KONGAs Asian countries rethink strategic policies in the light of the
Iraq war, it is postwar U.S. bahavior, rather than the war itself, that will
ultimately shape their responses.
Has the war strengthened the cause of the
unilateralists and preemption advocates? Or will military triumph soon be seen
as a pyrrhic victory bought at huge diplomatic cost? In the latter case
Washington may, when euphoria cools, re-emphasize alliances. Those questions are
of immediate concern for Europe and the United Nations, but they are also
relevant for Korea now and, in the long term, for all Asia.
There was little popular support for the
Iraq war in Asia and only lukewarm backing from allies. Negative reaction was
founded on historical resentment of Western imperialism and missionary zealotry,
and of the U.S. assumption that it is entitled to change other nations' regimes
whether or not they are a credible threat to the United States.
Among Muslims the resentment was more
emotional. But for many East Asians, criticism was tempered by a sense that
"what is good for the United States is good for us," an appreciation of
America's contribution to peace and prosperity in the region.
Throughout Asia, official responses have
been governed by pragmatism. Whatever they might think, governments saw no point
in antagonizing Washington over a matter that did not directly concern them.
Now, in the aftermath of victory they will seek reward.
Japan and South Korea, in particular,
hope that they can keep the United States on a multilateral and diplomatic
course over North Korea. China earned praise for muting its opposition to the
war and now hopes that apparent softening of Pyongyang's position on
negotiations will be seen as more a result of its influence than that of the
The prewar shift of U.S. policy from
deterrence to preemption had aroused plenty of concern in the region, but only
in South Korea did discussion of its consequences get beyond the academic.
The United States is able to impose its
military will anywhere in the world and now appears to believe that allies are
useful but not essential in protecting its global interests. So should the
response in Asia be to view America now as an unreliable ally that will follow
its own national agenda regardless of the views and interests of allies? Or is
it so powerful that wisdom lies in compliance with its interests?
There is a military technology dimension
to this too. Is U.S. dominance, particularly in the air, reducing its need for
permanent bases in countries such as Japan and South Korea, thereby weakening
the bonds of mutual self-interest?
On North Korea, the United States seems
to have little option but dialogue other than a preemptive strike, the thought
of which horrifies all of East Asia. Iraq may well have strengthened Pyongyang's
determination to keep its nuclear capability unless it can get cast-iron
security guarantees from America.
As for Seoul, in the longer term it is
looking less to the United States for protection and more toward a return to its
historical game of balance of power, notably between the interests of Japan and
In Japan, foreign policy is as moribund
as economic policy and friction with America is minimal. But the combination of
China's rising military might and concern at U.S. unilateralism will probably
provide support for those who believe that Japan must be more self-reliant,
especially on issues of strategic weapons.
China, on the other hand, having viewed
another demonstration of U.S. military power, will have noted America's
potential to defend Taiwan with air power alone. That may temporarily dampen
Beijing's enthusiasm for strategic weapons development and power projection in
the South China Sea.
It seems likely there will be longer-term
economic fallout for Asia. The globalization of the 1990s, spearheaded by
America and its multinational companies, placed economic growth and free
movement of goods and capital above nationalism and promoted shared principles
in economics and common rules in commerce. These fertilized China's remarkable
Now the United States is perceived as
having undermined those rules and values at a time when its own economy,
burdened with an unsustainable trade deficit, alarming level of private debt and
now the costs of war, seems unlikely to provide a lead for Asia.
Asia will keep its own collective counsel
but will watch closely to see how the United States now deals with its conquest
and with those who opposed the war but are needed to win the peace: Iraq's
neighbors, some NATO allies and the United Nations.