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Japan and South Korea: Headed Towards Extinction?

The Buzz

There is, at long last, a solution to the troubles that beset the Japan-ROK relationship: patience. In this case, patience doesn’t mean waiting a couple of months or a year until the leaderships in Tokyo and Seoul recognize the damage they are doing to their relationship; nor does it mean waiting a few years until new governments take office in each capital; neither does it mean waiting a few generations until the anger and animosity burn themselves out. No, patience in this case means waiting 600 years or so, when the population of South Korea vanishes and another half century when that of Japan does the same.

A recent simulation commissioned by the ROK National Assembly extrapolated current demographic trends – the average South Korean woman bears 1.25 children, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children – to show that the South Korean population will disappear by 2750. Japanese celebrations will be muted: the average fertility rate there is just 1.4 children per woman, meaning that the Japanese population will vanish around 3100. Japan will only outlast the ROK because its current population is almost twice that of the ROK.

These trends are not immutable. Both countries, which have been largely closed to outsiders, could become more accepting of foreigners.  Policy changes should expand choices that women have when it comes to child rearing. The Korean Peninsula could reunify, which would offer the ROK a fertility boost.

But shifting these two nations’ demographic trajectories requires a better understanding of why birth rates are falling and the explanations are complex: there isn’t a single answer. The same trend is evident in all developed societies. While Japan and South Korea (and China, in one of the little noticed developments that could have the most profound impact on that country’s future) are among the “grayest” countries in the world, the same phenomenon is evident across Northern Europe and in the south as well. It appears that a more developed society has less need for children and birth rates inevitably fall.

There is more at work here than some random side effect of industrialization, however. In some cases, women refuse to have children because they want a different role for themselves than that of their mothers and grandmothers. They want to work as well, and shortages of care facilities as well as societal expectations of women with children – they are supposed to stay home – provide powerful disincentives to have children. In some cases, the issue is not just child rearing but the entire set of assumptions about a women’s role in the home. In other cases, the cost of a child (over his or her lifetime) is too high for families that face growing uncertainty about economic prospects.

In Japan, it has been suggested that changing behavior among men is partially responsible, with researchers noting a growing number of males uninterested in marriage, and some even shunning sex. Other researchers attribute the lack of interest in women to the country’s stagnant economy: men are reluctant to marry for fear that they can’t support their future wives.

Both countries are unlikely to go the way of the dinosaurs. But demographic change will have a profound impact on both Japan and South Korea in ways that will affect many of the most important debates about the two countries’ foreign and security policies. Let me highlight three:

First, birth rates have a significant impact on government accounts and pension and insurance programs. As populations age and get smaller, a decreasing number of workers must support a growing number of retirees. Existing retirement schemes will not have the money to remain solvent. They can be adjusted but it will not be easy: governments will be tinkering with the most fundamental elements of the social contract. A larger retired population will burden welfare programs and be paying less to government coffers; all government budgets will be strained.

Second, and related to that, an increasingly elderly population will have very different policy preferences from those of a younger cohort. For example, they are more likely to favor health care over military spending and international security (especially when they are seen as binary choices: a government can either pay for more doctors or a high-tech missile defense system). Moreover, older voters turn out in much higher numbers than do younger ones – they express their preferences.

Finally, older populations are more risk averse and this tendency can color an entire society. It will restrain a government’s outlook toward the world, obliging it to eschew provocative actions, an important consideration in a region dotted by territorial disputes. The readiness to invest (and perhaps expend) a country’s most precious resource – its young people – in military adventures will diminish. More generally, an older society is going to be more conservative, staid, and status-quo oriented in all things. This will undercut economic and social dynamism.

Demography isn’t destiny, even if it does explain about two-thirds of everything. The projections of the eventual “extinctions” of South Korean and Japanese society are valuable reminders of the folly of straight-line extrapolations, a remarkably popular tendency in other areas of analysis in East Asia. That doesn’t mean that the demographic realities in Northeast Asia can be dismissed. Aging societies will have an immeasurable yet discernable impact on long-term national capacity and capability. Those governments, and their partners and allies, should be planning accordingly.

