The Koreas, Bastion of Cold War Realism

In which I reluctantly defend neorealism as a grand theory applicable to the security situation in North East Asia:

Rather than asserting that realism or its offshoots are the ultimate International Relations grand theories, I suggest that neorealism remains a crucial aspect of IR security theory. The offensive realist behavior of the DPRK and the defensive realist policies of China and the South Korea serve to illustrate the unfortunate but continued significance of neorealism within international relations.

Read the whole lengthy article on The Diplomat.

Tongsin | 통신 no. 4: War Games and the Sewol Sinking

Delegates representing the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in Pyongyang, May 2014 | Image: KCNA
Delegates representing the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in Pyongyang, May 2014 | Image: KCNA

This edition covers March–May 2014. These three months covered the US-ROK war games Key Resolve/Foal Eagle and Max Thunder and the North Korean response of several short- and medium-range projectiles over their eastern coast; and the Sewol ferry disaster. These two events were leveraged in DPRK state media to paint a picture of an allegedly harmonized Sino-DPRK perspective that is both anti-American and anti- South Korean. China’s news on Obama’s visit with the Dalai Lama and the US’ damning human rights report is highlighted by the DPRK state media.

Read the full PDF: Tongsin no. 04 March–May 2014

Originally posted by Morgan Potts on Sino-NK

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”: Review of the Chatham House Event

Event details

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”
Chatham House
Talk by Professor Tom Berger, International Relations at the University of Boston
Open to the public, on the record (Chatham House rule not in effect)


Prof. Berger opened by stating the US-Japanese relations are having a “schizophrenic moment”—that the American pivot is sincere and it’s a productive time for trade and security, but there is a harsh ideological clash, and Abe and Obama “are not natural soul mates”. He goes on to say that a combination of geostrategical changes and geocultural changes are lend themselves to this, the ideal environment to develop the US-Japanese alliance wherein the tension commands attention but remains a manageable problem (for now).

The geostrategic situation has shifted from hegemonic American air/maritime power and Japanese isolation but potential for great power status to a new regional balance where China is rising as America declines, and where Japan no longer fears an American-led war by entrapment but where America fears being pulled into territorial squabbles.

The principle geocultural change is a “rising tide of nationalism”, though Prof. Berger was keen to point out that the “hydraulic model” employed by journalists is reductive. Abe is not an old-style (imperial) militarist, and Japan’s not too nationalistic; rather it’s not nationalistic enough. Nationalism and unity allowed Japan to rise until World War II, and its 20th century defeat was institutionalized, militarily and morally, and reinforced by the Japanese left. Since the 1950s Japan has sought to rediscover its unity: constitutional changes were made imbuing the education system with nationalism, and military policy was altered to allow Japan to become more independent (and by extension less dependent on the US). Abe’s support then comes from: perceived Chinese aggression on the Senkakus and the resulting sense of threat; and “Abenomics” (economic reform). That is, the conservatives supporting Abe are not ideological nationalists but pragmatists.

This geocultural shift toward nationalism is also present in South Korea and China, as these countries come into their increased strength. Both states have anti-Japanese sentiments and South Korea in particular can’t politically continue to ignore Japan’s imperial war crimes, but likewise both China and the ROK have set aside political concerns in favor of pragmatism, especially in trading.

During the Q&A Prof. Berger was asked about the nuclear issue, Japanese domestic politics, and the motivations behind the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. He finished by remarking that nationalism in Japan is taboo and therefore seductive, and it’s more likely to fuel anti-Korean sentiment via kimchi boycotts than militarization.

Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts
Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts


Pardoning Prof. Berger’s casual ableism (“schizophrenic moment”), the talk was compelling. Berger acknowledged the plurality of Japanese perspectives and implicitly noted that it is from plurality and competing voices that states arrive at their “national interest” which directs policy.

However it also seemed fundamentally contradictory: is Japan experiencing a “rising tide of nationalism” under Abe, reflected in the Senkaku dispute and desire to lessen security dependence on America? Or rather is Japan not nationalistic, putting aside ideology and nationalism for pragmatism?

