U.S. sanctions, the provision of fuel oil, economic aid, Washington taking North Korea off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and movement toward normalization of relations with the United States.[69] After North Korea began to receive sanctions relief, it started to implement its side of the deal in the summer of 2007. The following summer, the Bush administration further eased sanctions, but stalled on removing North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.[70] In September, North Korea blocked IAEA inspectors from monitoring Yongbyon, displeased that the United States had not yet delivered some of the promised benefits.[71] After a deal was struck on verification measures the following month in exchange for North Korea’s removal from the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list, Pyongyang backtracked on the agreement, leading the United States to suspend the provision of fuel.[72] [quote id="6"] Tensions continued after the Obama administration entered the White House in 2009, with North Korea testing a Taepodong-2 missile in April of that year, which led the UNSC to tighten the enforcement of missile sanctions. North Korea responded by escalating the situation further, kicking out inspectors, pulling out of negotiations, and warning it would resume its nuclear program.[73] On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test, with a yield estimated between two and eight kilotons, leading the UNSC to pass additional sanctions, including a wider arms embargo and tighter financial restrictions.[74] The following year, Pyongyang revealed a centrifuge enrichment plant at Yongbyon, which could allow it to produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.[75] North Korea also committed two armed provocations in 2010, sinking a South Korean vessel and shelling the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.[76] For the duration of its time in office, the Obama administration adopted a policy of “strategic patience” toward Pyongyang, increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea in an effort to convince the regime to return to the negotiating table while hoping for a change in regime orientation. After Kim Jong Un succeeded his father in December 2011, the United States and North Korea reached the short-lived Leap Day Agreement in February 2012, whereby North Korea temporarily limited its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for economic aid, a deal that Pyongyang soon violated. From this point onward, North Korea declined to seriously negotiate, focusing instead on building up its nuclear and missile capabilities.[77] This uncompromising North Korean posture has continued under the Trump administration, which has adopted a strategy of both sanctions and threats of preventive military force.[78] Between 2010 and 2017, North Korea conducted four nuclear tests (one in 2013, two in 2016, and one in 2017). The most recent test, in September 2017, is estimated to have well exceeded 100 kilotons in yield, suggesting North Korea has developed a thermonuclear or boosted fission device.[79] During the same period, North Korea conducted more than 80 missile tests, including several that demonstrate the country’s ICBM capability, putting the U.S. homeland within striking distance.[80] In 2017, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that North Korea may possess as many as 60 nuclear weapons.[81] North Korea achieved this impressive progress in its nuclear and missile programs despite steadily increasing international sanctions pressure, including six rounds of U.N. sanctions and gradually escalating U.S. sanctions.[82] The most recent U.N. sanctions, passed in August and September 2017, prohibited the import of North Korean coal, iron, lead, seafood, and textiles, and limited North Korea’s ability to buy oil and refined petroleum.[83]  Yet these stronger measures have almost certainly come too late — no country has ever given up an indigenously developed nuclear arsenal of this size and sophistication.

How Did Academic Theories Perform?

Why North Korea pursued nuclear weapons is hardly a puzzle. The country finds itself in one of the most dangerous security environments in the world, facing a conventionally superior, nuclear-armed American-South Korean alliance on its borders. Since the end of the Korean War, which ended in armistice and not a peace agreement, both the North and the South have openly called for reunification. The pursuit of nuclear weapons — if it were successful — would provide North Korea with, at the very least, invasion insurance. This is not to say that there are not reinforcing domestic political motivations. Nuclear weapons have become a symbol of the Kim regime’s legitimacy and power. North Korea’s nuclear program also makes it far more relevant in global affairs than it otherwise would be, giving it a kind of status. But the primary motivation is security, to deter against a conventional invasion by the United States and efforts by South Korea to reunify the Korean Peninsula on Western terms. [84] It is somewhat surprising, then, that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons only popped on the radar screen of the United States intelligence community in the late 1980s. In 1982, a CIA report analyzing the next decade of nuclear proliferation concluded that, despite interest in reactors, “we have no basis for believing that the North Koreans have either the facilities or materials necessary to develop and test nuclear weapons.”[85] By the mid-1980s, however, North Korea’s development of a nuclear reactor started raising concern that Pyongyang might be pursuing nuclear weapons, though the intelligence community still doubted that North Korea would risk nuclear pursuit given its vulnerability and the prospect of reactive South Korean proliferation.[86] Twenty years later, North Korea would test its first fission device. Thirty years later, North Korea would undeniably become the world’s 10th nuclear weapons power. Few theories of nuclear proliferation, if any, gave North Korea a chance of reaching that milestone. Below, we catalog how academic theories fare in predicting North Korea’s chances of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons. To be clear, we focus on theories that purport to explain the acquisition of nuclear weapons (or lack thereof), as opposed to the related literature on why states pursue nuclear weapons. Moreover, we limit our discussion to theories that are intended to apply generally to all countries, as well as theories that are intended to apply to specifically to countries like North Korea. In other words, these are fair tests of the theories under consideration; we are applying the theories to a case in which they are intended to apply. [quote id="3"] Realist theories on nuclear proliferation assume that states acquire nuclear weapons for security purposes. Indeed, quantitative studies have found that states in enduring rivalries and with more military disputes are more likely to acquire nuclear weapons.[87] In their most extreme form, realist theories argue that if a state has a strong enough security imperative, nothing can stop them from acquiring the bomb. According to Kenneth Waltz, for example, “no country has been able to prevent other countries from going nuclear if they were determined to do so.”[88] Yet there is something fundamentally unsatisfying about this argument, since it is impossible to measure a state’s level of determination with any degree of certainty, thus rendering the theory tautological. If a state does acquire nuclear capabilities, it was really determined; if it does not, it must not have been very motivated. Moreover, there are many countries in highly threatening security environments that have pursued and not acquired the bomb, including South Korea, Taiwan, West Germany, Iraq, and Iran. The most complete realist model for what states might successfully acquire nuclear weapons is offered by Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro.[89] They argue that states must have both a willingness and opportunity to proliferate — that means they need a security motivation to proliferate, but the breathing room to do so without facing preventive war (or the credible threat of war) from an adversary. States without reliable allies will, therefore, be more willing to pursue nuclear weapons. This is where Debs and Monteiro place North Korea. They write:
Taking stock, our strategic theory of proliferation accounts for North Korea’s nuclearization. Pyongyang’s security concerns vis-à-vis the South and the United States, combined with the absence of a reliable ally since at least the end of the Cold War, account for Korea’s willingness to proliferate. Its ability to inflict high costs on its adversaries using conventional weaponry deterred counterproliferation military action, granting North Korea the opportunity to become, as of this date, the latest state to have built the bomb.[90]
At first glance, this appears to be a compelling argument; North Korea was strongly motivated by its security predicament to pursue nuclear weapons and was able to do so because it could deter counterproliferation efforts with its conventional threat to Seoul. Yet there are a couple problems with this argument. First, there are a variety of states with similar security motivations, but which failed to successfully acquire the bomb, for example Iran and Iraq. Both countries could hold valuable American allies or assets at risk conventionally, or even worse, with chemical weapons, if the United States attempted a preventive strike. Iraq and Iran (thus far) have failed to successfully acquire nuclear weapons, yet North Korea did. Second, when applied to North Korea, the argument relies on an almost circular claim that the U.S. was deterred from taking military action against North Korea because it never carried out a military attack. Yet the United States seriously considered ordering a military strike on the Yongbyon Reactor in 1994.[91] As Van Jackson demonstrates, North Korea perceived this as a credible threat due to a combination of factors, including U.S. military exercises with South Korea and the recent use of force in the Gulf War. Indeed, according to the testimony of defectors, Kim Jong Il (then head of North Korean military forces) “spent much of March 1993 in a military bunker, issuing commands to field units, a curious action if North Korea did not anticipate the possibility of conflict.”[92] The threat of military force, combined with Jimmy Carter’s intervention and the subsequent offer of inducements, led to the Agreed Framework, which successfully froze North Korea’s plutonium program. Certainly the potential for retaliation against Seoul induced caution in American decisionmakers, yet this is beside the point, since Debs and Monteiro’s theory requires only that the proliferator perceive a credible threat of force. North Korea also likely perceived a credible threat of force in 2003, as noted above, but persisted with its nuclear program anyway. Even this more complete security model does not explain how North Korea defied the odds, when other similarly vulnerable states — all of whom had the ability to lash out conventionally or with chemical weapons — failed to acquire nuclear weapons. A strict test of the preventive war mechanism would underestimate North Korea’s probability of acquiring nuclear weapons. A second family of theories focuses on the ability of authoritarian states to successfully manage a nuclear weapons program. In short, none of these models gave North Korea a fighting chance of succeeding. The most prominent example of this theory is Jacques Hymans’s work in Achieving Nuclear Ambitions.[93] Hymans argues that authoritarian regimes, especially neopatrimonial regimes — where networks based on personal ties make up the regime and its power base — are particularly bad at managing complex projects such as nuclear weapons programs that require cooperation and coordination between scientists, industrial and engineering organizations, and the military. Dictatorships are often too paranoid and incompetent to successfully manage such projects, according to Hymans. [quote id="4"] North Korea is the poster boy for this theory. Hymans argues that North Korea “is the ideal-typical case of neopatrimonialism,” where top-down meddling in programs makes it ripe for spectacular failure in projects as complex as nuclear weapons.[94]At the time his book was published, in 2012, Hymans denied that North Korea was actually a nuclear weapons power. He wrote that the October 2006 nuclear test “was an embarrassing technical failure”[95] and the second one in 2009 “was at best only the most minimal of successes.”[96] Hymans further argued that “it remains unclear if North Korea does or does not yet have an operational nuclear arsenal that it could use in battle.”[97] However, tests are only failures if nothing is learned from them. It is clear that North Korea learned a lot from each of these tests and, in its subsequent nuclear and missile tests, has demonstrated an ability to reach thermonuclear yields in the hundreds of kilotons. It also likely has the capacity to deliver its nuclear weapons to regional targets if not the continental United States. Hymans’ theory predicts, at best, “the project’s snail’s pace of progress,” arguing that “it seems reasonable to assume that maintaining the snail’s pace would be the most North Korea could hope for. Moreover, Pyongyang has proved such an inveterate bluffer in the past that we should stop gasping in fear every time it threatens the world with yet another technological ‘breakthrough.’”[98] And yet, history has proven this argument wrong. The 2017 summer sprint in North Korea’s nuclear and missile program was a clear breakthrough — one cannot bluff intercontinental ranges and thermonuclear yields, which speak a universal language. To his admirable credit, however, Hymans develops a falsifiable and testable theory and is willing to make predictions based on it. Unfortunately, North Korea is clearly an outlier for his theory — the pathologies of the Kim regime may have stymied food production, but not the nuclear weapons program — which once again defied the theoretical odds. A second theory in this family of models is Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer’s work on Iraq and Libya, which similarly focuses on authoritarian regimes’ inability to manage nuclear weapons programs.[99] However, Braut-Hegghammer’s argument focuses not on interference in such programs, but on neglect by weak states with personalist regimes, where power is primarily invested in the hands of one leader rather than a political party or other large group. According to her theory, the capacity of weak states is often restricted by constant efforts to prevent the next coup, which leads to the neglect of projects as complex as nuclear weapons. She argues that Saddam and Gaddafi “lacked the capability even to pay close attention to the performance of these programs because they had weakened their states to strengthen their own hold on power.”[100] Drawing on principal-agent theory, Braut-Hegghammer argues that, rather than meddling in their nuclear programs as Hymans suggests, Saddam and Gaddafi failed to monitor it closely enough, allowing scientists to run their own fiefdoms and sell snake oil to these leaders, which in turn resulted in both countries’ failure to successfully develop nuclear weapons. She writes:
weak states often lack the institutional resources to set up and operate nuclear weapons programs. This is particularly problematic in so-called personalist regimes, such as Iraq and Libya, whose leaders undermine formal state institutions and seek to govern through informal structures of patronage and control.[101]
Although the Kim dynasty is clearly dominated by one-man rule and invests a lot of energy in  preventing coups,[102] Braut-Hegghammer in fact argues that her theory does not apply to North Korea, which she classifies as a “strong state.”[103] This is debatable. Certainly, the North Korean regime is stronger than many observers believed, given that it has, for decades, defied predictions that it would collapse.[104] Yet if North Korea is truly a strong state, it is puzzling that it was not able to prevent hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of its citizens from dying from famine in the 1990s.[105] As David Kang argued in 2012, the evidence suggests that “North Korea is both strong and weak,” and that the state has weakened further in recent decades, stating, “Largely as a result of weakened state control, the economy has experienced increases in commercialization and marketization in recent years.” This, in turn, has “shriveled the central government’s control over the periphery.”[106] Yet, precisely as the North Korean state has weakened, it has made the most dramatic strides in its nuclear weapons program. At the very least, this trend would seem to contradict the pattern expected by Braut-Hegghammer’s theory. The theories described above, which base predictions of the likelihood of acquisition on either security imperatives or regime type, in fact vastly underpredict North Korea’s probability of acquiring nuclear weapons. Similarly, supply-side or diffusion theories also fail at providing a satisfying explanation of North Korea’s nuclear accomplishments. For example, quantitative studies have found that wealthy (or at least moderately wealthy) countries are significantly more likely to acquire nuclear weapons,[107] yet North Korea acquired these weapons despite being one of the poorest countries in the world. Matthew Fuhrmann’s more nuanced supply-side argument focuses on foreign technical support, contending that North Korea “further underscore[s] the significance of the technical base resulting from atomic assistance,” with the North Koreans receiving Soviet assistance in the 1950s and 1960s.[108] The first problem with this argument is that while it might predict that North Korea would succeed, it should also predict that other countries in threatening security environments that received foreign assistance would acquire nuclear weapons, for example Germany, Japan,  South Korea, and Egypt. The second issue is that North Korea did not in fact receive an especially large amount of foreign assistance. Indeed, according to the main metric Fuhrmann uses to measure foreign support — the number of nuclear cooperation agreements — North Korea received far less foreign assistance than the aforementioned countries, and also received significantly less than countries like Ireland, Portugal, and Indonesia, as well as recent proliferators like India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Matthew Kroenig’s supply-side theory emphasizes the role of sensitive nuclear assistance in facilitating nuclear acquisition, which he defines as the transfer of enrichment or reprocessing technology or bomb designs.[109] While North Korea did receive aid in uranium enrichment technology from the AQ Khan network, this does not explain North Korea’s initial acquisition of nuclear weapons, which relied on plutonium [not highly enriched uranium (HEU)] from an indigenously built reactor and reprocessing facility. Indeed, starting in the 1970s, Pyongyang had “minimal foreign assistance” to its nuclear program, using publicly available information to mimic the designs of British reactors and a Belgian reprocessing facility.[110] A related theory by Michael Horowitz argues that the diffusion of 1950s-era military technology to a state like North Korea should not be surprising.[111] Horowitz writes: “How hard is it actually for a determined proliferator to acquire nuclear weapons? The answer? Not as hard as you might expect. And this becomes clearer when you think about the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the context of other military technologies.”[112] Horowitz himself admirably concedes, however, that the diffusion argument suffers the same problem as supply-side explanations: It overpredicts success. He goes on to point out that “simply importing ‘normal’ military technology diffusion models, while helping us understand North Korea, would probably overpredict proliferation in general, particularly in light of international efforts to make weapons acquisition harder. States such as Iraq and Libya tried but failed to acquire nuclear weapons.”[113] It is not as if we, the authors of this article, were right about North Korea either. Co-author Vipin Narang, in his 2014 book on nuclear strategy, essentially punts on North Korea by claiming it was unclear what its nuclear strategy — if any — was at the time of writing.[114] In his work on strategies of nuclear proliferation, Narang argues that North Korea’s probability of success was heightened because it was able to avail itself of a “sheltered pursuit” strategy, enjoying protection first from the Soviet Union and then China. This in turn enabled Pyongyang to proliferate under the cover of its allies — developing the plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons—before shifting to a “hiding” strategy, exemplified when it cheated on the Agreed Framework to develop a secret uranium enrichment pathway.[115] Here, Narang argues that it was the protection from China that helped stave off a United States attack, not just the threat North Korea posed to Seoul. But even this argument likely underpredicts North Korea’s probability of success, because while sheltered pursuit can often succeed, North Korea’s relationship with China has been peculiar in the post-Cold War era, forcing the Kim regime to at times pursue a hiding strategy. Hiding strategies are very risky if discovered, and North Korea’s hidden program was discovered before it even tested its first fission device. What seems to have deterred the United States from attacking North Korea after the 2002 discovery of the hidden enrichment program was the fear that the North had reprocessed enough plutonium from its sheltered pursuit days for several nuclear bombs — not just the conventional threat to South Korea. Essentially, North Korea’s hidden enrichment program was discovered too late to prevent it. While this framework gets some features of North Korea’s behavior correct, the North Korean case is again unique and defies most theoretical predictions. In general, academic theories of nuclear proliferation sorely missed the mark when it comes to North Korea. It is only one case, to be sure, but it is clearly an important one. However, this sober assessment is not meant to suggest that we should abandon our efforts to theorize about the causes and process of nuclear proliferation. Of the 30 or so states that have begun nuclear weapons programs, 10 succeeded in acquiring them. In other words, it is still a relatively uncommon event, and our theories are necessarily probabilistic. Nevertheless, it is notable how few theories gave North Korea a good chance of acquiring the bomb. [quote id="5"] So what can we learn from this outlier? It is important to note here that an outlier case does not disconfirm any theory. All of the theories discussed above make significant contributions toward explaining and predicting certain cases of nuclear proliferation. With that said, it is useful to examine what adjustments to our theories might be advisable based on the North Korean case. We believe the North Korean case illustrates several dynamics worth incorporating into academic theories of proliferation. First, it shows that the threat of preventive war, even when perceived as credible, has limits as a counterproliferation tool. At several points, North Korea viewed the threat of an American attack as credible, and yet it continued its nuclear program, or else only agreed to limits on that program after receiving significant inducements (in the case of the Agreed Framework). Second, it shows that states can still successfully play a cat-and-mouse game of plausible deniability with hidden programs — as South Africa and Pakistan once did with enrichment programs, and North Korea did with both its reactor and its uranium enrichment program. Third, states that can avail themselves of a “sheltered pursuit” strategy — finding a great power patron, although not necessarily an ally, that is willing to essentially underwrite its illicit behavior and protect it from coercive nonproliferation efforts, have a higher chance of succeeding. It is hard to imagine North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons absent Soviet and then Chinese shelter. While China does not relish a nuclear-armed North Korea, and has become increasingly more disturbed by North Korean behavior over time, it has, for the most part, not been willing to use intense pressure against North Korea over this issue. China fears a North Korean regime collapse that would result in large refugee inflows and the possible stationing of U.S. troops along its border following Korean reunification.[116] The states that enjoy such shelter are few and far between, but there will undoubtedly be others. Fourth, even poor states with domestic political pathologies do not need substantial foreign assistance to successfully acquire nuclear weapons. While impoverished and/or authoritarian countries have acquired nuclear weapons before — India, Pakistan, and China, for instance — they all did so with substantially greater foreign support than North Korea received. The point of this exercise is not to dismiss any theories of nuclear proliferation, but rather to take stock of how to adjust these theories in systematic ways to account for how North Korea succeeded, while fully conceding that the proliferation process is unpredictable and probabilistic and that outliers will always exist. It is a worthwhile endeavor to see how the academic community could have better predicted North Korean nuclearization — because there will likely be other proliferators like North Korea in the future. When taken in combination with Mark Bell’s recent work showing that many of the quantitative correlates of nuclear proliferation are not reliable predictors,[117] our examination of the North Korea case suggests that we, as scholars, should be more modest about our theories’ predictive capacities.

