Norman Angell- Can Economic Interdependence stop U.S.-China Conflict?

In 1910, Englishman Norman Angell wrote the book The Great Illusion to address the myth that nations could economically benefit from war. At the time that Angell was writing, popular and elite opinion assumed that a nation’s political power determined its prosperity, and that countries with preponderate military strength would have the greatest advantage.[1] Angell acknowledges that this belief had validity in the past, however by the 1900s a countries wealth became dependent on credit and commercial contract provided by the international financial system.[2] Because of the delicate working of this system, if country A invades country B, than the chaos caused by the invasion would damage A’s access to credit. Furthermore, country A would be unable to confiscate country B’s wealth without damaging its own economic well-being, and would destroy country B’s citizen’s will to work that is responsible for wealth creation.[3] Through this reasoning, Angell argues that conquest and military power have become economically futile.

The conditions that Angell identified in 1910 have only grown more significant in the modern era, where globalization has increased the interconnectedness of the world’s economy, and computerized trading allows investors to react in real time to countries actions. In addition, states now have powerful tools, such as targeted financial sanctions, to punish countries that use force. Currently, war is not only economically futile, but is devastatingly expensive for countries that engage in it. For example, Harvard researcher Linda Bilmes estimates the United States’ recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost U.S. taxpayers between $4 trillion to $6 trillion.[4] Even when a country expands their territory, it results in economic loss rather than increased prosperity. When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, it increased its financial burden rather than its prosperity. According to former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, it will cost Russia between $6 billion to $7 billion to subsidize Crimea a year.[5] In addition to these costs, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has estimated that sanctions against Russia applied after the annexation has cost more than $106 billion.[6]

However, the great illusion that Angell identified in 1910 still exists in modern times. While it is rare to hear American officials talk of war as a profitable enterprise, it is common for them to downplay the actual costs, such as in 2003 when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that Iraq was “a country that could finance its own reconstruction.”[7] The other part of Angell’s illusion that lives on is the idea of the profitability of military power, especially the importance of American military primacy. The main ways pundits argue the economic benefits of American military power include geopolitical and geo-economic favoritism as well as greater access to and maintenance of public goods, but as scholar Daniel Drezner points out, there is little empirical evidence to support these positions.[8]

Angell’s basic thesis is still true, and even stronger than in 1910, so his work can provide insight into the possibility of conflict between the United States and China.  According to a 2011 RAND study, conflict between the United States and China would likely lead to a global contraction greater than the one that occurred in 2008.[9] For the United States, the economic losses would likely be even higher due the interdependent nature of the U.S.-Chinese economies. In 2014, total U.S.-China was worth $592 billion, China was the United State’s second largest trading partner, third largest export market, biggest source of imports, and the largest foreign holder of American debt, with $1.24 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds in December 2014.[10]            According to Angell’s theory, if the United States cares about prosperity, it should avoid a war with China, from which it can only suffer economic losses. This potential for economic loss can act as a deterrent for both the United States and China, so the United States should not consider reducing economic dependence on China as a way to increase its own security, as some pundits have suggested.[11] Beyond economic ties between the United States and China, the United States should encourage China’s further integration into the world economic system. The more China’s prosperity is dependent on others, the more costly its actions will be if it acts in a provocative manner that scares investors. The United States should not oppose Chinese efforts to join, or create, multi-lateral economic institutions, such as the new Chinese led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. In addition, the United States should not attempt to persuade allies from increasing economic ties with China, as it will reduce the chance of an ally dragging the United States into a war with China.

Angell notes that military power does not add to economic prosperity, despite the popular belief that political and military power contributes to wealth. For example, many small countries with negligible defense capabilities, such as Norway or Sweden today, have higher per capita GDP than the major powers.[12] However, America’s security policy should not rely on the fact that conflict the military does not increase prosperity, or that conflict with China would be disastrous economically for both parties, but needs to take into account Chinese beliefs about the utility of conflict and Chinese actions. In this regard, in 1910, Angell warned, “So long as the nations believe that in some way the military and political subjugation of others will bring with it a tangible material advantage to the conqueror, we all do, in fact, stand in danger from such aggression.”[13] In this way, the need to maintain a strong defense force is necessary because of the possibility of conflict, but the possibility of conflict depends on the misperception that a nation can gain from war. The last policy recommendation from Angell’s work to reduce the chance of conflict with China addresses this problem. If misperceptions about the value of war cause the risk of conflict, the United States must make efforts to change these misconceptions among their populace and the Chinese populace. Through efforts of propaganda, or through leading by example, the United States should take great efforts to challenge the myths of the utility of war head-on, and once this is widely accepted, have a rational relationship with China.

[1] Norman Angell, The Great Illusion (Memphis: Bottom of the Hill Publishing, 2012), 9.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Norman Angell, 30.

[4] Ernesto Londoño, “Study: Iraq, Afghan war costs to top $4 trillion,” The Washington Post, March 28, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/study-iraq-afghan-war-costs-to-top-4-trillion/2013/03/28/b82a5dce-97ed-11e2-814b-063623d80a60_story.html

[5] “Financing Crimea May Cost Russia $6-7Bln Annually – Former Finance Minister,” Sputnik International, March 31, 2015, http://sputniknews.com/russia/20150331/1020251480.html

[6] Emma Burrows, “Sanctions will cost Russia more than $100 billion,” April 21, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/21/news/economy/russia-ukraine-sanctions-price/

[7] Dan Murphy, “Iraq war: Predictions made, and results,” The Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/1222/Iraq-war-Predictions-made-and-results

[8] Daniel W. Drezner, “Military Primacy Doesn’t Pay (Nearly As Much As You Think),” International Security 38, no. 1, 2013, 77-78.

[9] James Dobbins, David C. Gompert, David A. Shlapak, and Andrew Scobell, Conflict with China

 Prospects, Consequences, and Strategies for Deterrence (Santa Monica: RAND, 2011), 8.

[10] Wayne M. Morrison, “China-U.S. Trade Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 17, 2015, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33536.pdf

[11] For example, American strategic thinker Edward Luttwak argues that the United States should reduce its dependence on China and try to undercut its economy to reduce the level of threat China poses. Edward Luttwak, The Rise of China Vs. The Logic of Strategy (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2012), 268.

[12] Norman Angell, 35.

[13] Norman Angell, 177.

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The real Thucydides’ trap

Thucydides was an Athenian General and historian who chronicled the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens that occurred from 431to 404 BC. Thucydides work is a classic book about the perils of hegemonic transition and great powers war. Thucydides explained the start of the Peloponnesian War by writing “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”[1] Professor Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School has popularized the phrase “Thucydides’ trap,” to explain the likelihood of conflict between a rising power and a currently dominant one. Allison points out that “In 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.”[2] The Thucydides’ trap formation has come to be shorthand for a systematic view of the likelihood of conflict between China and the United States. This usage has even spread to Chinese President Xi Jinping who said “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers … Our aim is to foster a new model of major country relations.”[3] However, those like Graham Allison who talk about a Thucydides trap only capture half the meaning of The Peloponnesian War. The true trap is countries going into, and continuing, war clouded by passions like fear, hubris, and notions of honor.

In Thucydides’ history, human emotion made conflict inevitable, and at several points where peace was possible, emotion propelled it forward. In the beginning, there is a set of speeches in Sparta debating the possibility of going to war with Athens. At that time in Sparta, there were Athenian envoys who gave a speech explaining why Athens had built their empire, saying “the nature of the case first compelled us to advance our empire to its present height; fear being our principle motive, through honor and interest afterwards came in.”[4]  After the Athenian’s speech, Archidamus, the Spartan king, and Sthenelaidas, a Spartan ephor, made contrasting cases about going to war with Athens. Archidamus told the Spartan people not to underestimate the power of Athens and the cost of going to war and urged that Sparta “must not be hurried into deciding in a day’s brief space a question which concerns many lives and fortunes and many cities, and in which honor is deeply involved- but we must decide calmly.”[5] However, Sthenelaidas advocated, “Vote, therefore, Spartans, for war, as the honor of Sparta demands.”[6] The Spartans followed Sthenelaidas, which led to a war of honor and fear against the Athenians.

