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U.S. likely to maintain troops in Asia for foreseeable future, scholars say
A military conflict in Taiwan would be a "lose, lose, lose" situation for mainland China, Taiwan and the United States, but that doesn't mean it won't happen, former Secretary of Defense William Perry told a group of world political and business leaders at Stanford Oct. 20.
His point was underscored by the sharp reaction of Sha Lin, a member of the Shanghai People's Congress. Sha said he and other Chinese were suspicious that Japan and the United States were preparing for a potential battle with China over Taiwan because they have failed to deny that is part of the rationale for their recent agreement on new implementation guidelines for their defense treaty. Perry, now a scholar at Stanford's Institute for International Studies, and other scholars there insisted the guidelines were updated because of North Korean threats and technical problems with the old guidelines.
"I don't know what there is to deny," Perry responded. "Taiwan and China never came up in our discussions. We were talking about Korea."
The United States "came very close to a war with North Korea in June 1994," Perry said. "We would have won the war but it would have been very bloody. Our strategy depended absolutely on access to Japanese bases and the guidelines [at the time] did not cover that access."
The strategy was likely to malfunction, said Stanford political scientist Daniel Okimoto, because of "legal and administrative loopholes impeding mobilization in Japan." He admitted, however, that "both Japan and the United States have responded with ambiguity" to China's objections.
The exchange was part of a wide-ranging discussion of world security problems by political and business leaders, an advisory council organized by former Secretary of State George Shultz for Stanford's Institute for International Studies. Alexander Bessmertnykh, a former Soviet foreign minister, praised Perry for his role in removing nuclear weapons from Ukraine, but he complained that the United States and Russia, by not actively discussing further nuclear weapons reductions, were still encouraging other countries to become nuclear powers. Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of West Germany, complained that U.S. foreign policy was not clear and its policing of Asia too wide-ranging. He also questioned the need for the eastward expansion of NATO.
Shultz blamed Russia's economic collapse on Richard Nixon pressuring President Bush and other world leaders to give Russia more money than it could handle. Singapore's senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, blamed U.S. idealism for the growing violence in Indonesia. Even if Suharto's family was confiscating 4 percent of the nation's wealth, he said, Indonesians were better off with him than without him.
Lee sided with Perry against Schmidt, however, on the need for a U.S. military presence in Asia. "In Asia, we face a deep sense of insecurity, and it requires a very strong, continuing U.S. presence. The U.S. fleet is the only one large enough to police those sea lanes upon which Japan and the rest of us depend."
Michel Oksenberg, a senior fellow at the institute who specializes in Asia Pacific issues, said the United States also needs to maintain an extensive dialogue with China on defense, and he credited Perry with re-opening that dialogue as secretary of defense and working to give it some substance. Perry also has been instrumental in getting Taiwanese and mainland Chinese leaders meeting again.
Oksenberg is part of a Stanford research group working to define a viable alliance structure for the region if and when tensions subside on the Korean peninsula. Much would depend upon how the tensions end, he and Okimoto said, but the United States would still need a foreign military presence in the region because of historical animosities between the countries, especially China, Japan and Korea. Without ongoing military exercises, defense treaties atrophy, Oksenberg said.
North Korea is undergoing an "economic meltdown, repression, isolation and hunger," Okimoto said, which could lead to accidental or deliberate war, a sudden collapse of the country or gradual recovery and economic reform. Henry Rowen, director of Stanford's Asia/Pacific Research Center, said everyone should assume North Korea has nuclear weapons and that China, which is the primary food supply route, should be encouraged to put pressure on the North Korean regime to give them up. The Japanese also have some leverage, Shultz suggested, because the Korean population in Japan sends cash.
Oksenberg and Okimoto cautioned that the existing defense alliances will be difficult to sustain after the Korean tensions end and their only rationale becomes protecting others in the region from a Chinese threat. Japan's decision-making power must be enhanced, they said, and the Marines' expeditionary force in Okinawa may have to be moved to Korea because of growing resistance of Okinawans. Forces most likely also would have to be moved out of Seoul when there is no more North Korean threat to South Korea.
Alliances have failed in the region historically, Okimoto said, but those between the United States and Korea and Japan have lasted a half-century. They probably have lasted so long, he said, because of the large overlap in the countries' interests, the low risk of an invasion of Japan and their cost effectiveness ‚ factors the partners may view differently after a resolution to the Korean tensions.
By Kathleen O'Toole