Overtones and Bellicose Rhetoric
U.S. Walks Cautious Tightrope in Westpac
By DANIEL GOURE
Dr. Daniel Goure is vice president of the Lexington Institute in
With so much attention focused on the Middle East in 2002, it may have
easily slipped the attention of even experienced international observers
that a new "arc of crisis" was developing in the Asia-Pacific
region. From the Korean peninsula south to Indonesia and then west to
Kashmir, a part of the world that in 2001 seemed to have weathered both
its economic and political storms all but exploded in 2002.
The one bright spot in this darkening and increasingly dangerous picture
was China. Last fall's Communist Party Congress witnessed Premier Jiang
Zemin relinquishing his formal position--albeit not all of his power--in
favor of Hu Jintao.
That move, and visits by both Jiang and Hu to the United States, appeared
to signal Beijing's interest both in moving forward with economic reforms
and in improving its relations with the United States.
Elsewhere, the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region appeared
only to worsen over the course of the year. Reports of al Qaeda activities
in the region were rendered demonstrably true not only in a series of
foiled terrorist operations in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines
but also by the tragic car bombing in Bali. In Korea, the apparent decision
by the Bush administration to restart negotiations with Pyongyang was
sidelined by the discovery of a secret nuclear weapons program. India
and Pakistan perched for months on the brink of war before U.S. intervention
successfully defused the crisis.
Much of the military activity in the region in 2002 fell under the heading
of crisis response. Many nations in the region, including the United States,
scrambled to enhance their counterterrorism capabilities. In other instances,
nations focused their defense activities in new areas, particularly those
related to the war on terrorism. Australian special forces joined those
of more than a dozen other nations in Afghanistan. Following the passage
of landmark anti-terrorism legislation, Japan deployed naval forces out
of area, for the first time in its postwar history, to provide noncombatant
support for coalition operations in the Arabian Sea.
Political developments and terrorist activities in the region have overshadowed
virtually all other military developments. The multiple crises in Asia,
which would have posed a major management challenge to any U.S. administration,
became an even more difficult set of problems for an administration increasingly
focused on a possible war with Iraq. Going into 2003, the United States
faced the very real possibility, although not a certainty, of fighting
not two wars but three--one against Saddam Hussein, another against al
Qaeda, and the third against North Korea.
A Regional Time Bomb?
Many observers thought that the low point in relations between the Bush
administration and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was
reached early in the year. In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President
George W. Bush referred to North Korea as one of the states making up
the "axis of evil." Throughout 2001, Washington had vacillated
on the question of policy towards the DPRK. As a candidate for president,
Bush--along with the majority of other Republicans --had been highly critical
of the 1994 Agreed Framework. Later, Secretary of State Colin Powell was
all but publicly reprimanded for prematurely announcing the resumption
The administration's position also brought it into conflict with two
of the most important U.S. allies in Asia, the Republic of Korea (ROK),
and Japan. The Bush position was seen as a repudiation of the Sunshine
Policy pursued by ROK President Kim Dae Jung. Facing corruption scandals
involving his own family and charges of ineffectiveness in office, Kim
hoped that his lasting legacy would be an opening to North Korea. However,
it was quite clear when Bush visited South Korea in February 2002 that
Washington was unwilling to put aside its concerns about the DPRK's WMD
(weapons of mass destruction) programs in the interest of helping Kim.
Under the relatively new leadership of Junichiro Koizumi, Japan also
was inclined to continue support for the Agreed Framework and to seek
ways of normalizing relations with North Korea. In furtherance of the
latter goal, Koizumi undertook the first-ever visit by a Japanese Prime
Minister to North Korea. On 17 September, Koizumi and the DPRK's Kim Jong
Il met in Pyongyang. More remarkable than this first-of-a-kind meeting
was the admission on the part of the North Korean government that it had
abducted Japanese nationals in the 1950s and 1960s. For his part, Prime
Minister Koizumi promised to provide a package of economic assistance
and to begin the process of normalizing relations between the two countries.