In the seventh year of the Peloponnesian War, in the battle of Pylos, the Athenians won a major victory over Sparta. After the battle, Athenian forces were able to trap a group of Spartan soldiers on an island. Because of their loss, and realizing that it was impossible to rescue the men on the island, Sparta entered into an armistice with Athens, and sent envoys to Athens offer a peace treaty. The Spartan envoys warned Athens that their misfortune at Pylos was not a result of diminished strength, but an error of judgment, and enjoined the Athenians to “treat their gains as precarious,” and advised that “if great enmities are ever to be really settled, we think it will be, not by the system of revenge and military success… but when the more fortunate combatant waives his privileges and, guided by gentler feelings, conquers his rival in generosity and accords peace on more moderate conditions than expected.”[7] However, the Athenians, led by Cleon, who Thucydides described as the most violent man in Athens, decided to ignore the advice of the Spartan envoys.  Furthermore, Cleon accused the Spartans of not having right intentions, and made further demands on Sparta for a return of territories that Athens had previously ceded to Sparta before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, resulting in an end to the armistice and a continuation of the war.[8]

If the United States and China fight a war, it will occur because of the same fear and honor that led the Spartans to start the Peloponnesian War, or the Athenians to continue despite an opportunity for peace. Neither China nor the United States are immune from the self-pride Athens and Sparta displayed. Prominent Chinese scholar Ye Zicheng expressed this sense of nationalism when he wrote, “If China does not become a world power, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be incomplete. Only when it becomes a world power can we say that the total rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been achieved.”[9] American exceptionalism, the conviction that the United States holds a unique place and role in human history, provides a counterpart to Chinese nationalism, and is widespread enough to be a central plank of the Republican Party’s platform.[10]

This strong belief of a special place in the world can make a country sensitive to insult, intended or otherwise. One important example occurred in 1999 when NATO aircraft bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during Operation Allied Force in Bosnia, killing three Chinese citizens. The United States claimed that the bombing was an accident, but few Chinese accepted this explanation, and in the aftermath, more than 100,000 Chinese protested across the country, including attacking the American embassy and consulates. Contributing to the anti-American outrage was Chinese state media stating the bombing was not an accident.[11] Anti-Chinese sentiment is not as widespread or as vocal in the United States, but it is common for American politicians and pundits to portray the rise of China as a risk to America’s place in the world. For example, anti-Chinese themes have been part of several political campaign advertisements in the United States[12], and it is common for both popular and scholarly writing and commentary to portray China as the most important threat to the United States.[13]

The best advice that Thucydides’ work offers U.S. policy makers is clear, do not let emotions such as hubris, fear, and honor drag you into a hegemonic war with China, and if war does occur, do not let these same emotions cloud your judgment if there is a chance for peace. At the same time, be wary of these emotions in Chinese leadership and the Chinese populace, and do not provoke them unnecessarily. Do not use anti-Chinese rhetoric that can inflame populist anger for domestic political purposes. None of this is to say that American policy makers should appease China to avoid conflict, but that conflict is less likely if both sides remain levelheaded. These same warnings apply to the conduct of the war, rather than acting like Cleon and letting passion dictate the course of the war, prudent American leaders should reflect on the message of the Spartan envoys after the battle Pylos when they argued for an end to the cycle of revenge and an equitable peace.

[1] Graham Allison, “Avoiding Thucydides’s Trap,” Financial Times, August 22, 2012, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/22265/avoiding_thucydidess_trap.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark Valencia, “China needs patience to achieve a peaceful rise,” South China Morning Post, February 8, 2014, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1422780/china-needs-patience-achieve-peaceful-rise?page=all

[4] Thucydides, 43.

[5] Ibid, 47.

[6] Ibid, 48.

[7] Ibid, 233.

[8] Ibid, 234-235.

[9] Ye Zicheng, Inside China’s Grand Strategy: The Perspective from the People’s Republic (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2011), 74.

[10] Republican Platform, American Exceptionalism (accessed April 25, 2015); available from https://www.gop.com/platform/american-exceptionalism/

[11] Rebecca MacKinnon, “China gives green light to embassy protests, but warns against violence,” CNN, May 9, 1999, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9905/09/china.protests.02/.

[12] Frank Chi, “In campaign ads, China is fair game; Chinese-Americans are not,” Boston Globe, November 8, 2010, http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/blogs/the_angle/2010/11/campaign_ads_ch.html

[13] This is a common example of the China as a threat article: James Jay Carafano, “Wake Up, America: China Is a Real Threat,” The National Interest, February 7, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/wake-america-china-real-threat-12204

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HIV/AIDS in China: Yunnan Case Study

The first reported case of HIV in China was in Yunnan province in 1985 and had the highest rate of HIV infections in China from 1989-2004.[i] Yunnan province is in South West China and borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam region known as the golden triangle for its drug production. It is estimated that 60-70 percent of drugs in China enter from this region.[ii]

Initially, the HIV cases were concentrated among intravenous drug users (IDU) near Ruili City, however over time HIV spread geographically and to the general population through sexual transmission.[iii] The picture below shows the spread of HIV in Yunnan from 1992-2004.[iv]

yunnan

Through 2004, transmission through IDU was the primary source of the spread of HIV, with average prevalence of HIV among IDUs 21.2-27.8 percent. However, the rate of HIV transmission from sexual contact increased from 5.3 percent in 1996 to 11.8 percent in 2004.[v] In Yunnan province, drug use and risky sexual behavior were highly correlated during this time. A 2002 study found that in Yunnan 82 percent of drug users reported having sex with more than one partner, but only 18 percent in the rest of the population.[vi]

At first, the government response to the spread of HIV focused on strengthening laws on prostitution and illegal drug use, as well as allowing authorities to isolate HIV positive individuals. However, this approach was ineffective in stopping the spread of the disease. Attempts to contain HIV positive individuals, and punish high-risk behavior increased the incentive to conceal these behaviors, or the disease, from authorities.[vii]

After the failure of early attempts to contain HIV, officials in Yunnan turned to harm reduction and preventive policies to deal with the public health problem. Examples of these programs included needle exchange programs and promotion of condom use and health education for commercial sex workers.[viii] Another approach that Yunnan took to fight the spread of HIV was cooperation with NGOs. Because of the stigma of HIV, and the fear of punishment, NGOs can be more effective at reaching out to HIV positive individuals, or those engaged in high-risk activity. In 2014, the Yunnan provincial government allocated 1.5 million Yuan to NGOs to promote education and provide medical services to address HIV issues.[ix]

[i] Xiao, Yan, Sibylle Kristensen, Jiangping Sun, Lin Lu, and Sten H. Vermund. 2007. Expansion of HIV/AIDS in china: Lessons from yunnan province. Social science & medicine 64, (3): 665.

[ii] Xiaobo Su, “China’s Antidrug Policies in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle,” East-West Center, September 26, 2013, http://www.eastwestcenter.org/sites/default/files/private/apb234.pdf

[iii] Xiao, Yan, Sibylle Kristensen, Jiangping Sun, Lin Lu, and Sten H. Vermund. 2007. Expansion of HIV/AIDS in china: Lessons from yunnan province. Social science & medicine 64, (3): 665.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Wu, Zunyou, Sheena G. Sullivan, Yu Wang, Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, and Roger Detels. 2007. Evolution of china’s response to HIV/AIDS. The Lancet 369, (9562): 679-690

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Hu Yongqi and Guo Anfei in Kunming, “Yunnan takes action to stem spread of HIV/AIDS,” China Daily USA, February 22, 2014, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2014-02/21/content_17297789.htm

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U.S.-ROK Alliance- Restraining South Korea

The first priority of the U.S. alliance is to deter North Korea from invading South Korea again. The second priority of the alliance less advertised and less known; it is to restrain South Korea from provoking a war with North Korea.[i] This trend dates back to the founding of the ROK, before the Korean War and the beginning of the modern alliance. Despite providing support for Syngman Rhee, the first elected President of the ROK, the United States was uncomfortable with many of his policies and worried about his interest in unifying the Korean peninsula through force. The United States had good reason for worry; before the Korean War President Rhee had overseen several border skirmishes with North Korea, some of which involved large scale fighting between the opposing sides. The desire to prevent Rhee from carrying out his stated reunification intentions was at least partially responsible for the United States supplying far less military equipment to the ROK than the USSR did to the DPRK.[ii]

One mechanism that the United States designed and maintained from the start of the alliance to prevent unilateral ROK action was operational control (OPCON) of the South Korean forces. This has a practical, war fighting purpose, of making coalition battles easier to plan and fight between the two allies, but it was also intended to prevent the ROK from taking unilateral military action.[iii] To underscore this point, the United States made it clear to President Rhee that if he engaged in unilateral military action against North Korea it would be unsupported by UN command troops or assets, The United States would not provide any support, material or otherwise, for the operation, and that U.S. economic aid would cease immediately.[iv] This pattern of restraint has continued since the formation of the alliance, and has created tensions between the two allies and undermined ROK ability to deter North Korea provocations. However, the policy has been successful in preventing another wide-scale conflict that would risk drawing the United States into another Korean war.

