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US Pivoted on “Third Offset Strategy”
International

US Pivoted on “Third Offset Strategy”

A new security dynamic is developing between the United States and China. The Pentagon has developed a so-called ‘Third Offset Strategy’ which is a new US endeavor to tap advanced technology to maintain its military superiority vis-à-vis China and potentially Russia. This is the view of Professor Satoru Mori, a career diplomat from Japan and an authority on US global policy and international affairs.

Mori and Professor Nobumasa Akiyama, the Oxford educated nuclear expert and an advisor on non-proliferation issues to the government in Tokyo, visited the Financial Tribune to discuss a wide-range of regional and international issues of interest to Tokyo and Tehran.

The future of Iran-Japan economic relations, nuclear issues, security in Asia, a rising and assertive China and the not so defendable track record of the United States in the Middle East was discussed in their meeting with the Tribune editors.  Excerpts:

Financial Tribune: How does Japan see today’s Middle East?

  Nobumasa Akiyama:

Japan is greatly interested in the Middle East for couple of reasons. You know, people always talk about energy security and 85% of our oil importation and 30% of natural gas comes from this region. So our economy is so dependent on supply of these resources from this part of the world. Naturally we have to be very much interested in the region.

But the thing is that probably we have a negatively low visibility in politics and security and that’s not because Japan is not interested in the region. We have a different approach from others. We have a kind of limited ability and resources in military assets to extend and to project those resources in this region.

Our approach to contribute to Mideast stability is through economic cooperation, building social infrastructure, helping the social infrastructure, for instance, in countries like Jordan and Egypt.  Japan’s economic assistance to the region is actually the second largest in the world after the United States.                      

  Satoru Mori:

As one can imagine, for Japan the most significant strategic region would be its surrounding area so that would be East Asia. The rise of China is obviously for us is the central strategic event of the 21st century. That’s our basic understanding. We also have North Korea developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles.

These security issues consume our strategic attention. What this produces is that in order to stabilize the region, our thinking is basically to have the US engaged in the region (East Asia)… I know that you (Iran) have different views about the US, but through our perspective the US has served as a stabilizer of the region and China is becoming increasingly (assertive) in the region. We want the US to focus more attention on Asia Pacific which means that we want to see the Middle East as more peaceful and more stabilized. I think that that provides us an extra rationale to be more constructive and play a more helpful role in trying to stabilize the region.

This is a very general way of conveying our thought but I think from a very strategic macro point of view that would be the way that I would characterize our view of where the Middle East stands in Japan’s strategic thinking.

What can Japan do to help the US reduce its footprint in the Middle East and be more engaged in the region that is strategically important for Tokyo? Could that be the function of the economy?

Mori:

That would be one instrument through which we would probably work. If the region becomes very unstable then that’s what draws the US to the region and we don’t that necessarily to happen. So that’s why I also agree with my colleague that Japan should be more involved in that kind of economic assistance and other means to help stabilize the region. Yes, that’s the rationale...

I want to go back to why we would expect US to engage in Asia when it is not exercising its influence in the Middle East. There are two conflicting factors with regards to Asia when it comes to US engagement. One is that the US currently views the source of its external economic growth coming from Asia because it’s the center of economic growth in the global economy.        

So that provides a very powerful incentive for any administration to strongly engage in Asia and prevent the security competition from intensifying between a rising China and its neighbors. So that’s why they want to stabilize the region by maintaining what they call ‘presence’ -- a stabilizing presence.

 Second is that there is this new security dynamic developing between the two defense establishments: between Beijing and Washington. You may have heard what we call the “Third Offset Strategy” which is a new endeavor pursued by the Pentagon to tap advanced technology to operate US military superiority vis-à-vis China and potentially Russia.

US military superiority is the result of what they call precision guided munitions. China has kind of caught up with the US when the US was caught in Afghanistan and Iraq (wars). They’ve been focusing too much on counterinsurgency operations so they kind of slowed down in military innovation. They (the US) have tried to extricate from the two wars and kind of looked around and saw this new great power competition, especially the Pentagon, vis-à-vis China. So, wanting to recapture military superiority in the Asia-Pacific, drives the US defense establishment towards engaging US allies more in the region. These two are rather contradictory. On the one hand, they have economic interest to stabilize the region, on the other they see a rising China that is challenging US military superiority. These two very strong structural dynamics are beginning to move the US toward more engagement.

Whether they succeed or fail is a different matter. But at the moment, they do not want to create friction between China and neighboring countries because that will limit US options to engage China. President (Barack) Obama is very much interested in eliciting Chinese cooperation on local issues like non-proliferation and climate change, global economy and even Afghanistan. They want to get the Chinese to (help) stabilize the situation. They want to create a cooperative relationship.

There is also the cyber issue and the South China Sea which are very strong irritants and Asian countries are very concerned about the South China Sea (dispute) and want to see Obama taking stronger steps. But the White House has to balance between these two cooperative and competitive issues. And President Obama’s general orientation is towards emphasizing the cooperative approach.

If America could not perform in a manner that could contribute to security and stability in the  strategic Middle East, what makes you think that it is able and willing to do the things Japan wants in Asia?