Facing a global war on terrorism and anticipating a military confrontation
with Iraq, the Bush administration had decided by mid-2002 that temporizing
on the North Korean situation was the wisest course of action. High-level
talks were scheduled to begin in October 2002. However, precisely at the
moment when the United States had decided that it was ready to resume
negotiations, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly dropped
a bomb, figuratively speaking. In a meeting in Pyongyang on 6 October,
Kelly informed North Korean officials that the United States had incontrovertible
evidence that the DPRK had been working on a secret nuclear weapons program
in contravention of both the Agreed Framework and the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty, to which North Korea was a party.
To the surprise of many observers, North Korea acknowledged the existence
of the program--begun with the assistance of another U.S. ally, Pakistan.
DPRK officials, though, also defiantly asserted North Korea's right to
nuclear weapons. Furthermore, North Korea claimed that the partners to
the Agreed Framework had failed to live up to their end of the bargain--and,
moreover, that the United States itself was responsible for the current
situation because it had failed to open negotiations with Pyongyang on
various other security issues.
Dangers and Declarations
The immediate U.S. reaction was to declare North Korea in material breach
both of its international nonproliferation commitments and of the understanding
that led to the Agreed Framework. The Bush administration further declared
that it was halting shipments of heavy oil to North Korea. Japan and South
Korea also declared a cessation of assistance to the DPRK until the issue
was resolved. North Korea responded by announcing that it was restarting
its mothballed reactors, the source of the initial proliferation concerns
The United States and its allies in Northeast Asia are now faced with
a difficult and dangerous dilemma. They cannot afford to give in to North
Korean blackmail. Nor, in the midst of a crisis with Iraq over weapons
of mass destruction, can the United States allow itself to be perceived
as countenancing proliferation, particularly by a member state of the
"axis of evil." At the same time, it is difficult to see how
the allies can successfully pressure North Korea into halting its new
nuclear weapons program, particularly if inspections are required to certify
the DPRK's pledge--which North Korea already has said it would not accept.
The DPRK has options that could further escalate the crisis. A senior
North Korean diplomat pointed out, during a visit to the United States,
that Pyongyang could respond to the imposition of economic sanctions by
proliferating both its ballistic missiles and its nuclear weapon programs.
The interception on 6 December of a North Korean ship in the Arabian Sea
bound for Yemen with a cargo of Scud missiles served to underscore the
reality of that threat.
Even more bluntly, there is still the major threat posed by the million-man
North Korean Army only 30-some miles from Seoul. Although the North Korean
military is no match technologically for U.S. and South Korean forces,
its huge army, supported by 10,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers,
poses a formidable threat to the Republic of Korea. In addition, North
Korea also is believed to have deployed a number of intermediate-range
Nodong ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan.
Threat and Counterthreat
At year's end, it seemed increasingly likely that the United States would
enter some form of discussions with North Korea to resolve this new nuclear
confrontation. At best, negotiations could result in the freezing of North
Korea's new nuclear program and a resumption of the slow and deliberate
process of coaxing the "Hermit Kingdom" out of its shell. At
worst, it may be sufficient to buy the time needed to resolve the confrontation
But the United States appears not to be pinning all of its hopes on negotiations.
President Bush announced on 16 December that the United States would begin
deployment of the initial elements of a national missile defense (NMD)
system. To begin with, some 20 interceptors and associated radars and
command-and-control systems will be deployed in Alaska. An additional,
and mobile, element of the NMD network will consist of a number of Aegis
missile cruisers equipped with a version of the Standard missile that
would be able to intercept warheads near the Earth. It seems to be no
accident that Bush chose the moment he did to make the NMD announcement.
The proposed system is likely to be highly effective against the simple
threat posed by a handful of North Korean long-range ballistic missiles.
More advanced threats would have to be countered by the introduction of
more capable missile-defense systems such as the Airborne Laser (ABL),
the Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system, and the Space-Based
Infra-Red System (SBIRS).
In the meantime, the United States, its allies, and North Korea's neighbors
may be forced to respond to decisions made not by North Korea's government,
but by the thousands of North Korean people who are voting with their
feet by seeking refuge in China. Large parts of the North Korean population
chronically face the threat of malnutrition or starvation, a threat rendered
more palpable by the decision of the United States and its allies to halt
shipments of food and fuel to the DPRK. Some analysts say that a concerted
humanitarian response is needed in which countries band together to shoulder
the burden of caring for refugees in China and helping to resettle them
in third countries.