I would suggest that Japan is in fact nationalistic in its foreign policy, especially regarding the island dispute: if Japan (and China, it takes two after all) were pragmatic instead of nationalistic, the two states would table the issue of sovereignty and agree to jointly develop the resources within the EEZ of the Senkaku/Diaoyus, much as China and Vietnam have come to a fishing agreement in the Tonkin Gulf. Instead, the two nations exploit the dispute over otherwise meaningless barren rocks for their nationalistic effect on domestic populations—if this continues, Abe might rediscover Japanese unity after all.

Tongsin | 통신 no. 03: The War Games Continue

At Sino-NK, the third Tongsin | 통신 examines the DPRK state media relating to China for the month of February 2014. This month, which included events such as the release of the UN report on crimes against humanity in North Korea, North-South family reunions, and Kim Jong-il’s birthday (also known as the Day of Shining Star), was focused on the US-ROK war games Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

The narrative put forth by the DPRK state media is that the North is a sincere and cooperative actor interested in peaceful engagement and regional stability through improved North-South relations, and is supported by China in these aims—the South, on the other hand, is painted as a belligerent actor intent on pursuing “pro-US” policy and continuing the destructive war games during an otherwise peaceful moment in North-South relations, such peacefulness evidenced by the family reunions.

Read the full PDF.

US-ROK Announce Dates forKey Resolve/Foal Eagle

As expected, the annual joint exercises Key Resolve/Foal Eagle will take place as planned despite outcry from North Korea. Both exercises will commence on February 24.

Key Resolve, the CPX, will occur from 24 February – March 6. KR 14 will involve approximately 5,200 US troops, with about 1,100 coming from off-peninsula.

Foal Eagle, the accompanying FTX, will take place from February 24 – April 18. Foal Eagle involves air, land, and sea drills. About 7,500 US troops will participate in FE14, including 5,100 from off-peninsula.

The USFK press release indicates that the United Nations Command has informed the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army of the exercises and their non-provocative nature.

Tongsin | 통신 no. 02: Military Exercises and Reunification


The second installation of Tongsin | 통신 is now live on Sino-NK, edited by myself with research assistance from Leeds student and historian Vikram Jones.

In January, DPRK state media focused on the upcoming US-ROK joint military exercises Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, awkwardly forcing China into the narrative surrounding reunification.

Download the full PDF.

Aegis Destroyers and Ballistic Missile Defense in Japan and South Korea

The Aegis combat system is quickly becoming the hallmark of sophisticated navies. Specifically, it is an advanced command and control, and an integrated weapons system, which features anti-submarine warfare systems, anti-aircraft warfare systems, the Phalanx CIWS to defend against anti-ship missiles, and Mark 41 Vertical Launch system. Simply put, Aegis uses high-powered computers and radar to track and guide weapons to enemy targets. It was developed by RCA, which was sold to various other American electronics corporations before being absorbed by Lockheed Martin which currently produces the systems. The US Navy has employed the Aegis system on its ships since the 1980s; it is also deployed by the navies of Spain, Norway, Japan, and South Korea. Australia and NATO forces intend to employ the system in the next few years to bolster their missile defense capabilities.

South Korea

ROK bought Standard Missile (SM)-2s in 2009 which would ultimately be used on Aegis destroyers. Aegis ships also have SPY-1D radar designed for early warning. In 2012 ROK also purchased Green Pine  land-based radar from Israel. South Korea’s Aegis ship is the Sejong Daewang (“Sejong The Great”) Class destroyer, aka KDX-III (Korean Destroyer III): a guided missile destroyer, jointly produced by Lockheed Martin and Hyundai Heavy Industries. The KDX-III is nearly identical to the American Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, except for its longer hull which makes it the largest surface ship in the world to carry the Aegis system. Though the ROK’s destroyers carry the Aegis radar tracking software they do not currently have interceptors. The ROK announced this past summer that it would upgrade from SM-2s to SM-6s by 2016, and a budget proposal accepted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff shows plans to procure three additional Aegis destroyers by 2020.


