Here
and
Now

opinions

Can U.S. prevent war in Southeast Asia?

28 Comments

I wrote last week that the risk of war in Europe was back. This week, unfortunately, the likelihood of confrontation in Asia seems to be spiking higher as well.

Two events in particular have driven this development, separate but subtly interlinked. On the Korean peninsula, the deployment of a new South Korean missile defense system and imposition of new U.S. sanctions on the north has nudged tensions higher. Now, an international court decision on China's claims in the South China Sea could further amplify already growing posturing over disputed maritime boundaries.

For the United States, particularly in an election year, this is a pretty toxic brew. Washington might be the preeminent global military superpower, but it is now being pulled in multiple directions on a scale not seen in recent history. Nor is it truly in control of its own destiny - in Asia even more than Europe, its foes and allies are often calling the shots while the United States is inevitably left playing catch-up.

As with its dealings with Vladimir Putin's Russia, it faces a balance that is awkward and impossible to determine. If Washington looks too conciliatory, it risks being charged with weakness and may end up encouraging all other parties to take matters into their own hands. Try too hard to dominate the situation and deter potential adversaries, however, and the United States risks simply inflaming matters and ushering in the type of conflict it is desperate to avoid.

Take the North Korean example. Particularly since the accession of Kim Jong Un, the United States has faced a deadly quandary. Under the young Kim's rule, Pyongyang has become more unpredictable, the human rights situation on the ground reportedly significantly worse. Most seriously from the perspective of outsiders, North Korea has been aggressively arming and moving firmly - if somewhat unsteadily - towards refining its nuclear weapons and missile systems until they pose a major threat in the region and beyond.

Just because it is working on such weapons does not mean Pyongyang necessarily has direct ambitions to use them. Most outside analysts believe its true aim in wanting such weapons is to deter outside powers from considering any Iraq-style regime change. Still, making solid predictions about the highly secretive country is far from exact science and it's hardly surprising its neighbors want to take precautions.

That makes the decision to deploy the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea entirely reasonable. Missile defense systems like that, however, can themselves raise tensions even though they are defensive systems. In Europe, the deployment of a missile shield in eastern and southern Europe primarily to counter any threat from the Middle East clearly antagonized Russia, suddenly wary of losing its own long-held ability to strike European targets with nuclear and conventional weapons.

In that sense, it might not have been the best time to apply a new round of sanctions to North Korean officials and institutions. In response, Pyongyang has said it will close the one remaining diplomatic channel two U.S. officials via its UN mission. In the short term, the most likely consequence will be to make matters worse for the two U.S. nationals currently held by North Korea. It will also make handling any future crisis that much harder - and that cannot be a good thing.

The key to handling North Korea, however, has always been China. Beijing is Pyongyang's only real ally and supporter, and while its ability to control North Korea's activities has always been limited and imperfect, it does have multiple economic and other levers.

The problem, of course, is that relations between China, its regional neighbors and Washington are currently also seriously deteriorating. Outright conflict on that front probably remains less likely than a more limited war involving North Korea, although it would also be cataclysmic. As perhaps the world's preeminent trading and exporting nation, Beijing has little appetite for international isolation on the scale of North Korea. But it also has very real ambitions, growing military capability and a government that has placed the quest for ever-growing geopolitical power at the heart of its domestic legitimacy.

In that sense, this week's decision by the International Court of Arbitration in the Hague over China's maritime boundaries may be something of a turning point, and not in a good way. China largely boycotted the process, which it said had little legitimacy. The problem for Beijing, however, is that most of the countries do take it seriously - and the court roundly rejected Beijing's assertions to rights to most of the South China Sea.

Chinese regular and auxiliary maritime and other forces have already taken up a relatively assertive position on some of the disputed islands and shoals, and there seems little prospect of them are withdrawing anytime soon. The court judgment, however, may ramp up the confidence of nations like the Philippines to take a much more aggressive approach themselves, with potentially seriously destabilizing consequences.