  1. a) Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan Era

On January 21, 1968, a group of North Korean commandos stormed the ROK Presidential Blue House in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Park Chung-hee and U.S. Ambassador William J. Porter. As previously mentioned, the United States did not respond forcefully to this major provocation, however in addition to this lack of response the United States, through Ambassador Porter, warned President Park that any ROK retribution would met with strong U.S. opposition.[v] A similar pattern occurred two days after the assassination attempt when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo from international waters. Again, the United States declined to retaliate, and denied requests from President Park for air strikes against North Korea. In addition, to prevent President Park from taking any unitary action in the aftermath of these two major provocations, the United States sent Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance to Seoul. Later, Vance recalled the purpose of his mission as ensuring “that President Park should be under no illusion as to the seriousness of any such action; and that if such a step were taken without full consultation with the United States the whole relationships [sic] between our countries would have to be reevaluated.”[vi]

On October 9, 1983, the North Koreans unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a state visit to Burma. In the attempted assassination, a bomb went off killing several high-ranking ROK officials. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, some military officers in the ROK wanted to respond forcefully to the DPRK provocation. The United States, even though they affirmed that they had no doubt that North Korea was behind the attack, sent Ambassador Richard Walker to talk with President Chun and make a strong case against retaliation. A month later, after there had been no ROK or U.S. retaliation, President Reagan told Chung “We and the whole world admired your restraint in the face of the provocations in Rangoon.”[vii]

For much of the Cold War, the United States had a legitimate fear of the ROK dragging them into another war in Korea. President Rhee was vocal about his desire to reunite the Korean peninsula, and during the Korean War took actions designed to prolong the conflict. President Park wanted to respond to North Korean provocations forcefully, but it was at this time that the United States was already engaged in a disastrous land war in Vietnam. The amount of restraint shown by the United States, and imposed on the ROK during the Cold War is incredible. It is clear that several of the incidents, such as assassination attempts against ROK heads of state, described in this section are acts of war committed by the DPRK against the ROK and the United States, and in different circumstances would have justified significant retribution. This pattern has resulted in the U.S. treating the DPRK as a special case, ignoring provocation after provocation, and negating the ROK’s ability to use force to deter North Korea.

  1. b) Implications for the Future

Now that the Cold War has ended, and the ROK has developed a strong liberal democracy, this dynamic is not as potent as it once was. One sign of this is the 1994 transfer of peacetime OPCON from the United States to South Korea, and the expressed willingness of the United States to transfer wartime OPCON as well. However, now that South Korea is a democracy, there is a possibility that public opinion could make it harder for a South Korean president to back down and not retaliate in the face of a flagrant enough DPRK provocation. This has already started to take place in a limited manner after the 2010 North Korean sinking of the ROK Cheonan warship and the bombing of the ROK Yeonpyeong Island. In the aftermath of these attacks, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin stated that the military is developing “an active deterrence and will build an attack system to swiftly neutralize North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, while significantly improving our military’s capability of surveillance and reconnaissance.”[viii] In recent years, there has been increased tension between South Korea and North Korea over the disputed maritime boundary known as the Northern Limit Line that has resulted in both sides shooting live shells into the other’s waters.[ix]

After the Korean War, it was clear that it was not enough to restrain one side of the divided peninsula. After the terrible costs of the War, the United State’s credibility was on the line in Korea, but the three previous years of fighting had resulted in a stalemate where neither the communist nor U.S. forces could hold ground past 38th parallel. Because of this grinding experience, the United States settled on a status quo strategy that involved deterring North Korea and restraining South Korea. This strategy has prevented any large-scale conflict in Korea since 1953, achieving its preeminent goal. This strategy has come with significant costs, and has been far more effective at restraining the ROK than at deterring DPRK hostility. This alliance formulation has caused distrust, and has given the DPRK free reign to carry out limited provocations without worry of actual reprisal. This dynamic is likely to continue as long as the alliance and the North Korean threat, and indeed in 2010 after North Korea sank the Cheonan United States leaders were quick to condemn the attack, but also quick to urge both sides to show restraint as well.[x]

[i] John Park, conversation with author, October, 2014.

[ii] William Stueck, The Korean War: An International History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 30.

[iii] Victor Cha, “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security 34, no.3 (2009/2010): 176.

[iv] NSC 170/1, “U.S. Objectives and Courses of Action in Korea,” November 20, 1953, Top Secret,

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Vol. 15: Korea, 1621.

[v] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 63.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Don Oberdorfer, 142-143.

[viii] Zachary Keck, “The New (and Dangerous) Normal in Korea,” The Diplomat, April 1, 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/the-new-and-dangerous-normal-in-korea/

[ix] “Ships exchange fire on North-South Korea sea border,” The Telegraph, October 7, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11145123/Ships-exchange-fire-on-North-South-Korea-sea-border.html

[x] Tania Branigan and Ewen MacAskill, “North Korea: a deadly attack, a counter-strike – now Koreans hold their breath,” The Guardian, November 23, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/23/north-south-korea-crisis-conflict

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South Korea Abandonment Fears

Throughout the history of the alliance, South Korea has faced abandonment fears stemming from the possibility that their great power sponsor would remove its troops from the Korean peninsula and end or weaken the alliance. South Korea’s fear is a reasonable reflection of historical events. In 1950, Kim Il Sung’s decision to invade South Korea depended on his belief that the United States would not come to Seoul’s rescue. Even today, South Korean fears of abandonment persist despite the current strength of the alliance. The United States is a global actor with a variety of interests that make it difficult to maintain focus on any one relationship, no matter the importance. Since the involvement of the United States covers the globe, it often has to react to unplanned circumstances that take attention away from declared policies and long-term strategies. Two times that ROK abandonment fears were especially acute were during the Nixon and Carter administrations.

  1. a) The Nixon Doctrine and the Opening to China

On November 3, 1969, on a stopover in Guam and during the Vietnam War, President Nixon delivered the three points of the Nixon Doctrine. The three points were:

  • “First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
  • Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.
  • Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.[i]

Of the three points in the Nixon Doctrine, point three was the most important, because it signaled that the United States was shifting the primary security burden to its Asian allies. Nixon added in the same speech “Asia if for Asians… We must avoid the kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one we have in Vietnam.”[ii] More than just a speech, this policy resulted in the reduction of U.S. Military personnel in Asia from 727,300 in 1969 to 284,000 in 1971 and in South Korea from 63,000 to 43,000.[iii] Then South Korean President Park Chung Hee saw this military withdrawal as sign of U.S. disengagement, telling his aide Kim Seong Jin that it was “a message to the Korean people that we won’t rescue you if North Korea invades again.”[iv]

The withdrawals were not the only reason for President Park’s concerns at the time. In the years before the Nixon Doctrine, during the Lyndon Johnson administration, the United States had reacted passively to several North Korean provocations directed at both South Korean and U.S. personnel. One prominent example was the January 21, 1968 attack by North Korean commandos against the Blue House aimed at assassinating President Park. This state directed attack and attempted assassination against the head of an allied state resulted in no meaningful U.S. counteraction except to warn President Park not to retaliate against North Korea.[v] Even when North Korea acted against U.S. citizens, it refused to retaliate forcefully against North Korea. The most famous example of this is North Korea’s capture of the USS Pueblo two days after the Blue House attack. The USS Pueblo was a U.S. naval intelligence ship that North Korea captured while it was sailing in international waters.  During the capture, North Korean forces killed one U.S. sailor, and in captivity, and even tortured, the remaining crew of 82 for 355 days. In spite of this, instead of retaliating, the United States issued an apology to the DPRK to ensure the crew could return home.[vi] For South Korea, the lack of U.S. reaction to North Korea’s provocations caused doubts about the seriousness of the U.S. security guarantee, and signaled to the North Koreans that the alliance was weak.

