My Joint ‘Newsweek Korea/Japan’ Story: Do US Alliances Create Moral Hazard in Asian Conflicts?


Newsweek Korea coverI am pleased to say that the following essay was printed simultaneously in this week’s Korean and Japanese editions of Newsweek. It think it is critical for both sides to think about the issues I present, and it is pitched to both communities as American allies, no matter how sharp their disagreements.

In brief, I argue that – contrary to the conventional wisdom that US alliances in Asia tamp down conflict by re-assuring everyone that they need not arms-race against each other – US alliances may in fact be freezing those conflicts in place by reducing the incentives of all parties to solve them. The US reassures Asian states not just against each other, but also against their own reckless nationalist rhetoric and racially toxic historiographies. I think the Liancourt Rocks fight is a particularly good example of this ‘moral hazard’ mechanic, as is the recent comment by no less than the South Korean foreign minister (!) that Abenomics’ threat to Korean export competitiveness is a greater danger to SK than North Korea’s nuclear program. That kind of preposterous, reckless myopia can only be explained by taking the US security umbrella for granted. (Or how about SK officers’ golfing during last month’s nuclear crisis?)

I realize the argument will be somewhat controversial, even to Americans given that we are ‘pivoting’ to Asia, but I think it needs to be said and genuinely researched. As with my other Newsweek pieces, there are no hyperlinks because this was intended for print:

“Asia is one of the world’s most combustible regions. It is brimming with nationalism, territorial disputes, ideological divisions, and historical revisionism – all substantially aggravated by the region’s new found wealth. A war in Asia a generation ago would have been disastrous, but regional; a war today would involve the world’s largest economies. To soothe these tensions, the United States has begun to ‘pivot’ to Asia. By 2020, the US is scheduled to have the bulk of its navy deployed in the Pacific. Conversely, the US is seeking to wind down its Middle East conflicts. As a ‘new core’ of the world economy, Asia is more important to the US than ever before, and the pivot is to reflect that.

The pivot rests on the local embrace of the US as a powerful outsider, more trusted by each Asian player than they trust each other. The US is not really neutral, of course; it has its own interests in Asia too. But those interests mostly run toward trading issues, such as intellectual property rights or currency regimes. The US is not caught up in the sovereignty and national identity disputes that so divide Asia; the US has no territorial claims, for example. Hence the US enjoys greater strategic trust. The US can stand above the Asian fray and deploy its considerable power to balance threats – most obviously, North Korea, but also, possibly, China – and maintain local equilibrium.

But there is a danger lurking here for the US as well – that it will be instrumentalized by local parties for their own goals. Specifically, US policymakers worry that Japan may use the US as a bulwark to pursue a tough line against China in the East China Sea. For its part, China very obviously uses the US presence in South Korea and Japan as cause to continue propping up North Korea. And Japan and Korea both exploit the reassurance offered by the US to push maximalist nationalist agendas against the other over history and territory. Ironically, US reassurance serves to freeze, if not worsen, the very conflicts it is meant to soothe.

It is hard to imagine, for example, that the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute would still be active after so many years, were it not for US reassurance to nationalists and die-hards on both sides that they would not suffer the consequences of their rhetoric. A war between Japan and Korea in the Sea of Japan/East Sea would be a disaster for both and a geopolitical gift to China and North Korea. Yet so long as the US is allied to both South Korea and Japan, neither side has any incentive to back-down, to compromise on the many issues that divide them.

The flip-side of the usual argument that the US reassures Asian states against hostile moves by others, is that the US presence also locks Asian conflicts in place. The US may indeed prevent Asian conflicts from spiraling toward war, but that very presence also reduces the incentives for all parties to compromise and solve those conflicts. Indeed, these tensions often serve a useful domestic purpose for unpopular national elites with no genuine interest in resolving issues. Whenever Asian governments need to whip up popular feeling, they can always wave the flag over nationalist disputes and distract voters at home from the more substantive issues that plague Asia like corruption, poor demographics, corporate interference in politics, and so on. It is far easier for the Chinese Communist Party, for example, to pick fights with Vietnam or Japan over maritime borders than to actually pursue desperately needed reforms at home. And in South Korea, it was widely understood last year that President Lee visited Dokdo primarily because his poll numbers were poor; mercifully, Korean voters did not fall for that cheap gimmick.

