ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum 2017: Session I
September 5, 2017
VICTOR CHA: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming back after remarks by Congresswoman Murphy and President Lee and Ambassador Armitage. We’re going to now start the next panel, the first substantive panel. And in putting together this panel, I don’t think we could have gotten a more diverse group, not just – not in terms of their interest in Asia, because they all share that, but in terms of the wealth of experience that we have, both on the academic side and in policy, from the people that have on the – on the stage today. I think their full bios are in your programs, but I will briefly introduce them in a minute.
You know, often the beginning of any administration, the first few months are very formative months in terms of the shape and the tenor of the relationships that emerge between a new head of state and all of its regular partners, all of its countries. In this particular case, we essentially have two new heads of state – you know, President Trump here in the United States, as well as President Moon in South Korea. And so we are right now in this very formative period where the first few months, the first few interactions that take place actually play a very important role in the longer-term relationship, the directions that are set between the Moon and the Trump administrations. So we thought it was very important to start off the expert substantive panels with a discussion on the alliance and on what our experts see as the agenda for the alliance going forward.
Let me introduce them very briefly to you. And I want to particularly emphasize the wealth of experience that we have here.
Starting at the far end, Choi Kang, my good friend, is vice president of the Asan Institute, a(n) independent think tank in South Korea. But he also served as senior adviser on the National Security Council for the Kim Dae-jung administration.
Sitting next to him is Abe Denmark. Abe Denmark is the newly – I don’t know if they inaugurate you there. (Laughter.) The newly inaugurated director of Asia programs at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, having just left the Obama administration as the deputy assistant secretary for East Asia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Sitting next to Abe is Professor Yoon Young-kwan. Many of you know Professor Yoon Young-kwan is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University, which if the Georgetown of Korea. (Laughter.) More importantly, he also served as foreign minister. He was the minister of foreign affairs for the Roh Moo-hyun government.
And then sitting next to him, last but not least, is Michael Pillsbury. Any of you who are in this area in Washington, D.C. or who study China know Mike as one of the longtime China hands, longtime greatly experienced people on the Hill. But not only that, he has served two U.S. presidents on not just Asia policy, but broader strategy and national security issues. So really a wealth of experience across the board here.
The way we’re going to do this initially is we’re going to ask each of our panelists to make some initial remarks, and then we will use that as a springboard for discussion among the group, as well as with all of you. So I think – I think I’ll start off with just a very basic question to all of you, which really comes – emanates from the – my initial remarks, which is that we – you know, we are in a very important transitional period and formative period in the alliance between these two new leaders. And I’d like to hear from each of you what you think are the key tasks, the key challenges, the key opportunities going forward. And so I’d like to begin with Dr. Pillsbury, if that’s OK.
MICHAEL PILLSBURY: And how will I know when my minutes are up? Are you going to nudge me gently when –
MR. CHA: Yeah, I’ll nudge you. But you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.
MR. PILLSBURY: Because pursuant to your request, Victor, I wrote out a list of 12 ways that the United States could improve its relationship, its overall alliance relationship with the Republic of Korea. And obviously to do all 12 justice is impossible, but I thought I’d touch on your question. I think some copies of the statement have been passed around, but not everybody has one.
The very first thing – and I’m a – I’m a friend of the Trump administration. I don’t represent them. I was an advisor to the transition. So I may be the only friend of President Trump in the room. (Laughter.) I don’t know if that’s true, but I want to identify myself with that point of view because my first recommendation is President Trump’s commitment to visit South Korea this year strikes me as an opportunity for a real breakthrough in improving the alliance relationship. There are various ways such a visit can be handled in terms of what’s often called deliverables. It seems to me the chances are good for a major success in that trip.
Secondly, ways to improve policy coordination on North Korea. There’s already been progress on this. President Obama took it very seriously. The so-called “strategic patience” term actually covered – maybe Abe Denmark will go into it – covered four specific things. More can be done. Just over the weekend this joint statement between the White House and Blue House is very good progress. But it seems to me policy coordination on North Korea is easy to say – I think you’d probably find nobody against it – but how to do it seems to me requires a longer-term vision. And it requires what sounds boring sometimes to the newspaper media people: it requires study groups and figuring out what exactly are some scenarios, and frankly, what is the military balance, what are some of the military options, because a great deal of our relationship with South Korea is, in fact, military. So I’m going to unpack some of these things in my additional recommendations under this larger rubric of enhanced policy coordination on North Korea.
It seems to me the consultations between the two presidents is where we have to start. This idea some people have had in the past that phone conversations are not good between heads of state, it should be left to deputy assistant secretaries to handle these things, there’s a case for that. But the other case is the more the two heads of state talk on the phone, the more they exchange ideas, the better. That’s where I come out.
Then, to get more specific, the role of China is generally speaking not part of U.S.-Korean alliance management. It’s supposed to be about the defense of South Korea. But again and again, China comes up. And one of the strange ways this has happened is a failure of our military relationship with China. We try to reassure China about many things, but a lot of Chinese military guys – and I cover this in my – in my book, “The Hundred-Year Marathon” – have conspiracy theories about the United States that rival Alex Jones and Breitbart in terms of their interpretation of what the Americans are up to.
This has happened now with the THAAD deployment. If you go to Raytheon’s website, you will find a very detailed description what the THAAD radar range can do, and how there’s a switch in the little trailer between short-range radar coverage and long-range radar coverage. There are also a series of online articles that show the range of the THAAD radar when the switch is turned. This has inflamed some people in the Chinese military and intelligence complex that somehow THAAD is part of a large American plot to neutralize the Chinese nuclear deterrent capability against the United States.
There’s ways to reassure the PLA. I as a scholar have tried this myself, showing them that actually just radar coverage doesn’t help very much. It’s very weak. The return is very weak. You can’t know very much. The United States has other systems, for example in space, to learn these things. We don’t have a national missile defense system that covers the Chinese deterrent. That’s a public policy for many, many years. This does not work. And, Abe, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’re going to have much luck persuading the Chinese military that THAAD isn’t somehow aimed against them.
