Time for Japanese, Korean and American statesmanship

Time for Japanese, Korean and American statesmanship
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Three countries with fundamental alignment in both interests and values — Japan, South Korea and the United States — are pursuing mutually destructive policies that can only benefit their enemies. It is long past time for the citizens and leaders of these three nations to come to their senses.

The strategic interests of Japan, South Korea, and the United States — peace, freedom from hostile coercion, and support of like-minded countries in their region and around the world — are in concert with each other and represent a unique three-nation, two-treaty regional alliance in a very dangerous part of the world ringed by authoritarian regimes. All three countries are threatened to various degrees by North Korean brinksmanship in the short-term and by Chinese hegemonic aspirations in the long term. The values of all three are also identical — democratic governance, free and entrepreneurial citizens and market-driven economies. These values are also under threat from the increasingly assertive loose alliance of authoritarian regimes that includes Russia in addition to China and North Korea.

Japan, South Korea, and the United States have always had individual, generally bilateral issues between and among themselves. The issues have stemmed from the legacy of the violent history of East Asia in the last century and from intense economic competition. They have often been bitter and unforgiving; however, the fundamental alignment of interests and values among the three countries has always served to contain these issues.

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The external threat, once from the Soviet Union, now from a nuclear North Korea and a surging China, has also provided strong restraints and incentives for resolving differences. As the most powerful apex of the triangle, the United States has in the past provided the leadership that kept all three focused on the importance of sticking together solving issues among themselves in a united front as opposed to going alone as disconnected separate nations.

Contained and restrained by these three factors, the issues in the past among South Korea, Japan and the United States were either solved or managed for the greater good. No longer.

The current leaders of the three countries seem determined to push domestic political agendas to the point of deeply undermining their countries’ shared values and interests.

President Moon picks a fight with Japan over a historical issue that his predecessors came close to solving, and stokes a territorial issue over a tiny island of zero strategic importance; Prime Minister Abe, who this week will become the longest serving Prime Minister in Japan’s history, takes a legalistic and self-justifying approach to historical issues rather than leading their resolution with the humility, generosity and imagination befitting a former colonial occupier and currently more powerful of the two contending parties; President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals MORE with his erratic actions in the Middle East and the cancellation of military exercises that underpin Alliance deterrence, undermines the strength of American security guarantees to both countries, while at the same time demanding upwards of 300 percent mark-ups on cash payments for deployments of American forces in both Korea and Japan, deployments that are in America’s own interest.

Meanwhile North Korea plays the United States and South Korea off against each other with phony promises and phony threats. China woos and coerces both South Korea and Japan, while telling the United States to butt out of the region.

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What can and must be done about this sorry spectacle, this slow-motion train wreck being watched with dismay by those of us who have strengthened the ties among these countries — and with glee by those in Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang?

The centrifugal policies of all three countries are led by their current top leaders, and it is they who must change them. Whatever their personal convictions on these issues, and whatever the rewards and punishments from their political bases, President Moon, Prime Minster Abe and President Trump need to act like statesmen and put the interests and values of their countries first.

They need to solve or manage the issues among their countries, not exacerbate them. They need to explain to their people that the specific issues with their democratic security allies can and will be solved, whereas the fracture of the alliances among the free-market democracies of Northeast Asia opens an existential threat.

Perhaps these leaders believe that interests and values among their countries are so strong and aligned that they can afford to make plays for narrow domestic political advantages without fundamentally weakening the relationships. If so, they are poorly informed or personally mistaken, and history will judge them harshly.

Admiral Dennis C. Blair (USN-retired) is the former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and is the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence. He currently is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.