Brad Glosserman is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. This article first appeared in CSIS:PACNET Newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsDemography RegionsJapan

You Decide: A Blueprint to Counter China’s Growing Military Might?

The Buzz

Robert Haddick, Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific (Naval Institute Press, 2014)

The Islamic State is on a tear, Russia has launched an invasion “incursion” into Eastern Ukraine, Syria is in crisisa war in Gaza just ended in a bloody stalemate with tensions still running high, Ebola is on the loose, Libya is falling apart, and Afghanistan is still a complete mess. To put it bluntly, the challenges the United States faces seem to be multiplying like cockroaches. And yet, Washington will soon face an even bigger challenge: a rapidly evolving Chinese military that is focused on defeating Washington if war ever comes.

The challenge presented by China is formidable and is a present-day problem, not something Washington won’t have to worry about for another couple of decades. Soon, formal commitments to defend old partners such as Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines will become worthless — all thanks to twenty years of advances in Chinese military technology focusing on “counter-intervention operations” or anti-access/area-denial weapons(A2/AD). In fact, if trends continue, I would argue that by 2020 — some would say maybe even today — the United States will not be able to credibly deploy high-impact military assets like aircraft carriers in and around China’s coast all the way out to the first island chain in a time of crisis. (Well, it could, however, the risks would be so greatthe possible losses so dire, that no commander-in-chief would want to take such a risk.)With over $5 trillion dollars of sea-borne trade transiting through just the South China Sea alone the cost of failing to deter Chinese actions and then not being able to quickly resolve and stabilize a crisis is just too high.

There could be no better time than the present for a new book that not only explores issues surrounding China’s A2/AD weapons and strategy and its overall military modernization, but also digs into the deeper dynamics of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship and what Washington must do going forward. On balance, in his first ever book, titled Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific, Robert Haddick produces a strong volume that lays out not only the historic challenge presented by the rise of China, its growing military and A2/AD strategy, but the history involved when it comes to Beijing rising armed forces.* Haddick even boldly offers his own strategy for managing the strategic dynamic of the U.S.-China relationship and what Washington should do with regards to its own force posture in Asia — something he pulls off reasonably wellconsidering troubling trends in America’s foreign policy decision making. (Sorry, no spoilers here, buy the book!)

To read the full text please visit War on the Rocks here

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The South China Sea Crisis: Impossible to Solve?

The Buzz

Seated across the table, China’s representative railed against the Americans for a litany of offences. The Vietnamese, Philippines, and Indonesian representatives looked on, their thoughts obscured by a mix of smirks and smiles. This wasn’t, however, a meeting at this month’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Myanmar. Rather, it was a South China Sea simulation at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

Divided into groups, attendees—a mix of Asia hands and novices—represented South China Sea claimants, along with the United States and not-quite-claimant Indonesia. Participants strove to hammer out a joint communiqué encompassing the parties’ varied interests while absorbing conflict resolution and negotiating skills. Complicating the matter, the talks were set against the scenario-injected backdrop of the Chinese construction of an artificial island in Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Although I flatter myself as educated in the basics of the region’s maritime disputes, the evening still proved educational. Readers might be interested in five distilled rules:

1. Chinese plays to Asian solidarity ring hollow

Assigned the role of a proud representative of Vietnam, I sought to halt construction of China’s artificial island and secure assurances against future infringement of our national sovereignty under the recognized principles of international law. That was a non-starter for the Chinese negotiating team. However, they did attempt to buy me off through vague promises of infrastructure investment before launching into a lecture on the U.S. In their view, Americans were destabilizing the region, were themselves unable to provide stability from half a world away, didn’t believe in international law, were interested only in a new breed of colonialism, and should acquiesce to a sphere of influence similar to their own dominance of the Caribbean.

I’ve witnessed this attempt at building an exclusive Asian rapport at other forums. Then, as in this instance, it was undermined by the accompanying mix of veiled threats and seeming indifference towards the neighbors’ real concerns. My rebuttals to China’s points—that its investments often led to little local hiring and spawned resentment, and that Vietnam cared less whether a nation signed UNCLOS than if it followed the principles therein (i.e. not parking an oil rig in someone else’s EEZ, for example)—received sympathetic concurrence from other claimant states.