Absent such a response, China is likely to continue turning North Koreans
back across the border. Because of concerns about global terrorism, U.S.
refugee admissions fell to 27,000 in 2002, less than one fourth the level
of a decade earlier. An American decision to resettle North Korean refugees
would help prod other nations, including South Korea--which has admitted
only about 2,000 refugees since 1954--to follow suit.
Indonesia and Southeast Asia
The security situation in Southeast Asia in 2002 was different in character--but
was in every way as dangerous as that on the Korean peninsula. Even before
11 September 2001, the CIA and other intelligence services had been warning
that al Qaeda operatives were active in Southeast Asia and had forged
ties with Islamic fundamentalists throughout the region. Particular attention
was focused on the world's largest Islamic nation, Indonesia.
In the Philippines, where an active Muslim insurgency had been operating
for decades, al Qaeda operatives had developed plans, never executed,
for the simultaneous bombing of 11 U.S. airliners. Terrorists were believed
also to be operating in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. In October
2001 a plot by Islamic terrorists to bomb several Western embassies had
been foiled by the Singapore police.
The United States was particularly concerned that many of the nations
in the region might be too weak, politically or militarily, to address
the terrorist threat. Indonesia's democracy was extremely fragile, having
only recently weathered a change in leadership and several years of increasingly
vicious sectarian fighting in different parts of the country. The Philippines,
while more politically stable than Indonesia, did not have the military
capability to defeat the Muslim insurgency in the southern part of that
It was clear that, if the United States wanted to prevent al Qaeda from
establishing a new base of operations in Southeast Asia, it would have
to aggressively reengage with the nations of that region. This would be
a marked change from the earlier policy, which had seen: (a) an estrangement
from the Philippines following the U.S. withdrawal from bases in that
country; and (b) a congressional ban on military assistance to Indonesia
that followed the horrendous (and well publicized) crimes committed by
the Indonesian Army in East Timor.
The Bush administration moved rapidly to encourage governments in the
region both to crack down on suspected militants and to shore up their
own antiterrorism capabilities. In early January 2002, U.S. C-130s landed
in the southern Philippines with a cargo of antiterrorism gear and some
650 special operations soldiers. Their mission was to train Philippine
forces in counterinsurgency tactics and assist them in operations against
the Abu Sayyef terrorist organization.
At last report, well over 1,000 U.S. personnel had been deployed to the
Philippines to provide training, intelligence, and logistical support
for Philippine forces. Despite some successes, including the rescue of
an American hostage, the threat remains quite serious. In November, the
U.S., Canadian, and Australian embassies were temporarily closed in response
to threats of attack by Islamic terrorists.
Further south, in Indonesia, U.S. efforts to counter potential terrorist
activities were limited both by the perceived political fragility of the
government of Megawati Sukarnoputri and by the hiatus in military-to-military
contacts. Under the umbrella of the global war on terrorism, DOD began
a cautious reengagement with the Indonesian military. At the same time,
U.S. and other intelligence services began a more intensive effort to
track potential terrorist activities in that country and to share information
with the Indonesian government.
U.S. concerns about the al Qaeda penetrations in Indonesia were validated
by the tragic 12 October Bali bombing, in which some 400 people were killed.
The bombing was linked to members of the radical Islamic organization
Jemaah Islamiyah who had long-standing ties to al Qaeda--several members
of which actually participated in the planning for the Bali attack. These
same individuals had been part of the failed Singapore bombing plot.
Southeast Asia continues to be one of the more pivotal regions in the
global war on terrorism. Chronic problems caused by weak political institutions,
widespread poverty, porous borders, and large Muslim populations make
the region a valuable recruiting ground for terrorists and a prime launching
pad for future strikes against U.S. and other Western interests.
Has China Come of Age?