It's not necessarily all bad news. While the tribunal did conclude that Beijing had trampled on the territorial rights of the Philippines, it also suggested that some disputed areas such as Scarborough Shoal could be shared, for example when it came to fishing rights. That might offer a path to cooperation - or it could just make confrontation more likely.

Last year, a poll of leading national security experts put the risk of a conventional or nuclear war between the United States and China as marginally lower than the risk of a similar clash between NATO and Russia. That probably remains the case - but the risk of states like the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam - many U.S. Treaty allies - finding themselves in a fight may well be higher.

If peace is based around consensus, the direction of travel in Asia this year seems to be entirely the wrong way.

(Peter Apps)

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

28 Comments
Login to comment

"That makes the decision to deploy the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea entirely reasonable. Missile defense systems like that, however, can themselves raise tensions even though they are defensive systems."

"In Europe, the deployment of a missile shield in eastern and southern Europe primarily to counter any threat from the Middle East clearly antagonized Russia, suddenly wary of losing its own long-held ability to strike European targets with nuclear and conventional weapons."

"If peace is based around consensus, the direction of travel in Asia this year seems to be entirely the wrong way." - article

The wrong way, is allowing bully rights, not early warning and surveillance. Where's the beef?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Can U.S. prevent war in Southeast Asia?

The US DOESN'T prevent war.

The US STARTS wars. That's what it does!

4 ( +9 / -5 )

BertieWooster, that is exactly what I was going to say. You beat me to it.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The US DOESN'T prevent war.

Of course the US doesn't have control of any countries dictator that wants to act crazy and attack us or our allies, we try to negotiate, most listen, some don't.

The US STARTS wars. That's what it does!

So when we get attacked or any of our allies (including NATO) are attacked, we are supposed to just sit by and shrug our shoulders and say, Oh, well....? Utter nonsense!

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

So when we get attacked or any of our allies (including NATO) are attacked, we are supposed to just sit by and shrug our shoulders and say, Oh, well....?

Iraq never attacked the US.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

The USA should behind the scenes fund Manila so they can build up the islands as well as challenge the Chinese on some of the closer islands . This could include the Philippines offering one of these islands to the US nav . . It may be feasible to fund Vietnam and Indonesia as well, though only with money. China is bluffing ,they won't war with the US ,their people are used to the money now and won't risk 4 trillion of gnp over islands which we're never theirs

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

The USA should behind the scenes fund Manila so they can build up the islands as well as challenge the Chinese on some of the closer islands .

I agree.

It may be feasible to fund Vietnam and Indonesia as well, though only with money. China is bluffing ,they won't war with the US ,their people are used to the money now and won't risk 4 trillion of gap over islands which we're never theirs

I'm not so sure about that. The way China is going about this, I really wouldn't put it past them.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The way China is going about this, I really wouldn't put it past them.

Better start a war with them then.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Hmmm, creating and building up Islands, challenging all of South East Asia including Japan and North Korea constantly firing ICBM missiles. Seems to me they're doing a very good job at getting ready to start. But as long as we have this idiot in the WH China and NK will always feel emboldened to do as they wish and intimidate anyone in this region.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

No, the US will most likely provoke the war. It's a $muti-trillion industry export.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

creating and building up Islands, challenging all of South East Asia including Japan and North Korea constantly firing ICBM missiles. Seems to me they're doing a very good job at getting ready to start.

Yep, better attack first. Of course, attacking first won't actually be starting it, right?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

No, the US will most likely provoke the war. It's a $muti-trillion industry export.

Oh, really? And uh, how do you think they will start it?

