( Gen. Gregson's's presentation was broadcast on C-SPAN LIVE )
Seoul-Tokyo-Washington Security Partnership
Wallace C. Gregson
Lt. General (Ret) US Marine Corps
Greetings and thanks
Condolences for the Sewol Ferry sinking on 16 April
My task is to discuss security, specifically a Seoul-Tokyo-Washington Security Partnership.
The "Partnership" word has some interesting implications. One dictionary has this to say about
the meaning of the word: "A partnership
is an arrangement in which parties agree to
cooperate to advance their mutual interests."
It’s not a marriage, it’s not an oath of loyalty, it’s not ordination, and it’s not meant to be forever.
It does mean agreement on what the mutual interests are.
Of course a Seoul-Tokyo-Washington partnership on security matters would be helpful. We all
know, however, that there are a number of matters that get in the way of a partnership. We can’t
even agree to sign the same document on information security.
As a former DOD official and a career Marine Corps officer for 37 years I could talk at some
length about military factors. We can get to that, but first I think it’s important to discuss the
global and regional forces that shape our security concerns. Then we can decide if these rise to
the level of mutual interests.
Asia continues its exceptional economic rise. Korea’s rise as a dynamic, prosperous country is a
major driver of this Asian prosperity that raised 100s of millions from poverty to higher
standards of living. Korea is the world’s 13th
largest economy and the US’ seventh
largest trading partner.
This economic miracle travels by the sea. Because of this, wealth, prosperity and power in East
Asia will increasingly be determined at sea
At the same time, and no surprise to this audience, Korea’s history has always been driven - not
always favorably - by its location. Korea has a long seacoast that faces, west, south and east,
with many very capable ports. It is surrounded by bigger powers, and it profits greatly from its
maritime trade and economic connections to greater Asia and the world. Mongolia might be the
example of the disadvantages of being landlocked. But hazards wait behind the success. The
inter-Korean demarcation line at the DMZ is one, but not the only, geopolitical fault line in the
Because Korea’s prosperity and growth is inextricably linked to the maritime environment,
Korea’s security concerns will increasingly be found in the maritime environment, not only in
the immediate region, but also the greater Asia and Pacific region and the world. Korea seeks to
make its position among the bigger powers into an advantage – to become an indispensable hub
for trade and commerce, and politics. The foundation of Korea’s power – economic, political,
and military – will increasingly be on the sea. The realization of this economic, political and
military success requires an international system that is orderly and operates for the good of all.
The name applied to this is the Global Commons, and the United States is a strong advocate for
peaceful, free and unfettered lawful access of all to the Global Commons of sea, air and space.
Westphalian notions of absolute sovereignty of the strong over the Global Commons, requiring
fealty or tribute from all others, has no place here.
Complicating an expanded view of a maritime future, Korea remains divided and the
demilitarized zone in the vicinity of the 38th
parallel remains the most fortified
demarcation line in the world. The threat of a second North Korean landward invasion has
declined due to the parlous state of the North Korean economy. As one example, the North’s
soldiers are smaller now than years ago, likely due to malnutrition. At the same time, the threat
has become much more dangerous in terms of weapons of mass destruction – particularly nuclear
weapons – and deadly provocations. Despite a number of different efforts over the years, the
US, Korea, Japan, China, and Russia – as well as the entire international community – have been
singularly unable to prevent the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from marching toward
nuclear weapons capability. We have not seen that capability demonstrated yet, but that is very
The US – Korea alliance grew from the events of June 1950. Kim Il Sung invaded with Soviet
support, and the US – fearing extension of this expansion effort to other parts of the world - felt
obliged to counter this attack. It became our first "hot campaign" of the Cold War.
Over the decades the US-ROK alliance has been successful to date in deterring a repeat of the
North Korean invasion. The alliance has grown, matured and adapted to become an
extraordinary model of military cooperation. The Combined Forces Command is an eloquent
expression of the intimate, integrated nature of our forces, with US and Korean military
personnel working side by side on a daily basis.
It must continue to adapt, as the threat continues to change. The landward conventional threat
declines, but North Korea poses a growing threat to South Korea’s maritime environment. The
sinking of the Che’o’nan and the shelling of PY Do reminded the alliance of the seaborne threat.
Hiding behind its missile and potential nuclear threat, North Korea can pose a challenge to the
safety and security of maritime trade and commerce. Think of a submarine attack on a container
ship as it leaves Inchon or an attack on port infrastructure.