Implications for Nonproliferation Policy

In addition to its implications for academic theory, North Korea’s acquisition of a sophisticated nuclear weapons capability has important implications for nonproliferation policy. For one thing, the North Korea case demonstrates that supply-side measures like export controls are insufficient, even against countries with poor economies. Nuclear technology is 70 years old, and North Korea has demonstrated it is possible to construct the facilities needed to produce fissile material indigenously, based on open-source information. This is true not just for the gas centrifuge, as Kemp has demonstrated,[118] but also for the plutonium path to the bomb that North Korea followed. Indeed, North Korea’s focus on domestic development of nuclear weapons, consistent with its self-reliant, or Juche philosophy, likely made it better able to adapt to technical challenges when compared to countries like Libya and Iraq, which relied more heavily on foreign imports. Moreover, the fact that North Korea indigenously developed a nuclear reactor and reprocessing facility in secret, rather than publicly constructing them under the guise of a nuclear energy program, allowed its nuclear program to make greater progress before the international community could react effectively.[119] A second policy implication is that early detection and policy intervention are crucial if nonproliferation success is to be achieved. Compared to other proliferators, North Korea was relatively successful at concealing its nuclear capabilities and intentions. Partly for this reason, strong international pressure was only mobilized in the early 1990s, when North Korea was quite close to acquiring fissile material for nuclear weapons. Indeed, one could argue that even the Agreed Framework came too late, in that North Korea may have already obtained enough plutonium for a couple nuclear devices. The failure of early detection gave policymakers little margin for error, making it easier for North Korea to succeed in its nuclear quest. Third, international sanctions have important limitations when dealing with extremely isolated countries like North Korea. Unilateral U.S. measures, or even joint measures with allies, only go so far when dealing with a country like North Korea, whose political and economic system is designed on the principle of self-reliance. This is consistent with research on nonproliferation by Etel Solingen and Nicholas Miller, whose theories predict North Korean resilience to economic and political pressure, although they focus on outcomes rather than the acquisition of nuclear weapons.[120] As an inward looking regime, Solingen correctly argues that “North Korea has defied political and economic sanctions from great powers and international institutions, allowing state agencies and industries responsible for productive and distributive functions to benefit from international closure.”[121] Relatively insulated from the international economy to begin with, North Korean leaders were willing to sacrifice the well-being of their population while the regime devoted extraordinary resources to its nuclear weapons program. Miller likewise argues that North Korea was relatively invulnerable to sanctions, although he attributes this primarily to Pyongyang’s lack of dependence on the United States, the main enforcer of the nonproliferation regime. Miller’s argument also identifies a scenario where sanctions might have worked against North Korea: namely if they had been multilateral and stronger in scope. However, U.N. nuclear sanctions were not even imposed until North Korea already acquired nuclear weapons in 2006. Moreover, despite its recent cooperation at the United Nations, China has repeatedly dragged its feet on implementing sanctions over the years, dramatically increasing its trade with North Korea between 2006 and 2014.[122] Akin to the notion of “sheltered pursuit,” sanctions face long odds of success if a proliferator is insulated from the international economy and if its primary ally refuses to implement sanctions until it’s too late and then violates the spirit of those sanctions. Fourth, if export controls and sanctions are unlikely to succeed against isolated adversaries like North Korea, and if credible threats of force have been insufficient in the past, more attention should be given to inducements and diplomacy as possible solutions. Although it is politically challenging, both internationally and domestically, to be seen as “rewarding” proliferators by offering inducements, the history of the North Korea case shows that the greatest restraints on its nuclear program were in fact achieved when Washington offered substantial inducements, i.e., the 1994 Agreed Framework. Although North Korea violated the spirit of this agreement by starting a secret enrichment program, the United States also failed to fully live up to its end of the bargain by repeatedly delaying delivery of the promised inducements. Fifth, and relatedly, the North Korea case highlights the fragility of nonproliferation bargains due to changes in the domestic and international political landscape, a dynamic that makes such bargains hard to reach in the first place. The Agreed Framework — the closest the international community came to preventing North Korea from acquiring a credible deterrent — ultimately was hampered by domestic opposition in the United States by Republicans, who opposed the agreement and later slowed its implementation.[123] This case has obvious parallels to the Iran deal, a nonproliferation bargain whose future is in jeopardy due to consistent Republican opposition, which, as in the case of North Korea, is inflamed by missile tests and extraneous bilateral issues. The fate of the Agreed Framework, along with the U.S. decisions to topple regimes in Iraq and Libya despite their WMD disarmament, raises real questions about the viability of nonproliferation deals with adversaries in the future. This leaves us, unfortunately, with an unhappy conclusion: The sort of diplomatic bargains that are needed to deal with proliferators like North Korea will be increasingly difficult to reach and sustain.