Well, to anticipate this would have been good, but to work on it would be even better. So that’s why my fourth area for improvement is doing a better job explaining the capabilities of THAAD. And the most important thing to say isn’t the radar, it’s the range of the missiles. The missiles are very short range. They cannot – a lot of Chinese military at conferences I’ve been to actually believe in the THAAD system is a missile that can fly 1,500 miles and stop a Chinese nuclear missile from being fired at America. That’s simply not true. So that’s one of several areas where China, seems to me, ought to be a focus of the alliance coordination mechanisms: exchanging views on alternative scenarios for China, sharing our debates.
And frankly, there’s a really good pitch here for a book Victor Cha just wrote last year, Princeton University Press, called “Powerplay.” And Victor has found in a very original way new materials for how America’s military alliances in Asia, including with South Korea, were formed. This is so different from the Chinese perception. If I can put words in your mouth that I think I read in the book, in many cases the U.S. strategy at the time was to restrain tendencies or even the use of force by the part of alliance partners. It was not designed to encircle China to invade and dismember the Chinese. So I’m hoping there will be a Chinese translation, Victor, of your book “Powerplay” that will be widely read in the PLA –
MR. CHA: Well, thank you for the advertisement. (Laughs.)
MR. PILLSBURY: – because you cite – you cite so many original documents that have not been seen before.
I’ll skip over the rest. There’s room for improvement in the trilateral relationship among South Korea, Japan, and the United States. One of the sticking points is something you can really show off if you know what it means, GSOMIA. Please put your hand up if you know what GSOMIA is. It’s the central obstacle. I see seven hands – (laughter) – not counting Victor and Abe. GSOMIA is one of the central obstacles in improving the trilateral relationship. And at first, South Korea agreed to it; then, President Moon made it sound like maybe he didn’t. GSOMIA means – and it’s – and it’s an agreement on the protection of military secrets. I think it’s at least 60 countries we have these agreements with. So it’s an obstacle to improving military and intelligence coordination between the three countries.
I would say that in terms of technology transfer, helping the Korean Defense Ministry’s 2020 Reform plan, there’s more that can be done. I think the Trump administration’s already started down this path. I mean this partly as a joke, Victor, but cutting the price of the F-35 doesn’t just benefit the U.S. Air Force, it will benefit South Korea’s decision already to move ahead.
There’s a larger topic that in South Korea it’s called Defense Reform. And Defense Reform implies not just modernization of weapons systems and new technologies, it implies meeting the kinds of conditions that the American military has testified to Congress about – the conditions that would make sense to South Korea if it wants to transfer wartime operational command. And this has been the topic of testimony by our commander, U.S. Forces Korea that focuses on command and control, just a whole series of things under the same concept that the Defense Ministry in Korea refers to as its 2020 Reform. So that’s another area where progress could be accelerated. Obviously, we don’t want to create the notion that South Korea is being left alone in wartime by the operational command change, but we don’t want to also insult South Korean sovereignty, that they can’t take care of this function themselves.
In the last two or three I try to venture into the area of trade. Usually, trade and security issues are never mixed. This is considered the sign of a reckless person if he tries to mix trade and security. However, more and more, since at least the ’80s, if you look at the national security archive records of Henry Kissinger and certainly the Reagan administration, trade actually is part of national security. And a good ambassador or the best ambassadors, Victor, are able to combine trade and security issues in a very thoughtful way so that there’s double successes.
And this, it seems to me, is the challenge with South Korea, so important in our trading network. We’ve got to find ways where we essentially say the free-trade agreement has its own dispute mechanism processes built in, a so-called joint committee exists. It doesn’t have to become the topic of a free-for-all and competitive thinking because, in fact, as I argue in “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” both South Korea and the United States’ economies are challenged by China. We have a common interest in the Chinese playing by the rules, not just at the WTO but in a series of other agreements that they have – they have signed up to. So I’d like to see progress in South Korean-American trade talks within the context that the joint committee exists, that there’s – dispute mechanisms are quite ready to handle any challenges. But it seems to me this should be coordinated with both countries’ concern about Chinese competitiveness because, frankly, they’re out-competing both of us. So common interest indicates parallel activities that could take place at WTO or elsewhere.
I’ll leave some of the others just to build some suspense. But there is a question of nuclear energy cooperation. And another question I could ask you all is: Who know what pyrotechnology is? You can put your hand up. Oh, more know pyrotechnology than GSOMIA. (Laughter.) That’s good news. There are ways that – the South Korean defense minister already raised this, I guess, yesterday – that we could – there should be a review of whether to return U.S. nuclear weapons to deployment in South Korea. There are also additional steps that can be taken in the nuclear energy cooperation area that I think would get the attention of North Korea. I’m not advocating that. I am against – at the present time, I’m against – I’m against nuclear weapons for South Korea. But I’m not totally against it, just speaking as a scholar.
And it seems to me in these talks which are due in 2020 – so it’s really two-and-a-half more years – in these talks, the Korean side seems to be interested in uranium enrichment facilities that they do not have now. And this is like a new frontier for the IAEA for how to work out verification agreements. But the United States, in my view, to improve relations with South Korea, could be more open-minded about uranium enrichment and the so-called pyro issue. But again, there’s two-and-a-half years to go on that.
So that’s a general list of – I’ve left out a few of them, but how I’m sort of bullish on improving U.S.-South Korean relations. It seems to me we’ve been drawn together by the reckless behavior of the leader of North Korea, and that’s very good news because some of the pessimists a few months ago thought this would be the topic of a huge split between President Trump and President Moon. I’m quite optimistic that his behavior in Pyongyang has actually pushed our two countries closer together.
MR. CHA: Terrific. Well, thank you, Mike. That’s a great start and a lot of things that you’ve put on the table.
Let’s go to Foreign Minister Yoon.
YOON YOUNG-KWAN: This morning I found an interesting title from The New York Times articles, and the title was “An Alliance of 67 Years is Tested by North Korea.” I couldn’t but fear that that’s exactly the situation nowadays. But after listening to strong remarks in support of alliance by Secretary Armitage and Congresswoman Murphy, I was very much reassured and relieved.
Anyway, we are facing three important challenging issues in terms of maintaining a strong alliance between ROK and the United States. The first issue is what kind of policy for both governments to pursue to denuclearize North Korea and how to implement it. Both ROK and U.S. governments agreed on the policy of maximum pressure and engagement. And even after the nuclear test last Sunday, I think we need to focus on continuing our – I mean, applying pressure on North Korea to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.
