The ICAS Lectures
Remarks at the Institute for Corean-American Studies Fall Seminar
ICAS Fall Symposium
October 11, 2012
United States House Rayburn Office Building Room B 318
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20515
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
Biographic sketch & Links: Larry Niksch
Remarks at the Institute for Corean-American Studies Seminar
My comments will deal with both issues under discussion today: the U.S. "pivot
to East Asia" and Korea-Japan relations.
On the U.S. "Pivot to East Asia"
The Obama Administration's announcement of a U.S. "pivot to East Asia" is
symbolic in most ways. The United States never left East Asia in the decade of the
2000s. It was involved heavily in a robust military presence, active diplomacy, and
expanding economic relationships including free trade agreements. Japan, China, and the
two Koreas never entertained beliefs or suspicions that the United States was lowering its
involvement. Such beliefs, however, did emerge in Southeast Asia among the ASEAN
states. The Bush Administration did lower the diplomatic status of delegations it sent to
ASEAN meetings. Bush Administration officials emphasized to Southeast Asian
officials the need for cooperation in combating Islamic terrorism and placing greater
pressure on the Burmese government for political reforms. To some Southeast Asian
leaders, this emphasis on these two issues was excessive and, in the case of Burma,
misplaced. However, U.S. security and economic ties with Singapore grew. The U.S.
relationship with the Philippines emerged from the stagnation of the 1990s into a
The Southeast Asian view also stemmed from the perception--accurate--that top
U.S. leaders' attention in foreign policy concentrated on the Greater Middle East--that
stretch of countries, mainly Islamic, that range from Pakistan in the east to Morocco in
the West. Moreover, while Southeast Asian leaders would not acknowledge this
publicly, they appear to have suffered an underlying concern that the United States was
paying insufficient attention to the political and economic inroads into the region by
Thus, much of the Obama Administration's "pivot" to East Asia is symbolic:
higher level representation at ASEAN meetings and greater emphasis on economic and
other non-terrorism issues. There are, however, more substantive elements in the
Administration's approach. The scope and depth of these elements are not clear and will
need to be watched in the future.
One such element is the promise to devote greater U.S. military resources to East
Asia. The Administration says it will shift more naval forces from the Atlantic to the
Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Defense Department is engaged in discussions with South
Korea and Japan over steps to enhance deterrence against North Korea in view of the
prospect that North Korea soon will produce nuclear warheads for its intermediate range
missiles. The United States is expanding military assistance to the Philippines aimed at
creating credible Filipino air and naval capabilities. Again, however, all of these are in
initial stages. The extent of decisions and implementation remains to be seen. The
Administration also will face continuing challenges and the need for sound decisions
regarding the U.S. force structure and military bases in several allied countries.
The same is true regarding the Obama Administration's more active diplomacy.
Secretary of State Clinton has visited East Asia on numerous occasions and has spoken
out on a number of key issues involving China, Burma, and North Korea. The Obama
Administration has involved the United States in negotiations over proposals for new
regional trade organizations. The Administration finally acted to secure congressional
ratification of the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. The Administration has
acted assertively in response to the political turn in Burma toward reform and
liberalization. It has reduced U.S. sanctions, appointed a U.S. Ambassador to Burma (a
post vacant since the early 1990s), and is working with other countries to fashion
economic aid programs to Burma.
Either the Obama or Romney administration will have to make future decisions
on how far these new diplomatic initiatives will go and whether there are new
opportunities for initiatives. There will be more U.S. pressure on China on trade and
currency manipulation if Romney is elected; but a President Romney would have to
weigh carefully the penalties he would impose on Beijing. The Obama Administration
has taken a more open role in the maritime disputes and related history disputes involving
China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. So far, much of this role has
been rhetoric. On several of these disputes, U.S. leaders will have to decide the scope of
the U.S. role or whether the United States should be involved at all. More decisions lie in
the future regarding sanctions lifting and aid to Burma, and economic aid to the southern
Philippines if a peace settlement is reached between the Philippine government and the
Moro National Liberation Front.