North Korea shares a border with China. History drives China’s policy toward North Korea, and
causes China to value stability above all else. The peninsula has been an avenue for aggression
in both directions. As you know, the ground combat of Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95 was
fought on the peninsula. Then came the Japanese protectorate over Korea, followed by
colonization, followed by the invasion of Manchukuo and then China, finally ending in 1945.
China became heavily engaged in direct combat with US forces during the Korean War, losing,
by some estimates, over a million men. At the outbreak of the Korean War, the US moved ships
to the Taiwan Strait to protect our former WW II ally, Chaing Kai Shek. This effectively
prevented Mao’s China from completing unification. China does not want another era of change
on the peninsula.
The US maintains a significant force presence in Korea. Over the years since 1950 this presence
has changed as the capabilities of Korean forces have grown. Our presence now is much more
focused on providing unique support capabilities, rapid reinforcement, and providing for
strategic offensive options should they be mandated by the national leadership of the US and
Korea. Most of these capabilities are offshore. We provide extended deterrence to Korea to
prevent the use of the world’s most dangerous weapons.
US forces and bases in Japan are the foundation of US military presence in the region. They are
essential to the US role in any emergency on the peninsula. Given the ranges of weapons in the
North Korean arsenal, it’s hard to imagine how any general conflict on the Peninsula could
remain confined to the Peninsula. Thus we are all thoroughly tied together by security issues,
like it or not.
As Korean political, economic and security concerns grow in the maritime environment so will
the importance of other capitalistic, maritime nations who support the rule of law and peaceful
settlement of disputes. Thus, there are more partnership opportunities readily available on
matters of mutual concern, despite other issues that might exist between such partners.
Asia’s history also shows that resource issues can be a cause of conflict. We face many
disturbing trends that, if unresolved, can destroy peace and stability. These may qualify as
matters of mutual interest in possible security partnerships. Some of the more dominant, or
powerful, include demographics, energy, food and agricultural, and fresh water. All are
interrelated, as numbers of people and their movement affects food security, water availability
and purity, and energy production and use. Often these goals conflict. For example the use of
hydropower to produce energy often reduces the availability of agricultural land and fresh
The world will add nearly 60 million people per year, reaching over eight billion by the 2030s.
Most growth will be in developing countries. The United States, alone among developed
countries, is expected to add 50 million people. Those wishing to see an American retreat will
be disappointed. Europe, Japan, Russia, and Korea will join those in absolute population
decline. China will add some 170 million, but the population will be aging, and predominantly
male. India, in contrast, will add 320 million people, becoming the world’s most populous
nation before 2030.
Welfare systems in developed countries are based on assumptions of moderate economic and
population growth. Aging and declining populations will stress support systems.
Remittance flows are essential parts of the economies of many states. In 2007, the top three
recipients of emigrant remittances were India, China, and Mexico – two in Asia, one in North
America. Disruption or alteration of these flows due to failing governments, war, pestilence,
natural disaster or other phenomenon can affect peace and stability. When economic conditions
collapse in a region, or remittance flows are altered, uncontrolled population movements result.
India will continue to grow, risking tension between the rich and the poor, as well as among
Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. The Maoists in much of eastern India are India’s most
important security challenge, according to many Indians.
Rapid development in China, India, and other countries creates a relentless drive to assure
adequate and secure supplies of fuel to sustain growth, maintain satisfaction, and prevent internal
strife and chaos. Multiple disputes over access to seabed resources in the South China Sea
regularly fill the news. Massive additional production and refining capacity is needed to avert
resource shortages as world population grows. Japan is currently coping with energy shortage
caused by a natural disaster, illustrating the fragility of energy infrastructure.
Every fresh water system on the east, southeast, and south Asian littoral is under heavy pressure
from pollution. The search for affordable energy invites upstream countries to build
hydroelectric dams on rivers coming out of their mountains. Ungoverned, this can cause
devastation to downstream nations and cultures that depend on nutrients in the rivers to sustain
their aqua-culture-dependent lifestyles. Needless to say, Asia has a poor record of collegial
Ocean fish stocks are already under pressure from overfishing and illegal fishing. Without some
agreement, some code of conduct on fishing and effective enforcement means, many species, and
nations, are in danger. Recently such disputes caused the death of a Korean Coastguardsman at
the hand of a Chinese fisherman.
Arrayed against these worrisome trends are the optimistic views of globalization, contributing to
impressive economic integration and interdependence. Conflict, in the view of some, is not
possible because it would be so illogical.
This is the centennial of the beginning of the First World War. Analogies like these can be
overdone, but we should at least consider that the prevailing view in 1914, before an unemployed
tuberculosis-ridden drifter killed Archduke Ferdinand, was that war was illogical, bad for
business, and therefore impossible. That day’s Rising Power was Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany.