Economics has a term for this problem – ‘moral hazard.’ When a person is insured against the consequences of his actions, he is, ironically, more likely to engage in that action, because insurance makes the risks of the action less than they would otherwise be. The classic example of this phenomenon is a teenager with a driver’s license. Because the teen is likely driving her parents’ car, not her own, and because the car is insured, the teen drives more recklessly than otherwise. Once the teen matures and pays for her own car and insurance, she drives more responsibly. Insurance companies have wrestled for decades with both providing insurance while still incentivizing good behavior. There is no obvious answer.

This model can easily be applied to the relationship of Japan and Korea. Both are insured by the US, explicitly by the presence of US soldiers on their territory. As such, both are somewhat guaranteed against the consequences of their actions. Both can therefore indulge the luxury of conflict with the other. Because the US is handling the larger geopolitical picture – North Korea, China’s rise, the national defense of Korea and Japan – the strategic discussion in both countries can focus inordinately on the comparatively minor issues between them. Dokdo may indeed seem to Koreans like an issue worth going to war over, but in the context of Chinese strength and North Korean nuclear weapons, it is not. Such talk occurs only because Seoul and Tokyo have ‘buck-passed’ the momentous issues to the Americans.

This is both an extravagance and a mistake, despite what nationalist, vote-hungry politicians may say. It consciously avoids the larger issues, abuses the US position here, and misses the reality that the US will not in fact defend Japan and Korea unless they defend themselves first. Without the US in Asia, Japan and Korea would be immediately compelled to work together to deal with issues vastly greater than Dokdo/Takeshima and a war 70 years ago. For all the criticisms hurled back and forth, South Korea and Japan are far more politically similar to each other than to other states in the region. This is woefully under-admitted:

China is a nationalist, aggrieved, one-party dictatorship increasingly bent on regional primacy, and a permanent well of support for North Korea. Russia is an erratic, badly-governed, semi-autocracy happy to see North Korea stymie democracy and liberalism in Asia. North Korea is arguably the world’s most dangerous country with a human rights record ranked lower than the Taliban. By contrast, South Korea and Japan are both liberal, capitalist, human rights-respecting democracies. They should in fact be allies – and would be if the US were not in Asia.

Far-seeing elites in both countries know this fact. As an academic in this area, I frequently attend conferences on this topic, where I hear many cosmopolitan South Korean and Japanese statesmen and intellectuals make similar arguments. And US officials have clearly been hoping for decades that Japan and Korea would put aside their comparatively minor differences to focus on the much larger issues. But elites on both sides are trapped by their countries’ rhetoric in the media and education. Asian media are relentlessly nationalistic: Japan’s disturbing fetishization of Yasukuni alienates everyone in Asia, while a Korean newspaper once seriously suggested that Japanese samurai were going to invade Dokdo. And education systems that teach racial notions of national identity dramatically worsen the problem. If the Han race (China), the Yamato wajin (Japan), and the minjeok (Korea) go back millennia and are rooted in blood, then compromise becomes ‘race betrayal.’ This is extremely unhealthy and precisely the kind of ideological extremism that helped tip Europe into World War I and II.

Further, the US is unlikely to referee or mediate these disputes, especially among allies. To date, the US has tried to bolster the ASEAN states in their negotiations with China. And the US has argued broadly for liberal ‘rules of the road’ in the region – free trade, open seas, floating currencies, open economies instead of mercantilism, and so on. The US wants peaceful dispute resolution; contrary to Chinese paranoia, the pivot is not intended to contain China – although it will become that if China becomes very belligerent. The US is broadly comfortable with Asian regional organizations like the ASEAN Regional Forum. The ARF provides a venue for Asian states, including even North Korea, to debate security issues. The US has also supported trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would open Asian economies more to one another, hopefully increasing interaction and interdependence.

However, the US will not become a referee for an Asia insistent on militant nationalism, brinksmanship, and conflict, especially among allies who really should know better. South Korea and Japan’s pursuit of their disputes weakens the combined position of democracy in Asia. China and North Korea are cheered to see Japan and South Korea clash incessantly. If South Korea and Japan were to fight, the US would not take sides. Indeed, the US would almost certainly exit the region.

Similarly, the US will not arbitrate or get involved in the details of disputes here. As an American academic in Asia, I am solicited relentlessly on these issues. I am regularly asked what I think of Dokdo, the Pacific War, China’s claims in the South China Sea, and so on. And to my interlocutors’ great frustration, I refuse to answer what inevitably become ideologically-loaded questions. This is the US government’s own policy as well. America has regularly said these conflicts need to be worked out among the parties involved on their own terms. An American solution or adjudication would be politicized by the losing party anyway and rejected as an illegitimate outside intrusion.

