Nicolas F. Tognoni (University of Southern California, USA)
Robert Dujarric's article highlights the effects of the Iraq war on the economic stability of the US and one of our most powerful allies, Japan. He first argues that the war has significantly damaged the power of the US, which in turn reflects poorly on Japan's own power in the world stage. He then argues that the US will now be less likely to intervene in similarly developing situations abroad such as North Korea or Iran after the current "catastrophe" in Iraq. He also worries about a US focus on Middle Eastern conflicts that will overlook Northeast Asian conflicts, leaving Japan to fend for itself. Dujarric correctly concludes that while Japan can still trust its alliance with the US, it is time that Japan starts focusing on ensuring its own national security and making sure that it can protect itself.
The point that the US has lost considerable power due to the Iraq war is not the reality of the situation. More than anything the war reveals a determination to intervene in hostel situations that have mal affected the US. In a world where UN sanctions are the internationally accepted form of punishment, the US has shown the world that it will still use unilateral force and military power if it deems fit. It sets a precedent of force. The alternative would have been worse. If the US had sat by while Iraq continued to ignore the UN and created a precedent of pacifism and weakness in dealing with rouges state, it would be much more inviting for North Korea to follow suit feel as though there would be no real consequences to his actions. In a world when the enemy isn't necessarily confined behind one flag or within one country, the war shows a determination to fight and protect the power, economic and tangible, that the US, Japan, and our other allies rely on. Since September 11, 2001, there have been no major terrorist attacks on US soil, considered imminent just seven years ago. What the war has done, perhaps haphazardly but nonetheless effectively, has been to take the fight back to the Middle East. "Terrorists are pouring into Iraq… in order to prevent a free, democratic government from being established in the Middle East. They see victory or defeat in Iraq as having major and long-lasting repercussions throughout the region and even throughout the world." (1) Instead of white-collar professionals in New York, highly trained military personnel are now at the front line of the battle on terrorism. This allowed the US to effectively rebuild the powerhouse economy that was damaged by this event and the "bubble burst" of the late nineties.
In terms of Dujarric's concern that the US will be more concerned with the Middle East than Northeast Asia is to some extent true. Within popular US opinion, the issues with Iran have overshadowed that of North Korea. The main difference between the two regions is economic dependence. The developing nations of Northeast Asia are highly dependent on trade with the developed nations of the US and its allies. On the other hand, there is a universal need for oil and it is particularly pertinent in the development of countries around the world, such as China, whose demand for imported oil rises by 30% every year and is now the world's second largest importer (2). This gives oil rich nations in the Middle East a bit more freedom to target and threaten the US without seeing extreme economic consequences. Due to high oil prices, the US market has already begun its slow but real shift towards energy efficient vehicles, which will start to diminish the US dependency over the next decades. Conversely, not only is China the fastest growing economy in the world, it is also Americas fastest growing export market, in a relationship that is worth well over $300 billion a year (3). This burgeoning economic connection has created an increasingly civil bond based on the simple principal of mutual economic gain.
As far as Dujarric's worries about South Korean and Chinese influence North Korea being problematic, it is important to note that when North Korean tested a crude nuclear missile in 2006, China and South Korea were almost as anxious as the US. Since then, these two countries have joined the US and Japan to convince Kim Jong Il to stop "in exchange for aid and security guarantees." (4) These talks have since stalled with little success, but the fact remains that these two nations, mostly due to their physical proximity to North Korea, are not thrilled about its development of nuclear weaponry. In general, the Chinese and Japanese governments have showed an increased dedication towards cooperation. China is allowing Japanese companies to bid on domestic contracts on everything from nuclear power plants to trains. And talks have started for to create a "strategic partnership" for "economic and environmental co-operation; mechanisms to ease territorial disputes in the East China Sea… even confidence-building measures between the two countries' armed forces." (5)
While Dujarric's conclusions are sound, he underestimates the result of the US' willingness to use power in an increasingly pacified world stage. Japan's best bet is correctly stated as continuing a very strong alliance with the US, but increasing military spending as a percentage of GDP and strengthening ties with South Korea are also necessary steps. As North Korea arms and becomes increasingly powerful in their region, Japan must take increased ownership in problems that may be more pertinent to them than they are to the US. While the US has made rouge behavior less acceptable, Japan needs to take a page from the US' book and maintain an increased value and price tag on national security.
(1) Thomas Sowell, "Another Vietnam?" Townhall.com. Jan 16, 2007.
(2) "Grim Tales," The Economist. March 29, 2007.
(3) "America's Fear of China," The Economist. May 17, 2007.
(4) "Do you want to join my gang?" The Economist. May 16, 2007.
(5) "Japan and China: Peace Breaking Out," The Economist. April 4, 2007.