But such pressure, I think, must be carefully calibrated. If the U.S. appears to be seeking regime change or a preventive war, a panicked Kim Jong-un will be more likely to lash out. According to A.J.P. Taylor, an eminent British historian, wars broke out, quote, “more from apprehension than from a lust for war.” And war started “by a threatened Power which had nothing to gain by war and much to lose,” unquote. So, instead of cornering North Korea, I think we need to send a clear signal consistently that our goal is not regime change or a preventive war, but a policy change.
In addition, I think, while applying maximum pressure on North Korea, we need to keep our diplomatic channels open to test their intention and explore what is possible. Some are concerned about the North Korea policy of President Moon Jae-in’s government, but I think our President Moon Jae-in has been firm and clear that maximum pressure is needed until North Korea comes to the table. For example, we emphasized that more than just a statement was needed, and proposed that both allies conduct a decapitation missile-firing drill after North Korea conducted an ICBM test on July the 4 th. He is definitely not an appeaser.
The second issue is what to do about extended deterrence in the era of North Korea’s nuclear ICBM. North Korea’s capability to strike the mainland territory of the United States may seriously weaken the credibility of U.S. commitment of extended nuclear deterrence. So ROK and U.S., and probably Japan too, have to begin discussing what kind of measures should be taken to face these new challenges.
Another worry is that North Korea may become much more reckless. For instance, he may attack an island in the West Sea like Baengnyeong Island or Yeonpyeong Island, believing that South Korea would not dare to retaliate because they have nuclear weapons. But South Korean military leaders have been declaring that in case they provoke, they would strike back not just the original point of attack, but also their command center. So this kind of initially local-level conflict can easily escalate into all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. So how to prevent this kind of escalation? I think this is very important issue to be handled.
The third issue is how to prepare for the upcoming negotiation if it ever comes. There are a few groups in favor of negotiations. One group says that there should be a phased approach to denuclearization, starting with interim freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Other group proposes a grand bargain between the U.S. and China. This group even implies that U.S. should begin to think, unquote, “unthinkable,” which means withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. I really don’t know what President Trump is thinking about this matter, and he may have a different idea. But anyway, what kind of negotiation there may be? One thing clear is that there should be thorough preparation through close consultation and coordination between the two allies – especially while trying to achieve the goal of denuclearization of North Korea, security of ROK – and alliance itself should not be compromised. Otherwise, there will be a significant blow to the strategic interest not just of South Korea, but also of the United States.
So all these three major issues require very close consultation and coordination between two allies, and we need to build a mechanism for that as soon as possible. Thank you.
MR. CHA: Thanks, Foreign Minister Yoon.
Now we’ll go to Abe Denmark.
ABRAHAM DENMARK: Thank you, Victor. And thank you, CSIS, for inviting me to come speak.
I wanted to keep my remarks brief, as requested, and focus on what I see as two challenges and two opportunities, focusing specifically on the alliance itself. And I’ll start with the opportunities because I think too often we get hung up on the challenges, and it’s important to identify opportunities.
One that I could cover very quickly is the opportunity to strengthen trilateral cooperation, something that Dr. Pillsbury mentioned earlier. This was a great focus for me when I was in the Pentagon, but I think there’s also a great deal more that could be done. There is a lot of framework in place, there’s a lot of mechanisms in place, but it will take energy and leadership from both Seoul and Tokyo to make sure that we are continuing to make progress, as well as leadership from Washington to encourage progress.
In terms of specific areas, again, I believe that the mechanism’s already there. I think one area to think about would be enhancing trilateral cooperation in major exercises. Japan, of course, could play a – would have a significant role to play in the potential defense of South Korea, and so involving Japan in parts of that exercise, I think increasing that involvement would be very important, I think, as a way to move ahead beyond one-off exercises, one-off tests.
Another area of opportunity, I think, that I wanted to mention is the opportunity to enhance South Korea’s military capabilities. Of course, the ROK military is already very capable and it’s already made commitments to enhance its capability. F-35 was already mentioned. There’s other capabilities and process to get to that – to get to that eventual condition of being able to have wartime operational control. And the president, as I understand it – and the last time I checked my Twitter account before I came up here – has also talked about his decision to open up more sales to Korea and to Japan to further allow them to enhance their military capabilities, which I think overall is a very positive trend.
But there’s a note of caution that I wanted to note. We need to be careful about how this is done; that in the past, as the United States has called for its allies to do more, that often gets interpreted by our allies, by our partners that the United States is taking a step back. And we all recall the effects that Vietnamization, the Guam Doctrine had in Korea in the 1970s. So I think that as we call for Japan and Korea to do more, as we encourage them to enhance their capabilities, the United States should also make sure that this is seen as part of – done in tandem with an effort to increase American engagement, increase American commitment in the region, so as to undercut or answer any concerns that this may have that this is a potential signal that the United States is looking at taking a step back.
So, to move on to challenges – and I’ll try to keep it – keep it brief so we can keep going – first challenge I wanted to talk about is deterrence. And I want to make it clear here I’m not talking about strategic deterrence. It has been mentioned before the concern that our allies will have about the implications of a North – of a credible nuclear ICBM from North Korea. I actually feel quite confident that strategic deterrence remains quite robust. The United States has successfully deterred major conflict with nuclear powers for decades, and there’s – I see no reason why that should change with a potential nuclear North Korea. And that message needs to be sent very clearly to our – to our allies, that this development that as North Korea gets closer to this capability will not slacken American commitment to the defense of our allies. It’s very important to say that message clearly, loudly, and repeatedly.
But there is a concern that I have and that others have about conventional deterrence; that, as North Korea feels more confident in its capabilities and its nuclear capabilities, that it could feel emboldened to act more aggressively at the conventional level that we’ve seen before. It was mentioned the shelling of various islands. I’d add the sinking of the Cheonan. I have concerns that with a nuclear capability that North Korea may feel emboldened to act more aggressively, and we could see – and we could see incidents like that happening more often than we have before. And so that requires that both the United States and Korea enhance conventional deterrence. The doctrine that – the doctrines that came out after 2010 from Korea I think are part of that, but another piece of that is also enhancing our capabilities writ large, to make sure that we have the ability to defend and deter those sorts of attacks.