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

There already is a war going on with China with the USA and Japan. The Chinese have started it and its an Economic WAR. China wants their currency to be the world currency like the dollar is to control the money of the world. They hack the Banks and financial industries and get the personal data of the customers of the banks. They try to destabilize all countries monetarily systems for their own gain. China wants to rule the world and dictate all policies. Japan was teh #2 economy in the world and they won there by knocking them to 3rd. They also want to destabilize Japan further as they do not like Japan and remember the atrocities by the Imperialist of Japan. Also as China makes Autos now they really want to destroy the industry in Japan. Lucily their cars are junk and could not pass a safety test in the EU and USA. Japan they have no problem as they are safer than the Yellow plated ones in Japan that are basically a coffin and can not be sold outside Japan. North Korea is their ant colony and they just irritate all around under Beijing orders. The banking system in Japan is so pathetic that its compared to India's and thats bad. ATM and on line banking along with personal checks are not available in Japan. ATM's are 99.9% only Japanese can use where as in other countries like Singapore the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia New Zealand, Malaysia, and South Korea have a better banking system that meets international needs. Japan chooses to isolate itself from the Banking World. Onaga here in Okinawa says Okinawa should be the Banking center in Asia. Never will happen with the current system used in Japan. Even Taiwan and China any foreigner can use any bank ATM. So the economic war is on and Japan refuses to budge on their current system of banking thus letting China dominate as they progress and Japan regresses. They already have driven the Yen to Highs thus creating a strength of the Yen that will further send their 10 trillion dollar deficit into growing deeper. They geriatrics are 25% of the population and sucking money even more.of a system that is a ponzi scheme here in Japan. Their trade deficit keeps growing. Their debt is 3 times the GDP. China is already kicking The economy in Japan to even sink lower. wages in Japan are so stagnant, cost of living is very high, and getting worse. The people are enslaved to work 2 jobs 80 to 100 hours a week foer low wages and they pay higher taxes. So China will use the economy of Japan to destroy them. So yes the WAR is already started. Japan should make a 40 hour week law and raise pay like in the USA to 1500 yen per hour for 8 hours than OT, after 40 hours also OT. If TPP takes effect and most likely will. Japan will be sinking lower as the worsening of the economy in Japan will just deteriorate further. Yes the USA can not stop the War on Japan by economic means. The end is near for the Japanese if they continue to spiral down and do not Join the West in the Banking industry. China Has a lot more power than all the TPP countries except the USA. Beware times will get worse before they get better. Now Japan wants the USA to revise its First strike policy of Nukes as they feel threatened by DPRK and China. They want to revise the constitution to allow a offensive military as they smell the wars coming and the target first is Japan to destabilize the nation. The instigate troubles and want the USA out of the China sea and Asia. The USA could end all this real easy by boycotting all goods in China from teh USA, Artifiacially make their currency so high that the stuff rots on the piers stop all chinese business in the USA. The Chinese are liars and a threat to the whole world. They have started an ecomomic war with the world, dumping steel and refusing to let their currency float that they agreed to do with entry into WTO. they write laws that say only Chinese laws count and too bad for you.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@bass4funk I am sure they will think of something, they usually do - the Gulf of Tonkin incident, weapons of mass destruction, etc.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The PCA have completely invalidate her verdict against China by making the most outrageous conclusion Itu Aba is merely a rock. "A significant part of the international opinion considers Itu Aba an ‘island,’ contrary to the Tribunal’s judgment." http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/south-china-sea-arbitration-award-breathtaking-17004

So it is fair to say the Whole Verdict against China is totally flawed. Why should the fate of countries around South China Sea be determined by the PCA ? Yes, this panel of judges make a mockery of the PCA institution. The Philippines may think their Thitu Island with over 200 occupants is an Island and is certainly shocked the bigger Itu Aba island is deemed a rock! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thitu_Island

There is no chance of a war in South East Asia if outsiders Butt Out. Maybe a little skirmishes and then they settle, but no real war. The reason is every one of them know they do not have strong legal ground, so they have to settle.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

. It may be feasible to fund Vietnam and Indonesia as well, though only with money.

..and money will come from? China, biggest creditor of the USA (!)

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The issue is if USA is capable in preventing a war in SE Asia.

1) USA is NOT capable of preventing any war anywhere, given the current state of affairs at this time.

2) USA is NOT capable of preventing any war anywhere in the future.

The USA can only "intervene" to 1) ask, 2) negotiate, 3) induce, 4) require, or 5) force either parties of a conflict to not go to war. The decision and ability to prevent a war is with those parties directly involved in that conflict. Either one can decide to start a war for what ever reason. The USA regardless of its power cannot prevent any war, even in SE Asia. A war is at the convenience of the aggressor.