Japan’s BMD is comprised of six SM-3 missiles on their four Aegis destroyers, and the PAC-3 Patriot system. Tokyo is increasing the number of SM-3s from six to eight over the next ten years.

Last year PAC-3 was deployed in Okinawa and Tokyo’s Ministry of Defense HQ in a symbolic demonstration of capability, obviously not practical as using the missiles would, for instance, shatter every window in Shinjuku. Similar demonstrations of defense capability were made in 2009 and 2012 during North Korean missile threats.

Such demonstrations are more show than substance. Japan has other concerns aside from North Korean aggression: stagnant economy, territorial disputes with China, the Fukishima fallout, and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea which is seen as far more pressing than the DPRK nuclear/missile threat, and the assurance of US alliance makes BMD even less of a priority—yet, the Japanese have still chosen to keep those four very expensive Aegis-equipped boats.

Regional dynamics

Japan has a high level of cooperation with the US, not least of which involved the US-Japan Defense Pact and the high assurance value of American military exercises in the region. This starkly contrasts to the minimal cooperation in missile defense between South Korea and Japan, and between South Korea and the US. While the Japanese are content with relying on the Americans for missile defense, South Korea is moving toward an increasingly independent missile defense system.

South Korean Offensive Missile Capabilities

The ROK tested its indigenous ballistic missile system, Baekgom (백곰) system in 1978 and in 1979 the ROK and US made a bilateral agreement limiting the range and payload of South Korean ballistic missiles to 180km and 500kg, respectively. The Baekgom system was replaced with the improved Hyunmu (현무) system in 1982, which completed its first test launch in 1985.

In 1998 following North Korea’s Taepodong-1 intermediate-range ballistic missile test launch, ROK developed the surface-to-air missile codenamed “M-SAM”. The KM-SAM system (as it would be later named) emulates the Russian missile S-300, and the technological cooperation between Russia and South Korea worried American policymakers who felt that the US Patriot system was superior and provided better interoperability with the USFK.

The ROK joined the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2001, which limits missile payload to 500kg and range to 300km, possibly superseding the agreement with the Americans and increasing South Korea’s allowed missile range. In 2002 ROK announced the procurement of 110 ATACMS Block 1A missiles from Lockheed Martin which have a range of 300km, deployed in 2004.

Since 2011 ROK has sought to increase missile range up to 1000km, citing the 1800km range of North Korea’s Rodong-1. In October 2012 the US and ROK agreed that South Korea’s missile range could be up to 800km with a 500kg payload; it was also agreed that unmanned ariel vehicle (UAV) payload could be increased from 500kg to 2500kg.

South Korea is clearly looking to divorce itself from the American missile and missile defense systems, pursuing greater independence in the region.

Ballistic Missile Defense and Satellite Launches

North Korea’s missile programme and China’s accelerating space programme have increased interest in Japan and South Korea’s space activities. Japan successfully launched its first satellite carried on an indigenous rocket in February 2005 after several failures throughout the 1990s, and South Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit in January 2013.

Satellite launches are extremely similar to ballistic missile launches and employ much of the same technology. Japan’s and South Korea’s abilities to successfully launch a satellite indicate the probable ability of each state to launch long-range ballistic missiles with WMD payloads. While both Japan and South Korea are politically prohibited from launching long-range ballistic missiles (Japan by its self-defense constitution and ROK by its agreements with the Americans), each state could probably develop long-range missiles using existing satellite technology should their political inclinations shift in that direction.

North-East Asian ADIZs

South Korea declared yesterday that it is expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the submerged Ieodo rock, overlapping China’s ADIZ, to take effect on 2013-12-15. The South Korean announcement comes as a reaction and condemnation of China’s ADIZ, announced last month. Beijing has expressed regret.