Koreans particularly make tremendous efforts to recruit westerners to take up the Dokdo claim. But they should not, as this frequently amounts to manipulating impressionable young foreigners or English teachers in country. These young people have little knowledge of the relevant history but are desperate for cultural acceptance in Korea. They have little sense of what they are arguing for. And in fact, the US government is rather studious in its avoidance of this topic. US diplomats are told not to pronounce on the ownership of the islet.

So what should be done? US retrenchment would indeed force Japan and South Korea to come to terms, and quickly. But China is so vast, and NK so dangerous, this would be a mistake. With those autocracies, there is little to do but confront them when necessary and talk with them as much as possible. North Korea particularly seems hell-bent on making trouble permanently. There is little to be done except stare it down and wait for its collapse. The pivot should continue.

But between Korea and Japan, the US should make it very clear that there are limits to its patience. US weapons sales to each should be conditioned on their non-use against the other. A clear US statement that the US will withdraw from Japan and Korea should hostilities break-out between them would also help. At home, Korea and Japan should reform their education systems to encourage far less nationalistic history instruction. A fair amount of this is mythic anyway; Korea and Japan’s histories are both far more diverse politically than the Hegelian, ‘march toward the modern state’ that is taught today. Finally, some manner of negotiation on Dokdo/Takeshima should commence. Without some joint resolution of this issue, the Japanese-South Korean relationship will never heal.

Asia is a dynamic, critical area that merits the US pivot. But the US commitment is not a blank check, and Asian states – especially America’s allies – need to realize this. The United States will make a reasonable effort to restrain conflict and maintain equilibrium. But it will not umpire an Asia unwilling to bend and compromise. Post-Iraq War especially, America will not become embroiled in a local war over a few islands here or there with little or no demographic and economic interest. Asia has come a long way in the last four decades. Unprecedented growth has alleviated poverty, raised education, and opened Asia to the world. Asia is the emerging ‘cockpit of world politics.’ It would be a shame if Asians were to throw that all away under the spell of nationalism and racism, as Europeans did last century. And if Asians cannot mature enough to work-out their differences, the US is neither capable nor willing to do it for them. America cannot derail an Asia intent on conflict and tension; the sooner that fantasy is dispelled and Asians take greater ownership of their own security, the better for all.”

39 thoughts on “My Joint ‘Newsweek Korea/Japan’ Story: Do US Alliances Create Moral Hazard in Asian Conflicts?

  1. Not to quibble, especially with an argument I generally agree with, but isn’t the problem here “morale hazard”, not “moral hazard”. Isn’t the proper metaphor insurance? Wouldn’t the proper remedy be, as insurance companies require policy holders to own a fire extinguisher, for Japan and South Korea to act jointly and exclusively in some small way toward their mutual defense? Both states could hold joint military exercises exclusively and not as a part of the existing instances, like Foal Eagle. Japan and South Korea could practice contingencies in case of a third-party invasion of South Korea. Or, they could form a high-profile defense coordinating body that doesn’t include the US. Or, the intelligence agreements the Lee administration undermined last June could be implemented.

  2. “South Korea and Japan are both liberal, capitalist, human rights-respecting democracies. They should in fact be allies – and would be if the US were not in Asia.”

    To parse your argument, Robert, you basically say that the U.S.’s involvement in Asia allows Japan and Korea to snipe at each other knowing that the U.S. will back them up, but that if the U.S. were gone these problems would have been forced into resolution.

    But I see several problems here. One is that surely Japan and Korea aren’t daft enough to not realize this–they must see from past actions that the U.S. would not or could not protect an aggressive party; they’d simply try to effect a cease-fire. Japan and Korea might know very well that there is a certain ‘sweet spot’ where they can stoke grievances for domestic political benefit, but that things can’t be pushed too far. In the meantime, they still trade with each other and derive economic benefit. Do they in fact tacitly encourage such acts as a sideshow?

    Second, you argue that without U.S. involvement, these historical grievances would have been sorted out long ago. They might also have been sorted out with great bloodshed. I think the analogy that such antagonisms are like steam, and that they eventually need to be resolved and not doing so prolongs the damage might not be always applicable. Think of another analogy: doctors don’t normally ‘cure’ cancer, they stall its growth until the patient dies by other means anyway. For the U.S. to prevent these sorts of conflagrations might basically work if in another fifty years the bitterness of WWII finally becomes unsupportable or irrelevant; I know nations hold grudges and the Koreans are pros at it, but there will come a day when there will be no one left alive who experienced the war.