The fact that academic theories mostly underestimated North Korea’s chance of successfully acquiring nuclear weapons gives us an opportunity to audit our theories and adjust them based on lessons from this important case. The biggest theoretical lessons from the North Korean example are the following: 1) that our theories may overestimate the power of preventive war threats in deterring states from pursuing nuclear weapons, 2) that determined leaders, even in dysfunctional authoritarian regimes, are not always doomed to fail in this pursuit, and 3) that even poor countries can succeed at acquiring nuclear weapons based on indigenously developed technology. The policy implications are equally grim. Given enough breathing room, even a poor a state that wants nuclear weapons badly enough can acquire them, defying sanctions and threats of force — particularly if it has an ally to shelter it from a strong multilateral coalition. While offering inducements to adversary proliferators may stand a better chance of success, this is politically challenging for countries like the United States; moreover, the credibility of American diplomatic assurances is increasingly shaky. Given the various pathways to the bomb and the geopolitical fractures that proliferators can exploit, we should not assume that what has so far been a rare event — nuclear proliferation — will always continue to be so.
Nicholas L. Miller is assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. His book, Stopping the Bomb: The Sources and Effectiveness of U.S. Nonproliferation Policy, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press.
Vipin Narang is associate professor of political science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153
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[post_title] => North Korea Defied the Theoretical Odds: What Can We Learn from its Successful Nuclearization? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => north-korea-defied-theoretical-odds-can-learn-successful-nuclearization [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 14:05:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 19:05:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => How well do the existing theories about nuclear proliferation predict North Korea's successful nuclearization? [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The United States and Russia worked to convince North Korea to accept IAEA safeguards. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Perhaps “carrots” are as or more important than “sticks,” in dealing with Pyongyang. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Few theories of nuclear proliferation, if any, gave North Korea a chance of reaching that milestone. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The pathologies of the Kim regime may have stymied food production, but not the nuclear weapons program. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => In general, academic theories of nuclear proliferation sorely missed the mark when it comes to North Korea. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The Bush administration further eased sanctions, but stalled on removing North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 555 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 137 [2] => 71 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Although there are only nine nuclear-armed states today, North Korea is the tenth to acquire. South Africa acquired nuclear weapons in the late 1970s and gave them up in the early 1990s. [2] See Stephen Walt, “A Renaissance in Nuclear Security Studies?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 21, 2010,; and Scott Sagan, “Two Renaissances in Nuclear Security Studies,” H-Diplo/ISSF Forum on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons, June 14, 2014, [3] Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 127-128. [4] Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007), 333; Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), 234. [5] Don Oberdorfer, “N. Korea Seen Closer to A-Bomb; U.S. Officials Say Weapon Capability May Come in Months,” Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1992, A1. [6] Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci, Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 3. Also see Jonathan Pollack, No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 94. [7] Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “North Korea: Potential for Nuclear Weapon Development,” Sept. 1986, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, National Security Archive (hereafter NSA), Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) no. 87, doc. 7. [8] CIA, “North Korea’s Expanding Nuclear Efforts,” May 3, 1988, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 10. [9] Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)/CIA, “Trends,” Aug. 9, 1989, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 14. Also see Don Oberdorfer, “North Koreans Pursue Nuclear Arms; U.S Team Briefs South Korea on New Satellite Intelligence,” Washington Post, July 29, 1989, A9. [10] William Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons and North Korea: Who’s Coercing Whom?,” In The United States and Coercive Diplomacy, eds. Robert Art and Patrick Cronin (Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2003), 164-5. [11] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 6. [12] Reiss, Ambition, 230-237. [13] Don Oberdorfer, “North Korea Balks at Nuclear Accord; Government Cites Outside ‘Pressure,’ Says Signing is Still Possible,” Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1991, A10. [14] T.R. Reid, “West [Europeans], Asians, Welcome Bush’s Arms Initiative; Changes Could Reduce Pressure on Leaders in South Korea, Japan,” Washington Post, Sept. 29, 1991, A33. [15] NSA, EBB 610, doc. 2. [16] Robert Carlin, “North Korea,” Nuclear Proliferation After the Cold War, ed. Mitchell Reiss and Robert Litwak (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994), 137-8; and Reiss, Ambition, 238-9. [17] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 10. [18] "Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Jan. 20, 1992, An agreement on inspections was never reached. [19] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 165; and Carlin, “North Korea,” 139. [20] Don Oberdorfer, “N. Korea Seen Closer to A-Bomb; U.S. Officials Say Weapon Capability May Come in Months,” Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1992, A1. [21] Richelson, Spying, 519. [22] Richelson, Spying, 517-518. [23] Reiss, Ambition, 241-3. [24] Memorandum, William T. Pendley to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, “Subject: North Korea Nuclear Issue — Where Are We Now?” Oct. 27, 1992, in “Engaging North Korea: Evidence from the Bush I Administration,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 610, doc. 11. [25] Reiss, Ambition, 247-250. [26] Reiss, Ambition, 250-253. [27] Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci, Going Critical, 31. [28] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 169. [29] Reiss, Ambition, 256-7; and Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 170-1. [30] Richelson, Spying, 522-3. [31] Julia Preston, “China Breaks Ranks on N. Korean Nuclear Plants; Beijing Refuses to Join U.S., Others in Security Council in Pressuring for Inspections,” Washington Post, Feb. 10, 1994, A24. [32] Thomas Lippmann and T.R. Reid, “N. Korea Nuclear Inspection Begins; U.S. Agrees to Suspend War Games with South Korea to Ease Tensions,” Washington Post, March 4, 1994, A1. [33] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 172; and Reiss, Ambition, 265-6. [34] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 173; and Reiss, Ambition; 266. [35] T.R. Reid, “North Korea Warns of ‘Brink of War’; Christopher: Sanctions Will Be Considered if Impasse on A-Sites Continues,” Washington Post, March 23, 1994, A23. [36] Don Phillips, “Sanctions a First Step, U.S. Warns North Korea,” Washington Post, April 4, 1994, A1. [37] Drennan, “Nuclear Weapons,” 173-5; and Reiss, Ambition, 268-271. [38] Reiss, Ambition, 272. [39] Pollack, No Exit, 117. [40] International Atomic Energy Agency, “Agreed Framework of 21 October 1994 Between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 17. Also see Pollack, No Exit, 114. [41] Siegfried Hecker, “Lessons Learned from the North Korean Nuclear Crises,” Daedalus 139, no. 1 (2010): 49. [42] See Maria Ryan, “Why the US’s 1994 Deal with North Korea Failed — and What Trump Can Learn From It,” The Conversation, July 19, 2017, [43] Richelson, Spying, 527. [44] Robert D. Walpole, National Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, “North Korea’s Taepo Dong Launch and Some Implications on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” Dec. 8, 1998, in “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record,” ed. Robert Wampler, NSA, EBB no. 87, doc. 19. [45] Sheryl WuDunn, “North Korea Fires Missile Over Japanese Territory,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 1998, A6. [46] Richelson, Spying, 528-530 [47] Pollack, No Exit, 135. [48] Pollack, No Exit, 128. [49] See Jeffrey Lewis, “Revisiting the Agreed Framework,” 38 North, May 15, 2015, [50] David Sanger, “Clinton is Ready to Scrap Some North Korea Sanctions,” New York Times, Sept. 14, 1999, A14. [51] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 49-50; and Pollack, No Exit, 128-129. [52] David Sanger, “Clinton Scraps North Korea Trip, Saying Time’s Short for Deal,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 2000, A11. [53] Michael Gordon, “U.S. Toughens Terms for North Korea Talks,” New York Times, July 3, 2011, A9. [54] Richelson, Spying, 530-532; Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 50; and Pollack, No Exit, 139. [55] Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, Kimberly Ann Elliott, and Barbara Oegg, “Case 50-1 and 93-1,” Peterson Institute for International Analysis, May 1, 2008, [56] Pollack, No Exit, 141-142. [57] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 49. [58] Richelson, Spying, 532. [59] Pollack, No Exit, 144. [60] David Sanger and William Broad, “North Korea Said to Expand Arms Program,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2004, A6. [61] Richelson, Spying, 536-7. [62] Hecker, “Lessons Learned,” 50. [63] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [64] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [65] David Sanger, “North Koreans Say They Plan a Nuclear Test,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2006, A1. [66] Richelson, Spying, 558; Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1”; and Mary Beth Nitkin, “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues,” Congressional Research Service, April 3, 2013, 15. [67] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [68] Joseph Kahn and Helene Cooper, “North Korea Will Resume Nuclear Talks,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2006, A1. [69] U.S. Department of State, “North Korea — Denuclearization Action Plan,” Feb. 13, 2007, [70] Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” Jan. 2018, [71] Steven Lee Myers and Elaine Sciolino, “North Koreans Bar Inspectors at Nuclear Site,” New York Times, Sept. 24, 2008, [72] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [73] Hufbauer et al., “Case 50-1 and 93-1.” [74] Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean and Missile Diplomacy,” January 2018, [75] Emma Chanlett-Avery, Ian E. Rinehart, and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation,” Congressional Research Service, Jan. 15, 2016, 12. [76] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [77] Emma Chanlett-Avery et al., “North Korea,” 6-7. [78] See, for example, Steve Holland and Idrees Ali, “Trump: Military Option for North Korea Not Preferred, But Would be ‘Devastating,’” Reuters, Sept. 25, 2017, [79] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [80] See the CNS North Korea Missile Test Database, [81] Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima, and Anna Fifeld, “North Korea Now Making Missile-Ready Nuclear Weapons,” Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2017, [82] Arms Control Association, “Chronology.” [83] Arms Control Association, “UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea,” Jan. 2018, accessed Jan. 29, 2018,,. [84] On North Korean motives, see Scott D. Sagan, “Why do States Build Nuclear Weapons?: Three Models in Search of a Bomb,” International Security 21, no. 3 (Winter 1996-1997): 85; Pollack, No Exit, chapters 2-3; Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 118-140; and Victor Cha, “What Do They Really Want? Obama’s North Korea Conundrum,” Washington Quarterly 32, No. 4 (2009): 119-138. [85] CIA, “A 10-year Projection of Possible Events of Nuclear Proliferation Concern,” May 1983, 5, NSA, [86] CIA, “North Korea: Potential for Nuclear Weapons Development,” Sept. 1986, NSA, [87] See Sonali Singh and Christopher Way, “The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 48, no. 6 (2004): 859-885; and Dong-Joon Jo and Erik Gartzke, “Determinants of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 51, no. 1 (2007): 167-194. [88] Kenneth Waltz, “More May Be Better,” in The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed, by Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003), 38. [89] Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro, Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). [90] Debs and Monteiro, Nuclear Politics, 297. [91] Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington DC: Brookings Press, 1999), Ch. 4. [92] Van Jackson, Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 159-160. [93] Jacques E.C. Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). [94] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 253. [95] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 251. [96] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 252. [97] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 252. [98] Hymans, Achieving Nuclear Ambitions, 254. [99] Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016). [100] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 1. [101] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 6. [102] See Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea,” International Security 35, no. 1 (2010): 66-68. [103] Braut-Hegghammer, Unclear Physics, 224. [104] See Byman and Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy,” and Jong Kun Choi, “The Perils of Strategic Patience with North Korea,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 4 (2015): 57-72. [105] Kang, “Normal,” 153-156. [106] David Kang, “They Think They’re Normal: Enduring Questions and New Research on North Korea — A Review Essay,” International Security 36, no. 3 (2011-2012): 145, 169. [107] For example, Singh and Way, “Nuclear Proliferation,” and Jo and Gartzke, “Weapons Proliferation.” [108] Matthew Fuhrmann, Atomic Assistance: How “Atoms for Peace” Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012), 190. [109] Matthew Kroenig, Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfer and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010). [110] See Siegfried Hecker, Sean Lee, and Chaim Braun, “North Korea’s Choice: Bombs Over Electricity,” The Bridge 40, no. 2 (2010): 6. Also see Pollack, No Exit, 94-95. [111] Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); also see Michael C. Horowitz, “How Surprising is North Korea’s Nuclear Success? Picking Up Where Proliferation Theories Leave Off,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 6, 2017, [112] Horowitz, “How Surprising.” [113] Horowitz, “How Surprising.” [114] Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). [115] Vipin Narang, “Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation: How States Pursue the Bomb,” International Security 41, no. 3 (Winter 2016-2017): 110-150. [116] On China’s views on North Korea’s nuclear program, see Kihyun Lee and Jangho Kim, “Cooperation and Limitations of China’s Sanctions on North Korea: Perception, Interest and Institutional Environment,” North Korean Review 13, no. 1 (2017): 28-44; and Andrew Kydd, “Pulling the Plug: Can There Be a Deal with China on Korean Unification,” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 63-77. [117] Mark Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation,” International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2015): 520-529. [118] R. Scott Kemp, “The Nonproliferation Emperor Has No Clothes,” International Security 38, no. 4 (Spring 2014): 39-78. [119] On the effectiveness of a covert rather than overt proliferation strategy, see Nicholas L. Miller, “Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation,” International Security 42, no. 2 (2017): 40-77. [120] Solingen, Nuclear Logics; and Nicholas L. Miller, Stopping the Bomb (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming). Solingen’s primary dependent variable is the pursuit (rather than acquisition) of nuclear weapons. Miller’s primary dependent variables are pursuit and the success or failure of U.S. sanctions. [121] Solingen, Nuclear Logics, 138. [122] See Eleanor Albert, “The China-North Korea Relationship,” Council on Foreign Relations, Sept. 27, 2017, Also see Lee and Kim, “China’s Sanctions.” [123] See, for example, Van Jackson, “Threat Consensus and Rapprochement Failure: Revisiting the Collapse of US-North Korea Relations,” Foreign Policy Analysis, forthcoming. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 450 [post_author] => 133 [post_date] => 2018-02-07 04:00:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-07 09:00:31 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: North Korea is Still the Land of Lousy Options