President Nixon gave South Korea even more reason for concern during his détente with communist China. During the Korean War, the U.S. intervened because they saw North Korea’s invasion as a part of larger communist aggression, which justified spending U.S. lives and resources to turn it back. It was a major policy change to go from fighting Chinese communist “volunteer forces” in 1950 to sending secret delegations to Beijing to discuss possibilities of cooperation, and one that caused unease in Seoul about U.S. commitments to standing up to communist forces on the Korean peninsula. This threatened the relevance of the anti-communist U.S.-ROK alliance, as well as opened the possibility that the PRC would ask for concessions harmful to the ROK’s security, such as Chinese Premier Chou Enlai’s request to Henry Kissinger to remove all U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula.[vii]

The Nixon administration’s handling of the ROK during these years led President Park to later write, “this series of developments contained an almost unprecedented peril to our people’s survival.”[viii]  During the early 1970s, this fear of abandonment had real consequences, such as President Park’s decision to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program, including negotiating with France to buy the technology necessary to create plutonium for a nuclear weapon. The ROK only quit the nuclear program after the U.S. discovered it in 1976.[ix]  Another outcome was President Park’s Yusin reforms, which he started in 1972 and included the imposition of martial law, dissolution of the National Assembly and the banning of all antigovernment activity. This policy led to abuses such as jailing and torture of political dissidents and opposition figures. One of the reasons given for the Yusin reforms was the fear of U.S. unreliability and external threats that necessitated tighter domestic control.[x]

South Korea is a small country, and during Nixon’s presidency was still relatively poor and weak. However, despite this, during the Vietnam War, the ROK proved their commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance by sending 312,853 soldiers to fight alongside U.S. forces, more than any other U.S. ally did.[xi] It is understandable that strategic interests dictate U.S. foreign policy, rather than a sense of warm feelings towards South Korea, especially South Korea under the rule of an authoritarian leader like Park Chung Hee. However, this neglect can have serious implications negatively affect U.S. strategy in East Asia. If President Park had been successful in building a nuclear weapon, it would have effected security calculations of every other power in the region, and would have harmed the overall goal of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation. President Nixon’s options in Asia were constrained by the failure of U.S. strategy in Vietnam, so the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as well as the caution demonstrated in response to North Korean provocations were arguably prudent responses to reality. However, the lack of attention towards a partner that had fought and died alongside the United Sates in Vietnam was shortsighted and weakened the U.S.-ROK relationship during President Park’s time in office.

  1. b) President Carter and the Threat of Total Withdrawal

President Nixon created his policies based on a reaction to the failed Vietnam War and they affected all U.S. allies in Asia. In addition, Nixon did not call for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. President Carter (1977-1981) took a different approach towards South Korea by calling for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. President Carter used the call to withdraw as part of his presidential campaign, and his desire to withdraw American troops came from, at least partially, his repulsion towards the human rights record of ROK President Park.

Similar to the Nixon Administration, President Carter neglected ROK concerns and interests when developing his plan to withdraw troops from South Korea. In this case, President Carter developed his plan without consulting the ROK, and even, through Vice President Mondale, notified Japan of his intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Korea one month earlier than notifying the ROK.[xii] This lack of consultation deeply angered President Park, and even resulted in a tense meeting in 1979 when Carter came to visit South Korea for a summit. During a meeting at the summit, Park lectured Carter for forty-five minutes about why pulling all the troops out of South Korea was ill advised, despite Carter’s staffers telling him earlier that Carter did not wish to speak about the troop withdrawal issue at the summit, deeply angering Carter.[xiii]

One reason why Seoul is so concerned by the prospect of a complete U.S. troop withdrawal was the importance of the tripwire function U.S. troops play on the Korean peninsula. If there are U.S. troops in South Korea, than North Korea would kill them in any invasion. If North Korea kills U.S. troops, than it will ensure that the United States will become involved in fighting North Korea and pushing them out of South Korea again. If President Carter had successfully withdrawn all U.S. troops from the ROK, it would have removed the tripwire function, signaling to the DPRK that U.S. support was no longer guaranteed. While Carter insisted that the U.S. would maintain its treaty obligations, would provide air coverage, and would help the ROK build up their forces, after the Vietnam War, it was unlikely that the U.S. people were willing to support another large-scale ground war in mainland Asia.

Ultimately, despite Carter’s absolutist goals, during his time in office he only withdrew about 3,000 U.S. troops from the ROK.[xiv] Carter predicated his withdrawal plan on the belief that South Korea would be able to defend itself from another DPRK invasion. Ultimately, it was the discovery that this assumption was false that prevented the withdrawal from taking place. During the Nixon administration and the first part of the Carter presidency, the U.S. intelligence community had predicted that ROK and DPRK forces had reached a rough parity so that neither side would be able to successfully invade the other. Part of this judgment was based on how little attention U.S. intelligence officials paid to North Korea during the Vietnam War, as well as the difficulty in obtaining good intelligence from a closed state such as North Korea. [xv] This assessment changed due to the work of John Armstrong, an Army officer who was assigned to analysis intelligence about North Korea during this time. Armstrong discovered that North Korea’s military was far stronger than had been previously assumed. Armstrong’s work influenced Army generals, members of Carter’s own bureaucracy, and Congressmen, who then put pressure on Carter to reconsider the withdrawal.[xvi] Three weeks after Carter’s trip to Seoul, his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski announced that the U.S. would postpone further troop withdrawals until 1981, and would depend on “credible indications that a satisfactory military balance has been restored.”[xvii] The deadline was made meaningless when Carter lost the election for his second term and Ronald Reagan became president.

  1. c) Modern Day Fear of Abandonment

After President Carter, no other U.S. president has attempted to withdraw all the U.S. ground troops from South Korea. However, this does not mean that the ROK fear of abandonment has disappeared, or that it is not possible for the U.S. to change their alliance policy in ways that affect ROK security. One recent example of this is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement in 2003 that he intended to withdraw or relocate U.S. forces in 2013, believing them to be an outdated remnant of the Cold War. The reasoning that Rumsfeld offered was similar to that of President Carter, with Rumsfeld pointing out that since South Korea had a power economy and a better-equipped military, Seoul had “all the capability in the world of providing the kind of up-front deterrent that’s needed.”[xviii] The Iraq War was highly unpopular in South Korea, however the threat of the U.S downgrading alliance ties was enough to convince the South Korean government to send ROK forces to Iraq when the United States requested it.[xix] However, as the Nixon Doctrine demonstrated, ROK participation in U.S. wars does not guarantee strong ally relationships and a downgrading of the alliance may still occur. For example, in 2004, the U.S. moved 3,600 U.S. troops from South Korea to Iraq.[xx]

For the United States, it is important to be aware of abandonment fears of its allies. Awareness of these fears does not mean that U.S. strategy should be held hostage to them, but like in all relationships communication is important. Rather than consult with the ROK, President Nixon and Carter made plans that had serious implications for ROK security unilaterally and even let other parties know before South Korea. ROK feelings of insecurity can result in outcomes that are not in the United States best interest, such as President Park Chung Hee’s secret plan to build a nuclear weapon. For the ROK, it is important to realize that the U.S-ROK alliance is not an iron clad guarantee, but a relationship that the ROK needs to tend carefully. President Carter was clear that Americans found President Park Chung Hee’s human rights violations repugnant and that this divergence in the U.S. and ROK government’s values was a cause in the planned troop withdrawal. While currently, the ROK is a liberal democratic country that is closely aligned to the United States, maintaining close relations should remain a priority and should not be taken for granted. However, no matter how much communication and relationship building the United States and the ROK commit to, as the weaker partner in the relationship it is likely that the ROK’s abandonment fear will play an important role in the alliance as long as it exists.

[i] Richard M. Nixon (November 3, 1969). “President Nixon’s Speech on “Vietnamization”

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 61.

[iv] Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 13.

[v] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 63.