2. Wild cards are unlikely to change the situation

In the run-up to the exercise I asked colleagues to suggest "wild cards" that could be played to shake-up the negotiations. Unfortunately many of those turned out to be outside my bounds as a country representative (and I’ve covered them in a CIMSEC post here).

In the event, it was revealed that the Indonesian moderator had been meeting and potentially dealing with China on the sidelines of the talks. Yet that did little to alter the negotiations. Similarly, I sought out "win-win" proposals, with a bid for joint economic development deals, as in the Gulf of Tonkinafter a freeze on new construction, claims, and resource exploitation—essentially the elusive ASEAN Code of Conduct and a reflection of Vietnam’s real position. At the same time, I noted that, if the United States was having difficulty maintaining its vessels in the region, the deep-water port of Cam Ranh Bay could be refurbished for a renewed American presence. Unfortunately, the joint-development proposal was rebuffed by China, as most were in the course of negotiations. Rule four explains why those wild cards and proposals failed to change the calculus.

3. Conflict transformation doesn’t always work

Indonesia tried to tap into "conflict transformation" to propose parts of the disputed waters be made ecological or resort preserves. I suggested bringing in Australia and New Zealand as disinterested third parties to oversee a fishing-rights management scheme preserving stocks until a final resolution on the dispute was made. Those ideas, and the desire for our communiqué to contain language affirming regional commitment to the peaceful settling of disputes under the principles of international law, were all scuttled in turn.

4. China has little to lose from torpedoing negotiations

The reason for those failures mostly stemmed from a single assessment. Because China didn’t appear to face any negative repercussions for continuing its policies of tailored coercion and salami tactics, it had the least incentive to alter the status quo. Therefore China had a strong position or, in negotiation theory, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, should the negotiations fail. That meant China could effectively wield a veto due to its ability to walk away without fear of losing much. Little surprise that 5 of 6 teams failed to produce a substantive communiqué.

5. ‘If at first you don’t succeed…

…change the definition of success. After attempting to find "small wins," such as paying lip service to regional peace, the Indonesian moderator grew frustrated with Chinese vetoes of the rest of the agenda and decided to create a "unanimous minus one" list of items all other negotiators agreed to.

… agree to keep meeting. Students of international relations will be heartened to learn that we did agree not only to meet again, but also to develop a new regional forum to focus solely on dispute resolution. After all, negotiators need to ensure they stay gainfully employed.

Simulations such as this won’t by themselves solve seemingly intractable issues. (For a look at lessons learned from the real-life negotiations between Indonesia and the Philippines over their maritime boundary, see this article from The Diplomat.) Nevertheless, simulations can serve a useful purpose by sparking novel approaches to well-worn squabbles.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the US Navy Reserve and the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). This piece was first published by ASPI's The Strategist here. 

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Intervention in Libya, and It Wasn't American

Paul Pillar

Within the past week the United Arab Emirates, aided by Egypt, conducted airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya. The targeted forces are among the contestants in the surging turmoil and civil warfare in Libya. The airstrikes do not appear to be part of a large and bold new initiative by Egypt and the UAE, which did not even publicly acknowledge what they had done. Nonetheless the strikes were, as an anonymous U.S. official put it, not constructive.

The incident—along with some questions about whether it had caught the United States by surprise—has led to some of the usual hand-wringing about how U.S. relations with allies are not what they should be, how there supposedly is region-wide dismay with a U.S. failure to do more to enforce order in the region, and how if the United States does not do more along this line there may be an interventionist free-for-all. This type of reaction is inappropriate for at least two reasons. One is that it fails to take account of exactly how differences between putative partners do or do not make a difference. Sometimes such frictions matter for U.S. interests and sometimes they don't. Assuaging an ally is good for the United States if there is some payoff, not necessarily immediately, for its interests in behavior from the ally that is different from what it otherwise would be.

The other reason is that to the extent the United States may have encouraged interventionist free-for-alls, it is because it has done too much rather than too little. The United States's own penchant for military interventions has been probably the biggest factor in a breakdown of previous noninterventionist norms in international relations. The United States also has acquiesced in similar norm-breaking behavior by others that is easy for the Egyptians and Emiratis to see. As former ambassador Chas Freeman notes, “Gulf states and Egypt have seen many instances of Israel doing whatever it wants without us. They’re saying, if Israel can use U.S. weapons to defy the U.S. and pursue its own foreign policy objectives, why can’t they?”