By Van Jackson North Korea has become the most pressing security threat facing the Trump administration. It can now strike U.S. territory in the Pacific — and perhaps even the continental United States — with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. North Korea has long been known as the “land of lousy options,” and a bipartisan failure of U.S. foreign policy spanning every presidential administration since the end of the Cold War would seem to demonstrate as much. But what should be done? Charting a near-term and long-term path forward requires answering some basic questions that have mostly eluded the public debate on North Korea policy. This roundtable aims to rectify that. Each of the contributors to this discussion the problem North Korea poses in broadly similar terms, they reveal some divergences on what U.S. goals should be and how to achieve them. The End-State Should the United States be pursuing denuclearization of North Korea? Kyle Haynes of Purdue University argues that it is a dangerous “pipe dream.” John Warden of SAIC and Vincent Manzo of CNA assume Haynes is right, jumping directly to the problem of damage limitation and deterrence. Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists agrees that denuclearization is unachievable, but maintains that the United States cannot entirely abandon that goal because of the potentially damage to U.S. alliances and the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Kelly Magsamen of the Center for American Progress avers the question of denuclearization, but advocates prioritizing deterrence and containment. Striking a tone that is neither optimistic or pessimistic on denuclearization, Stephan Haggard of the University of California-San Diego urges focusing on the near term. By focusing primarily on current events, Haggard’s analysis takes a different tack than Mount but ends up in a similar place: The United States should avoid chasing denuclearization with any kind of urgency, but neither does it have to abandon it as a long-term goal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security writes in favor of the Trump administration’s end-state of denuclearization, a goal that every president since the end of the Cold War as sought. But if denuclearization is unachievable, what should be the aim of U.S. policy toward North Korea? All the authors agree that the United States cannot afford to be single-minded, and must instead manage multiple priorities that occasionally compete with each other. There is also a consensus that slowing or halting North Korea’s progress in developing nuclear weapons is not only advisable but essential. Deterrence of major conflict and regional stability are also high on everyone’s list, though those goals immediately raise the question of how they are best achieved. The Approach   The contributors diverge most on the means of U.S. strategy. Cronin broadly supports the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” toward North Korea, but believes there must be a point at which the United States pivots to diplomatic engagement for the policy to payoff. Denuclearization, he argues, will not happen except through diplomacy. Haggard, Magsamen, and Mount, despite harboring objections to “maximum pressure,” find common cause with Cronin in supporting pressure that takes the form of economic sanctions, if not the administration’s talk of war. Magsamen and Mount in particular both advocate shifting to a strategy the deters North Korea while making the regime’s life as difficult as possible — by using coalitional diplomacy to deny the regime any financial, technical, or political benefits as long as it retains a hostile nuclear posture. The other contributors also find fault with “maximum pressure” and support dialogue with North Korea in their own ways, but emphasize military capabilities to a greater degree than Haggard. Warden and Manzo in particular provide an elaborate analysis that concludes the United States ought to be pursuing damage limitation capabilities, including long-range precision-strike weapons and ballistic missile defenses. They believe the combination of superior offensive and defensive conventional military capabilities will better strengthen deterrence and mute any rash overconfidence that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal might otherwise endow it with. Attacking North Korea Two questions have dominated news coverage about the Trump administration’s North Korea policy. Is denuclearization worth starting a war over? And should the United States give North Korea a “bloody nose?” Sen. Lindsey Graham has argued that a war in Korea would be preferable to allowing North Korea to retain nuclear weapons.[1] Magsamen gives the most elaborate attack on the fallacious reasoning that leads to such a conclusion, but each contributor to this roundtable shares her view, at least implicitly. A preventive war against North Korea would be a war of choice, and the ultimate failure of national security policy. Similarly, none advocate for limited strikes of any kind unless North Korea attacks first. The proactive use of military force is here incongruent with the priority of deterrence. Lingering Doubts Three lingering questions give reason for enduring pessimism about the ability to achieve much more than deterrence of major conflict. First, on what basis can Washington expect to establish credible commitments with Pyongyang? Cronin, Magsamen, Mount, Haggard, and Haynes all urge strategies that require negotiations with North Korea to freeze or rollback its nuclear program, but none provide either evidence or a rationale that would allow us to believe in negotiations. Indeed, North Korea’s long history of violating its own commitments raises valid concerns about the ability to build any future on a negotiated settlement. This does not mean that negotiations are impossible, but advocating for them requires a significant burden of proof rather than faith. Second, how can coercion produce a sustainable outcome? Haggard, Magsamen, and Mount stress diplomacy to a greater degree than the other contributors, yet even they support an extensive campaign of pressure on North Korea. Given Pyongyang’s history of responding to pressure with pressure,[2] it is unclear why we should believe that any strategy requiring a squeeze of North Korea will yield a desirable long-term change in either Pyongyang’s behavior or its strategic calculations. As one of the seminal works on deterrence long ago observed, deterrence is a means of buying time, not an end in itself.[3] We should all be troubled by the consensus among contributors here that deterrence is America’s most important priority in Korea. At best, deterrence enables a strategy that ameliorates the conditions that give rise to the need for deterrence in the first place. But no such strategy has been proposed. The deterrence imperative itself leads to a final reason for pessimism. What must the United States do, and avoid doing, in order to deter major conflict? Haggard avers this question entirely. Cronin and Mount also stay relatively silent on it, though they believe deterrence is a foremost priority. Magsamen offers plausible ingredients for a deterrence strategy — containment, pressure, diplomacy, and alliance management — but the relative importance of each factor is unclear. Haynes suggests that proportionality between threats and goals matters, but does not specify how threats should be levied or bounded. Warden and Manzo provide the greatest detail in justifying their theory of deterrence — a mix of precision-strike capabilities will mitigate any advantage North Korea seeks in resorting to nuclear conflict and therefore deter it from doing so. But this theory rests on a questionable assumption, that North Korea will perceive the balance of forces accurately and draw the conclusions from U.S. capabilities that we wish them to draw. If Warden and Manzo’s assumption is incorrect, their prescription will actually undermine crisis stability and prime deterrence to fail. Takeaways If there is anything that Trump administration officials can take away from this expert discussion, it should be that diplomacy has popular backing, even if it goes nowhere. Deterrence is achievable, and preferable to a war of choice. And just because North Korea remains the “land of lousy options” does not make it any more reasonable for policy to drift toward “bloody noses” and preventive wars.  Mere talk of it is ill-advised. To the extent it reflects the administration’s true intentions, it represents an egregious mismatch between ends and means. If, by contrast, war talk is nothing more than coercive bluffing, it is doomed to fail and risks eroding U.S. credibility in the process.   Van Jackson, PhD, is an associate editor at the Texas National Security Review and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. He is also a senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, as well as the Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.

2. Maximum Pressure: A Clarifying Signal in the Noise of North Korea Policy 

By Patrick M. Cronin At the height of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, the Stoic philosopher Seneca counseled that any quest for a fulfilling life should begin with a clear objective: “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”[4] Seneca may as well have been advising policymakers on dealing with North Korea. The objectives of Washington’s North Korea policy run the gamut from the plausible to the unthinkable. In the main, the Trump administration’s national security team supports the goal of deterring the outbreak of major war, a bedrock of bipartisan national security policy for 65 years.[5] Both the Obama and Trump administrations have engaged in various shows of force and enhanced military exercises to underscore deterrence and an ironclad alliance commitment. As America’s top officer in Korea has explained, the purpose of joint U.S.-South Korean exercises is to serve the overriding goal of maintaining “a credible deterrent.”[6] As North Korea approaches its declared goal of possessing long-range, nuclear-armed missiles, analysts have stressed two different approaches to diplomacy. Some advocate avoiding tension by emphasizing diplomatic engagement. Although the engagement element of U.S. North Korea policy remains muted, even President Trump has urged North Korea to “come to the table and make a deal.”[7] Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has hinted at diplomatic flexibility, provided the ultimate destination remains the denuclearization of the peninsula.[8] An alternative approach uses diplomacy as a means of compelling Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons through diplomatic pressure and economic isolation.[9] This has been a central feature of the Trump administration’s strategy of maximum pressure. Finally, administration officials have occasionally suggested that deterring war may not be sufficient, and that instead the United States may consider an objective of denying Kim Jong-un nuclear weapons through military action, including the possibility of a preventive decapitation strike.[10] President Trump has instructed the Armed Forces to prepare military options should they be necessary. Secretary of Defense James Mattis emphasizes diplomacy, but he has also made clear that the military must prepare for all contingencies: “What does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say, so there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is you’ve got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ, if needed.”[11] Yet, policymakers have not reached a consensus on any one of these various approaches (deterrence, diplomatic engagement, diplomatic pressure, and military action). While the fear of nuclear war drives the North Korea issue to the top of many debates, the absence of any broad agreement on the feasible and desirable aims of U.S. and allied North Korea policy contributes to some of the worst-case analyses that often fill our inboxes and social media feeds. Lacking a desirable aim (but leaving plenty of opportunity for error), our North Korea policy seems dangerously adrift. Aiming for Peace, Order, and Influence To reach a consensus, we need to begin with a shared understanding of the threat North Korea poses to preserving peace, prosperity, and freedom. From that baseline, we should be doing whatever necessary to prevent Pyongyang from undermining the achievements for which our forebears sacrificed so much. North Korea’s nuclear buildup is a barometer by which to gauge the decline of both the rules-based postwar order and America’s influence. Its imminent acquisition of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the American homeland presently challenges regional and international security.[12] Emboldened by a variety of new military means, the 34-year-old Kim may rely even more on brinkmanship and coercion to disrupt development on and around the peninsula. Such recklessness could trigger war through miscalculation. Even short of war, Pyongyang’s success in building an arsenal of nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional, and cyber weapons could accelerate an arms race in Northeast Asia and lead to the proliferation of deadly new weapons around the globe. With peace, order, and influence at risk, the United States has several realistic options for dealing with North Korea. This begins with deterring North Korean aggression. We know how to do this. By remaining strong and actively engaged, and working in close concert with our allies, we can continue to preserve the peace. However, because North Korea’s threat to regional order transcends the challenge of deterrence, the United States should also seek to use a combination of pressure and diplomacy to contain and eventually eliminate the most pernicious threats to our homeland, our allies, and innocent civilians on the peninsula and elsewhere. The Logic of Maximum Pressure and Engagement The Trump administration’s North Korea policy is based on a thorough interagency review conducted early in 2017 and managed by a group of seasoned professionals, including the National Security Advisor, Secretary of Defense, and the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, who also happens to be Commander of the United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command in Korea. The policy of maximum pressure and engagement on which they settled is also anchored in strong alliances with South Korea as well as Japan. President Trump’s successful visits to both Tokyo and Seoul in November punctuated the high degree of continuity in America’s regional security policy, notwithstanding widespread concerns about U.S. reliability and power. Because North Korea threatens the world and not simply the United States and its allies, a successful policy requires greater international effort, particularly from China. The multi-pronged U.S. strategy designed to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions centers on the application of ever-greater economic pressure, which in turn requires compelling China to curb trade with Pyongyang. Although China is North Korea’s main trading partner, the Trump administration’s approach has compelled it to support various sanctions, which include cutting back coal imports from North Korea to agreeing to reduce energy exports to the Kim regime. China prefers to hedge its bets, calibrating the diplomatic support it offers the United States while ensuring that it does not suddenly and dangerously destabilizes the Kim regime.[13]  This latter proclivity may explain, at least in part, December 2017 reports that Chinese ships were seen trading with North Korea on the high seas in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions.[14] Trading in a way that appears designed to evade inspection, on the high seas, fuels speculation that China is merely claiming to crack down on North Korea while continuing to support the regime. It is the latest in a history of Chinese transgressions undermining U.S. efforts on North Korea. This leaves the United States with little alternative to imposing penalties on any entities engaging in illicit trade with North Korea, even China. In other words, more secondary sanctions are required.[15] Without diplomacy to contain North Korea’s threat and preempt an ever-tightening turning of the screw on North Korea’s economy, this dysfunctional pattern will continue as the administration’s pressure strategy moves forward. This is likely to beget a tired pattern of U.S.-China jostling over North Korean sanctions: U.S. officials expose instances of China's (and Russia’s) illicit trade with North Korea; China denies that it is doing anything illegal; the United States imposes limited secondary sanctions on Chinese entities; and China expresses outrage, combined with a pledge to penalize the offending businesses and curtail trade with North Korea. Time is Running Out for Whom? Many contend that time is running out to avert potential conflict on the Korean peninsula.[16] If there is a clock ticking, however, it is ticking most loudly for China.  While the United States and South Korea can live with long-term deterrence and defense, China stands to lose the most from a military buildup in Northeast Asia. Over time, the policy consequences of having to deter and contain a nuclear-armed North Korea will harm China. Can some combination of pressure, especially economic sanctions, and diplomacy avert a future that threatens vital U.S. interests? We will never know unless we try. If North Korea continues deploying nuclear weapons despite a maximum pressure and engagement strategy, the logical next step is deterrence and containment, not a preventive war. A preemptive attack on North Korean missiles about to strike the United States or its allies would contain the North Korea threat, and possibly even deter future missile strikes. But that is a world away from a preventive attack that targets cold missiles in the ground, which would be more likely to escalate to general war. The resulting catastrophe would be much worse than living for a while longer with a nuclear North Korea. Survival appears to be the lowest common denominator that unites all regional actors. This irreducible point brings the discussion back to Seneca. Above all else, we must first know what aim we seek to achieve. While there is no more immediate threat to regional peace and security than that posed by North Korea, we should avoid rushing headlong into a war of choice. How successfully Washington manages the North Korea problem – mostly through deterrence and containment, but also through timely diplomacy when the opportunity arises – could well determine the legacy of the Trump administration’s policy in Asia. If we head toward the right port, we should be able to discover favorable winds.   Dr. Patrick M. Cronin is the Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, D.C.  He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @PMCroninCNAS.