The second challenge that I wanted to mention is reassurance. I mentioned it a bit earlier. I referred to it a bit earlier, the need to assure our allies that this nuclear capability is not going to prevent us from defending our allies. But there is a lot more to it than just simple statements. There’s the constant meetings, the phone calls. I actually – as a former official, I’d much rather the reassurance phone calls come from high above than at the low levels that I was at. But enhancing that confidence, maintaining that cohesion is very important, both rhetorically; at the command level at UNC and the CMC; but also just throughout the alliance at the economic and political levels because of that concern about that the United States may be pulling back or concern about a nuclear capability.
There is – I mentioned the nuclear piece and why that could drive concerns. And as the United States enhances its capabilities in the region, I think it’s – this is my last point – I think it’s important that that message be said very clearly, very publicly, and very loudly to ensure that we are maintaining that cohesion.
And I think I’ll stop there.
MR. CHA: All right. Thank you. Thank you, Abe.
Lastly, Choi Kang.
CHOI KANG: I have nothing to say. (Laughter.) All the point I was going to raise actually covered by previous speakers.
But actually, it seems to me that there are at least four areas of coordination, all that actually present challenges as well as opportunities: first, North Korea; second, regional cooperation among – between the two countries; third, global issues; and, fourth, actually about the alliance management, the base, the OPCON transfer, all these things.
Let me start with the North Korea issue. Of course, there should be no daylight between ROK and U.S. in handling North Korean issue, but each side has some suspicion about the other’s unilateralism. For example, of course, you already mentioned South Korea has a concern maybe U.S. is going to strike a deal with China over North Korea issue. Of course, during the months of April and also August, Koreans were really concerned about unilateral military action taken by the United States, very seriously, because I have several phone calls overseas where they are going to go war. So kinds of things, it seems to me, that how we are going to manage the North Korea issue has not been clearly set out yet. Still, coordination is going on. The problem we have, it seems that we have been relatively reactive to North Korea’s action rather than proactive in preventing North Korea from doing something. So it seems to me that there’s no clear long-term vision about the end state on the Korean Peninsula, and then how we are going to achieve step by step. Of course, we discussed this issue in previous case.
But actually, first of all, we have to clear out the suspicion. And then maybe we have to come to deal with the conditions and details when we are going to press or when we are going to engage North Korea very clearly. Otherwise, there will be a constant suspicion going on between the two sides. That isn’t good at all. So, nowadays, one of the buzzword(s) in Seoul is like Korea passing, Korea is left out in dealing with the North Korea issue. So –
MR. PILLSBURY: Korea pack?
MR. CHOI: Korea passing. Korea is being passed by the other –
MR. PILLSBURY: Going over the head of South Korea. I see, I see.
MR. CHOI: So that’s a buzzword you can hear in Korea, so that’s not good at all.
So we should be very much clear on our common stance on North Korea at each and every step. Also, in North Korea policy, we have to think about various dimensions, not only military but also political, economic, social, and also the issues, actually. We need to have more comprehensive approach, not just simply focusing on North Korean nuclear but also the others. Of course, North Korea nuclear as well as the missile are very threatening clear and present danger. But we have to think about how we can bring about some changes in North Korea in terms of policy and gradual change of society as well. So it seems to me that we have all kinds of the – what I usually say – counter-Pyongyang policy we are going to pursue vis-à-vis North Korea.
On the second issue, regional level, of course, is quite sensitive for South Korea to talk about the regional cooperation and the meaning of alliance in the regional context. In the last joint statement between President Moon Jae-in and President Trump the regional issue has been left out, unfortunately. But we have to think about how we are going to strengthen the foundation of rule-based regional order in East Asia as well. What kinds of roles and issues our lives can play in the regional context. And actually, more specifically, how we are going to deal with the rise of China. Of course, we cannot contain China. So we have to think about how we are going to engage China.
And second, so what kinds of the trilateral security cooperation between Korea, Japan and the United States in the regional context – not just simply mainly focused on the North Korean issue. Going beyond North Korea, what kinds of roles we can play at the regional level is very specific. I hope alliance can be a tool to provide the public good and regional context very well, going beyond the Korean Peninsula.
And third area is relatively easy, because that is global issue, like the public health, resource management, human rights, democracy, nonproliferation, energy security. But I have a different take on the nuclear cooperation between Korea and the United States. This Moon Jae-in administration has announced that he is going to depart from nuclear energy. But that could be problematic. So how we are going to – maybe, in general, we can think about energy cooperation, but not specifically on nuclear energy cooperation, nuclear for what you mentioned, the pyro processing.
We have to think about the other ways of enhancing the cooperation between the two parties on the energy efficiency kinds of things, because there are many things we can do together at the global level. But actually, each region statement – I have a map – contains the regional, of course, the global issues. But unfortunately, implementation on the global cooperation is moving very slowly. So how we are going to institutionalize and then seek the momentum for global cooperation between the two allies is going to be critical, and is very meaningful for future of ROK and U.S. alliance.
Finally, I have to come to the alliance management issue. First, I think that I have some concern about the burden sharing issue between the two countries, because actually when President Trump mentioned at Rose Garden two issues, FTA and burden sharing. So further burden sharing, how we are going to solve this problem without any difficulty. I’m sure we are going into the 10th round of negotiation starting from this December. So I think for the first time it’s the president’s agenda, I think. It’s going to be very tough to have mutually acceptable, satisfying result. But it is not simply the amount South Korea is paying, but it’s about the way the formulate burden sharing. So what kinds of things U.S. can provide in exchange for increase in burden sharing, the share of South Korea?
Second issue, of course, is mentioned already, the OPCON transfer. We have agreed to conditions-based OPCON transfer. Also, we decided to expedite the process. That actually requires South Korean government to spend more money in building this more capable military. I’m sure President Moon Jae-in has clearly stated he is going to increase our burden – defense burden – defense budget from 2.4 percent of GDP to 2.9 percent at the end of his term. So, but whether that is good enough to cover the – all the weapons program we would like to have by the end of this administration, that’s one thing. But the other one is, like, what about the alternative command structure we will have, that we will maintain combined forces, or what kinds of alternative command structures.