[vi] Colin Schultz, “The Time the U.S. Nearly Nuked North Korea Over a Highjacked Spy Ship,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 28, 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/time-us-nearly-nuked-north-korea-over-highjacked-spy-ship-180949514/?no-ist

[vii] Don Oberdorfer,12.

[viii] Ibid,14.

[ix] Jungmin Kang and H.A. Feiveson, “South Korea’s Shifting and Controversial Interest in Spent Fuel Reprocessing,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001.

[x] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 114.

[xi] James Sterngold, “South Korea’s Vietnam Veterans Begin to Be Heard,” The New York Times, May 10, 1992, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/10/world/south-korea-s-vietnam-veterans-begin-to-be-heard.html

[xii] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 150.

[xiii] Don Oberdorfer,106.

[xiv] Ibid, 108.

[xv] Joe Wood, “Persuading a President: Jimmy Carter and American Troops in Korea,” Harvard Kennedy School Case Study, 1996, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB431/docs/intell_ebb_002.PDF

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Don Oberdorfer,106.

[xviii] David Ensor, “U.S. May Withdraw from South Korea,” CNN, March 6, 2003, http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/03/06/korea.us.troops/

[xix] James Brooke, “South Korea May Send Troops to Iraq, but at a Price to U.S.,” New York Times, October 7, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/07/international/asia/07CND-KORE.html

[xx] Josh White, “U.S. Troops Moving From S. Korea to Iraq,” Washington Post, May 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34653-2004May17.html

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South Korea Abandonment Fears

Throughout the history of the alliance, South Korea has faced abandonment fears stemming from the possibility that their great power sponsor would remove its troops from the Korean peninsula and end or weaken the alliance. South Korea’s fear is a reasonable reflection of historical events. In 1950, Kim Il Sung’s decision to invade South Korea depended on his belief that the United States would not come to Seoul’s rescue. Even today, South Korean fears of abandonment persist despite the current strength of the alliance. The United States is a global actor with a variety of interests that make it difficult to maintain focus on any one relationship, no matter the importance. Since the involvement of the United States covers the globe, it often has to react to unplanned circumstances that take attention away from declared policies and long-term strategies. Two times that ROK abandonment fears were especially acute were during the Nixon and Carter administrations.

  1. a) The Nixon Doctrine and the Opening to China

On November 3, 1969, on a stopover in Guam and during the Vietnam War, President Nixon delivered the three points of the Nixon Doctrine. The three points were:

  • “First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
  • Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.
  • Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.[i]

Of the three points in the Nixon Doctrine, point three was the most important, because it signaled that the United States was shifting the primary security burden to its Asian allies. Nixon added in the same speech “Asia if for Asians… We must avoid the kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one we have in Vietnam.”[ii] More than just a speech, this policy resulted in the reduction of U.S. Military personnel in Asia from 727,300 in 1969 to 284,000 in 1971 and in South Korea from 63,000 to 43,000.[iii] Then South Korean President Park Chung Hee saw this military withdrawal as sign of U.S. disengagement, telling his aide Kim Seong Jin that it was “a message to the Korean people that we won’t rescue you if North Korea invades again.”[iv]

The withdrawals were not the only reason for President Park’s concerns at the time. In the years before the Nixon Doctrine, during the Lyndon Johnson administration, the United States had reacted passively to several North Korean provocations directed at both South Korean and U.S. personnel. One prominent example was the January 21, 1968 attack by North Korean commandos against the Blue House aimed at assassinating President Park. This state directed attack and attempted assassination against the head of an allied state resulted in no meaningful U.S. counteraction except to warn President Park not to retaliate against North Korea.[v] Even when North Korea acted against U.S. citizens, it refused to retaliate forcefully against North Korea. The most famous example of this is North Korea’s capture of the USS Pueblo two days after the Blue House attack. The USS Pueblo was a U.S. naval intelligence ship that North Korea captured while it was sailing in international waters.  During the capture, North Korean forces killed one U.S. sailor, and in captivity, and even tortured, the remaining crew of 82 for 355 days. In spite of this, instead of retaliating, the United States issued an apology to the DPRK to ensure the crew could return home.[vi] For South Korea, the lack of U.S. reaction to North Korea’s provocations caused doubts about the seriousness of the U.S. security guarantee, and signaled to the North Koreans that the alliance was weak.

President Nixon gave South Korea even more reason for concern during his détente with communist China. During the Korean War, the U.S. intervened because they saw North Korea’s invasion as a part of larger communist aggression, which justified spending U.S. lives and resources to turn it back. It was a major policy change to go from fighting Chinese communist “volunteer forces” in 1950 to sending secret delegations to Beijing to discuss possibilities of cooperation, and one that caused unease in Seoul about U.S. commitments to standing up to communist forces on the Korean peninsula. This threatened the relevance of the anti-communist U.S.-ROK alliance, as well as opened the possibility that the PRC would ask for concessions harmful to the ROK’s security, such as Chinese Premier Chou Enlai’s request to Henry Kissinger to remove all U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula.[vii]

The Nixon administration’s handling of the ROK during these years led President Park to later write, “this series of developments contained an almost unprecedented peril to our people’s survival.”[viii]  During the early 1970s, this fear of abandonment had real consequences, such as President Park’s decision to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program, including negotiating with France to buy the technology necessary to create plutonium for a nuclear weapon. The ROK only quit the nuclear program after the U.S. discovered it in 1976.[ix]  Another outcome was President Park’s Yusin reforms, which he started in 1972 and included the imposition of martial law, dissolution of the National Assembly and the banning of all antigovernment activity. This policy led to abuses such as jailing and torture of political dissidents and opposition figures. One of the reasons given for the Yusin reforms was the fear of U.S. unreliability and external threats that necessitated tighter domestic control.[x]

South Korea is a small country, and during Nixon’s presidency was still relatively poor and weak. However, despite this, during the Vietnam War, the ROK proved their commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance by sending 312,853 soldiers to fight alongside U.S. forces, more than any other U.S. ally did.[xi] It is understandable that strategic interests dictate U.S. foreign policy, rather than a sense of warm feelings towards South Korea, especially South Korea under the rule of an authoritarian leader like Park Chung Hee. However, this neglect can have serious implications negatively affect U.S. strategy in East Asia. If President Park had been successful in building a nuclear weapon, it would have effected security calculations of every other power in the region, and would have harmed the overall goal of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation. President Nixon’s options in Asia were constrained by the failure of U.S. strategy in Vietnam, so the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as well as the caution demonstrated in response to North Korean provocations were arguably prudent responses to reality. However, the lack of attention towards a partner that had fought and died alongside the United Sates in Vietnam was shortsighted and weakened the U.S.-ROK relationship during President Park’s time in office.

  1. b) President Carter and the Threat of Total Withdrawal

President Nixon created his policies based on a reaction to the failed Vietnam War and they affected all U.S. allies in Asia. In addition, Nixon did not call for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. President Carter (1977-1981) took a different approach towards South Korea by calling for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. President Carter used the call to withdraw as part of his presidential campaign, and his desire to withdraw American troops came from, at least partially, his repulsion towards the human rights record of ROK President Park.

Similar to the Nixon Administration, President Carter neglected ROK concerns and interests when developing his plan to withdraw troops from South Korea. In this case, President Carter developed his plan without consulting the ROK, and even, through Vice President Mondale, notified Japan of his intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Korea one month earlier than notifying the ROK.[xii] This lack of consultation deeply angered President Park, and even resulted in a tense meeting in 1979 when Carter came to visit South Korea for a summit. During a meeting at the summit, Park lectured Carter for forty-five minutes about why pulling all the troops out of South Korea was ill advised, despite Carter’s staffers telling him earlier that Carter did not wish to speak about the troop withdrawal issue at the summit, deeply angering Carter.[xiii]

One reason why Seoul is so concerned by the prospect of a complete U.S. troop withdrawal was the importance of the tripwire function U.S. troops play on the Korean peninsula. If there are U.S. troops in South Korea, than North Korea would kill them in any invasion. If North Korea kills U.S. troops, than it will ensure that the United States will become involved in fighting North Korea and pushing them out of South Korea again. If President Carter had successfully withdrawn all U.S. troops from the ROK, it would have removed the tripwire function, signaling to the DPRK that U.S. support was no longer guaranteed. While Carter insisted that the U.S. would maintain its treaty obligations, would provide air coverage, and would help the ROK build up their forces, after the Vietnam War, it was unlikely that the U.S. people were willing to support another large-scale ground war in mainland Asia.

