A Strengthened American Presence in the Asia-Pacific Region

The destinies of the United States, Japan and South Korea have been intertwined since the end of World War II. This connection remains very strong today, as evidenced by the presence of 80,000 U.S. military personnel stationed at bases in the two East Asian nations, both of which benefit equally from the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States in a neighborhood with three nuclear powers — Russia, China and North Korea.

But in spite of the fact that Japan (from early on) and South Korea (beginning in the 1980s) have shared the same democratic values as the United States for a while, the three have never established a formal military alliance. Instead, what we have long had are two distinct, parallel, pacts, one Japanese-American and the other Korean-American, a less than ideal situation, but one that has managed to work.

Although they had an alliance with the United States in common, Japan and South Korea have never been able to overcome historical grievances and mistrust, some of which date back to the 16th century, when Japan tried to invade Korea, while others are more recent, such as the capture of thousands of Korean women to serve in Japanese military brothels during World War II. In addition, and in spite of some admiration for Japanese successes, the memory of the colonization by Japan that began in 1910 lives on in the minds of some.

The new three-way relationship being openly promoted by the United States, with Joe Biden hosting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David, takes on a historical dimension. While it does not go as far as creating a NATO-like structure in Asia, it does formalize a partnership mechanism that calls on the three to consult on matters of security threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

In theory, the principal threat shared by the three is North Korea’s nuclear potential. But it is worth noting that this new pact came about after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a development that has led Japan to announce a doubling of its annual defense expenditures. And it is evident — as already publicly stated — that China interprets this meeting between Biden, Kishida and Yoon as one more step in the United States’ strategy to counter China’s ascendancy.

It is clear that the United States, while remaining engaged in Europe because of Ukraine, is not setting aside the Asia-Pacific as its priority when it comes to foreign policy strategy, and is taking several steps to strengthen its position in the region, another example of which is AUKUS, the trilateral pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, announced in 2021.

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