The other issue I would like to share with – like a – what about the kind of new operational plan, by taking into account the changes are taking place on the Korean Peninsula, whether we have to think about different wartime operational control or not. That’s actually very necessary points to be discussed between the two parties. Of course, that actually relates to the extended deterrence issue. So we have some concerns about the U.S. commitment to the defense of Korean public, because I firmly believe U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea but there are some concerns of the possibility of decoupling or not.
And in exchange – or, actually, the other issue, like, you mentioned the THAAD issue, whether THAAD is good enough to defend South Korea as well as other countries, or whether we should have upgraded defense, integrated missile defense system in the region, because actually there are more overlaps between Korea and Japan because of changing nature of North Korean military capability. So I strongly argue for the integrated missile defense system, but sometimes it’s very controversial in a political sense. But we’d like to – I’d like to do more on defense among all three allies in defending ourselves against North Korea’s increasing challenge. Thank you.
MR. CHA: Great. Thanks. So a great start. Really, all four presenters really covered a lot of ground. And so the way I’d like to start is I actually have a – prompted by all of your comments, I have a couple of questions that I’d like to ask you all, and then we’ll go to the audience. But – and the first question is – it’s to all of you, but it’s particularly addressed to Abe and to Choi Kang and Mike – Dr. Pillsbury raised it as well, and that is this whole point about trilateral coordination the U.S., Japan and Korea.
This is something we’ve heard quite often whenever – it’s almost a reflex whenever North Korea does a provocation, but, you know, from particularly your perspectives – because, I know – I know, Abe, you worked this issue during the Obama administration and I know, Choi Kang, you know, going back to the early ’90s you’ve been an advocate of this and have been involved both in government and in track two on this.
Can you – can you say, like, specifically what you would like to see do? Like, if you had a – like, specifically, dig down and tell us, like, what are the things that you’d like to see? Like, Abe mentioned more integrated exercises. Does that mean Japan is part of the spring and – spring and fall exercises in Korea, or what exactly do we mean when we say deeper – digging deeper? Mike mentioned GSOMIA, right? So what are some of these things that you’re thinking of when you talk about greater trilateral cooperation?
MR. CHOI: Me?
MR. CHA: Both – yeah.
MR. CHOI: OK, sure. Maybe I can think of two or three things. First, I think that maybe after concluding GSOMIA with Japan we have to think about this – the ACSA, the acquisition and service agreement between the two countries, and then the others – like, for example, we are very much concerned with North Korean submarine activities around Korean Peninsula. We have to think about this antisubmarine warfare cooperation. So there’s that. The other is, like, for example, the minesweeping operation, we can think of. But before going to actual – the physical exercises, it seems to me like it is necessary to have some kinds of tabletop exercise amongst three countries. If North Korea does something, what we are going to do, so we can clearly identify where we can go together or where we can’t. So maybe clearly think about this rather grandiose strategy designed, pushed by North Korea.
MR. CHA: OK, thanks. Abe.
MR. DENMARK: I thought those were very good suggestions. I do think that enhancing or bringing trilateralism into some of our major exercises in the region would be very helpful, starting small at the beginning but gradually building it up to demonstrate to both sides how all this works together I think would be important. Beginning with tabletops I think is a good way to – a good way to go. ACSA, of course, I think would be an important step after GSOMIA to enhance that military cooperation. The maritime cooperation that was mentioned is also important. I would add to that missile defense, that some of – we had some baby steps in the past – in the past couple years of missile warning coordination, but really taking the next step and turning it into more full-fledged trilateral missile defense cooperation, focused on the North Korean missile threat, I think would be very important.
And then go – and then beyond that, beyond the military sphere, looking at enhancing economic ties, cultural ties. You know, one of the things that surprised me as somebody in government, considering how careful some people were about talking about talking about trilateral cooperation, actually moving ahead on it, looking at some of the polling being done in Korea, being done by Asan, is that generally speaking Japan is actually polling quite well in Korea.
MR. CHA: Compared to China these days, yeah. (Laughs.)
MR. DENMARK: Compared to China. And so there seems to be a bit of a – of a – that the people seem to be a bit out front of the government in that way. So I think that there’s – there is room to move forward in trilateral cooperation. But as I said earlier, it’ll take leadership from both sides as well as leadership from the United States to ensure that this is moving forward at a stable pace.
MR. CHA: And so, all these things that you’ve mentioned – so I have a list of ASW, minesweeping, tabletop, GSOMIA, ACSA, missile defense, these sorts of things – do you think that this is something – because, obviously there are political sensitivities. So is this something that you believe should happen at sort of below the headlines, like at the – you know, it’s just some – or it needs to be embedded in some bigger, broader trilateral political declaration among the three countries that publicly mandates the three countries to work in this direction? I mean, I’ve heard arguments on both sides. Some people say, no, just do it quietly. Others say, no, you need sort of high-level sort of anointing of this as the official position going forward. I mean, what do you – what do you – what do you think?
MR. DENMARK: I think – I think keeping things quiet, keeping things below the radar is a very helpful way, especially for people – for technicians, for people on the military sphere who just want to have the practical cooperation. There does need to be some political top cover at some point that – as you build from small to big, there will need to be some sort of political declaration. I think some people thought we already had that in the declarations between Prime Minister Abe and President Park. If that needs to be redeclared, if it needs to be that every time there’s a change of leadership in either country there needs to be some sort of statement. I think for the United States, that’s really a question for those two countries. As an American, my focus would be on the practical cooperation and ensuring that we’re doing what we need to do. And if either country, either Japan or Korea, feels that they need some political declaration at a high level, then our political leadership can engage to try to encourage that, to make that happen.
MR. CHOI: I agree with Abe on this more practical cooperation instead of going for a higher-level political declaration. At the same time, it seems to me that we can go, along with the political declaration, in agreeing this trilateral cooperation and providing the regional comments. So there are nonregional security issues which are very actually tangible in East Asia. So we used to have a kind of search-and-rescue operation and disaster relief, humanitarian assistance. All these things can be together. But actually, that can be – those things can be reflected in the political declaration. In the meantime, maybe a harder security cooperation can be pursued at the working level, at the practical enhancement of trust, and also the coordination mechanism among three allies.