    I’m not saying this is the answer, but I am proposing this opposing hypothesis to see how you feel about it: could helping to suppress these national antagonisms work in the long run if they eventually peter out in time. Maybe they won’t. But my students assail Japan because it’s what they’re supposed to do; I simply have the feeling they aren’t personally invested in it.

  3. I think the article generally makes a good point, especially for the respective target audiences; it would be useful to have links to the Korean and Japanese translations when available. Just some thoughts though..

    “..it was widely understood last year that President Lee visited Dokdo primarily because his poll numbers were poor; mercifully, Korean voters did not fall for that cheap gimmick.” Lee Myung-bak wasn’t running for re-election and the same party remains in power.

    “By contrast, South Korea and Japan.. should in fact be allies – and would be if the US were not in Asia.”

    This is a loaded counterfactual; if the US were not there at which stage? If it were not there at all in the C20th, Korea would still be a part of Japan and/or they would have both been subsumed by the Soviet Union. If Perry hadn’t gone in the 19th century Japan wouldn’t necessarily have modernized as quickly and been able to defeat China and Russia (and therefore there may not have been C20th Communism at all!) More immediate to your argument, if US had pulled out before or during Park Chung Hee/Chun Doo Hwan, SK might now have forged a closer military alliance with Japan but be run by military junta (Kim Dae Jung would have been killed early on) and issues such as the Comfort Woman would have to have remained suppressed. If the US had pulled out in the mid 1990s, perhaps that could have been best for healthier Korea-Japan relations; if they withdrew during Kim Dae Jung and especially Roh Moo-hyun’s presidency, however, I think SK would have (wisely or not) moved to a far more neutral position vis-a-vis China. It would not, though, have become an effective Chinese ally against Japan or the US because of their own ongoing territorial and history disputes which stops them being perfect friends.

    Any closer alliance between Korea and Japan without US involvement either requires SK to suppress its own grievances or for Japan to atone; the former is undesirable and the latter is unrealistic. There is no indication Japan would feel an increased urge to apologize to SK if the US withdrew. A key issue is popular threat perception of China which until the last decade has been very low in SK and Japan and not enough to encourage a military alliance between them. Even if the US withdrew today, there is no imminent threat of China invading SK or Japan; at most Chinese nationalists want a fight with Japan but they have zero grievances towards SK so Seoul can hardly be expected to harm its economic ties with China to form a provocative alliance with Japan. SK and China can’t go to war over their border and history dispute because NK is physically in the way.

    Regarding the NK threat to SK and Japan, for a start they both perceive it quite differently, but SK (and China) will absolutely not allow for Japanese military involvement on the peninsula (or continental Manchuria) especially as the only Japanese who wish to be military involved on the peninsula are the history-denying right wing nationalists. Nothing would enhance the effect of NK’s propaganda on the popular SK left than a military alliance with Japan. At the same time, the only threat to Japan from NK are missiles, which can be neutralized with or without SK cooperation.

    In short, even without the US presence, the shared threat perception against China and NK is not immediate enough, if there at all, to force a military alliance between SK and Japan: only in the face of full scale invasion and only then if it was absolutely clear the other was the next on the list to be invaded might they belatedly come to each other’s aid. And under such extreme hypothetical circumstances, I imagine the US would return!

    “A clear US statement that the US will withdraw from Japan and Korea should hostilities break-out between them would also help.”

    This sounds like a gift for both the nationalist left in SK and nationalist right in Japan!

    A final point: arguably Korea and Japan’s unresolved disputes are the only thing which keeps both countries nationalists from turning on the very American presence in each country you argue they are benefiting from. Korea’s popular left equates the American bases as a continuum since Japanese colonialism and the military dictatorships; the Japanese right is less immediately hostile but obviously still resents the restraints their military is placed under.
    (Sorry for the length of the comment!)

    • >Any closer alliance between Korea and Japan without US involvement either requires SK to suppress its own grievances or for Japan to atone; the former is undesirable and the latter is unrealistic.

      I’ll actually disagree on this point. It is only necessary for South Korea to remember it already *got* a concession which by pure power balance it should never have got in 1965 and signed a Treaty on quite favorable terms, and to stop *reheating* its own grievances over and over again. If they forgot or neglected to tack the Comfort Women into the bill that day, it is their own fault (and it also suggests that this was really how little a woman was worth in the zeitgeist of the times…)

      Or worse, “activating” new grievances (both comfort women and East Sea are examples of grievances that became politically significant in the 90s).

