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(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

Korean Peninsula Issue and Japan's Future Security Policy

Hideshi Tokuchi,
Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

1. Introduction

As initially scheduled, the Inter-Korean summit and the North Korea-US summit took place respectively, on April 27, 2018 and on June 12, 2018. The Panmunjom Declaration and the US-North Korea Joint Statement, in which the latter refers to the former, were made public from those historic summit meetings. Our current concern is: Where are we on the way to the solution of the North Korean nuclear and missile issues?

The media reports just before the North Korea-US Summit gave rise to an impression that the parties concerned would likely reach an agreement on some concrete paths toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But thinking realistically, the two nations have no diplomatic relations and their leaders had exchanged with each other a series of offensive, debasing words until last year. It may be quite easy to call this sudden change of attitudes a US-North Korea "political show" as is suggested in some Japanese newspaper editorials.1 However, the North Korean nuclear and missile problem is originally a global issue to be addressed from the viewpoint of confrontation between North Korea and the international community rather than only between North Korea and the United States. Many people may agree that it is foolish to entrust the future of the Korean Peninsula to such personalities as President Trump and Kim Jong-un whose words and deeds are often erratic.2 But we should remember that the issue is not only entrusted to them at all. From now on it will be important for Japan, a neighbor of North Korea and a US ally, to take more a proactive posture to tackle the problem.

Based on the above consideration, this paper will first focus on controversial points of the US-North Korea Joint Statement, and then on possible security measures Japan should take given the current circumstances.

2. Controversial Points of the US-North Korea Joint Statement

The Panmunjom Declaration issued on April 27, includes "South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula". The US-North Korea Joint Statement issued on June 12 reads as follows: "Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Does the "complete denuclearization" mentioned in these documents signify CVID? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answered questions raised by the press at a special briefing on June 13, stating, "‘complete' encompasses verifiable and irreversible," 3 but his explanation lacks cogency. Many people point out the ambiguity of the agreement. But the largest problem is that the leaders of the United States and North Korea came up with an agreement which represents a substantial retrogression from the previous agreements. Noteworthy is the fact that the agreement was reached after North Korea's declaration of her "completion of nuclear power."

In the year following a North-South leaders talks in February 1992, North Korea declared her withdrawal from the NPT; and in the year following the Six-Party Talks in September 2005, North Korea conducted the first nuclear test. Such painful experiences in the past lead us to keep closer watch over North Korea's future actions. The recent US-North Korea Joint Statement represents, as mentioned earlier, a substantial retrogression from the previous agreements.

The Trump administration branded the nuclear agreement with Iran as the worst agreement the United States has ever concluded, and withdrew from the agreement. One of the reasons the administration blamed the agreement with Iran is that the Iran nuclear accord fails to include restrictions on Iran's missile development. Then, does a similar missile development not matter in the case of North Korea?

President Trump referred to a reduction in the United States Forces Korea (USFK), saying, "I want to bring our soldiers back home" as promised during the Presidential Election Campaign. He also took up the topic of the joint US-South Korea military drills, stating "We will stop the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money." Furthermore, President Trump expressed his unwillingness to threaten North Korea as if wanting to avoid any reference to US military options against the North.4

What is of utmost importance in relation to the Japan-US alliance and with the regional security structure is the USFK issue. Public concern is now being directed to the implementation of the joint US-South Korea military drills; however, a large-scale military exercise is not always conducted in and around the Korean Peninsula. Given that the implementation of such a military exercise is aimed to send a sort of signal to North Korea, part of the joint military drills might be cancelled based on actual circumstances.

Needless to say, most problematic is President Trump's views on US alliances with partner states including South Korea. He shares an obvious misconception that through these alliances the United States is unilaterally providing benefits unilaterally to the allies. Allow me to comment on the future presence of the USFK. As for the USFK, some 15,000 or 65 percent out of a total of 23,000 soldiers are army personnel, while the navy is just an auxiliary force.5 The size and setup of USFK differ widely from the United States Forces Japan (USFJ). It is quite clear that the mission of USFK is to serve as deterrence against North Korea. We should note two things in this regard. First, the USFK is the only US military presence in the continental Asia, and it has a major impact on the balance of power in the East Asia as a whole. Second, the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Korea extends its coverage to the Pacific area and is not confined to the Korean Peninsula.

3. Japan's security challenges in the future

Fuji Kamiya once pointed out that the current issues involving the Korean Peninsula such as those of nuclear weapons and missiles have their roots in the Korean War.6 Looking back at history, while the Japan-US alliance was not instituted to safeguard Japan from a military invasion by North Korea and China, the impact of the Korean War upon Japan's security was nonetheless decisive. Kamiya enumerated the following three effects of the war upon Japan: (1) the establishment of the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements; (2) the Korean War special procurements, and (3) Japan's rearmament. Kamiya remarked that the foundation of today's Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) can be viewed as an effect of the Korean War.7 In this sense, the rising concerns of the Japanese public about the deterrence of the Japan-US alliance and the JSDF's preparedness against North Korean threats are showing a return to the original missions of the Japan-US alliance and the JSDF.

The situation of the Korean Peninsula has in any period of time affected Japan's peace and security a great deal. In this sense, Japan's recognition that "the security of South Korea is vital for the safety of Japan itself" in Article 4 of the Japan-US Joint Statement between Prime minister Sato and President Nixon dated November 1969 and Japan-US bilateral recognition that "the security of South Korea is critical for maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula and the maintenance of peace on the Korean Peninsula is essential to the peace of Asia including Japan" in Article 3 of the Joint Announcement to the press issued from the Miki-Ford talks in August 1975 are still valid today.

Japan makes the analysis that North Korea has been promoting the development of nuclear weapons as an essential deterrent to secure its political regime. The 2017 version of "Defense of Japan" quoted North Korea as saying on April 8, 2017 in reference to a US military attack against Syria two days earlier, "the United States, bragging about itself as a super power, has oddly chosen countries possessing no nuke for its target of outrage; the Trump administration is in this respect exactly the same as past US administrations."8 It must have been the Japanese government's assessment that North Korea will not offer nuclear weapons as a bargaining-chip.

If this assessment is correct, the Japanese government is required to further intensify pressures through deterrence and sanctions, and it should not relax these fundamental efforts. If North Korea had really "completed" its nuclear force and furnished itself with ICBM, the time left for us to respond to a potential crisis would be extremely limited. It is, however, impossible for us to be optimistic about the possibility of a short-time solution to the problem. Akihiko Tanaka notes that Japan, the United States and the international community must fight in earnest a "cold war" with North Korea over a long period of time.9 Hitoshi Tanaka argues that effective sanctions of a kind should be implemented that would make North Korea aware that nuclear weapons would not guarantee its existence.10 Hitoshi Tanaka also adds that Japan should prepare her own contingency plan to address contingencies in the Korean Peninsula. He also notes "But that alone would not suffice". He continues to say that in consultation with other countries concerned, Japan should in advance decide which party is to be responsible for removing nuclear materials at the time of the collapse of the North Korean regime and the resulting confusion and that the Japanese and South Korean governments should talk beforehand about an evacuation plan for foreign residents in Japan and South Korea.11 Such an adamant attitude as Hitoshi Tanaka suggests would help add to the pressure by demonstrating a strong will. The scope of any contingency plan involving contingencies on the Korean Peninsula should not be confined to a search and control of nuclear materials and the evacuation of non-combatants. It is not imaginable for Japan to be involved in actual fighting operations directly on the Korean Peninsula, whereas it may be sufficiently likely that Japan will help in the deployment of US military forces in Japan and humanitarian assistance operations on the Korean Peninsula. Such a contingency plan, however, may be of no use if it remains only as a program. To promote crisis management in the visible form of a joint exercise, for example, would be effective as part of pressure against North Korea.

The North Korean nuclear and missile issues are inseparable from the question of how to establish the future order in Northeast Asia. The failure of facing this difficult question squarely would make it difficult for us to take appropriate responses when the USFK comes to the focus of discussion on regional security.

