Conclusion: Moon and Abe must take the initiative
These three potential pathways to de-escalation emphasize the degree to which South Korea and Japan maintain their agency to defuse tensions, even in the context of spiraling escalation and heightened nationalism. Moon and Abe have sought U.S. and international support to help resolve current tensions and should continue to do so. But the urgency of this situation, together with the likelihood that third-party mediation will not be able to deliver results quickly enough, necessitate that Tokyo and Seoul not sit back and wait for outside powers to save the day. The United States, in particular, has been slow to provide arbitration assistance in this round.
In tandem with seeking outside support, Tokyo and Seoul must also summon their own capacities and resolve to pull themselves out of this bitter impasse that threatens to leave both countries, and the U.S.-backed regional order, depleted. Lessons from periods of bilateral recuperation in the past can help them illuminate pathways for doing so.
Katrin Fraser Katz is an Adjunct Fellow in the Office of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholar. She served as director for Japan, Korea and Oceanic Affairs on the staff of the U.S. National Security Council from 2007 to 2008.