The Chinese ADIZ is remarkable not because there is no precedent for zones of this nature, but because it effectively claims the need to be informed of any aircraft flying within the zone, which includes international airspace (as do other ADIZs) and, more controversially, it overlaps neighboring ADIZs. The entire purpose of an ADIZ is to eliminate confusion about nearby aircraft and to intercept enemy aircraft before it gets too close to sovereign airspace; but because China’s and South Korea’s ADIZs overlap with each other (and Japan’s), they are likely to cause rather than reduce confusion. Aircraft flying near Ieodo or the disputed island territories may face conflicting communications orders from multiple states, and potentially multiple attempts at interception. ADIZs are not explicitly included in international law and states are not obligated to abide by them, though they generally do in the spirit of collective security and in the interest of avoiding accidents.

Needless to say, Japan, South Korea and the US are not on board with China’s ADIZ declaration, rightly worrying that it lends to instability in the region.

In defiance of China’s announcement, South Korea conducted an air and sea exercises near South Korea’s Ieodo rock, which sits squarely within China’s ADIZ. The exercise included 2 P-3C patrol boats and 1 of South Korea’s 3 Aegis destroyers.

Japan also demonstrated noncompliance, scrambling 2 fighter jets against Chinese reconnaissance aircraft on the day of the announcement. South Korean and Japanese ADIZs immediately border each other but do not overlap.

Last week 2 American B-52 bombers entered China’s recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without notifying Beijing beforehand. The mission, an allegedly routine exercise called “Coral Lightning”, flew over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on 2013-11-25. Secretary Hagel called China’s ADIZ “destabilizing”, further noting that “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” The Chinese Defense Ministry claimed, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” yet the Pentagon said the exercise occurred “without incident“.

Military confrontation appears unlikely. Beijing is facing embarrassment, but beyond that consequences will be benign. It is probably too much to hope for a cooperative international effort to regulate ADIZs so as to avoid similar political disputes in the future.

US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Naval Exercises

The USS George Washington is an American nuclear-powered supercarrier with the capacity to accommodate up to 80 aircraft. Its flight deck is 4.5 acres, its anchors weigh 3 tonnes each, and it’s generally considered to be a floating military base.

The ship moored at South Korea’s largest port, Liberty Port in Busan, on 2013-10-04 to participate in naval exercises with the ROK and Japan between 10-8 and 10-10. Accompanying it were guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Preble.

The KNCA denounced the arrival of the warship: “This clearly indicates that they are the very criminals escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and wrecking peace there.”

US naval presence in Busan is expected to grow, as the USFK broke ground for a new HQ on South Korean naval base last August. The current HQ is in Seoul, while ROK naval HQ is in Busan.

In a separate exercise, the South Korean Navy and Marines and US Marine Corps are engaging in a 10-day training exercise to practice sea-to-land manoeuvres on the Eastern coast. They will mobilize some 10 warships, 3000 marines, 30 armored vehicles, and 20 aircraft.

“Tailored Deterrence”

At the 45th Security Consultative Meeting this past week, US Defense Secretary Hagel and South Korean Minister of Defense Kim Kwan Jin announced a bilateral “tailored deterrence” strategy regarding the North. The Joint Communiqué released after the meeting states that the two nations “reaffirmed” their alliance and “mutual commitment” to protecting the ROK from Northern threats. Unsurprisingly, it also condemned the North’s 2012-12 missile launch and 2013-02 nuclear test, and urged the DPRK to irreversibly abandon its nuclear program. The new deterrence strategy is vague:

This strategy establishes a strategic Alliance framework for tailoring deterrence against key North Korean nuclear threat scenarios across armistice and wartime, and strengthens the integration of Alliance capabilities to maximize their deterrent effects. The ROK and the United States are committed to maintaining close consultation on deterrence matters to ensure that extended deterrence for the ROK remains credible, capable, and enduring. (Joint Communiqué, point 6)

The KCNA responded yesterday (Sunday) by calling the strategy a dangerous move preluding a preemptive strike against the North, and claiming that any signs of the North using nuclear weapons are “cooked up”. Today, Yonhap reported that the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) released a statement threatening to preemptive strikes to counter the “military plot” hidden in the tailored deterrence.