MR. CHA: OK. Great, thanks. And I want to ask now, Dr. Pillsbury or Minister Yoon, two questions, and then you can choose which ones you want to respond to, but I have a feeling I know which ones you will respond to. (Laughter.) And the first question is, you know, Foreign Minister Yoon, you mentioned in your comments about the importance of pressure, but also the importance of signaling to avoid miscalculation or to avoid putting – I mean, the last place we want any country to be in is where they feel like there are – there’s nothing to lose in war and there’s a lot to lose in peace, right? That’s a very dangerous situation.
So I guess one of the questions, I think, that I certainly have, and maybe others do is, is there signaling that other countries can send to the current North Korean regime that has not been signaled already, or could be signaled in a way that would actually make a difference? And then related to that also is the, you know, 800-pound gorilla in the room in any discussion these days about Korea is China. And, Mike, you’ve studied China. You know China very well. You have networks in China. And I guess the question there is, in your opinion – in your well-informed opinion, is China ready for – are they ready and willing for a long-term strategic conversation about the future of the Korean Peninsula? Because China’s such an integral part of any tactic that is implemented with North Korea. But as a number of you mentioned, the tactics are not helpful unless we have a long-term plan, right? And I know you, we participated for many years in a lot of these net – a lot of net assessment work with grand marshal where the mandate was to look 20, 25 years out.
MR. PILLSBURY: We should have had Korean involvement.
MR. CHA: We should have had Korean – yeah, yeah. So those are the two questions I’d like to ask you. Maybe Foreign Minister Yoon, you’d like to start on the signaling question.
MR. YOON: That’s very difficult question to answer, but there are two points that I would like to make. One is the reason why I emphasized the importance of sending clear signals consistently to North Korea is that words augur quite often, because of misperception, misunderstanding, and overreaction. And if we send confusing signal to the other side, there will be increasing chance of misperception and misunderstanding and overreaction. So I think it is important, very important, to send a clear signal consistently. Very rare calibrated signals.
The second point to your question is that I think if we want to have a successful negotiated solution of what any conflict, I think we should provide national pressure and, at the same time, maximum incentive. But I wonder whether our side – both the U.S. and South Korean side – have done enough to provide maximum incentive so that Kim Jong-un think that without nuclear weapons he can survive, or even prosper. We did try hard to pressure North Korea with maximum, I mean, strength or force or something like that. But I think we did a little less than that in providing maximum incentive so that the leader of North Korea really believed that it is better for him to give up nuclear option. I mean, cost-benefit calculation should provide him some kind of incentive that it is better to give up our nuclear weapons to survive, to strengthen their domestic political legitimacy, or something like that.
For example, in the 1994 framework, there was an important clause included that was improvement of political relationship between the United States and North Korea. I think North Koreans had high expectation about the implementation of that clause. But I think American side regarded that agreement just a simple military technical, I mean, agreement. So from the U.S. side, their point of view, I think we – I mean, the U.S. and South Koreans, should have done more, tried harder, something like that. So that’s my answer.
MR. CHA: Mike.
MR. PILLSBURY: Victor, I think there’s a – it’s unfair, you’re asking the easy questions to Abe and Asan Institution, and you’re asking the foreign minister and myself the hard – the hard questions. So I just want to object. (Laughter.)
I think there’s a link between trilateral cooperation and U.S.-China relations. In my book, “The Hundred-year Marathon” I mention a particular CIA officer named Joe DeTrani, who is one of your speakers tomorrow. I hope somebody asks him this question. The level of cooperation between China and the United States has been extremely high – far more than the public has known until I published my book, with security review permission from CIA and the Pentagon. We’ve cooperated with China on the largest covert action of the entire Cold War, and just a whole range of ways. I list 12 examples in the book, and I think there are even more that didn’t make it through security review.
So it’s actually a good thing for people in Seoul to be suspicious of the Korean passing over the heads of Seoul. I don’t deny that possibility. The relationship between the U.S. and China is widely misunderstood in Asia as being somehow antagonistic – that is, that China rises and we get these strange stories about a Chinese military guy who says, well, let’s divide the Pacific in half. There’s a kind of conspiratorial thinking that the U.S. and China are about to go to war. But at the same time, that this cooperation continues. And this comes to bear particularly with trilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
It would be a nightmare – I mean, one of China’s nightmares – I actually wrote an article on 12 Chinese nightmares in survival several years ago. So the tradeoff is if we could persuade South Korea and Japan to have what Abe is proposing – which I tend to agree with, regular exercises, not just one-off, that involves Japanese forces, South Korean forces and our forces, and perhaps even potentially by invitation others who might want to come. The message to Beijing is close to a stab in the back, that we are organizing Northeast Asia against you because, despite our 40 years of cooperation and all the things that Joe DeTrani did, we really don’t like China anymore. So that’s the kind of tradeoff when you raise the grand strategy-level issues, which I was so impressed in your book, Victor, “Powerplay,” to mention it again.
Why didn’t we originally – in the days of Truman and then John Foster Dulles – why didn’t we have a joint treaty involving South Korea and Japan? And you actually have a section on the thinking of American policy planners at the time, that these were two different issues and only a fool would mix them together. But now the grand strategy assessment level has changed. And as China begins to draw close to us in terms of its economic strength in a way the Soviet Union never did – the Soviet Union may, at best, have reached to 25 or 30 percent of the size of our economy – Soviet Union, United States. China, if you just go by IMF/World Bank numbers – China is closing in on us. There are some of their economists – Hu Angang, Justin Lin – estimate by 2030 they’ll be double our economy, despite Gordon Chang’s they’re going to collapse. They have a quite different view.
So in this overall strategic picture, looking at 20 or 30 years all at one time, the United States – a new United States president, it seems to me, who comes from the business world, has to look at the overall strategic context. And my view is trilateral cooperation among South Korea and Japan and the United States is very important and makes a lot more sense than 10 or 20 years ago. So to answer your question to them, I do think it needs political cover. It needs a framework of some kind. It will probably help a lot with both Japan and South Korea for them to say the Americans want this. There’s an American framework here. We’re not doing it because Korea and Japan love each other. We’re doing it because the Americans want this.