3. The Trump Administration and North Korea: A Happier New Year?

By Stephan Haggard Despite important developments in North-South relations in the first week of 2018, any analysis of North Korea must begin with the intractable nature of the problem. Kim Jong Un has doubled down on North Korea’s nuclear program, dramatically accelerating the pace of missile testing to extend their range and reliability. In his 2018 New Year’s address, Kim suggested that the country has “completed” its nuclear program. Although most Western analysts believe there is a fundamental contradiction between pursuit of the country’s nuclear program and economic development, Kim Jong Un does not seem to think so. Indeed, in 2013, he rolled out a strategic concept – the so-called byungjin line--which outlined simultaneous pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic reconstruction. To date, the regime has shown little interest in returning to multilateral talks on denuclearization. And even if such talks were to resume – currently a long shot – it would take a substantial amount of time before North Korean capabilities were significantly reduced. The military options are also frustrating. Secretary of Defense Mattis has no doubt outlined them to President Trump, but preventive action or pre-emption faces a fundamental dilemma. Limited precision strikes would signal the seriousness of U.S. intent, and might be crafted to minimize the risks of all-out retaliation. But such limited strikes would not fundamentally degrade North Korea’s program and would certainly not eliminate it entirely. However, a more comprehensive military approach runs risks that would fall largely on our South Korean allies, who have insisted that they be consulted on any such action. It is wrong to say that the United States has no military options. Nonetheless, the curse of geography – the proximity of North Korean artillery to Seoul – creates limits that are well-understood on both sides. The optimal approach is therefore one that allows existing initiatives to play out. As implausible as a resolution of the North Korea challenge seems, the broad approach pioneered by the Obama administration and continued in important respects under President Trump might still yield fruit. Maximum Pressure and Engagement: A Reversion to the Mean? Given the diplomatic and military constraints, it is not surprising that the Trump administration is pursuing more mainstream approaches to the Korean peninsula for the time being. After a presidential campaign in which Seoul and Tokyo were treated in casual fashion, the administration has undertaken a succession of assurance tours through the two capitals; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, Vice President Mike Pence, and eventually the President himself all made such visits. Yet, not all is well in the two relationships, particularly on the economic front. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is still smarting from his failure to keep the United States in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement faces substantial uncertainty. But the president’s team has undone at least some of the damage of the campaign, and thanks to North Korea the two Northeast Asian alliances have even strengthened. The reversion to the diplomatic mean is also evident with respect to core features of strategy toward the North Korea nuclear issue. The Trump administration denounced “strategic patience,” the Obama-era approach that combined diplomatic and economic pressure with a willingness to resume the Six Party Talks. In fact, the Trump administration’s re-christened “maximum pressure and engagement” has, in practice, differed little from strategic patience. In particular, despite the president’s tough talk, Secretary Tillerson has repeatedly restated a willingness not only to talk to North Korea, but to address North Korean – and Chinese – concerns. For example, the secretary has committed to the so-called “Four Nos”: that the United States does not seek regime change, collapse, or accelerated unification, and that it has no ambitions to station troops above the 38th parallel were North Korea to suddenly collapse. Yet the Trump administration’s strategy does depart from Obama’s in two significant ways. The first is the disquieting tendency on the part of the president to issue challenges and even threats, including personal taunts. Such plain talk could introduce uncertainty and ultimately facilitate talks. Yet many of the president’s tweets simply cut against more considered policy pronouncements emanating from elsewhere in the administration, sewing confusion about U.S. objectives and strategy. To the extent they have been threatening, they have probably motivated Kim Jong Un to accelerate his nuclear program rather than to slow it down. The second change in policy is much more consequential, and must be credited with significantly increasing economic pressure on North Korea. In early 2016, Congress granted the Obama administration wide authority to deploy secondary sanctions, using access to the U.S. financial markets as leverage to punish third parties doing business with North Korea. President Obama was reluctant to fully exploit this authority, but the Trump administration ramped up these efforts over the course of 2017, culminating in a wide-ranging executive order that granted the administration the authority to target virtually any entity doing business with North Korea. Although probably not enough to constrain North Korea on their own, the secondary sanctions have taken place in the context of shifts in Chinese thinking that are fundamentally changing North Korea’s economic prospects. The China Card North Korea played a surprisingly important role in efforts to get U.S.-China relations back on track after Trump’s early unforced errors on the Taiwan issue. President Trump not only took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen but appeared to back away from the One China policy, a bedrock of US-China relations. The implicit deal coming out of the Mar-a-Lago summit in April was that the administration would put its protectionist economic agenda vis-à-vis China on hold in return for help on North Korea. Evidence that China was taking the issue seriously came in the form of two wide-ranging United Nations Security Council resolutions in 2017 that put an unprecedented squeeze on North Korea. Building on two resolutions passed in 2016, Chinese policy shifted in an important way: For the first time, Beijing agreed to sanction commercial trade, as opposed to goods that could be tied directly to the missile and nuclear programs. Securing Chinese cooperation at the U.N. Security Council has to be viewed as a significant diplomatic win for the Trump administration. China has always demanded its own quid-pro-quo on North Korea, however. It sees military options as unacceptable and holds that denuclearization must take place through a negotiated settlement that would address the interests of all parties. The Chinese (and Russian) proposal involves a simple trade: North Korea would place a moratorium on its nuclear and missile testing and the United States US would suspend its annual military exercises with South Korea. The Trump administration has been rightly reluctant to buy into this idea, but the reason is not just its resemblance to outright extortion. It is unclear how the parties will transition from a short-run confidence building measure—the suspension for suspension--to talks that would actually address the nuclear question. If North Korea wants to hold talks-about-talks only to reveal that they have no intention of discussing their weapons programs, what is the point? Unfortunately, neither the United States nor China has put adequate effort into outlining the parameters of talks, a necessary step for moving them forward. Until recently, the question was indeed one of strategic patience: How long would it take for sanctions to bring North Korea back to the table? Many analysts believed that China would never let North Korea collapse, that sanctions would never work because of the capacity of the regime to impose costs on its population, or both. To be sure, China has been cautious both in crafting U.N. Security Council resolutions and with respect to enforcement. But the North Korean economy is much more open than it was at the onset of the nuclear crisis in the George W. Bush administration, and much more vulnerable to the gradual squeeze that is currently underway. With Japan and South Korea moving toward embargo, and the patience of other countries drying up, North Korea has become almost entirely dependent on its commercial relationship with China. Even with smuggling and lax enforcement, it is hard to imagine North Korea will not be forced to evaluate its strategy in the face of a sanctions regime that threatens to cut off as much as one half of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Hidden reserves have allowed North Korea to maintain an appearance of normalcy. But the sanctions pressure on North Korea is clearly starting to have effect. If sustained by China, North Korea could possibly experience an old-fashioned balance of payments crisis as it ran out of the ability to finance its imports. Such a development would have wide-ranging effects across the entire economy. Developments in the New Year Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address touted the country’s nuclear program and was defiant in the face of economic challenges. However, with other diplomatic avenues shut off and the effects of sanctions looming, it was only a matter of time before the regime sought to exploit South Korean President Moon Jae In’s deep commitment to engagement. Predictably, proposals to improve relations carried poison pills. Noting that both the seventieth anniversary of North Korea and the Winter Olympics fall in 2018, for example, Kim issued a more-or-less open threat to the games in his New Year’s address: that the physical security of the games could not be guaranteed. The speech went on about solving problems “by ourselves,” transparently seeking to diminish the US role and weaken the alliance. The price tag for North Korea’s participation in the Olympics was that the United States and South Korea postpone their upcoming military exercises. Perhaps to the surprise of all involved, the Trump and Moon administrations had the confidence to reach an understanding to delay – although not cancel – upcoming exercises, setting in motion an unanticipated set of events. North and South reopened a hotline and Kim promised a ministerial-level delegation. Initial negotiations sought to focus modestly on the logistics of getting North Korean athletes to Pyeongchang. But given that only a handful of athletes were qualified for the Games, it was clear that the ambitions of all parties were much wider. Although the United States convened a conference in Canada to coordinate on sanctions, President Trump subsequently endorsed wider North-South talks after some in his administration openly voiced caution. Where might this go? It has been an open secret since mid-December that the Moon administration was seeking an agreement on the exercises, and that he had discussed the issue during his summit with Xi Jinping after the initial proposal had been made to the United States. The agreement is significant since the guts of the joint Chinese-Russian proposal centers on suspending exercises in return for a suspension of missile and nuclear tests. Chinese authorities have already jumped to the wrong conclusion: that recent developments demonstrate Washington’s willingness to endorse China’s dual-suspension proposal. That is almost certainly a bridge too far, and South Korea and the United States will almost certainly maintain the pressure on North Korea to come to the table or face continuing isolation. But we should listen to Deng Xiaoping: You cross the water by feeling for the stones. The decision on suspending exercises around the Olympics could well be a stone.   Stephan Haggard is the Sallye and Lawerence Krause Distinguished Professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego. With Marcus Noland, he is the author of three books on North Korea: Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid and Reform (2007); Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea (2011) and Hard Target: Sanctions, Inducements and the Case of North Korea (2017).

