[Column] Moving Beyond Militarization: Northeast Asia needs collective security, not conflict

Posted on : 2012-07-25 13:31 KST Modified on : 2012-07-25 13:31 KST

By Honda Hirokuni of Professor of Economics, Dokkyo University
Korea and Japan recently drafted GSOMIA (General Security Of Military Information Agreement), an agreement for closer military cooperation. The proposed agreement caused tremendous backlash in Korea. Media reports in Japan suggest that the Korean people are opposed because of anti-Japanese sentiment. But I personally feel that for Japan and Korea to take a military approach to their role in supporting the geopolitical order in Asia, under the supervision of the United States, is in no way a positive development for the stability of East Asia.
The American government over the last few decades has supported efforts to increase the overseas activities of the Japanese self-defense forces and strived to draw South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia into military cooperation agreements as part of its effort to maintain a robust military presence in Northeast Asia. The current redeployment of the United States military is aimed at increasing the effectiveness and speed of the deployment to the region of US troops currently stationed in Guam and Hawaii. The relocation of the Futenma base in Okinawa and the demands from the United States for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) concerning North Korea and China from the Self Defense Forces are part of this overall change in American posture.
Japanese administrations over recent decades have accepted US demands and transformed the original self-defense forces from a purely defensive role to one of both defense and active capability that is integrated with the United States military system. Japan has systematically developed a new military system both in preparation for a possible military conflict and also for the proactive sharing of intelligence and the division of labor with the United States in future conflicts.
In addition, the Japanese government claims that the American forces stationed in Japan are meant as deterrence to maintain order in the Pacific Region, thus recognizing the need for US bases throughout Japan and even establishing a so-called “good will budget” of 200 billion Won to support the costs of US troops. The whole situation is rather humiliating for Japan. Even as economic interdependency increases in Asia, the US-Japan alliance priority for military relations increases the overall insecurity in the whole region and increases distrust between the China and the United States and a tendency to think of responses to problems in military terms.
What is really needed for peace and prosperity in Asia is not a system that supports military responses to all problems between nations based on collective defense capacity, but rather a security architecture for the mutual inhibition of military build ups and of military intimidation. That depends on a collective security assurance regime to resolve conflicts through open means.
Moreover, with regard to historical issues, territorial issues, and other disputes, we need exchanges in terms of collaborative research on history, scholarly and cultural exchange, tourism and economic interaction. We need to assure the safety of fishermen in their work. At the same time we need to work towards mutual prosperity through the systematic pursuit of mutual plans for the development of undersea resources in the region. I feel that the critical role in this process lies with Asia‘s scholars and scientists.
British military affairs analyst Michael Howard has pointed out that the peace in Europe after the Second World War can be attributed primarily to a massive shift in the culture of Europe after the terror of the First and Second World Wars. Howard suggests in his book “War in European History” (2009) that the people of Europe came to the conclusion that war was certainly not the unavoidable fate of humanity, but not even a powerful political tool. The terrible price that Europe paid for two world wars led to the formulation of a completely different deterrence architecture than had existed previously over centuries of unending conflict.
So what about East Asia? Before the end of the war in East Asia, the leaders of the allies gathered in Yalta and established a blueprint for the post-war order. That vision clearly was not enough to prevent the Korean War, or the Vietnam War and to some degree America’s overreaction to the spread of socialism at Yalta meant that democratization of East Asia was constrained.
Whereas the economic development in Europe took place within the context of the Cold War and a balance of power, in the Asian case, although there was some variation between countries, the distorted developmental model that countries found themselves following ineluctably was a combination of a developmental authoritarian government system paired with a model for economic development based on exports.
And yet, although the feelings may have been slightly weaker than the case in Europe, there was also a tremendous desire to avoid war in Asia after the Second World War. Japan established a peace constitution, which included Article 9, which renounces the right to declare war or use military force. Of course Japan and the United States signed a mutual defense treaty and the Self-Defense Forces were established with the encouragement of the United States thereafter, so Japan did in fact have a military. Nonetheless, the restrictions imposed by the constitution meant that for many years Japan‘s military was exclusively defensive in nature as a matter of policy. As a result, the role of the Self-Defense Forces was quite limited.
There are already many organizations formed by citizens, scholars, journalists and local governments dedicated to creating a peaceful future for the Asian region. Some recent examples include the response to the problem of assured security by constitutional law scholars written up in the study “Research on a Comprehensive Peace Assurance Policy that can replace military power” and “The Campaign for a United Nations Declaration for the right to peaceful existence.” In addition, Korean, Chinese and Japanese historians have been working on a joint history of the region since 2004.
The views presented in this column are the writer’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of The Hankyoreh.  
Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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