Otherwise the USA must 1) avoid, 2) participate, or 3) start a war.

As with WWI and WWII and even the current economic and cyber wars, it can start with a simple accident or a senseless misunderstanding, all of which depends on the intent and whim of those in power.

Sadly the "die is cast" in SE Asia with China whose leadership for whatever reason (which appears to be primarily economic and power as well as to take Taiwan) want to physically control SE Asia even if by force, which means war. It is no different than with Israel and Palestine (basically territorial possession and religious differences).

The key to it all being "presence" and "physical occupation" of a territory. The USA and other SE Asian nations did not show presence and occupy strategic economic and military territories. There were no show of force or even requirements to stop China until too late. Now neither parties can back off.

Politically, China favors Clinton who has been properly groomed and bought so that with or without a major war, China will gain what is wants. In fact, China may want Clinton to engage in a war. That will justify China's right to invade all of SE Asia and even Taiwan, S Korea and Japan that are allied with the USA.

First, USA cannot be seen as the aggressor but China can afford to be the aggressor. They are "defending" what they have declared as their territory anyway, regardless of the UN Tribunal or international opinion. (They are the Middle Kingdom, after all.)

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I am sure they will think of something, they usually do - the Gulf of Tonkin incident, weapons of mass destruction, etc.

Ahh...Remember when Hillary said, her helicopter came under fire in Bosnia?

@kazetsukai

Great post and on point!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Oh, really? And uh, how do you think they will start it?

Probably the same they stared Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and all the micro wars in Africa no one knows about.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The U.S won't start a conflict, but they will use it as a tool to bolster their relationships with Asian countries throughout the region citing China's attitude to its neighbors as a reason to come together. They will also actively encourage those countries to build up their own military, using, off course, U.S made weapons or that of allies, like Japan and Europe if possible. They will also actively encourage greater cooperation between S.E Asia and India to partially offset China's influence over the next couple of decades. They will encourage Indonesia to play an even greater role in ASEAN and, as is Indonesia's defense policy states - "act as a fulcrum between Indian and Pacific powers". The will want to see greater trade between Oceania, S.E Asia and India as a way to bring the entire region together under an umbrella of peaceful trade and democracy. The will encourage stronger and deeper relationships behind the scenes and a better strategic environment for the U.S military and U.S businesses to take advantage of Asia's' growing affluence. I think that would pretty sum up a U.S wishlist.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

No

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bass4funk,

And uh, how do you think they will start it?

Easy. Fake a terrorist attack. It's been done before.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Easy. Fake a terrorist attack. It's been done before

Naw, more like jittery hands from the NK and the Chinese itching to start a confrontation. Hey, the liberals darling anointed one avoided most of the wars and yet, they still try to start something. There you go.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Peace through skillful diplomacy and superior fire power. Otherwise, with the U.S. out of the picture, China left alone to conduct its own affairs as it sees fit will more than likely squash its Asian neighbors like a steamroller.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The US has to prevent a war because it certainly can't win any. But why do I get the feeling that the groundwork for WWIII is now being laid?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

War between NATO and Russia, or between China and any of its neighbors, may not be rational, but when was the last time humans started a rational war?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well the USA do not have a very good record at preventing war. You can not say the cold war because that was a combination of the UN and pressure from others world leaders. The USA have a very good record at pre-emthing war. Let have a count since WWll, Russia record is Afghanistan and Ukane. 2 pre-empting, 1/2 for preventing for agreeing to end the cold war. USA record is Korea, Indo-China, Vietnam, Honduras, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, 7 and counting pre- emptying, 1/2 for preventing in helping to prevent the cold war, Australia record is Indo-China, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, 5 pre-empting, 1 preventing Timor Leste. Japan 0 pre-empting, 0 preventing. So the Question should be, Who could prevent war in South east Asia ? Going of the record I saying a combination of Australia and Japan ( Banki Moon ) heading up the diplomatic team and the USA staying the F%^^ away.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Can the U.S. preent war in Southeast Asia?"

Can Southeast Asian countries prevent war among themselves?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites