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130 trilateralism and beyond Future Challenges and Opportunities for Trilateral Security Cooperation Michael W. Chinworth, Narushige Michishita, and Taeyoung Yoon The United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have multiple, common security interests and perspectives, but they are far from uniform. Defense cooperation is an important element of relations for all three countries. Varying degrees and forms of cooperation have been achieved in U.S.-ROK, U.S.-Japan, and ROK-Japan security ties in pursuit of their respective interests. Some level of de facto trilateral cooperation has been achieved through parallel management of these respective sets of bilateral security ties. Moving toward formalized, trilateral security ties or alliances is neither achievable nor desirable for any of the three countries due to fundamental differences in threat perceptions and security policy goals. Future security cooperation will remain challenging given different domestic and regional perspectives and objectives . Security cooperation is far from impossible, but evidence of difficulty in coordination is evident throughout the last thirty-five years that has distinct implications both for one-on-one relations among the three countries and for more comprehensive, trilateral security coordination. Interests and threat perceptions differ. Gaps exist in the institutionalization of bilateral security relations among the three players in the area. The three countries are committed to one another’s security , but ties are far from perfectly harmonious. South Korean–Japanese security relations, for example, often are at the level of confidence building due to lingering historical animosities. While parallel sets of bilateral coordinative actions can still be pursued, these factors complicate more ambitious, regional security cooperation and collaboration . Current trends are taking the three countries toward continued coordination, but as independent, allied powers in the region and with greater autonomy in their conduct of security affairs. This is not a reversal but a fulfillment of past policies in recognition of the differences and common interests existing among the three. 130 Wampler text.indb 130 3/27/12 1:42 PM future challenges and opportunities 131 The Security Environment Northeast Asia is characterized by common threats that often are viewed differently by the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Each of these countries has been involved in different capacities in regional security issues. Trust among these countries has developed but has been strained at times. Collective security is problematic for policy and historical reasons, and regional security institutions remain formative. The three countries are wrapped in conflicting sentiments about their relations with one another.1 The U.S. presence itself has been controversial. The situation on the Korean peninsula poses the foremost security threat facing the three countries. The area near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) remains heavily armed. The growing ballistic missile capabilities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have increased apprehension in the region. Japan, South Korea, and the United States have not always agreed on the extent and nature of the threat posed by the North’s military programs in general and missile programs in particular. Stable relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are a priority for all three countries, but there has not always been uniform agreement on the most appropriate means for achieving and sustaining such stability. North Korea’s missile development efforts have attracted continued attention for decades and are likely to remain the number-one security concern for the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The programs pose special problems for the ROK, whose ballistic missile program has not grown significantly since 1979 when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States limiting South Korea to the development of missiles with ranges no greater than 180 km. This is still in force, and South Korea believes this restriction hampers its security since it precludes the development of missiles with greater ranges while North Korean missile technology continues to advance. There are growing numbers of South Korean politicians who advocate scrapping the agreement with the United States and joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Doing so would allow South Korea to build missiles with ranges up to 300 km and thereby offset North Korean capabilities to a certain extent. South Korea poses its security goals in the context of national reunification. However, peaceful reunification of the North and South is a distant prospect even before considering the many political, cultural, economic, and military implications posed by the possibility of uniting the peninsula. A short-term policy or strategy of simply buying time may help reduce tensions on the...


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