As Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow explains at The American Conservative, Japan and South Korea have many mutual interests and should be natural allies. The American military umbrella over the two nations, however, gives them the freedom to focus on historical quarrels without having to worry about shared enemies. Now the countries have broken off intelligence sharing relations. America shouldn’t be forced to put them back together again. Bandow writes (abridged):
In Washington, there is only one foreign policy position: America must do more. More of what doesn’t much matter. Just more. More money. More troops. More pressure. More sanctions. More wars.
Such has been the reaction to the unseemly squabble between the Republic of Korea and Japan. Diplomatic hostilities have exploded, with Washington’s two closest allies in East Asia sanctioning each other. Most recently, Seoul has said it plans to withdraw from a bilateral intelligence sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which comes up for renewal in November.
The Trump administration has criticized both sides, urging them to “get along.” Alas, these efforts have gone nowhere. So now Washington is being blamed.
But this is no small brush fire that anyone can put out. In 1965, Japan and South Korea normalized relations. Today, Tokyo argues that the resulting agreement barred private claims growing out of the occupation.
President Trump has little to offer diplomatically since he is currently pressing Japan to make trade concessions and increase military contributions and South Korea to provide greater host nation support. Giving away his agenda would sacrifice his legacy and political fortunes. Moreover, the Seoul-Tokyo dispute has nothing to do with the U.S. America can be blamed for many things, but not the mistreatment of Koreans by Imperial Japan.
Both should fear North Korean developments, given Pyongyang’s past threats. Chinese hostility is better developed towards Japan for obvious historical reasons. However, Beijing’s imposition of sanctions on the ROK for participating in Washington’s THAAD missile defense system made many South Koreans wary of their large neighbor.
Democratic and Western-oriented, Seoul and Tokyo should naturally work together and with other like-minded states, such as Australia and Singapore. However, America’s military presence means they don’t need to do so in order to ensure their security.
Which is another good reason to begin reducing U.S. defense commitments and military deployments. In August 1945, the Cold War justified a larger international role for Washington than before. That world has now disappeared. Circumstances today warrant nations taking responsibility for their own security. That certainly includes Japan and South Korea.
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