The most fundamental here is to strengthen the Japan-US alliance. Then following three points should be taken into consideration.

First, policy coordination between the United States and Japan is must. In other words, some input from Japan would be essential to help the United States to formulate a proper North Korea policy. Some concrete measures should be taken to dissuade the United States under the spell of the America-firstism from weakening its soft power, which will follow as a result through the weakening of its hard power; from jeopardizing the alliances, and from destabilizing the world. The Japan-US alliance is not a personal relationship between the leaders of the two countries, but is an institutional relationship built upon the basis of a long history of cooperation. A solid relationship between the military of the two countries constitutes the core of the alliance. We must endeavor to further strengthen the core relationship as well as the relations between supportive security communities in the United States and Japan.

Secondly, the improvement in the credibility of the US nuclear deterrence is required more than ever. It is a truism that the United States and Japan are important allies for each other, but they are different, independent states. Now that North Korea has virtually succeeded in its ICBM development, the Japanese government should contribute to improving the credibility of nuclear deterrence through measures understandable to the public.

Thirdly, what is necessary to enhance the reliability of the US nuclear deterrence is to increase the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance through strengthening the Japan-US joint defense posture by increasing the role of Japan. The pressure of economic sanctions against North Korea has already loosened, and is almost "irreversible" in the present situation. On the other hand, military pressure against the North is not exerted uniformly by the entire international community including China and Russia. The military pressure against North Korea must be maintained by Japan and the United States. Since the threat of missiles has not been yet removed, Japan must not relax efforts to upgrade critical functions including missile defense, but should rather pursue them as a priority. Regarding Japan's counter-attack capability, we should conceptualize it as a medium- to long-term challenge, while, given the increasing military role of Japan, efforts to acquire the capability should be continued.

In order to maintain military pressure, we must foresee a situation where military operations could be carried out. Relevant preparations, consequently, should be made in advance. Even though North Korea may agree to a nuclear reduction or the setting of an upper limit for possession of nuclear weapons, she will not give up nuclear weapons as the last resort to survival. In this context preparations are therefore necessary.

However, such preparations are not aimed solely at military options nor at affirming those options. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 forced the United States to consider the containment of the Soviet Union primarily in military terms, but in today's international community, a similar idea will not be endorsed even in the case of North Korea. In addition, military options are not readily rewarded by expected achievements, nor do they fail to have a quite serious impact on Japan's security. Borrowing the words of Victor Cha, military options would endanger the lives of Americans in South Korea, which are as great as the population of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati12 --- a serious situation for the United States. We should recognize the limitations of a policy based on pressure, and the likelihood that pressure-based diplomacy will function instead.

4. Conclusion

In his answer to a question about the role Japan could play in the North Korea nuclear issue, raised in an interview that appeared in a Japanese newspaper, President Moon Jae-in said that South Korea would continue working with Japan, maintaining close communications with each other.13 Such cooperation between the two countries must be irreversible.

In his answer to another question by the same newspaper about the possibility of solving the issues related to the historical experiences between the two nations, President Moon Jae-in stated that he has pursued his efforts so that Japan and South Korea can overcome the historical issues in a sensible manner; meanwhile, he has consistently adopted a position to promote a future-oriented cooperation, separately from the historical issues.14 It is Japan that has advocated such a two-track approach. Ironically, however, the Japanese people are now suffering "Korea fatigue" --- sick and tired of South Korea bringing up the historical issues over and over again. According to a recent Japan-South Korea joint public opinion poll, over 60% of South Korean respondents agree to strengthen military cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea, whereas a little less than 40% of Japanese respondents approve it and a little more than 40% of them withhold judgement.15 These results may reflect this "Korea fatigue." Amidst the current movements surrounding the North Korean problem, Japan and South Korea should make utmost efforts to get rid of this solution. Since both countries are US allies, their coordinated efforts will lead to strengthening the Japan-US and the South Korea-US alliances as well as the US presence and its engagement in this region.

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