      Even if we have to agree that SK would have to “suppress” its grievances, I cannot see how SK is actually *hurt* one little bit by it relative to where it is now. What is done is part of objective history, never to change. However, in not perceiving you have a grievance, you are not hurt by it. Koreans are basically hurting themselves by their own propaganda and “truth” education. If you insist you are hurt, you will suffer from pain whether you are injured or not, and vice versa.

      And they are not even getting anything from their opponent except the loss of what sympathy they used to get. I am of the mind that the moment you get the other guy to agree you have a legitimate grievance, the “size” of it is already determined in his mind (and of course it is never as big as you think it should be). Stay within it and you may well at least get something. Keep screaming and you will lose your advantage pretty darn quick which is what is happening now.

      • Man…must be a really old point. As we hit 2014, that isn’t the case now since we have seen statues of comfort women in various places. In addition, now it seems alliance to china and SK is more closer than with SK and Japan, even with the US.

  4. The manner in which you advocate the United States retrench might be the worst possible way to do it. Your argument implies that there is a singular message retrenchment would make plain and clear to Japan and South Korea. But, the United States doesn’t just have an interest, it has interests, and those interests come from a multiplicity of sources. There’s the DoD’s interests: China, trade routes, North Korea. There’s also the interests of American corporations throughout the region, conveniently expressed in the TPP proposals. Really, what hampers American diplomatic efforts is the cacophony of voices by it confuses the dialogue, not the clarity you represent it as. Your argument is parsimonious in the best realist tradition, but it isn’t realistic in the colloquial sense.

    The United States needs to express itself with as much parsimony as you are trying to accomplish. Retrenching without forcing the two countries into a framework would be irresponsible and leave the region at the mercy of all those groups that now at least are restrained by each American administration with some skill. That’s why the morale hazard example should control. In return for what the United States wants, the one policy it wants, Japan and South Korea should be required either to have a defense relationship, an ASEAN-style political relationship, or adopt some form of freer trade exclusively with each other, like the TPP but more focused and special to them benefiting only them. The point is to introduce a virus into their political economies that will encourage friendship without continuous overt American participation.

    But, as with reforming the tax code in America, I doubt special interests in Japan, South Korea, and the US will pass on the feeding trough. Your proposal is like libertarian proposals: without eliminating all interests, budget cuts favor the status quo and entrench special interests.

  5. I’ll actually suggest the opposite. Your article basically says that everyone in Asia trusts America as a neutral broker, but then you say “An American solution or adjudication would be politicized by the losing party anyway and rejected as an illegitimate outside intrusion.” So do they trust America or do they not?

    My read is actually that for the most part, countries in Asia indeed trusts America as a (relatively) neutral broker, and of course the only broker that really has the power to enforce its decision to some degree.

    Suppose the United States comes clean tomorrow and says openly: “Japan, I am your ally but I do believe the evidence points to comfort women being a government-led operation, and even if not every comfort woman is a sex slave, at least a substantial percentage *de facto* are. Thus, I know you and Korea signed a Treaty in 1965 that should have settled all this, but in light of everything, I think a *one-time* compensatory payout to the tune of $1 million per surviving comfort women should be an equitable adjustment.

    As for the Yasukuni shrine, I agree it is really an internal affair, but we do think the cause of Yasukuni will not be very much hurt if you somehow found a logic, suitable for Japan, to exclude those 14 Class A war criminals from it.

    Korea, you know very well that by the terms of the Treaty your two countries signed, what you got in 1965 should have been it. So once you get the money, that will be end of everything up to 1945. As for Yasukuni, I sympathize with your position but ultimately it is an internal matter.

    As for Dokdo, sorry, it really isn’t Dokdo. We Americans are generally not too good at reading Chinese hieroglyphics but we all saw the film. You guys grabbed it about 3 months before the treaty signing. I’ve said it quietly in the 50s and I’ll say it again out loud. It isn’t yours. Move your ticket-punching 2 civvies and that silly ‘police’ platoon out of there ASAP. In the meantime, as far as I’m concerned, the Japanese get the fishing rights around Takeshima – we expect them to be unmolested, of course.