But the damage to our relationship with China – that will exist. And we’ll need a good explanation for why we are doing this. And I would suggest one of them could be, well, the Chinese are invited to these exercises too, as long as they meet certain conditions. But the conditions may be very difficult for China to meet. Democracy would be one of them. (Laughter.) A multiparty democracy. Sorry for the long answer. But I think what you’re raising for all four of us is really the grand strategy going forward, the next 10 or 20 years. When a new president comes in, he asks certain kinds of questions that if you were kind of a cheeky think tank person you say, well, that’s – what a stupid question. But actually, some of the new president’s questioning is really quite profound. How did we get here and where are we trying to go over the next 20 years?
MR. CHA: OK, terrific. OK, we have not that much time left, but I’m going to take some questions. I’m going to take them in groups, and then – but please try to keep your questions brief. I’m sorry, not brief, concise. That’s the more polite word. So, yes, right here. And please identify yourself.
Q: Hi. My name is Mike Buckalew. I’m a Pac Forum young leader.
So I have a two-part question. The first is, what lessons do you see President Moon as having drawn from the experience of his predecessors, particularly that of his mentor Roh Moo-hyun, when engaging with North Korea and dealing with U.S. alliance management? And on the American end, what lessons do you think President Trump should draw from his predecessor’s experience dealing with North Korea and alliance management with the ROK?
MR. CHA: Great. Thank you. Other questions? Yes, right here.
Q: Hi. Yashar Parsie from CAP.
I address this question to Dr. Pillsbury. The president tweeted this morning that he will authorize – excuse me – the sale of advanced capabilities to the Japanese and South Koreans. Beyond the THAAD system, what additional capabilities do you think that the South Koreans require to deter and defend North Korea? And what affects do you think these additional capabilities might have on strategic stability with China in the sense of a security dilemma?
MR. CHA: Great. Thank you. Yes, here.
Q: Steve Winters (sp), an independent researcher.
This is also for Dr. Pillsbury. I’ll make it brief. Sir, you mentioned several times the Chinese perhaps irrational fear of encirclement, and so forth, and you’ve discussed that. To what extent do you think the Chinese see the current sort of increasing chaos on the peninsula as something that would increase their suspicions of why this is happening, because in their statements they’ve suggested a double freeze and this and that. So they seem to think that there are two sides, neither of which is willing to deescalate the situation. And so is this going to increase their paranoid view?
MR. CHA: OK, great. So why don’t – why don’t we start with those. First questions are, so, what lessons do we think President Moon has drawn from his predecessor and mentor, President Roh? And then, I guess, for the American side, similarly for President Trump, what lessons has he learned from his predecessors’ attempts at dealing with this North Korea issue? And then two specific questions for Mike on arms sales to Japan and Korea, and then on Chinese encirclement fears. So who would like to go first? Foreign Minister Yoon?
MR. YOON: I think we have a kind of – (inaudible) – in terms of North Korea policy in South Korea, which he emphasizes the importance of person-to-person integration between the North and South and cooperation and a peaceful coexistence, or something like that. And that kind of belief was shared by both President Roh Moo-hyun and President Moon Jae-in. I think that’s a kind of legitimate because we have some examples like German unification. And Germany could united – could be unified, both Germanys could be unified because of very excellent diplomacy, on the one hand, by Helmut Kohl. But on the other hand, without Ostpolitik, which was initiated by social democracy leader there, the unification could not have been possible.
So it is – that kind of experience influenced President Kim Dae-jung very much. And that kind of dream was the reason why he pursued engagement policy toward North Korea, which was also shared by President Roh Moo-hyun and President Moon Jae-in. I think many – probably most – Koreans have been dreaming a kind of a state of coexistence. And that’s the reason why those three leaders are emphasizing – helping emphasize the importance of inter-Korean cooperation. But the problem is that North Korea’s provocative security policy of developing nuclear weapons narrow the space for those leaders to implement that kind of engagement policy.
So even though they may be dreaming – I mean, President Moon Jae-in have idea of engaging North Korea in his mind, he is a realistic political leader and recognize the limitation to truly implement that kind of policy. That’s exactly why he has been trying hard to strengthen bilateral relationship between ROK and the United States, and to overcome this very difficult challenge posed by North Korea’s threat. But I still – I mean, personally, I still think that it is desirable for Korean government to pursue some kind of inter-Korean cooperation in the few areas outside international sanctions – like medical – providing medical assistance to North Koreans, where many people are dying because of lack of medicines. Or, environmental cooperation, or something like that.
There is no reason for not trying that kind of cooperation for President Moon. And I fully support that kind of initiative, but I think he recognizes it is not the right time to pursue full-fledged economic engagement of North Korea. I mean, he is definitely, I think, realizing the current difficult situation.
MR. CHA: Thank you. Mike, do you want to talk about the – particularly the question about Chinese encirclement fears as a result of the current crisis?
MR. PILLSBURY: Well, just briefly, there’s a debate that’s broken out in Beijing – that I’ve tried to cover debates in my previous books that happen in China. The debate is part of the initiative that China and then Russia joined, and put forward for the double – the double suspension, as they call it. I agree with Nikki Haley, of course, that it’s not – it’s a non-starter. But it does show the Chinese willingness to take an initiative. And it does show an interesting betrayal, in some ways, of North Korea.
As Joe DeTrani told me a long time – I keep mentioning him because he’s sitting right here at the front table and I like to tease him – a magazine got closed in Beijing – a very high-level magazine with many sponsors – just for raising – just for publishing an article that we should consider whether North Korea’s more of a liability than an ally. That’s almost 20 years ago. Now, in China, there’s much more widespread discussion of the option of really getting tough on North Korea.
So part of what you see in China, it seems to me, is this seven years – the past seven years or so, they have tended to drop the old bide your time, hide your capabilities. But the rest of the world – especially friends of mine in Asia – have sort of missed this. They think they’re still dealing with the old China. And one reason for that, Victor – and this is why I’m going to get back to trilateral relations – we don’t have – we, the United States, have had a lot of net assessment sharing activities in Europe. We have not really done a net assessment collaboration with South Korea. And I think we should. We haven’t done a formal net assessment cooperation with Japan, and I think we should. And what a wonderful idea to do it in a trilateral way.