When North Korea produces and mounts nuclear warheads on its missiles, U.S.
denuclearization policy toward North Korea will have no further credibility. Once the
Pyongyang regime achieves this fundamental strategic-military goal, it never will give up
such an achievement. The United States and South Korea will have to devise a new
strategy toward North Korea that will have to encompass new or previously neglected
issues (economic reforms, human rights, etc.), managing nuclear crises that North Korea
likely will create, and enhancing deterrence against a real North Korean nuclear threat.
East Asian leaders must keep in mind that the Greater Middle East will not
recede as a U.S. priority. The pivot to East Asia is not an "either-or" proposition related
to the Greater Middle East. Challenges to the United States in the Greater Middle East
will continue as the September 11, 2012, protests and attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions
demonstrated. There will be pressures for U.S. military intervention related to countries
with political instability or upheaval, Iran's moves toward nuclear weapons, and the
danger of a Middle East explosion if Israel attacks Iran. Creating an effective deterrence
structure to counter a nuclear-armed Iran would require a substantial commitment of U.S.
military resources and more direct U.S. security commitments to Israel, Turkey, and the
Persian Gulf states.
On Korea-Japan Relations
Disputes between South Korea and Japan over history and Dokdo-Takeshima
resurface often. This time, the result has been a quick termination of two military
agreements between Seoul and Tokyo that the Obama Administration had encouraged.
American attitudes toward this situation can be summarized as follows:
---A desire that South Korea and Japan set these disputes aside when considering present-
day security cooperation.
---A broader American view of these disputes as unimportant; a wish that they would "go
away;" that the United States should stay non-involved.
---A fear among some Americans, including the author, that these disputes could grow
more dangerous between South Korea and Japan and threaten a rupture of their
relationship. This concern focuses on scenarios of South Korean hysteria if Japan rearms
in response to a North Korean nuclear warhead capability or if oil and/or natural gas
should be discovered near Dokdo-Takeshima.
---A sympathetic American view toward South Korea's substantive positions and claims
on these issues, including Seoul's history-related claims to Dokdo and the grievances of
former Korean "comfort women" forced to sexually serve the Japanese Army before and
during World War II.
---A corresponding negative American view of South Korean tactics toward Japan; a
view that South Koreans use these disputes more to humiliate Japan than to settle them;
that South Korean demands on Japan are unlimited; and that South Koreans refuse to
acknowledge and support actions by Japanese that Americans regard as positive (the
1993 Kono statement of the Japanese Government on comfort women, for example,
which acknowledged the Japanese Army's role in creating and operating the comfort
women system and apologized to former comfort women).
Americans should realize this: these disputes, including the dispute over history,
will not go away. Unless there is some movement toward moderation or settlement of
them, U.S. efforts to promote South Korean-Japanese security cooperation will achieve
A debate is emerging in Washington over whether the White House and the State
Department should modify the traditional U.S. policy of non-involvement and neutrality.
In fact, the Bush and Obama administrations have veered slightly into involvement. In
2006-2007, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan reportedly warned the Japanese Government
not to modify or rescind the Kono statement. In 2012, the Obama Administration ruled
that official U.S. maps would designate "Sea of Japan" for the body of water separating
Korea and Japan instead of the Korean-preferred "East Sea." Also, Secretary of State
Clinton reportedly told State Department officials that the term "sex slaves" was more
accurate than "comfort women." Moreover, in 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives
passed a resolution on comfort women in order to counter proposals in the Japanese Diet
to downgrade the Kono statement.
I would recommend the following to the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
To Japan: Make no further attempts to downgrade the Kono statement; pass a
resolution of the Japanese Diet reaffirming the Kono statement as the policy of the
Japanese Government. Reference the Kono statement in all history textbooks. Consider
resuming operation of the Asian Women's Fund if the South Korean Government and
activist groups would guarantee a positive reception to the Asian Women's Fund.
Consider proposing to South Korea a negotiation of the multiple maritime issues between
South Korea and Japan, including Dokdo-Takeshima. Consider proposing to China that
the dispute over the Senkaku islands be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ);
this would strengthen Japan's diplomatic position on that issue as well as on Japan's
existing proposal to South Korea that they take Dokdo-Takeshima to the ICJ.
To South Korea: Produce an official government "White Paper" detailing the
historic evidence supporting South Korea's claim to Dokdo-Takeshima. Consider a
negotiation of multiple maritime issues with Japan.