One of the most hopeful signs that China may be irreversibly on a path
taking it from Middle Kingdom isolation and Communist ideology toward
full participation in the international order as a normal state was its
successful bid for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. That success, combined
with the smooth transfer of power from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jingtao and China's
ongoing preparations for full inclusion in the World Trade Organization,
suggests to some observers a maturing of Beijing's approach to the rest
of the world. Another reflection of this new-found international poise
was the relatively low-key way in which China's leaders responded to a
statement by Taiwan's president to the effect that two parallel political
systems exist in China.
Growing military power backs up Beijing's newfound serenity. China's
military buildup continued unabated in 2002. The Chinese defense budget
received a 17 percent increase, largely to fund the modernization of the
Chinese military in accordance with the blueprint laid out in the 2000
and 2002 Defense White Papers. A central goal of this modernization program
is to acquire the capabilities needed to defeat Taiwan, should conflict
break out, while at the same time deterring or countering U.S. intervention.
China's apparent strategy is to acquire sufficient air and naval capabilities
to control the waters around Taiwan and force U.S. aircraft carriers to
operate well away from the Chinese mainland. To this end, China signed
agreements with Russia last year to purchase up to eight additional Kilo
submarines and two Sovremmeny missile destroyers to add to the four Kilos
and two Sovremmenys it already owns. The Chinese Navy also has acquired
a number of air-to-surface antishipping missiles and, according to a recent
report, has successfully doubled the range of some of its older sea-based
antiship cruise missiles.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Air Force has taken delivery in the past few years
of some 40 SU-30MKK fighter-bombers and almost 100 SU-27 fighters. These
aircraft will be equipped with a variety of modern munitions including,
according to new reports, the long-range AA-12 Adder from Russia --which
also is providing China additional S-300 (NATO designation SA-10) high-performance
surface-to-air missile systems to complement the dozens of these weapons
purchased over the past several years. China's Air Force also is increasing
its numbers of aerial refueling tankers and airborne surveillance aircraft.
BAMS, AMRAAMs, and UAVs
Taiwan, meanwhile, continues to seek ways of countering China's military
modernization as well as the growth in the short-range ballistic missile
threat deployed just across the Taiwan Straits. The United States shares
Taipei's concerns. In March 2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
made the first visit by a U.S. government official to Taiwan since President
Jimmy Carter's decision in 1979 to recognize Beijing as the government
Responding to today's growing threat, Washington is reported to have
offered Taiwan additional advanced weapons systems, including the AM-120
AMRAAM missile, to arm Taiwanese F-16 fighters, and a number of An/FPS-117
long-range air-defense radars. Taiwan also continues to take delivery
of a wide range of other advanced weapons systems provided by the United
States under agreements made by Bush and his predecessors. As of year's
end, though, there had been little if any success in identifying a provider
for the diesel-powered submarines that President Bush promised Taiwan
The U.S. Navy recognizes the threat in East Asia and is investing in
new capabilities intended to counter efforts like those of the Chinese
military to acquire antiaccess weapons. These include new weapons systems
such as the longer-range F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the stealthy Joint
Strike Fighter. Both aircraft will enable U.S. aircraft carriers to take
station well out of range of Chinese or other antiship missiles while
still being able to strike their desired targets.
The Navy buildup program also includes the addition of new strike capabilities,
such as those provided by the Tactical Tomahawk and a modern broad-area
maritime surveillance (BAMS) architecture to replace the venerable P-3s.
BAMS is likely to involve both a manned aircraft and unmanned platforms,
most likely a navalized version of the Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Of perhaps even greater importance, the U.S. Navy also is implementing
a new system for exchanging information and commands not only between
its own ships, aircraft, and submarines but also with Army and Marine
Corps units ashore and Air Force aircraft and satellites. This new "net-centric
warfare" system will allow the U.S. Navy to engage a broad spectrum
of threats employing widely distributed sensors and weapons.
One key to net-centric warfare is the enhanced E-2C Hawkeye, a radar-equipped
plane that can fly from a carrier's deck and recently has been upgraded
with the new avionics, digital consoles, and new software needed to turn
it into a command-and-control node. One of the important new roles for
the improved E-2C will be to direct the fire of sea- and land-based missile
defenses against both cruise and ballistic missiles. *