Wednesday, February 23, 2011

US extended deterence in East Asia

Earlier this month, Japan's former Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama said that he used "deterrence" as an "expedient" fallback position to explain why he renegged on his promise to close the Futenma Marine Corps Air Base and move US Marines off of Okinawa. He, like many Japanese, are not convinced that the US on Okinawa provides a credible deterrence to Chinese or North Korean aggression.

This issue will be discussed by APP member Richard Bush, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Northeast Policy Studies, Brookings; Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow and Director, Arms Control Initiative, Brookings; and Victor Cha, D.S. Song Professor of Government, Georgetown University at a Brookings Institution forum, US Extended Deterence in East Asia, on Thursday, February 24th from 3:00 to 4:30pm. CNAPS Brookings is an institutional member of APP.

APP member Michael McDevitt, Vice President and Director, CNA Strategic Studies just published a Brookings Commentary, Deterring North Korean Provocations. He argues that it is time to strengthen the deterrence against North Korea by focusing on retaliation and commitment. It may be time to end US forces "strategic flexibility" in South Korea: "Taking strategic flexibility off the table would be a step the alliance could take to impress upon Pyongyang that the defense of South Korea is still its central task, and that the United States is not intimidated by the fact that Pyongyang has a nuclear capability that puts U.S. forces in Korea at risk." Further, he suggests that Washington should adopt Seou's new “manifold retaliation” approach that promises consequences for hostile acts that go beyond economic and diplomatic options.

Yet he concludes:
Finally, we should not lose sight of the fact that being reluctant to retaliate and perhaps trigger an escalatory cycle that could lead to war has been a successful strategy against a second North Korean invasion. South Korea has avoided war, and as a result has flourished politically and economically. In retrospect, the frustration of not being able to militarily punish North Korea for its hostile acts has been the price that was paid for the overall success of South Korea and its current prominence in the world. Ironically, by attempting to deter North Korean provocations, the new approach could make war more likely if it turns out that Kim Jong-il has a higher tolerance for risk than President Lee believes. If over time, alliance mangers conclude that restraint is more sensible than retaliation, the North should not be allowed to conclude that this “turning the other cheek” to a hostile act implies a weakness in the ability of the alliance to defeat an invasion.

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