And this lets me plug another Georgetown professor, CSIS guru, Mike Green, and his new book, “Not By More Than Providence Alone” (sic; “By More Than Providence”) I think it’s called. He admits that when he was at the NSC for five years, he couldn’t lay his hands on American strategy and documents. So he decided to write this book and look them up and present them. And it’s a fantastic study of how the military balance, of all things, has been crucially important in American strategy. Over and over and over, he finds Americans having meetings, over 100 years ago, to assess the military balance and what to do about it. That is so important today. And yet, who really understands the military balance between, let’s say, Japan and Korea, whether you add them together or they fight separately? Who knows what kind of scenarios there would be? That’s the very meat of net assessment studies and government-to-government cooperation.
So behind a lot of these questions – including the gentleman over here asking about President Trump’s tweet and what more can we sell to South Korea to do what Abe Denmark called to strengthen conventional deterrence – which is a very important issue – behind all that is the military balance and the trends that are occurring. Because if it’s weakening, if deterrence is going to get harder and harder over the next 10 years, then we will wish that back in 2017 and 2018 we’d done more to strengthen our side of the balance. If it’s getting stronger and stronger, that’s a different story. We can be more complacent. So I’d like to put that on the agenda of think tanks in Washington and Seoul and Tokyo. What is happening to the conventional balance and to the strategic balance?
My fear is it’s getting worse. But I’m not sure. And unless there’s a sustained effort, that we can’t answer the more technical questions. Do we want South Korea to have longer-range missiles or not? If the balance is getting worse, then we do.
MR. CHA: All right. Does Abe and Kang, do you want to make any comments on the question of arms sales and?
MR. CHOI: About the lessons President Moon has learned from the previous administration, I think there are at least two, actually. One – actually, President Moon is underscoring the ROK-U.S. alliance as backbone in solving the North Korea problem. That’s one. Actually, there’s a difference, because actually it’s more Kim Dae-jung-like instead of Roh Moo-hyun. So actually strong emphasizing ROK-U.S. collaboration and coordination in handling North Korea. Not seeking autonomy 100 percent from the United States. So cross consultation is going to be pursued between the two parties.
And also, the other thing like the – of course, is conditionality is attached to the inter-Korean dialogue, except on the humanitarian front. That’s a difference between the Roh Moo-hyun administration and the Moon Jae-in administration. Because it actually seems to me that the Roh Moo-hyun administration actually their argument goes like this: Despite all this – problem they have with dialogue with North Korea, I don’t think that’s the case in the Moon Jae-in administration. If you read his statement, he always attaches the conditionality of inter-Korean dialogue. Whenever there is meaningful progress on the nuclear front, we can have dialogue – even including the inter-Korean summit. That is the conditionality attached. So I think there are two differences between Roh Moo-hyun administration and Moon Jae-in administration. So I think there’s – President Moon Jae-in has become much more practical and pragmatic.
MR. CHA: Thanks. Abe?
MR. DENMARK: Yeah, a couple comments. First, on the lessons for the president, I clearly can’t comment on what lessons he has drawn. I could comment on lessons that I think should be – should be drawn from previous experiences. And I will only focus on two. First is the importance of our alliances in Asia. To realize that U.S. alliances are at the foundation of American power and influence in the region, and that enhancing collaboration and cooperation, but also building ties at the military, political and economic level is absolutely essential as Asia grows more important and as China continues to rise. That without our allies the United States will not nearly have the same amount of influence and access and power as we do – as we do with them.
So first is criticality of our alliances. And the second is to not put too much stake in personal relationships with Chinese leaders. That you can have good meetings, you can have good engagements, you can say good things to each other. But in the end, both countries – both leaders are going to represent the interests of their countries. And that just because you have a good meeting, you have a good engagement, make sure that you’re – make sure that we’re not putting too much stake in the quality of that arrangement. I think the in the past people – and this is not specific to any single person or any single meeting – but ensuring that you have a good meeting but also that you’re realistic about what to expect from them, I think, is very important.
Other piece I wanted to mention, the fear – China’s fear of encirclement, China’s take on strengthening of our alliances, which is a point that Dr. Pillsbury has touched on several times. Obviously, there are people in China, some at very high levels, who believe crazy things about the United States, going back decades. And more recent examples about conspiracy theories surrounding THAAD are just a more recent example of that. The key to understand this, though, is that this is not based on technical reality. China’s concerns about THAAD is not based on the range of the radar or the range of a missile. It’s political. And a lot of these conspiracy theories that are fairly popular in some circles in China reflect instead of a literal belief that this thing actually happened, more of a fundamental suspicion about American intentions and the role of the United States vis-à-vis China.
And so my take on this is that America’s role in the world – any American leader is first to defend itself, to defend the United States, and to defend our allies. And that reassuring China of baseless suspicions is secondary. So to me, making decisions about THAAD, for example, cannot happen if you’re allowing Chinese paranoia to get too far into your decision cycle. That the first question is, what’s best for the United States? What’s best for your ally? And once that decision is made, then you can start talking about how to talk to the Chinese about it, how to make them understand the real capabilities, the real intentions behind those. So to me, when thinking about enhanced trilateral cooperation or any decision as it involves the defense of the United States or our allies, the first fundamental and really only question is, is this helpful for the United States? Is this helpful for our allies? And once you come to that answer, then the secondary question is how do we talk to the Chinese about this? How will China react to it? What’s the – what’s the engagement plan, comes into effect. But I think we got to make sure we keep that priority in mind.
MR. CHA: Perfect. We are – are we out of time? We are out of time. OK. So really, I found it a very interesting and informative discussion. Thanks to all of our panelists for their presentations and for answering my questions as well as the questions from the audience. Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.) And I will turn it over – I will turn it over to Lisa.
LISA COLLINS: Thank you. We’ll now have a 30-minute lunch break. We’ve provided some lunch boxes for everyone outside in the foyer. So if you’ll just grab a lunch box and come back here and eat. We’ll reconvene here a little bit after 12:30. Thank you.