    As for East Sea, give me a break…”

    If America did say something along those lines simultaneously, what will happen? Let’s look at Japan. Of course, there will be a few right-wingers that aren’t happy. But the majority probably don’t care enough to make a BIG fuss and the left wingers will help out here. Besides, even for the right wingers, an American-guaranteed final out would be quite welcome, plus getting that island and the fishing rights (and the open agreement the Koreans were the aggressors this time) around it is a practical and pride advantage.

    The Koreans will be a harder bunch to please (the article, presumably for the appearance of neutrality, puts the blame for escalation equally on both Korea and Japan, but IMHO really it is mostly the Koreans that are agitating). On the other hand, they can hardly afford to throw away their best chance to get some real cash (plus the de facto acknowledgment by Japan when it forks out the money) for the comfort women.

    In short, I think as long as the United States adjudicates in a fair way, and makes sure there are carrots for both sides, there may be some politicization but overall the deal would be swallowed. Much better, at least, than leaving everything the way it is.

    • Sad for some parts of this guys article, you can see that Shimazaki isn’t really neutral.

      Old posting nonetheless, it is the Japanese government who is bringing the resentment back. I haven’t heard the SK government asking for new compensation, but the definite discussion on right-wings to bring back repelling Kono statement might bring some old would, wouldn’t you say. Keep saying peace in asia, but not really showing it is not really showing diplomacy.

      As for Liancourt Rocks, yeah…I’ll call it that but since Korea has dokdo already, the Japanese government should accept they lost it, based on your argument of the 1965 treaty settlement. Considering also that the korean government wasn’t officially established and that the korean war was still taking place, Korea has already made establishment on the island. What is also not mentioned that Koreans were living on the island as well.

      Koreans are agitated, and yes their approach can be handled better. However, that can be solved. SK might as well make alliance with China and absorb NK. Afterwards, we’ll see where Japan will land afterward.

      • Mr. Haskell, you are taking a very zoomed in view of history. If you take a zoomed out view, IMO you will see that Japanese-Korean compensation issues were supposed to be resolved in 1965. Yet, starting in the 90s, Korea has introduced the comfort women issue, and the ridiculous East Sea issue (oh god, how petty can you get?). So who’s being the aggressor here?

        As for the recent Kono scrape (which was pushed by the government proper rather than a right-wing politician I must agree), I must say that I’m disappointed at the Japanese government retreating again in the face of international pressure. I must say I’m also disappointed at the world (mostly SK and US) allowing their knee-jerk reflexes to dominate again.

        And that’s not necessarily because I think that the right-wing nationalists have a case, but because I think that a re-assessment is the best long-term way out. Whether we like it or not, the Kono statement has no credibility or value with Japanese right-wingers. And I must say I can’t blame them for this: Kono was almost certainly thinking more about settling quickly than the absolute truth or being “Japan’s defense attorney” when he made the Statement (as well as the investigation that preceded it).

        Because of this, continued insistence to follow the Kono statement unconditionally, IMO, only creates resentment on the part of the right-wing Japanese. That’s the base cause of the calls for reviews, or calls for the narrowing of its scope. We can ignore free speech (gawd, isn’t it amazing what precious principles we are willing to denigrate just to make the Koreans feel better) and try and silence at least the prominent right-wingers, but you can’t win over hearts that way.

        If there is a chance to bring them over and put an end to this, it would be an re-assessment that the right-wingers can accept as “fair” (as opposed to a judgment motivated by the need to appease America) even if the results don’t go their way. In this sense, Abe is just the man to call for it, certainly more so than a DPJ or New Komeito led investigation.

        If I were the US and SK, I’ll openly support it in principle and provide “full cooperation”, and the only pressure I’ll apply is so that it is not dragged out forever and that disadvantageous information is not “quietly ignored”. Beyond that I’ll avoid at all costs politicization. It is to everyone’s interests that this re-assessment is and looks as objective as possible.

        Instead, the US and SK allowed their instincts to rule again … at that point, even if Abe pushes ahead, with so much overt political pressure, any result disadvantageous to the Japanese will have its credibility halved (which might explain why he preferred to retreat).

        Sigh… unless, of course, the right wingers are right … and a fair investigation will show this whole comfort women thing as “much exaggerated”, and SK doesn’t want to lose this advantage.

        As for the whole Takeshima thing, you might notice that keeping it low profile and effectively acquiescing to SK rule was the Japanese de facto policy for most of the history of the dispute. It is only in the past few years (effectively, after SK showed with its attitiude that appeasement does not pay for Japan) Japan even moved to so much as explicitly state it is theirs in their textbooks.

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