This part of world history is interesting enough that China produced a very popular 12-part TV
series on the rise of great powers. Australian and U.S. statesmen -Kevin Rudd, Henry Kissinger,
Kurt Campbell, among others – commented recently on the dangerous similarities between that
day and ours.
Today’s rising power is China, and it is the fastest rising power in world history. That same
history shows that the world fails, more often than not, to maintain the peace while integrating –
or re-integrating in China’s case – a rising power into the existing international system. Athens
is the classic example of this "Thucydides’ Trap", so named for the historian to first document
this. Wilhelm’s Germany and early 20th
Century Japan are other examples.
China’s history exerts a powerful influence on current events. China well remembers that the
"Century of humiliation" came to China from the sea in the form of western traders. Territorial
concessions, opium, civil war, collapse of the Qing Dynasty, and invasion followed. Indeed,
China’s leadership class makes frequent mention of their pivotal role in the reversal of this
humiliation and the creation, and expansion, of China’s economic resurgence. Today, the vast
majority of China’s wealth, GDP, and business are along the coasts of the East and the South
Fifty percent of the world’s seaborne commercial tonnage and 1/3 of the world’s value in trade
traverses this sea. If the world has a commercial intersection, this is it.
Traditional international law, as favored by the United States, calls for freedom of navigation and
peaceful settlement of disputes. This is being increasingly challenged by China’s claim of
historical rights to the entire South and East China seas. They are pressing long-dormant claims
here, generating coercion with maritime auxiliary assets and, in the case of Vietnam, PLA Navy
vessels, fostering an Asian arms race.
This an unprecedented Chinese move. China has never placed one of its oil drilling rigs in the
Exclusive Economic Zone of another state without prior permission. This oil rig was
accompanied by as many as 80 ships, including seven People's Liberation Army Navy warships,
not something usually done in undisputed Chinese waters.
Three countries were cited in the title of this session. Let me say a few brief words about the US
perspective, and you can determine if we have mutual interests.
Degrees of competition and cooperation are inherent in everything from human interaction, to
business, and international relations. Our relationship with China contains elements of both.
The US welcomes China’s rise and re-integration into the international system. That’s settled
US policy. We championed China’s accession to the WTO in the 90s. We have a strong
economic relationship with China. So do our allies and friends.
How strong is our economic relationship? U.S. exports to China are up 542% since 2000,
compared with an 80% increase in exports to the rest of the world. Some 30 U.S. states each
exported $1 billion or more in goods to China and another 10 states exported over $500 million.
There are 122 sister-city partnerships between the United States and China, which leverage
economic ties to expand people-to-people contacts. These contacts then generate more business.
These trade ties provide a strong basis for cooperative relations, in part by creating powerful
constituencies in each nation favoring engagement, and future policies should seek to increase
the number of stakeholders in each country.
At the same time, we have serious security concerns involving China and other nations. Some
scholars say we have three policies, managed by different parts of the government.
- Vigorous promotion of China’s Economic Growth is the most familiar policy and it is the responsibility of the U.S. Treasury.
- Confronting China, in the UN, in the Asian international forums, and elsewhere is the provenance of the State Department, at least under Secretary Clinton.
- The Department of Defense creates and maintains counterbalancing alliances and partnerships.
Our strategy requires a mix of assurance and dissuasion, combined with quiet deterrence and an
ability to prevail. This is an important component of our renewed emphasis on Asia that was
described by Secretary Clinton. She said that we have to be smart and systematic about where
we invest our time and energy, and that "One of the most important tasks of American statecraft
over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment --
diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region."
Note the implied priorities here. Our security presence in Asia is a part, but hardly the only part,
of our national effort there.
In the future, our forces will assume a much more "widely distributed, politically sustainable,
operationally resilient" posture, operating from bases as they are currently configured with wide-
ranging periodic, frequent, deployments of elements large and small throughout the region from
the Indus to the Tumen, Australia to Alaska, and from the Straits of Hormuz to the western coast
of the United States. Operations with allies and friends will be progressively more integrated.
Containment was a political and economic policy directed at a country with a closed system and
an autarkic economy that was a declared enemy of the US and the free world. I entered active
duty in this era. What we see now is not containment. The only country that can contain China
Challenges abound to continued peaceful development, stability, and prosperity. Hopefully we
can learn to place a priority on our mutual interests in continuing our positive efforts, despite the
This page last updated May 25, 2014 jdb