Ultimately, despite Carter’s absolutist goals, during his time in office he only withdrew about 3,000 U.S. troops from the ROK.[xiv] Carter predicated his withdrawal plan on the belief that South Korea would be able to defend itself from another DPRK invasion. Ultimately, it was the discovery that this assumption was false that prevented the withdrawal from taking place. During the Nixon administration and the first part of the Carter presidency, the U.S. intelligence community had predicted that ROK and DPRK forces had reached a rough parity so that neither side would be able to successfully invade the other. Part of this judgment was based on how little attention U.S. intelligence officials paid to North Korea during the Vietnam War, as well as the difficulty in obtaining good intelligence from a closed state such as North Korea. [xv] This assessment changed due to the work of John Armstrong, an Army officer who was assigned to analysis intelligence about North Korea during this time. Armstrong discovered that North Korea’s military was far stronger than had been previously assumed. Armstrong’s work influenced Army generals, members of Carter’s own bureaucracy, and Congressmen, who then put pressure on Carter to reconsider the withdrawal.[xvi] Three weeks after Carter’s trip to Seoul, his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski announced that the U.S. would postpone further troop withdrawals until 1981, and would depend on “credible indications that a satisfactory military balance has been restored.”[xvii] The deadline was made meaningless when Carter lost the election for his second term and Ronald Reagan became president.

  1. c) Modern Day Fear of Abandonment

After President Carter, no other U.S. president has attempted to withdraw all the U.S. ground troops from South Korea. However, this does not mean that the ROK fear of abandonment has disappeared, or that it is not possible for the U.S. to change their alliance policy in ways that affect ROK security. One recent example of this is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement in 2003 that he intended to withdraw or relocate U.S. forces in 2013, believing them to be an outdated remnant of the Cold War. The reasoning that Rumsfeld offered was similar to that of President Carter, with Rumsfeld pointing out that since South Korea had a power economy and a better-equipped military, Seoul had “all the capability in the world of providing the kind of up-front deterrent that’s needed.”[xviii] The Iraq War was highly unpopular in South Korea, however the threat of the U.S downgrading alliance ties was enough to convince the South Korean government to send ROK forces to Iraq when the United States requested it.[xix] However, as the Nixon Doctrine demonstrated, ROK participation in U.S. wars does not guarantee strong ally relationships and a downgrading of the alliance may still occur. For example, in 2004, the U.S. moved 3,600 U.S. troops from South Korea to Iraq.[xx]

For the United States, it is important to be aware of abandonment fears of its allies. Awareness of these fears does not mean that U.S. strategy should be held hostage to them, but like in all relationships communication is important. Rather than consult with the ROK, President Nixon and Carter made plans that had serious implications for ROK security unilaterally and even let other parties know before South Korea. ROK feelings of insecurity can result in outcomes that are not in the United States best interest, such as President Park Chung Hee’s secret plan to build a nuclear weapon. For the ROK, it is important to realize that the U.S-ROK alliance is not an iron clad guarantee, but a relationship that the ROK needs to tend carefully. President Carter was clear that Americans found President Park Chung Hee’s human rights violations repugnant and that this divergence in the U.S. and ROK government’s values was a cause in the planned troop withdrawal. While currently, the ROK is a liberal democratic country that is closely aligned to the United States, maintaining close relations should remain a priority and should not be taken for granted. However, no matter how much communication and relationship building the United States and the ROK commit to, as the weaker partner in the relationship it is likely that the ROK’s abandonment fear will play an important role in the alliance as long as it exists.

[i] Richard M. Nixon (November 3, 1969). “President Nixon’s Speech on “Vietnamization”

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 61.

[iv] Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 13.

[v] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 63.

[vi] Colin Schultz, “The Time the U.S. Nearly Nuked North Korea Over a Highjacked Spy Ship,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 28, 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/time-us-nearly-nuked-north-korea-over-highjacked-spy-ship-180949514/?no-ist

[vii] Don Oberdorfer,12.

[viii] Ibid,14.

[ix] Jungmin Kang and H.A. Feiveson, “South Korea’s Shifting and Controversial Interest in Spent Fuel Reprocessing,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001.

[x] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 114.

[xi] James Sterngold, “South Korea’s Vietnam Veterans Begin to Be Heard,” The New York Times, May 10, 1992, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/10/world/south-korea-s-vietnam-veterans-begin-to-be-heard.html

[xii] Victor Cha, Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, 150.

[xiii] Don Oberdorfer,106.

[xiv] Ibid, 108.

[xv] Joe Wood, “Persuading a President: Jimmy Carter and American Troops in Korea,” Harvard Kennedy School Case Study, 1996, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB431/docs/intell_ebb_002.PDF

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Don Oberdorfer,106.

[xviii] David Ensor, “U.S. May Withdraw from South Korea,” CNN, March 6, 2003, http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/03/06/korea.us.troops/

[xix] James Brooke, “South Korea May Send Troops to Iraq, but at a Price to U.S.,” New York Times, October 7, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/07/international/asia/07CND-KORE.html

[xx] Josh White, “U.S. Troops Moving From S. Korea to Iraq,” Washington Post, May 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34653-2004May17.html

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Importance of Modern Anti-Americanism on the U.S.-ROK alliance

Now ROK perceptions of the United States and the U.S.-ROK alliance are strongly positive, but as the history has shown, this can easily change. Wide varieties of incidents in the past have provoked rampant anti-Americanism, and it is unlikely that there will be no future controversial incidents involving U.S. service members. Also, even when the overall perception of the United States is positive in South Korea, there exists the possibility of individual acts of violence against Americans by South Korean citizens. One prominent recent example is the March 5, 2015 knife attack against U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert. Kim Ki-Jong, a South Korean activist, attacked Ambassador Lippert while screaming that the two Koreas should be united, and he later claimed his act was a protest against U.S.-ROK joint military exercises.[i] In the aftermath of the attack, Ambassador Lippert took great efforts to show the strength of the alliance, even after the attack against him, sending a twitter message soon after the incident saying “Doing well and in great spirits… Will be back ASAP to advance US-ROK  alliance!”[ii] In South Korea, most Koreans reacted by showing tremendous support for Ambassador Lippert and the U.S.-ROK relationship, and ROK President Park visited Lippert in the hospital. However, a counter-narrative saw the outpouring of support for Lippert and the U.S. as crass political move by conservative ROK politicians to attack critics as “pro-North Korean,” and to increase domestic support for the U.S.-ROK alliance.[iii]

The fact that a vicious attack against a U.S. ambassador did not threaten the U.S.-ROK alliance is a testament to its strength, but it would be naïve to assume that incidents in the future would not. If Kim Ki-Jong had killed Lippert in his attack, it is hard to imagine that the outcome would have been the same, or that it would not have negatively affected the alliance. Ambassador Lippert’s positive response in the aftermath of the attack is a great testament to his personal character and the power of his diplomacy. To maintain the strength of the alliance in the future, it will require adroit diplomacy, such as that shown by Lippert, or by President Park in the aftermath of the attack. It will also require a strong narrative for both the U.S. and ROK public that allows people of both nations to understand each other and to see the alliance as mutually beneficial rather than as a form of exploitation or parasitism. This narrative should focus on shared interests as well as shared democratic and social values, and should come from both official and unofficial sources in the United States and in the ROK.

[i] Choe Sang-hun and Michael D. Shear, “Mark Lippert, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Is Hospitalized After Attack,” New York Times, March 4, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/05/world/asia/us-ambassador-to-south-korea-hospitalized-after-attack.html

[ii] “South Korea US envoy Lippert ‘well’ after knife attack,” BBC News, March 5, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31743055

[iii] Choe Sang-hun, “South Koreans Divided on Reactions to Knife Attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/asia/south-korea-split-over-how-to-react-to-attack-on-us-ambassador-mark-lippert.html?_r=0

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Origin of the U.S.- South Korea Alliance

The U.S. military was involved in Korea before the founding of the ROK itself, and was instrumental in shaping the early ROK government. After the Pacific War against Japan, the United States took control over the southern half of the Korean peninsula and established the United States Army Military Government (USMGIK). The Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel as a result of a deal between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the Soviet Union maintaining influence on the northern part of the Peninsula through the creation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and support for the first DPRK leader, Kim Il Sung. The USMGIK, which controlled Korea from the end of WWII until 1948, did not consist of Korean specialists, but American personnel who were located in nearby Japan at the end of the Pacific War. Lt. General John R. Hodge, the head of USMGIK, relied on Japanese reports about Korea to learn about the country, and arrived in Korea already biased against the population.