4. Risk and Reward in the Korean Nuclear Crisis

By Kyle Haynes The ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula has increased the risk of nuclear war to the highest level in decades, perhaps since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The risk of catastrophic conflict was bound to increase as North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities developed to the point of being able to strike U.S. territory. But many of the Trump administration’s critics have highlighted the ways in which the President’s bellicose rhetoric has further increased the chances of war in Korea.[17] These critics are correct – Trump’s threats do make war more likely. But the substance of these criticisms is misplaced, or at least incomplete. The Trump administration has badly erred, but not because it has made threats that risk inadvertent escalation. Risk is an unavoidable, indeed an essential component of coercive diplomacy. Rather, American threats have foolishly focused on the pipe dream of denuclearization instead of more attainable goals like deterring North Korean aggression and limiting the growth of its nuclear and ICBM capabilities. In coercive diplomacy, risk is essential to any reward. But by focusing on unattainable objectives, the administration is mismatching ends and means, disproportionately raising the risk of war while promising very little payoff in return. In short, many of the Trump administration’s tactics can be found in the standard coercive diplomacy playbook. But these tactics are being badly misapplied in pursuit of objectives that are either trivial or completely unattainable. A better strategy requires a more measured, disciplined use of threats designed to accomplish important, but achievable policy goals. Below, I lay out a set of core American objectives in the North Korean crisis, and highlight those that are realistic enough to warrant the substantial risk of catastrophic war. American Objectives The United States should have four principal security objectives on the Korean peninsula. The first is denuclearization, which would entail the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea’s military arsenal. The second is a more limited variant of the first: to slow, stop, or otherwise limit the development of North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile capabilities. The third is to deter any aggression that North Korea might seek to commit under the cover of its new nuclear capabilities. The final U.S. objective is to avoid an unacceptably costly war. To date, the administration has only been unequivocal about its pursuit of the first while variously conflating, ignoring, or eliding the other three. There are fundamental tradeoffs between some of these objectives. In particular, forcefully pursuing the first three necessarily risks sacrificing the fourth. In extremis, the United States is clearly capable of denuclearizing North Korea by force. But doing so would require a massive preventive attack that would kill millions of North Koreans and likely result in retaliatory nuclear strikes on U.S. allies, if not the U.S. homeland. The United States could also radically reduce the short-term risk of conflict by ceasing its efforts to roll back or limit North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, but this would entail abandoning some of Washington’s most important regional security objectives. On the other hand, there are important synergies among these objectives as well. Limiting the development of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal makes it easier to deter aggression, and deterring aggression of course reduces the risk of war. In evaluating which of these objectives warrants incurring a heightened risk of potentially cataclysmic war, we must understand these tradeoffs and complementarities, and soberly evaluate the costs, risks, and likelihood of success that each one entails. Denuclearization Achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula would yield greater security benefits for the United States than any of the other objectives listed above. It is also the least realistic of these objectives. Nuclear weapons represent the ultimate deterrent and security guarantor for any state. It would be foolhardy for Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear deterrent in exchange for security guarantees, as there would be little stopping the United States from reneging on these guarantees the moment Pyongyang scraps its last nuclear warhead.[18] The North Korean leadership clearly recognizes this, regularly remarking on the irrationality of Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Ukrainian leaders who voluntarily abandoned their nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs, only to be subsequently attacked by foreign adversaries.[19] Limitation Limiting the growth of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities is a realistic objective, but accomplishing it will require the U.S. to make significant concessions, potentially including a peace treaty that formally recognizes the regime in Pyongyang and the cessation of joint military exercises with South Korea.[20] Furthermore, Kim Jong Un is unlikely to agree to any limitation that seriously undercuts his ability to deter an unprovoked attack. But North Korea already possesses upwards of 60 operational nuclear warheads, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) likely capable of striking the entire United States.[21] And while its targeting capabilities and reentry vehicles are as yet unproven, North Korea has already reached the point where any would-be attacker runs a substantial risk of suffering nuclear retaliation. As such, Kim Jong Un could soon view his own nuclear deterrent as sufficiently advanced that he would trade away further development for some offsetting concession. Deterrence North Korea’s nuclear arsenal may embolden it to attempt acts of provocation aimed at “decoupling” the United States from South Korea or other regional allies. North Korea could even launch a conventional attack aimed at unifying the peninsula, holding its nuclear weapons in reserve and threatening to strike the American homeland if U.S. forces becomes involved. And while Pyongyang may attempt limited escalations to probe American resolve, deterring more significant aggression is essential to upholding America’s regional interests. Fortunately, history indicates that prudently firm deterrent strategies can effectively prevent such actions. Some would argue that Kim is “irrational” or otherwise “undeterrable.” These arguments often cite Pyongyang’s habit of making bombastic threats, or Kim’s apparent penchant for executing high-level officials in bizarre and grotesque ways, as evidence that he fundamentally does not value human life.[22] But effective deterrence does not require a leader to value their citizens’ lives. It requires them to value their own, which Kim Jong Un certainly appears to do. And there is no surer way for Kim to bring an end to his own regime, and his own life, than starting a full-scale war with the United States. Averting War Finally, and most intuitively, it is clearly in American interests to prevent a costly war on the Korean peninsula. Even before Pyongyang successfully tested an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic” and entail “the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”[23] Reasonable people might differ regarding the precise level of costs and casualties they find tolerable. But all would agree that the United States should pursue its other objectives while minimizing expected casualties, physical destruction, and economic disruption. Calibrating Risks and Rewards The Trump administration’s core dilemma on the Korean peninsula is a familiar one, harking back to debates between the “deterrence” and “spiral” models of international conflict.[24] The deterrence model argues that states need to project strength and resolve in order to deter aggressive states from acting on their hostile intentions. The spiral model, conversely, suggests that such projections of strength risk unduly threatening states that have no aggressive intentions, and seek only self-protection. Facing such benign actors, bellicose policies seeking to deter aggression might only succeed in provoking spirals of unnecessary hostility that ultimately lead to a war neither side wants.[25] Deterrence, denuclearization, and limitation of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities all will require the United States to project strength and threaten painful consequences if Pyongyang does not accede to American demands. But by their very nature, these threats increase the risk of inadvertent escalation and even full-scale war. Indeed, as Thomas Schelling argued, coercive threats between nuclear powers generate leverage precisely because they entail a heightened risk of mutual disaster.[26] This is the core logic of “brinkmanship” as a tactic in coercive diplomacy. The question is whether these threats also increase probability of Pyongyang making some significant policy concession that would enhance American security and offset the risks inherent in this escalatory rhetoric. If not, then the risk simply promises no compensating reward. But to date, the Trump administration has focused its coercive demands on denuclearization, with comparatively little attention focused on deterrence and even less on limiting the further development of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ICBM capabilities.[27] This emphasis is doubly problematic. It aims at an objective that, as argued above, is entirely unattainable through diplomatic means. It is also disproportionately likely to result in war, as Pyongyang knows that it will never accede to the Trump administration’s key demand. And knowing that American policymakers will find diplomacy to be futile, Pyongyang’s estimate of the likelihood of war will increase without offering any corresponding policy concessions. This may be yet another example of Trump’s favored “anchoring” negotiation strategy – making an outlandishly aggressive opening offer in order to shift the perceived range of feasible negotiating outcomes in your favor. Experimental evidence demonstrating this tactic’s effectiveness is impressively robust.[28] But the primary drawback of anchoring is that an adversary may interpret the aggressive opening offer as an indication of irreconcilability, and simply walk away from negotiations. Best case, this simply gives North Korea time to further expand its nuclear and ICBM capabilities. Worst case, Pyongyang interprets the Trump administration’s unreasonable opening offer as a sign that it has given up on diplomacy and is bent on military action. Given the risks, if the Trump administration’s denuclearization demands are simply an attempt at anchoring, they are an extremely dangerous and misguided form of it. But ultimately, any attempt at coercive diplomacy with North Korea is going to entail some heightened risk of war. Making these risks worthwhile requires the United States to apply the leverage generated by its escalatory tactics toward significant but achievable policy objectives. A Realistic Negotiating Strategy The Trump administration needs a clearer and more focused coercive strategy. Escalatory threats can be useful, but they must convey a clear set of realistic demands. The administration should focus its demands on halting North Korean missile and nuclear tests (limitation) and warning against acts of aggression toward American allies in the region (deterrence). These objectives are attainable and promise meaningful security benefits. Furthermore, they can be pursued simultaneously, and there are significant complementarities between them. The foremost U.S. security objective should be to deter North Korean aggression by reaffirming America’s commitment to its regional allies and developing or reinforcing the military capabilities necessary to maintain escalation dominance across all potential stages of a military conflict.[29] Irrespective of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, America’s regional interests will remain largely intact if North Korea does not attempt any serious acts of aggression, intimidation, or subversion under the cover of its nuclear deterrent. Based on decades of Cold War standoffs across the globe, the U.S. foreign policy community is steeped in experience when it comes to deterring insecure and ideologically hostile regimes. Furthermore, America’s regional alliances date back decades, its economic ties to East Asia are enormous, and tens of thousands of American troops remain deployed across the region. The Trump administration is taking up the task of deterring Pyongyang with a massive reserve of credibility already in the bank. And while Trump may have already squandered much of his own credibility, these pre-existing structural factors should make deterring North Korean aggression a perfectly manageable task. Next, limiting the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM capabilities may be feasible depending on how much nuclear capability the United States is willing to tolerate. Given the Trump administration’s rhetoric, leaders in Pyongyang might reasonably believe they need to significantly increase the size and sophistication of their strategic arsenal to deter an American attack.[30] The Kim regime’s intense insecurity likely means that it would require enormous concessions and guarantees in order to limit its nuclear arsenal around its current levels. This is theoretically and technically possible, though the political obstacles would be significant. And importantly, time is not on America’s side if it wishes to limit Pyongyang’s capabilities. Negotiations would need to begin quickly, given the pace of North Korea’s nuclear development under Kim Jong Un. Generating Risk, Using it Rationally The Trump administration’s strategy has significantly increased the risk of conflict on the Korean peninsula. In itself, this is not necessarily ill-advised. The question is whether this risk is being carefully calibrated, and whether the potential leverage derived from it is being utilized effectively in order to extract meaningful concessions. In this regard, the Trump administration’s strategy has been a mess. Vague, bellicose threats are often made via Twitter, with little consultation among allies and advisers. More importantly, the ostensible objectives of these threats are often either unrealistic or trivial. No coercive threat will ever persuade Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear arsenal. And deterrence aimed at preventing North Korea from “threatening” the United States simply does nothing to further core American security interests. The Trump administration is thus ratcheting up the risk of war on the Korean peninsula without a corresponding diplomatic strategy that promises meaningful concessions as a result. The White House should promptly initiate talks aimed at halting, and potentially rolling back, the development of North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM programs, beginning with a moratorium on testing these capabilities. It should also redouble the U.S. commitment to deterring North Korean aggression. Judging by Pyongyang’s historical penchant for escalatory behavior and its desire to break up the U.S.-South Korea alliance, there is good reason to believe the North Koreans will attempt limited probes and isolated acts of aggression in an attempt to assess American and South Korean resolve in this altered strategic setting. Early crises will establish precedents and expectations that may have implications for decades. Reinforcing clear red lines and establishing tolerable bounds for North Korean provocations early on will be enormously important. Trump’s belligerent rhetoric has raised the risk of war-by-miscalculation to the point that it may yield significant diplomatic leverage with Pyongyang going forward. Policymakers must apply this leverage in ways that maximize the security payoff while minimizing the risk of actual war. This requires emphasizing deterrence and limitation, not denuclearization. Risks are inevitable in the Korean crisis. Using them effectively to gain the greatest security payoff possible is the Trump administration’s big test – one that it failed during its first year.   Kyle Haynes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University. His research focuses on interstate signaling in both crisis bargaining and reassurance situations. Follow him on Twitter @kyle_e_haynes