Change South Korea's negative attitude toward the Kono statement and Japan's
Asian Women's Fund, which the Japanese Government and private groups set up in the
1990s to provide aid to former comfort women in several countries, including South
Korea (South Korea rejected the Asian Women's Fund in 1997). Suggest to the Japanese
Government that a Diet resolution endorsing the Kono statement would be significant
progress toward resolving the comfort women issue and would be received positively by
the South Korean Government.
The irony is that both hard-liners in South Korea and the history revisionists in
Japan reject the Kono statement and the Asian Women's Fund, albeit for different
reasons. A smart South Korean strategy should aim at isolating the Japanese history
revisionists, whose aim is to absolve the Japanese Army from any war guilt during World
War II. Support for Japanese who support the Kono statement and the Asian Women's
Fund should be a prime South Korean tactic. South Koreans should praise future positive
Japanese actions on the history issue instead of remaining silent on them.
The South Korean Government should terminate demands that the Japanese
Government pay "official financial compensation" to Korean comfort women. Japanese
moderates and anti-history revisionists labored against difficult opposition in establishing
the Asian Women's Fund and securing letters of apology from Japanese Prime Ministers
to comfort women who accepted aid from the Asian Women's Fund. Current demands
for "official financial compensation" weaken the position of these Japanese; they will not
repudiate the Asian Women's Fund. This, in turn, strengthens the arguments of the
Japanese history revisionists that South Korean demands are limitless.
South Korea should broaden its involvement in Japanese history disputes beyond
Korea-centered issues. There are Japanese history issues involving China and other East
Asian countries, the United States, and even Okinawans on which South Korea would be
justified in taking positions. This would increase attention from other governments to the
South Koreans should not over-react to Japanese consideration of a military
buildup in response to North Korea mounting nuclear warheads on its Nodong missiles
targeted at Japan. The United States likely would support Japanese decisions to develop
long-range strike forces capable of hitting North Korea. A negative South Korean over-
reaction could produce damaging frictions between Seoul and Washington. South Korea,
itself, is expanding the range of its missiles in reaction to a likely expanded North Korean
nuclear threat. It should not try to impose a double standard on Japan if Pyongyang
places nuclear warheads on its Nodongs.
To the United States: On Dokdo-Takeshima, the United States would make a
positive contribution to the competing historic claims by clarifying the U.S. historic role.
Specifically, the Secretary of State should order the State Department Historical Office to
prepare a study of U.S. policy toward the islets from 1946 to the signing of the Japanese
Peace Treaty in September 1951. The study should have three objectives: (1) to lay out
the views of U.S. military occupation authorities in Japan and South Korea toward
ownership of the islets; (2) to describe consideration of the islets' status in the preparation
of the Japanese Peace Treaty by John Foster Dulles and his staff in the State Department;
(3) to answer the question why the final Peace Treaty omitted reference to Dokdo-
Takeshima despite Dulles being aware of the dispute and the Peace Treaty itself
designating ownership of a number of other islands that Japan had controlled prior to its
surrender. There are at least three theories about this question; clarification would be
helpful in moving the dispute toward resolution.
The U.S. Government could praise Japan for proposing that the Dokdo-
Takeshima dispute be taken to the International Court of Justice in conjunction with
suggesting that Japan propose to China that they take the Senkakus dispute to the ICJ.
As in 2006 and 2007, the U.S. Government should warn Japanese officials
against downgrading the Kono statement. U.S. officials could suggest that a Japanese
Diet resolution reaffirming the Kono statement would be welcomed in the United States.
American officials could be more assertive with South Koreans in defending the
Obama Administration's decision to use "Sea of Japan" on U.S. maps. It seems to me
that the geographic argument is compelling. That body of water has a distinct
characteristic because of the Japanese archipelago.
In conclusion, American strategy should have three objectives: (1) isolate the
Japanese history revisionists by supporting those Japanese who seek to acknowledge
historical wrongs; (2) influence South Korea to adopt a "smart" strategy toward Japan on
these issues rather than an ultra-confrontational approach; and (3) helping to clarify the
1 Larry Niksch was a Specialist in Asian Affairs at the Congressional Research Service from 1966 to 2010.
In addition to his position as Fellow at ICAS, he is a Senior Associate with the Center for Strategic and
This page last updated October 26, 2012 jdb