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January 26, 2004

Global War Against Terror and East Asia

Akihiko TANAKA (Professor, University of Tokyo)

Introductory remarks at the Symposium on "International Relations in East Asia After 9.11", held January 8, 2004 at the Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo.

I would like to discuss global political characteristics after 9.11 and its relation with the current situation in East Asia. In my view, which may be too simplistic, the world currently is in the stage of a global war. After 9.11, the Bush administration launched the "war against terrorism." Although this is not an ordinary war between states, it is a kind of war and in fact a global war in the sense that hostilities are felt around the world, particularly between the U.S. or the world community on one hand and the terrorist network like Al Qaeda on the other.

Three Battle Fields

By using the analogy of war, we can identify three battle fields in this war. The first battle front is transnational, because the war against the global terrorist network has no national boundaries. There are a number of ways the war is being fought such as police and intelligence versus terrorists' counter-intelligence movements all over the world and occasional eruptions of terrorism; for example in Indonesia, the Philippines, the UK and elsewhere.

The second battle front is Afghanistan, where the headquarters of Osama bin Laden's organization was located when the U.S. launched the war against Al Qaeda. Although the U.S. won the war against the Taliban and succeeded in establishing a new constitutional government led by President Karzai, only part of the country is controlled by the new government and the war against terror is still being fought on this front.

The third front is Iraq, of course. Although the real reasons why the U.S. launched the war against Iraq are not yet clear, it seems to me that the Bush administration may have regarded Iraq as a competing strategic ground between the U.S. and the terrorist network, and therefore the U.S. decided to move ahead of Al Qaeda to take over Iraq. To neo-conservatives, however, it must be disappointing to see that they won the war relatively easily but so far failed to stabilize the nation after the war. In fact, contrary to the original purpose of the war, Iraq has become the main battle front against terrorism as a result of the war launched by the U.S.

Situation in East Asia

Having described political characteristics in the world after 9.11 I now turn to the current situation in East Asia in the context of the global war against terror, with the main battle front being in Iraq. In a sense, the political situation in East Asia seems to be contradictory to my viewpoint of the global war against terror, because it has not impacted the East Asian region as much as it should in the case of a "global war." Therefore, the current war against terrorism is more like World War I rather than World War II in relation to East Asia, where the situation is relatively stable and there is not much activity against terrorism.

About a year ago, many people were afraid that North Korea would be next after Iraq. However, there appears to be little chance of outbreak of war in the Korean Peninsula today. The Taiwan Strait, which may be regarded as a hot spot in East Asia, seems to be relatively stable and no sign of war is visible these days.

Why is this the case? In my view, this is because of the U.S. war against terrorism. More specifically, because Iraq has become the main battle front against terrorism, contrary to the initial expectations by the Bush administration, and the U.S. can no longer afford to face another war front. Therefore, the U.S. is trying to keep North Korea, Taiwan and other Asian hot spots from developing another war front by containment rather than confrontation.

I would like to conclude by saying that this is my own interpretation, which may be too simplistic, and I welcome your comments and criticism.

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