Three valid observations are worth making about this episode. One is that the turmoil in Libya to which Egypt and the UAE are reacting followed directly from regime change in which Western intervention was instrumental. The United States played less of a leading role in that intervention than some other Western states did, and according to the Pottery Barn rule it does not own the resulting wreckage by itself. But that background is worth remembering.

Second, the airstrikes are a reminder that if forceful things are to be done in the Middle East, the United States doesn't necessarily have to be the one to do them. That principle applies to more constructive uses of force than hitting the Libyan militias. The UAE has a pretty good air force; maybe next time it can use it for more worthwhile purposes.

Third, the episode is a demonstration that even partners or allies are apt to be moved to action not to protect interests they share with us but to pursue objectives we do not share. Both Egypt and the UAE have reasons related to their own domestic politics and shaky legitimacy for taking sides in the Libyan internal war against the Islamists. The United States, by contrast, has no good reason to weigh in one one side or the other in that war. If friends and allies of ours get impatient with us for not doing more on behalf of goals that are important to them but not to us, tough.                         

TopicsLibya Egypt UAE RegionsMiddle East

Germany's Challenge: Ensuring Democracy in the Western Balkans

The Buzz

The high-level Western Balkans Conference, organized in Berlin today, August 28, will be wisely used by Germany to launch a renewed European Union focus towards the Balkans, a region that fluctuates between aspiring to become a part of the EU and fueling a system of “managed democracies”, the term now widely used to describe illiberal political systems that control their societies but provide the appearance of democracy.

Germany’s initiative to engage with the Balkans comes after a decade of retreating U.S. interest in the region and a time of a stated EU “break from enlargement” at least for the next five years, as announced recently by the new European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

However, the European Union cannot allow the existence of “black holes” within Europe, especially in a region where external influences have left the footprints of their civilizations. The Ukraine crisis has rightly raised Germany’s attention to needing to deal more actively with the Western Balkans, even when the EU cannot offer concrete steps toward integration.

Getting the Western Balkans on board is much more than a security issue. The rising influence of Turkey with its neo-Ottoman strategy finds ground in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo. Contrary to propaganda, this is not a bottom-up project based on culture and religious traditions, but a pragmatic engagement of similar-minded leaders based on economic interest and the attractiveness of a more authoritarian-minded regional power. Serbia, on the other hand, remains isolated, cooperating with Russia and other non-European actors in a tepid attempt to pressure and extract concessions from the EU on Kosovo, and to maintain its former leading role in the region.

The Balkans are also undergoing a period of democratic regress. The main problem of the region today is the state of its dysfunctional democracies. Bosnia-Herzegovina has been shaken by social movements against a nonfunctioning regime. Macedonia preserves the Ohrid Agreement as a facade while interethnic relations become more problematic. Albania is ruled by a clientelist government similar to the “Hungarian” model, which is ruining the balances of power and may influence the rise of social movements in the near future. In Montenegro, the same political elite has ruled the country for more than two decades. In several of the Western Balkan countries, such as Macedonia and Albania, the political opposition regularly boycotts parliament in the hope of raising attention to the loss of democratic principles and institutions.

A state of managed democracy is ubiquitous and seems to please the ruling elites. The liberal democracy that was the inspiration of the Eastern European peoples after the fall of the Berlin Wall is beginning to fade away toward illiberal democracy.

The entrance into the Western Balkans of a leading democracy and global actor such as Germany can help to transform the status quo and raise expectations. It provides new momentum of which both parties must take advantage: Germany to strengthen its leadership role and responsibility within Europe, and the Western Balkans to accelerate integration into the European Union. If this initiative does not generate positive political and economic impacts, there should be no doubt about the direction in which the Western Balkans will head.

Agim Nesho, President of the Albanian Council of Foreign Relations and former Albanian Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Government of Montenegro/CC by-sa 3.0

TopicsDemocracyForeign Policy RegionsGermanyBalkansEurope

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