Kim Jung Il has been very good to me. I have an article up on North Korea at Asia Times under the pen name Peter Lee, titled A convenient North Korean distraction.
Kim Jung Il has also been very good to the United States and Japan, providing a conventional security threat that plays to America’s most conspicuous advantage and justification for continued involvement in Asian affairs: our unchallenged military pre-eminence.
The point of the article, however, is that we won’t have Kim Jung Il to kick around forever, but we—especially the Japanese–don’t seem to be making contingency plans for what to do in Asia once the DPRK ceases to exist in its present form.
The two money quotes from the article are:
The North Korean crisis represents a collision of two anachronisms: the world’s last Stalinist state versus a fading Cold War alliance ill-equipped to face the challenge of China, a burgeoning regional power determined to expand its influence through investment, trade and diplomacy and avoid confrontation on the United States’ primary terms of advantage: military power.
North Korea is going to open up someday. Probably not through reform, regime change or collapse, or through the application of American or Japanese military force.
But it will open up.
There is too much money and strategic advantage at stake for the interested nations of North Asia to stand idly by and simply watch North Korea disintegrate.
Maybe change will come by means of a controlled implosion, jointly managed by China and South Korea, the two neighboring regimes that covet North Korea’s cheap labor, resources and markets, and abhor the consequences of Pyongyang’s chaotic disintegration in equal and extreme degree.
If and when that happens, Chinese and South Korean businesses will flood into North Korea and the entire Korean Peninsula will become part of the zero-sum equation bedeviling Tokyo. Japan may find itself on the outside looking in at North Asia’s burgeoning new economic frontier … together with the United States.
The article draws on the confirmation testimony of Kurt Campbell, founder of the Center for a New American Security, as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. Laura Rozen reported on June 25 that he was finally officially confirmed when some Republican senator withdrew a hold.
To me, Campbell’s testimony was remarkable for three things:
First, Campbell’s clear unwillingness to support any attempt by Japan to establish its own regional security presence by unleashing the Self Defense Force, presumably since he realizes it will come at the expense of American influence and credibility in the region. That’s bad news for the LDP, which sees a forward military presence in Asia for Japan under the U.S. aegis as one of the few measures available to it to counter China’s rise.
Second, the unrelenting use of the term “going forward”. Apparently this is Obama-speak for “We don’t want to get dragged into politically distracting and costly battles over the transgressions and lapses of the Bush administration, so let’s just assume we’re starting with a clean slate.” Of course, the slate is nowhere near clean, the GOP will not display any gratitude or restraint toward the Obama administration for turning a blind eye to its eight-year reign of error, and it remains to be seen whether the president’s unwillingness to openly identify and repudiate the numerous authors of our national economic and foreign policy clusterfugue turns into a political advantage or a liability.
Third, the Democratic chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jim Webb of Virginia, has a genuine bug in his ear about rapprochement with Myanmar.
He spent most of his question period pressing Campbell to acknowledge the logic of reaching out to the junta, instead of letting the situation fester indefinitely. Campbell, obviously unwilling to expend any political capital on this diplomatic backwater by needlessly antagonizing the left and right-wing supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, awkwardly but determinedly dodged the question several times.