Before the USMGIK arrived, a group of Koreans, called the Korean People’s Republic, had already established a basic government structure, and had popular support.  Hodge was distrustful of Koreans in general, and in specific anything that resembled leftism.  Instead of working with the Korean People’s Republic, Hodge initially relied on former Japanese colonial officials, letting some of them remain in power.  When the USMGIK realized how unpopular the Japanese officials were, it instead strongly supported right wing Korean factions, and allowed these factions to flagrantly violate the civil rights of any Korean who was suspected to have links to their more left wing opponents.  The good will the US military had earned through defeating the Japanese was squandered by the USMGIK, and during its time in power there were many large demonstrations against its policies.

On August 15, 1948, Syngman Rhee was elected the first president of the newly founded Republic of Korea. After the founding of the new republic, all of the U.S. military members left Korea by 1949. The absence of U.S. forces in South Korea created a power vacuum that the militarily more powerful DPRK took advantage in 1950. Rather than allow communist North Korea conquer their former protectorate, the United States intervened. After the Korean War, the United States and the ROK formalized their alliance by signing of the October 1, 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty. In the treaty, the United States committed to protect the ROK from external attack, and the ROK consented to allow U.S. forces in its territory based on mutual agreement between the two parties. The treaty remains in place, and is the beginning and the foundation of the U.S.-ROK alliance.

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Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power

My new article is up at the Diplomat.

In China, there has been a trend recently to use Sun Tzu and The Art of War as a source of soft power for China’s peaceful development strategy. This trend is present in the 2014 9th International Symposium on Sun Tzu’s Art of War hosted by the Chinese Academy of Military Science titled “Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Peace, Coopberation and Development.” According to the conference description, “Sun Tzu’s Art of War show us that seeking safety through development, cooperation and win-win growth is the right way toward world peace.”

From this description, it would be easy to imagine Sun Tzu as a modern day CCP official describing China’s peaceful development policy. Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, also sought to use The Art of War to explain Chinese strategic thinking and to build trust during a 2012 speech to U.K. Joint Services Command and Staff College, saying “China has the deterrence and wisdom to win without fighting. But if needed, China has the courage and capability to win through fighting. This is the essence of The Art of War and the soul of China’s military strategy today.” Perhaps it is this image Hu Jintao had in mind when he gave President George W. Bush a silk copy of The Art of War in 2006, or when Beijing’s Renmin University gave a copy of the book to Admiral Michael Mullen during his visit in 2011….

Read the rest here: http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/sun-tzu-and-the-art-of-soft-power/

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Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power?

Sun Tzu- The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the oldest known strategic manual about war fighting, with estimates about time of authorship ranging from the third to fifth century.[1] Sun Tzu’s work has been a key part of Chinese military thinking from ancient to modern history. The Shang dynasty incorporated the Art of War with six other strategic manuscripts, circa A.D. 1078, to form the seven military classics that became the foundation for government examinations in military affairs as well as for strategic thinking.[2] Sun Tzu has not lost its relevance, during the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) Communist leader Mao Zedong read and based much of his strategic thinking on The Art of War, despite the Communist party fighting against most of Chinese traditional culture.[3] Sun Tzu’s language is sparse and contains lines that can easily convey ideas independent of the rest of The Art of War. This style allows for multiple interpretations, and for the independent use of key lines to convey meanings unrelated to war and strategy. However, at its core, the book is about using grand strategy and deception to win military victories with the minimum necessary application of force.  In modern times, there has been a trend to reinterpret The Art of War’s warnings against excessive force as in line with China’s peaceful development strategy. However, this reading ignores the existential nature of war that Sun Tzu writes about as well as the fact that The Art of War instructs generals to exploit enemy weakness to gain victory rather than advising them to peacefully co-exist.

Chinese Thinking on War in the Spring and Autumn Period

Before about 500 B.C. warfare in China was ritualistic, only fought during specific seasons, and involved relatively small armies of a few thousand men. By the time Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War technology had changed allowing for the use of iron weapons, and agriculture had become more efficient allowing for a stronger concentration of state power and armies ranged from 100,000 up to nearly a million men. The Art of War was written to advise rulers during a time when war was an ongoing and existential concern for Chinese states. Sun Tzu highlights the existential nature of the warfare in this period saying, “For while an angered man may again be happy, and a resentful man again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.”[4] For many states, being proficient in warfare was the only way to ensure survival in the Spring and Autumn period, during which more than one hundred independent Chinese states were exterminated.[5]  The Art of War’s strategy based on deception reflected an evolution from earlier periods of warfare and represented a new way to achieve victory.[6]

The type of traditional rules of warfare that stand in contrast to the deception advised by Sun Tzu are described in The Methods of the Ssu-ma, another one of the collected seven military classics collected by the Shang Dynasty. Like The Art of War, The Methods of the Ssu-ma is of uncertain origin, but is thought to date back to the fourth century and contain materials dating back into antiquity.[7] The difference between the two works is made clear on the first page of The Methods of the Ssu-ma, which offers advice like “Neither contravening the seasons nor working the people to exhaustion is the means by which to love our people. Neither attacking a state in national mourning nor taking advantage of natural disaster is the means by which to love their people.”[8] While Sun Tzu advises generals to treat captive soldiers well, he does not do this out of love for the enemy’s people, but to gain advantage over the enemy. Also, Sun Tzu’s strategy depends on shaping the enemy’s moral strength and taking advantages of weaknesses, so he would be more likely to advise using natural disasters or national mourning as an opportunity for a victory rather than urging restraint.

During Sun Tzu’s time, there were also several important political and moral thinkers in China whose work considered warfare from a moral and political perspective rather than a strategic one. The two most famous Chinese thinkers that were roughly contemporary with Sun Tzu are Guan Zhong and Confucius. Confucius’ view of warfare is more similar to the attitudes described in The Methods of the Ssu-ma than Sun Tzu’s reliance on deception. For example, rather than rely of clever stratagem, Confucius advises leaders that “If distant people do not submit, then cultivate benevolent virtue so as to attract them.”[9] Confucius acknowledges that war has existed as long as humanity, but unlike Sun Tzu, he stresses the importance of a superior morality rather than strategic victory as the necessary factor to become a hegemon.[10] Guan Zhong saw war as being unvirtuous, but also as a tool a leader could use to become a hegemon. Guan Zhong shares a similar existential view of war with Sun Tzu, writing that “If war is not won and defense is not firm, then the state will not be secure.”[11] However, like Confucius and unlike Sun Tzu, Guan Zhong stressed the importance on leaders practicing virtue among feudal lords to gain trust and employ political authority.[12] In ancient China, warfare and the use of force was generally disdained and bureaucrats and leaders often preferred to believe in the idea of cultural superiority as an attractive force, however the ubiquitous warfare of the Spring and Autumn period made skilled generals and strategists valued personnel.[13] Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was unique for its focus on the necessity of the use of strategy and deception rather than superior morality to ensure state survival and victory.

Sun Tzu’s Core Concepts

One of Sun Tzu’s most famous aphorisms is “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”[14] Rather than a call for peace, Sun Tzu recognized the inherent risk of armies entangled in protracted war fighting that depresses soldier’s willpower, drains state resources, and presents third party states with an opportunity to take advantage of your weakness. According to Sun Tzu, even if a state is able to win many battles and master tactics, if it engages in protracted warfare it will not benefit.[15] In order to win with a minimal use of force, The Art of War encourages generals and princes to use deception to shape circumstances so that they are able to win the war before the first battle. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu describes four offensive tactics in order of effectiveness. The first tactic is to attack the enemy’s strategy, the second tactic is to disrupt an enemy’s alliances, the next tactic is to attack the enemy’s army, and the least preferred tactic is to attack the enemy’s cities.[16] In Sun Tzu’s list, the two most effective strategic choices do not depend on the use of force, but instead rely on adroit diplomacy and deception.

