Stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region ~ which has garnered a lot of attention over the past few years beginning with the formalisation of the Quad comprising Australia, Japan, India and the USA ~ need to perhaps start thinking about recalibrating the strategic calculus.
For, the overlap of multilateral alliances in the region which has come to the fore could well turn out to be counter-productive as critics have been warning for a while now.
The AUKUS security alliance inked last year between Australia, UK, and the USA, and Washington’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in May this year ~ both in addition to the Quad ~ had already raised concerns in the strategic community about how productive it would be to try and compartmentalise soft power, military might, and economic development in the region at a time of unprecedented geopolitical fluidity.
If the whole point of pivoting to the Indo-Pacific, according to Washington, was to treat islands, peninsulas, and rim-countries of the Indian and Pacific oceans as a continuum in strategic terms to ensure an expansionist and undemocratic China did not bully its way through the region, then a rethink is urgently required. Because it’s not only the Quad, AUKUS and IPEF in play ~ there is also the long-standing trilateral partnership between America, Japan, and South Korea to consider.
While this trilateralism has most often been on display with the three nations acting in concert when it comes to facing down the Pyongyang dictatorship and pushing back against North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, the fact that Beijing provides not-so-veiled support to the North Korean regime and trilateral cooperation vis-à-vis Taiwan is essential to keep Beijing off-balance are also factors to be considered.
If, despite the historical baggage of Japan-South Korea ties, the trilateral partnership is working and is sought to be intensified, surely it is worth considering aligning its tactics and strategies with the other multilateral bodies in the region?
According to Asia expert Clint Work of the Stimson Centre, several aspects of efforts to transform the USA-South Korea bilateral alliance could catalyse and even require improved ties between Seoul and Tokyo specifically, and trilateral relations in general.
These include the transition of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the USA to South Korea, Seoul’s relationship with the United Nations Command (UNC) and UNC Sending States, and the expansion of the scale and scope of US-South Korea military exercises beyond the Korean Peninsula.
If these initiatives are to come to pass, stakeholders in the region will be impacted. They must be on board if Washington wants to escape accusations of unilateralism.
Some believe the best way of ensuring mid-tolarge states of the Indo-Pacific community all of whom are members of one or more of the multilateral bodies active in the region are incentivised to have more skin in the game is for Washington to demonstrate that their interests, and not just America’s, will be adequately protected. For this to happen, Washington must learn to accept that it cannot be the perennial puppet-master.