5. North Korea Requires Deterrence and Containment, Not Bombing

By Kelly Magsamen *A prior version of this article appeared as written testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 30, 2018. North Korea poses a serious threat to the United States and our allies. North Korea is the country violating multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. And Kim Jong Un is a ruthless tyrant building nuclear weapons on the backs of his oppressed people. I worked the North Korea challenge every day in my years at the Department of Defense, so I am deeply familiar with the adage that North Korea is the land of lousy options. There are no easy solutions or silver bullets. But I do believe there are some basic ingredients to a sound strategy: To its credit, the Trump administration has had some important achievements on increasing pressure on North Korea, including strong United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions and pushing China further along. In some ways, these are extensions of the Obama administration’s strategy and I believe more can be done to increase pressure. However, the Trump administration’s strategy has also been plagued by incoherence and neglect on many of these other fronts — and as a result, the sum has not been greater than its parts. With tensions high and increasing talk of preventive U.S. military action, I am deeply concerned about the prospect of war with North Korea — whether by miscalculation or by design. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether initiating armed conflict with North Korea is necessary or advisable to advancing long-term U.S. national security interests. I believe that after a thorough analysis of the likely costs of preventive war, and a careful examination of the alternatives, it is nearly impossible to conclude that the preventive use of force is advisable or even the least bad option in terms of advancing our interests and minimizing risk. There is a role for the military instrument to play — it is essential for deterrence credibility, the defense of our allies, and to back up diplomacy. But use of force should always be of last resort. If there is an imminent threat to U.S. forces in Korea or Japan or elsewhere in the region, or against the U.S. homeland, our right to self-defense is clear and absolute. However, there are sound reasons why multiple administrations have refrained from using force preventively — it would likely be catastrophic in human, economic, and strategic terms, not to mention illegal. The Human Costs Estimating the human costs of war is always an imperfect exercise. Much depends on assumptions and scenarios. However, even a limited military strike would likely escalate quickly into a regional conflagration. South Korea would likely face an artillery barrage on Seoul, if not a nuclear or chemical attack from the North. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 30,000 and 300,000 people could die within days of the conflict.[31] In addition to 28,500 U.S. military personnel and thousands of their dependents, there are approximately 100,000-500,000 American citizens living in South Korea. North Korea’s ballistic missiles can also range Tokyo, the world’s largest city, putting millions at risk. Hawaii and Guam — where millions of American citizens reside — are at the top of the North Korean target list. Inside North Korea, a major humanitarian crisis would likely unfold in the aftermath of the use of force. Food supplies and basic health care would be scarce, exacerbated by massive refugee flows numbering in the millions. Hundreds of thousands of political prisoners and detainees would also need critical attention. Post-conflict security demands would be similarly daunting. North Korea has the fourth largest military in the world: over a million strong with more than seven million reservists. Including troops and reservists, that is nearly 25 times the size of the Iraqi army in 2003.[32] Even as foreign forces worked to seize nuclear sites and materials, stocks of chemical weapons would be scattered around the country, along with caches of conventional weapons in underground tunnels and facilities. Surviving factions could ignite civil war and insurgency. As a result, according to some estimates, stabilization and peacekeeping tasks could require more than 400,000 troops.[33] This does not even begin to address the complex governance issues that would instantly emerge. We have encountered questions on unification, demobilization, and transitional justice in prior conflicts — a few of the many lessons from our experiences in Iraq — and have not acquitted ourselves well in dealing with them. The Economic Costs On the potential economic costs of war, let us start with a few simple facts: If nuclear conflict were to occur, the RAND Corporation estimates that such an attack would cost at least 10 percent of the ROK’s GDP in the first year alone and that those losses would likely be extended for at least ten years. And these estimates do not even include a strike on Hawaii or Japan.[34] Further, direct costs to U.S. taxpayers of a war with North Korea would be significant. According to another 2010 RAND report, estimates for long-term reconstruction of the Korean Peninsula top $1 trillion.[35] The Strategic Costs The strategic costs of preventive war with North Korea would be quite consequential for long-term U.S. interests, even assuming military success. Three questions factor most in my mind:
  1. What will be the long-term impact on our alliances? If a military strike is conducted without the concurrence of the ROK and Japan, you can expect an end to the alliance relationships as we know them in Asia and probably around the world. A preventive war without the full support of our Asian allies would likely do lasting damage to trust in America — not just in Asia, but globally. Without our alliances and partnerships, the United States’ role as a Pacific power would be fundamentally diminished for the long term.
  2. What will China and Russia do? China will almost certainly intervene into a destabilized North Korea, creating both military and political obstacles for the United States. It is likely that China will seek to occupy North Korea, at a minimum to prevent a complete state collapse and to secure nuclear sites. A long-term Chinese presence in North Korea — and it would almost certainly be long-term — has implications for our alliance with the ROK and our interests in Northeast Asia. And in a worse-case scenario, absent substantial strategic and tactical deconfliction in advance, a potential U.S.-China conflict could easily materialize. Russia, which shares a small land border with North Korea, will most certainly oppose U.S. intervention and continue to play spoiler alongside China.
  3. What would be the opportunity costs for the United States? This question never gets enough attention. War with North Korea would become the central preoccupation of the president and his national security team for the duration of his term — crowding out all other issues and limiting strategic bandwidth for the United States to deal with challenges like Russia, China, and Iran. If great power competition with China and Russia are indeed central to U.S. national security strategy, then war with North Korea would almost certainly distract U.S. resources and focus and increase China’s opportunities in the region. From a basic force management perspective, hard trade-offs would need to be made with respect to forces and capabilities in other theaters.
Examining the Argument for Preventive Use of Force There are some who argue that preventive use of force is the least bad option. They predicate this view in part on an assumption that Kim Jong Un is not a rational actor and therefore deterrence is not a reliable option for preventing a nuclear first strike against the United States. They also suggest that once North Korea achieves a full intercontinental ballistic missile capability, Kim Jong Un will use that capability to hold the U.S. homeland at risk while forcibly unifying the Korean Peninsula. While no one can credibly predict North Korean intentions, and while the possibility of nuclear coercion is real, there are some empirical weaknesses in this line of argument. Let me break it down. First, history shows otherwise. While reunification remains the stated objective of both North and South Korea, the credible threat of American and ROK firepower has prevented North Korea from pursuing that reunification by force since 1953. More than 28,000 U.S. troops remain on the Peninsula today, backed up by our extended deterrence commitment that would bring to bear the full spectrum of American power. Strengthening our deterrence credibility starts not with an overt demonstration of U.S. power in defense of our own citizens and interests, but with the credibility of our commitment to defend the citizens and interests of our allies. A preventive attack would undermine America’s deterrence strategy by showing that we are willing to sacrifice our allies, essentially decoupling them ourselves. Second, there are the basic military realities. Some have suggested that “war over there is better than war over here.” But let us be honest: North Korea already has the capability to hold U.S. interests at risk in the Pacific — with nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach Hawaii and Guam where millions of American citizens live, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of American civilians living in both Korea and Japan. So, war over there would also potentially cost millions of American lives. Third, the arguments for preventive use of force are predicated on ultimately unknowable determinations on Kim Jong Un’s rationality. What would be the objective and how would we effectuate the desired outcome, especially if he is irrational? Much will depend on Kim Jong Un’s perceptions of our intentions. So if we assume Kim Jong Un is indeed an irrational actor, why would we think that he would exercise restraint when presented with a limited U.S. military strike? This is the central flaw in the argument for the “bloody nose” approach. Escalation is extremely likely and deterrence cuts both ways. Finally, there are real questions about the effectiveness of preventive use of force. What would a limited strike ultimately seek to achieve? If it is to show we are serious and to force Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table, it is unlikely that he will oblige. If the objective of a strike is to take out his nuclear and ballistic missile programs, then that is not a limited military option. In my judgment, that would be a full-scale war, and in that case, we would need to have high confidence that we were able to hit all out targets and that the nuclear, chemical, and ballistic programs could not be reconstituted. In fact, in a letter to Congress last year, the Pentagon itself estimates that eliminating all of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities would require an actual ground invasion.[36] What are the other options? National security decision-making often forces us to choose the least bad option.  Make no mistake that with North Korea there are no good options and that all of them carry risk. But by far the worst is war. In my view, the least bad option is to contain, deter, pressure, and vigorously try to open a genuine diplomatic process. So where does that leave us? To begin with, we need to refresh our approach to diplomacy and make clear to North Korea that the door is open. We all know that diplomacy with North Korea has a checkered past, but it must be the leading line of the U.S. effort if for no other reason than that diplomacy is the necessary predicate to all other options. And while North Korea has demonstrated little interest in meaningful diplomacy over denuclearization, we need to be clear, persistent, and creative about how we approach any negotiations. There has been significant confusion over U.S. intentions in this regard. We also need to consider that at the heart of the North Korea crisis is a security dilemma, not just an arms control and proliferation problem. We need to think creatively about how to address that dilemma in concert with our allies — including what assurances we would be prepared to offer in exchange for meaningful and verifiable limits on their nuclear program. Diplomacy is only likely to be successful if it begins without preconditions and moves in stages of confidence-building. We should also be positioning ourselves to shape any negotiations to our advantage and not allow the North Koreans to seize the initiative. For this to be possible, I would encourage the Trump administration to appoint an experienced high-level envoy that has the unambiguous backing of the White House to coordinate diplomacy and messaging with our allies and who would be dedicated full time to the pursuit of negotiations. Second, we should consider a shift in our strategy vis-à-vis China. While the Chinese do not share our long-term interests on the Korean Peninsula, they do worry about two things: secondary sanctions and American encirclement. On the sanction front, the administration has only just begun to get serious with China, and the United States should pull every non-military pressure lever it has over North Korea before putting American lives on the line. Critically, China can cut off North Korea’s oil supplies, but it has not yet done so. The Trump administration should substantially ratchet up the costs to Beijing if it continues to supply fuel not only to the North Korean economy but to its military as well. Further, the Chinese need to look out around the region and see the negative effect that a nuclear-armed North Korea will have on their long-term objective to impose a sphere of influence in their near periphery. We should consider what additional force posture is necessary to contain and deter a nuclear-armed North Korea and we should not hesitate to move forward with it, whether that takes the form of an additional THAAD battery on the Peninsula, support for Japanese acquisition of key capabilities, or additional U.S. air, naval, and ground forces around the region. As the United States bolsters deterrence and containment against North Korea, U.S. policy must send the unmistakable signal to China that, if the threat from North Korea remains, the United States will strengthen its military posture in Northeast Asia. We also need to work harder to improve Japan-ROK relations and further operationalize trilateral cooperation — not just to prevent North Korea from driving wedges, but China as well. Third, we are likely to find ourselves in a containment and deterrence scenario and we should begin conceptualizing what would be necessary, in that scenario, to limit risk. This is obviously no one’s preferred outcome and it has potential downsides. But given the challenges of diplomacy with North Korea and given the overwhelming risks of war, I think we also need to be realistic. What would an active containment and upgraded deterrence strategy look like that would minimize risk, protect our long-term strategic interests, and could be executed in concert with our allies? We need to be thinking hard about how to upgrade our extended deterrence commitments to our allies, how to improve conventional deterrence, and how to craft a much more integrated and enhanced counter-proliferation framework. A war of choice with North Korea would be the option of highest risk. It would be unlikely to advance U.S. long-term strategic interests, and in my view, could potentially mortally wound them. Given the stakes involved with the use of force, the Trump administration owes our military and the American public the planning and preparation that, frankly, was absent with Iraq in 2003. *Portions of this article previously appeared in The Hill on December 1, 2017, with Ely Ratner. Kelly Magsamen is Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. She previously served as the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs

6. The Least Bad Option: Damage Limitation and U.S. Deterrence Strategy toward North Korea

By Vince A. Manzo and John K. Warden The Trump administration is right to be alarmed by the breakneck advancement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But by treating North Korea’s push toward an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a crisis rather than a component of a long-term challenge, the Trump team is stumbling toward an unnecessary war. Senior officials appear to be coalescing around the wrongheaded conclusion that the United States cannot deter a nuclear-armed North Korea and are reportedly contemplating limited military action that would carry significant risk of escalation to a catastrophic war.[37] Fortunately, the United States has acceptable options between the insupportable extremes of preventive war or capitulation to Pyongyang’s most far-reaching demands. Rather than trying to “solve the problem,” the Trump administration needs a long-term strategy for managing the threat. The administration’s goals should be to deter war, mitigate the risk of nuclear escalation, and assuage South Korean and Japanese concerns. To achieve these goals, the United States must demonstrate that it will oppose armed aggression in the face of increasing nuclear risk. Maintaining robust “damage-limitation capabilities” that can significantly limit North Korea’s ability to conduct successful nuclear strikes against the United States and its allies should be the Trump administration’s long-term priority. The Extended Deterrence and Assurance Challenge The risk associated with North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program is not that Pyongyang will conduct a bolt-from-the-blue strike against the United States. Rather, the concern is that North Korea will launch conventional attacks against Japan and South Korea backed by nuclear threats. To continue to uphold its extended deterrence commitments, the United States must be willing to step into the crosshairs of an increasing number of North Korean ICBMs on behalf on an ally. This is an extraordinary commitment, and one that Pyongyang, and possibly Seoul and Tokyo, may come to question. As North Korea’s nuclear capabilities improve, Pyongyang is likely to become more ambitious. Pyongyang likely has – or will develop – a strategy for using its nuclear weapons capability to reshape the political arrangement on the peninsula.[38] If Pyongyang is confident that it can threaten nuclear escalation to deter the United States and South Korea from pursuing regime change, then it is likely to be more willing to initiate provocations, escalate crises, and risk war.[39] In the worst case scenario, North Korea may come to think that it can invade and conquer South Korea while using nuclear threats to deter U.S. intervention.[40] Short of that, the Kim regime has intermediate objectives: weakening the U.S.-South Korea alliance, reducing U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula, dividing South Korea and Japan, and extracting economic concessions.[41] A related concern is that Seoul and Tokyo may come to doubt U.S. security guarantees. They may fear that the United States would fail to honor its security commitment and conclude that they need their own nuclear weapons to deter North Korea. Perhaps more likely, Seoul might conclude that it needs to take matters into its own hands in a crisis by conducting a unilateral, conventional strike targeting Kim Jong Un or key leadership around him. Alternatively, Seoul might agree to a North-South confederation or a substantially reduced U.S. military presence; Tokyo might deny the use of its territory for U.S. military operations on the Korean peninsula. The United States, therefore, must convince Pyongyang, Seoul, and Tokyo that it will oppose North Korean aggression. The United States can deter North Korea from starting a war or using nuclear weapons.[42] But doing so will require a determined effort to shape Pyongyang’s calculus. The U.S. and allied goal should be to convince the Kim regime that its nuclear weapons are an insurance policy against an unprovoked invasion rather than a license for conquest. The Case for Damage Limitation A central element of U.S. long-term strategy for deterring a nuclear-armed North Korea and assuring South Korea and Japan should be to maintain robust “damage-limitation capabilities” to keep pace with North Korea’s advancing nuclear forces. By damage-limitation capabilities, we mean military capabilities that would allow the United States – in a conflict – to use offensive and defensive means to significantly reduce North Korea’s ability to conduct successful nuclear strikes against it and its allies. Broadly, these capabilities would include three key elements: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to locate and track North Korean nuclear forces, strike capabilities to disable nuclear-armed delivery vehicles or disrupt their command and control, and defenses to intercept nuclear-armed missiles once North Korea has launched them. Of course, the United States has significant ISR, strike, and missile defense capabilities today. But as North Korea’s nuclear weapons force becomes larger and more sophisticated, the United States will need to keep pace, which will require examining North Korean nuclear forces as a network and ensuring that the United States has the appropriate tools to exploit weak points. One key shortcoming of the current U.S. posture is an overreliance on nuclear weapons to conduct strikes against North Korea’s nuclear forces.[43] Massive nuclear strikes may not be credible in Pyongyang’s eyes, making it critical that the United States improve its conventional options, particularly against high-value targets like ICBMs. This might involve the deployment of additional strike platforms to the Korean peninsula or the fielding of intercontinental-range conventional strike capabilities.[44] Robust damage-limitation capabilities will help the United States disabuse Kim Jong Un of the idea that he can use or threaten to use nuclear weapons to terminate a conventional conflict. Pyongyang knows it cannot match the full military potential of the United States. As a result, Kim has incentives to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces and bases in the region, while relying on the threat of significant nuclear attacks against U.S. and allied cities to convince the United States to stop fighting.[45] But if Kim and his advisers fear that the United States will execute strikes to destroy their nuclear forces – either to preempt its nuclear use during a conventional conflict or to retaliate against a limited nuclear strike –then they will have dramatically less confidence in their ability to coerce or intimidate through the threat or use of force. Recognizing this military disadvantage, Pyongyang will be less likely to go on the offensive, in peacetime or in crisis, or to attempt to end a conflict by conducting limited nuclear strikes. Washington, on the other hand, would have greater confidence in its ability to deter – and if necessary mitigate – nuclear escalation, which should increase U.S. willingness to stand with allies in the face of aggression. For allies, U.S. damage-limitation capabilities would help to assure them of the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence despite advancing North Korean nuclear capabilities.[46] Lastly, damage-limitation capabilities provide Washington with an option to reduce harm to the United States and its allies. A conflict on the Korean peninsula could spiral out of control despite U.S. efforts to de-escalate. Imagine North Korea launching several nuclear strikes and preparing more, regardless of the consequences. In this scenario, the United States and its allies may determine that deterring the next wave of nuclear attacks is not viable and instead seek to disarm North Korea’s nuclear forces. The right mix of offensive and defensive capabilities would save thousands if not millions of American, Korean, and Japanese lives. There are, of course, risks associated with the pursuit of damage-limitation capabilities against a nuclear-armed adversary. The disadvantages have persuaded the U.S. government to accept a relationship of mutual vulnerability with Russia, and some scholars argue that pursuit of improved damage-limitation capabilities against China would be counterproductive.[47] For North Korea, however, the likely benefits outweigh the risks. Objection One: Not Required to Deter One objection is that the United States does not need damage-limitation capabilities to deter North Korea. This argument posits that a reliable forward military presence combined with the threat of an “effective and overwhelming” response to North Korean nuclear use is both necessary and sufficient to deny North Korea the ability to conquer territory and deter it from conducting nuclear strikes. This argument is half-right. The United States should pursue an improved conventional posture on the Korean peninsula and robust damage-limitation capabilities. But one is not a substitute for the other. A forward military posture would cause Pyongyang to think twice before undertaking conventional military aggression, but would not eliminate the possibility of war. Moreover, threats of an overwhelming response may not be sufficient to deter North Korean nuclear use absent significant damage-limitation capabilities. In an escalating conventional conflict, the Kim regime might be tempted to try to coerce Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo to accommodate its demands through limited nuclear strikes. If Pyongyang believes that it can reliably threaten several major U.S. cities, it may doubt that Washington will follow through on its threat of overwhelming retaliation, instead expecting accommodation. With robust damage-limitation capabilities, the United States can credibly threaten to preempt North Korea’s nuclear missiles and intercept most of those that survive, thus reducing the vulnerability of the United States. As a result, North Korea would be less confident that it can coerce capitulation. Objection Two: Triggers an Unwinnable Arms Race A second objection is that pursuit of damage-limitation capabilities would trigger an unwinnable arms race. This objection involves two claims. First, an arms race with North Korea would leave the United States and its allies worse off because striking North Korean nuclear forces is too difficult and U.S. missile defenses are too limited, particularly compared to the lower cost of fielding additional missiles. Second, U.S. damage-limitation capabilities would only be meaningful if the United States were supremely confident that a comprehensive strike against North Korean nuclear forces would be at or near one-hundred percent effective. Improving U.S. long-range strike and missile-defense capabilities would, indeed, incentivize Pyongyang to quantitatively and qualitatively improve its nuclear forces. But with North Korea – unlike Russia and China – this is not a competition the United States should avoid. Pyongyang is already trying to increase the survivability, reliability, and yield of its nuclear forces and is not going to reverse course. But the United States and its allies have a massive advantage over North Korea in financial and technical resources that they can use to make it harder for the North to maintain a survivable reserve of nuclear forces in war. North Korea is following the path of previous nuclear powers to keep its nuclear forces survivable: It is hiding key capabilities in dispersed, hardened facilities that are difficult to strike and is taking advantage of ground-based, mobile launchers that are difficult to find. In time, North Korea is likely to deploy nuclear-armed ballistic missiles on submarines that are also difficult to locate. Holding these forces at risk is hard but not impossible. Against a far superior competitor in the Soviet Union, the United States was able to use intelligence capabilities to track and target mobile missiles and submarines.[48] Today, improvements in technology are making it easier to find and strike mobile and hardened targets even against sophisticated, determined competitors.[49] North Korea is a far smaller country than either Russia or China, with far less transportation infrastructure, less experience operating mobile missiles and submarines, and a significantly reduced ability to deny the United States overhead and airborne ISR. If the United States and its allies dedicate significant resources to the effort, they can substantially improve their ability to find, track, target, and strike North Korea’s mobile missiles and submarines. Regarding missile defense, critics are correct to note that deploying additional missiles and countermeasures is cheaper than fielding reliable defenses and to warn of the limitations of current U.S. missile defense systems. But if Washington prioritizes realistic improvements in its homeland defense system, it can mitigate North Korea’s ability to reliably threaten the continental United States.[50] In addition, the United States, South Korea, and Japan can improve their combined regional missile defense posture by investing in proven systems and exploring new capabilities. To be clear, the United States will never be one-hundred-percent confident that it can comprehensively disarm North Korea’s nuclear forces. Fortunately, the purpose of pursuing additional damage-limitation capabilities is not to justify preventive war but rather to reduce the level of nuclear risk that the United States and its allies must take on in an escalating conflict with North Korea. There is an immense difference between an adversary that might be able to destroy a handful of U.S. cities and an adversary that could reliably threaten scores. Absolute security from North Korea’s nuclear weapons is unobtainable, but reducing U.S. and allied vulnerability is a realistic goal. Objection Three: Incentivizes North Korean Nuclear Use A third objection is that a damage-limitation posture would increase the likelihood of North Korea using a nuclear weapon in a conflict. It posits that if Kim Jong Un fears that the United States will destroy his nuclear forces, then he might feel pressure to use his nuclear weapons before he loses them. This conflates North Korea’s fear of regime change with its fear of strikes against its nuclear forces and, as a result, gets the relationship between U.S. damage-limitation capabilities and North Korea’s incentive to use nuclear weapons backward. Kim’s primary goal in a conflict with the United States would be regime survival. North Korea, therefore, requires a war strategy that coerces the United States and its allies to limit their ambitions, not because they are incapable of pursuing regime change in North Korea, but because they calculate that the risk is not worth the benefit. If the Kim regime fears that South Korea and the United States are going full bore toward regime change, nuclear escalation is a logical strategy. By raising the specter of an escalating nuclear war, Pyongyang would force Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo to reconsider whether the benefits of dislodging the regime are worth the likely catastrophic costs. But Pyongyang would also understand that nuclear escalation is an extremely risky strategy. In crossing the nuclear threshold, North Korea would contravene a long-held international norm against the use of nuclear weapons and cross a U.S. red line, ensuring that Washington has a stronger interest in pursuing regime change than at the outset of the conflict. Robust U.S. ISR, strike, and missile defense capabilities would make coercive nuclear escalation significantly riskier for Pyongyang. This damage-limitation posture would undermine Kim’s confidence that, by escalating a conflict to the nuclear level, he can convince the United States to stand down out of fear. As a result, in both crisis and conflict, a Kim regime interested in survival would have a reason to find less risky ways out of crisis. On the other hand, U.S. damage-limitation capabilities would increase Pyongyang’s concerns about America’s pursuit of regime change. Therefore, the requisite mix of offensive and defensive capabilities must be supplemented by a deliberate effort to assure the Kim regime that it has an off-ramp during conflict. Effective deterrence hinges on the promise of reciprocal restraint. As long as their wartime objectives remain limited, the United States and its allies must clearly signal to the Kim regime – in word and deed – that they are not interested in pursuing regime change unless North Korea conducts nuclear attacks first.[51] Engaging in peacetime diplomacy with North Korea to guard against misperception and miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of localized, escalation-prone conflicts would also help establish an understanding of reciprocal restraint based on clear deterrence thresholds. The Land of Bad Options Every approach to countering a nuclear-armed North Korea entails risk. But in the land of bad options, deterrence reigns. A U.S.-led deterrence strategy is our best hope for preventing North Korea from achieving its revisionist objectives at an acceptable cost to the United States and its allies. But it will only be effective if we prioritize maintaining robust damage-limitation capabilities to keep pace with North Korea’s advancing nuclear forces.   Vince A. Manzo ( is a Research Analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis. John K. Warden ( is a Senior Policy Analyst on the Strategic Analysis & Assessments team at Science Applications International Corporation. The views expressed are their own.

7. Managing a Nuclear-Armed North Korea: Deter, Contain, Constrain, Transform

By Adam Mount U.S. policy on North Korea has failed. For more than 25 years, the United States and its allies have worked to prevent North Korea from achieving a deliverable nuclear capability. Over the first year of the Trump administration, rapid advancements in missile technology have brought North Korea to this threshold. The program is too advanced, too dispersed, and too valuable to the regime for us to quickly eliminate it through diplomatic or military means on acceptable terms. As a result, the United States and its allies are now forced to manage a nuclear-armed North Korea that deters aggression and other destabilizing behavior, contains illicit activity from spreading beyond its borders, and encourages the transformation of the regime over time. Each month that passes that has the United States clinging to an outdated, invalid policy is one that runs a severe risk of war and allows North Korean activities to go unaddressed. The regrettable fact is that a nuclear-armed North Korea exists and is not being managed. U.S. policy During its first year in office, the Trump administration has finally prioritized North Korea on the U.S. agenda. Yet, an inflated assessment of U.S. leverage, coupled with a poor policy process, has prevented additional resources and attention from transforming the standoff. The Trump team has manufactured a military and economic crisis they hope could force North Korea to capitulate. In its formal public statements and in a series of highly inflammatory statements on twitter, the administration has claimed that Pyongyang cannot be deterred, and that the United States will not tolerate vulnerability to North Korean missiles. In so doing, the administration is attempting to convince North Korea that failure to denuclearize will lead to war. If this effort were coordinated effectively and launched a decade ago, it may have stood a decent chance of success. However, both the execution of the policy and the state of North Korea’s capabilities are proving to be fatal complications. In their more lucid moments, administration officials claim that, once heightened economic sanctions have an opportunity to take hold, they intend to convene denuclearization negotiations. Yet, these moments of clarity are almost immediately obscured by contradictions, reversals, and vague threats of war that lack credibility or clear terms.[52] There remains a very real and entirely unacceptable possibility that influential groups in the administration prefer war or could talk themselves into one.[53] The mixed messages allow Pyongyang to temporize and select the interpretation of U.S. policy they consider most advantageous. Washington has not forced Pyongyang to respond to a credible negotiations proposal that stands a realistic chance of halting North Korea’s rapid development of a nuclear arsenal that the Kim regime sees as critical to domestic legitimacy and international survival.[54] North Korea will continue to develop, test, and operationally deploy these systems in the coming months and years.[55] Instead of forcing North Korea to capitulate to U.S. demands, the Trump administration’s belligerent posturing has deliberately eroded stability on the peninsula, significantly raising the risk of an accidental or deliberate conflict. At the same time, the exclusive and hopeless fixation on immediate denuclearization has prevented the United States and its allies from confronting the evolving North Korean threat. Despite a great deal of rhetoric, the Trump administration has done very little to actually address North Korea’s development of intermediate and intercontinental missiles and its demonstration of a more destructive nuclear device. Despite the regime’s dramatic nuclear and missile advancements over Trump’s first year in office, and despite ongoing improvements in its submarine, special operations, cyber, and artillery capabilities, U.S. force posture has not adapted. North Korea’s technical developments are invalidating the basic assumptions of U.S. policy toward the regime. Strategies predicated on coercing Pyongyang into negotiations to eliminate its nuclear arsenal now appear untenable, at least for the medium term. On the other hand, a military strike – whether to degrade North Korean forces or to coerce the regime – is unlikely to eliminate its programs and would in all likelihood incur unbearable humanitarian, economic, and strategic costs.[56] For the foreseeable future, the world will face a regime that possesses the capability to strike U.S. and regional targets with a nuclear weapon. Policy planning in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo has not kept pace with Pyongyang’s rapid evolution, leaving the conversation marked by inertia. Because denuclearization has been the overriding objective, the United States and its allies have made little progress on developing a coordinated and sustainable North Korea strategy. Though a remarkably broad, bipartisan array of experts have proposed components of that strategy, very little is known about the constellation of concepts, principles, and policy options necessary for managing a nuclear-armed North Korea. The priorities of deterring, containing, constraining, and transforming a nuclear-armed North Korea should animate that effort. Deter The overwhelming imperative for the foreseeable future is to continuously deter a highly capable, rapidly evolving military adversary from aggression against U.S., South Korean, and Japanese targets, as well as other extremely destabilizing actions.[57] The United States and its allies will have to accept the necessity of sustainably deterring a novel adversary – one that is armed with nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional standoff retaliatory capabilities, highly capable in cyber, but also conventionally inferior.[58] North Korea is rapidly expanding its capacity for provocation and aggression on land, at sea, in space, and in cyberspace. The United States and its allies must retain the capabilities necessary to credibly retaliate in response to any such aggression. However, the high potential for escalation means that defeating and defending against these attacks will be critical to protecting allied civilians and servicemen. Nuclear deterrence will remain a part of allied posture for the foreseeable future, but is not sufficient to defend against North Korean aggression at lower levels of conflict, which will require that joint conventional forces remain capable and ready. As the North Korean threat evolves, so must the allied defensive posture. The alliance should consider new deployments of unambiguously defensive forces, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-special operations forces, cyber-defense, as well as measures to ensure that U.S. forces from anywhere in the world can reach South Korea to reinforce allied positions despite North Korean attacks. Deterrence of coercive or limited chemical and biological attacks also demands considerably more attention. It is not enough to deter aggression. Beginning immediately, the allies must work to deter North Korea from other extremely destabilizing and dangerous activities, including an atmospheric nuclear test, continued ballistic missile overflights of Japan, and proliferation of fissile material or nuclear weapons technology. Contain                                                                                    Despite its diplomatic isolation, the regime in Pyongyang has never confined its activities to its own borders. North Korean operatives are growing increasingly adept at acting across the globe, spreading financial crimes, smuggling illicit goods, procuring and exporting military equipment, placing North Korean workers in foreign countries to gain currency, stealing funds from banks through cyber intrusion, and a myriad other illicit activities.[59] North Korea has already sold nuclear technology abroad and may well continue to do so. A sustainable strategy must work ceaselessly to contain North Korea’s destabilizing criminal behavior abroad. In addition to the ongoing activities immediately above, the allies will have to contain types of potential instability, including assassination of North Korean defectors or foreign citizens abroad, attacks against shipping or other economic activities in Asia, cyberattacks against regional infrastructure, and disruption of civilian or military space operations. Sanctions will be an important tool in this effort, as U.S. laws and U.N. members work to encourage cou