To carry out Sun Tzu’s higher order offensive tactics, it requires a deep knowledge of both the enemy and of one’s own capabilities. Sun Tzu makes the vital importance of such knowledge clear, warning, “If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”[17] Unlike Clausewitz, perhaps the only equally renowned strategic thinker, Sun Tzu puts high value on the gathering of intelligence and the use of spies.[18] The importance of intelligence gathering is so high that Sun Tzu devotes the whole last chapter to the use of secret agents, and delineates a variety of agents by purpose and origin. For example, some agents are to be used as traditional spies that gather information and return it to the general, inside agents who are enemy officials, enemy spies which are bribed into becoming double agents, and expendable agents which are unknowingly given false information that they give up to the enemy after being captured. With knowledge of the enemy, and knowledge of one’s own capabilities, the general and the sovereign are able to make plan carefully and shape the enemy’s perceptions so that they weaken themselves through their own actions. In this way, secret agents are vital, and akin to an army’s eyes and ears.[19]

Sun Tzu clearly put deception above the use of force in warfare, but The Art of War also includes instruction about the best manner to fight a war. Sun Tzu advocates an indirect form of warfare that is dependent on maneuver rather than focusing on attacking and destroying the enemy’s army like Clausewitz advocates.[20] This strategy depends on restraint and timing, shaping the situation so that when the enemy makes a mistake or presents a weakness it is possible to strike so that the battle is won as soon as it starts. Even when engaged in fighting, the actual outcome depends on the use of deception and psychological factors.  In this way, it is more important to attack an enemy’s will power than to win a tactical battle. Sun Tzu describes this as the moral factor, and advises to “avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick.”[21] Of course as a corollary to this point, it is necessary to maintain the moral of your own troops through fair treatment and proper administration of rewards and punishments to maintain loyalty.[22] The attention to moral factors, deception, timing, and diplomacy are necessary to preserve the state and to prevent prolonged war that is costly and enervating and threatens state survival is the core of Sun Tzu’s strategic thought.

Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power?

In China, there has been a recent trend to use Sun Tzu and The Art of War as a source of soft power and an explanatory tactic for China’s peaceful development strategy. This trend is present in the 2014 9th International Symposium on Sun Tzu’s Art of War hosted by the Chinese Academy of Military Science titled “Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Peace, Cooperation and Development.”[23]  According to the conference description, “Sun Tzu’s Art of War show us that seeking safety through development, cooperation and win-win growth is the right way toward world peace.”[24] From this description, it would be easy to imagine Sun Tzu as a modern day CCP official describing China’s peaceful development policy. Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, also sought to use The Art of War to explain Chinese strategic thinking and to build trust during a 2012 speech to UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, saying “China has the deterrence and wisdom to win without fighting. But if needed, China has the courage and capability to win through fighting. This is the essence of The Art of War and the soul of China’s military strategy today.”[25] Perhaps it is this image Hu Jintao had in mind when he gave President George W. Bush a silk copy of The Art of War in 2006, or when Beijing’s Renmin University gave a copy of the book to Admiral Michael Mullen during his visit in 2011.[26]

The Chinese are not the only people who have sought to portray Sun Tzu as a source of soft power. In his book The Powers to Lead, Joseph Nye describes Sun Tzu as a smart warrior who understood the importance of the soft power of attraction.[27] Another example comes from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who gave a speech at the 2014 Sun Tzu conference in Qindao. In his speech, Rudd urged China and the U.S. to avoid the Thucydides’ trap of rising power-status quo power conflict and to form a new kind of great power relationship based on common interests, cooperation and building trust over time. In order to tie this call for trust and cooperation between the U.S. and China with The Art of War, the closing lines of the speech references Sun Tzu’s warning that “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry that can on no account be neglected,” and then subsequently suggested that in modern times the word “state” should be swapped with “world.”[28] While Sun Tzu did believe that war was a risky proposition that could imperil a state, Rudd’s substitution overlooks the fact that Sun Tzu was not an internationalist, but someone who clearly believed in the importance of achieving decisive victory over enemies.

It is easy to make the case that Sun Tzu rejected the use of force if you take lines from The Art of War out of context. The line most commonly used to this effect is “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”[29] It is true that force plays a much lesser role in Sun Tzu’s strategy than Clausewitz or other comparable writers, but this usage mistakenly puts the stress on “without fighting,” and ignores that the objective is to subdue an enemy. Another issue with this interpretation is that deception is the most frequently discussed theme in The Art of War. [30] With the context added back in, claiming that Sun Tzu’s The Art of War shows a path to cooperation and win-win solutions actually has an ominous overtone. Claiming to be peaceful while preparing for war is a tactic that follows Sun Tzu’s advice that “when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.”[31] Recent assertive Chinese maritime actions in the South and East China Seas have caused doubt about China’s professed peaceful intent. Atlantic Council senior fellow Robert Manning has admonished Beijing to follow The Art of War’s counsel to “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”[32] As Manning points out, rather than hiding their strength, China’s expansive territorial claims and maritime harassment of other powers has resulted in other countries in the region bandwagoning with the United States to contain China’s rise.

Sun Tzu for the Modern Age

Throughout The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasizes that mastering strategic warfare is a matter of survival for states. This perception is shaped by the constant warfare during the Spring and Autumn period during which The Art of War was written. Rather than a book of philosophy or international relations based on moral attraction like other works from that period, The Art of War is about how to win decisive victories over enemies with deception, secret agents, and well-timed uses of overwhelming force. While Sun Tzu advocates using force sparingly, The Art of War is not a good choice of a vehicle to promote Chinese soft power or to advocate for cooperative great power relationships. This does not mean that Sun Tzu is not applicable to the modern world, as former Naval War College professor Michael Handel noted, Sun Tzu’s grand strategy approach to warfare is more relevant today then Clausewitz’s tactical approach to warfare.[33] Considering the costs of modern protracted wars undertaken with poor or incomplete intelligence, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on knowledge, caution, diplomacy, and strategic patience and efficacy in the use of force are still highly relevant.

[1] Richard D. Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 150.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Samuel B. Griffith, The Art of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 45.

[4] Griffith, 143.

[5] Sawyer, 9-11.

[6] Derek M. C. Yuen, Deciphering Sun Tzu: How to Read the Art of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 52.

[7] Sawyer, 111.

[8] Sawyer, 126.

[9] Yan Xuetong, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 37.

[10] Ibid, 34.

[11] Ibid, 34-37.

[12] Ibid, 43.

[13] Sawyer, 2.

[14] Ibid, 77.

[15] Ibid, 73.

[16] Ibid, 77-78.

[17] Ibid, 84.

[18] Michael I. Handel, Masters of War: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Jomini (Portland: Frank Cass, 1992), 111.

[19] Griffith, 149.

[20] Handel, 42.

[21] Griffith, 108.

[22] Griffith, 66.

[23] “9th International Symposium on Sun Tzu’s Art of War kicks off,” China Military Online, August 26, 2014, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2014-08/26/content_6112195.htm

[24] Ibid.

[25] Liu Xiaoming, “Sun Tzu’s Wisdom Behind China’s Diplomacy and Defence Policy” (Speech, UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, UK, February 2, 2011), http://www.chinese-embassy.org.uk/eng/ambassador/dshd/2012/t903970.htm

[26] Sun Tzu and the art of soft power,” The Economist, December 17, 2011, http://www.economist.com/node/21541714

[27] Joseph S. Nye, The Power to Lead (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11.

[28] Kevin Rudd, “How Ancient Chinese Thought Applies Today,” Huffington Post, February 6, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-rudd/chinese-strategic-thoughts_b_6417754.html

[29] Griffith, 77.

[30] Handel, 102.

[31] Griffith, 66.

[32] Robert A. Manning, “Sun Tzu Would Disapprove of China’s Strategy,” The National Interest, August 3, 2013, http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/sun-tzu-would-disapprove-chinas-strategy-8829

[33] Tony Corn, “Peaceful Rise through Unrestricted Warfare: Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics,” Small Wars Journal, 2010, 14.

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