Akiyama:

Actually nobody denies that US policy in the last couple of decades has failed. Of course, there are several reasons. The strategy itself is wrong, probably. But then if, and you know it’s a very big if and very much kind of a hypothetical situation. Saddam Hussein (the former Iraqi dictator) survived and that led to the occupation of Kuwait. Muammar Qaddafi (ousted Libyan leader) was there. He  maintained the stability in Libya but at the same time Libya had a secret nuclear program and if they had been successful in developing nuclear weapons, then does it bring about a more stable situation in the Middle East? It’s all hypothetical situations that we are answering. It’s really difficult to say that without the US the situation could be much better…how can you be so sure? I cannot.

The general feeling is that the US is not going to come back. America’s role in the Middle East is almost over and President Barack Obama and others have also implied on more occasions than one.

Akiyama:

My view is different. I think the US role is not yet over. They have some more to play. If they are really hoping to withdraw from this region, they would not do anything to (re)deploy. They withdrew troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, but they increased their commitment to capacity-building of local forces. They knew they cannot fill the vacuum. But then what is the alternative? Will Russia be able to fill the vacuum? Or China?

Professor Akiyma, you have advised your government on the NPT and sensitive nuclear issues for a long time. With the benefit of hindsight, could you tell us why an atomic bomb is bad for Iran and good for the US, the UK, China, Russia, France, Pakistan, India…?

Akiyama:

My belief is any bomb, any nuclear bomb is bad and evil and we believe that our government also pursues a disarmament policy. That’s a principle. Then the reality is the bombs are there. Two things: we don’t want to see more nuclear power states. That’s why we’re determined not to produce it  ourselves and that’s why we don’t like to see our neighborhood developing nuclear weapons or for the matter any other country in this region or elsewhere.

Secondly, how do we have to deal with the existing bombs? For Japan we have North Korea and China in the neighborhood. Can we ignore their nuclear capabilities? We can’t. China conducted its first nuclear test during the Tokyo Olympic Games. That caused trouble for us. If you host the Olympics and Saudi Arabia tests a (nuclear) bomb would you accept it?

How is Japan preparing for the seemingly emerging Chinese superpower?

Mori:

Japan, like the US, bases its foreign policy and reactions to Chinese actions based on modern international law, which underpins our part of the world. So whenever we see, for example, that China is creating artificial islands to constrict freedom of navigation which undermines many commercial interests of not only the US and Japan but also other countries, we oppose that. These are all based on existing rules and norms that have been underpinning the region.

If it wasn’t so, our country would not follow the US. The reason why we support or partner with the US in terms of security is because the position of the United States is shared by other countries. We benefit from an open access order. What China is doing with its artificial islands is kind of closing and narrowing that open order. In that respect, Japan’s position towards a rising China is to help China accept these international norms and there are two aspects to that.

On the economic side, whenever we [in Japan] try to accept the high standard international rule there are domestic reforms like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. For Japan, I think, if China or any country is willing to join that kind of a high-level free trade agreement, we should be ready to assist them on the domestic front as well, in terms of economic reforms, social reforms and the likes.

Speaking of security, when it comes to sovereignty over territories that kind of quick protocol does not work. The idea is to try to fend off or try to deter China from not reversing the status quo through force. And that is why we have been operating our alliance with the United States. Moreover, we are revising our constitution to step up our deterrence so that we are able to discourage rising powers from using military means to change the status quo. These are the two basic approaches through which Japan is trying to deal with a rising China.

We are not demonizing China at all. We are also engaged in negotiations. Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe had a summit with President Xi Jinping and we are also trade partners. China is still our largest trading partner. We have many Chinese tourists coming to Japan which is very helpful. It is not in our interest to confront China.  The approaches I mentioned are the ways through which we want to coexist, try to avoid or discourage China from making unilateral revision of structures that will create tensions. We seek to help China adjust to international norms.

How does your government intend to interact with Iran?

Akiyama:

 As a researcher I think that there are three major reasons for Japan to get involved in the region. One definitely is energy. I think it’s in the best mutual business interest. The second is that we probably see development of this region as the key to the development of the world as a whole because the population of this region is growing by 17%. There is a huge economic potential here and I’m greatly interested in the potential of the Iranian people as a very efficient skilled labor. If I were in a position to advise Japanese companies I definitely would suggest putting up a factory here because they  expect much better and high quality production in Iran.

Thirdly, the stability of the region, definitely it’s essential. Why? Because without stability any economic potential would be wasted. Furthermore, stability cannot be achieved without the further bottom-up of the welfare of the people. Stability and peace for the time being, for the short term, can be achieved through military force but sustainable peace cannot be achieved without strong social-economic foundations. And about Japan and what it is trying to do, we know that we have limited capacity when it comes to military force. If we provide military force who would appreciate it? But if we provide economic assistance, social development assistance, many people will appreciate that. That is the kind of difference in approach for Japan.

We understand that Iran is a regional power and was once suspected by the international community of developing nuclear weapons. Once we are convinced that Iran’s nuclear program is of peaceful nature, we would be happy to work with it for developing a peaceful program. And this  may improve the confidence that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon.

I know that you’re also facing big challenges; the uncertain future of Saudi Arabia is a big concern for you. And there are rumors that Saudi Arabia may have a secret deal with Pakistan for some nuclear loan or something. So I know that you kind of sense some potential nuclear threat. That’s why we try to encourage Iran to keep the nature of its nuclear program peaceful.

 

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