The U.S.-Japan-ROK Strategic Triangle and Maritime Security

Building Capacity in Northeast Asia and in the Broader Indo-Pacific Region

A Trilateral Dialogue Workshop

June 17, 2016

Washington, D.C.

As a key element of its research project, "The U.S.-Japan-ROK Strategic Triangle and Maritime Security: Building Capacity in Northeast Asia and in the Broader Indo-Pacific Region," IFPA convened a second high-level trilateral workshop in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 2016. Like the first project workshop convened in June 2015, this meeting was held at the offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this time in cooperation with the U.S. Naval War College as well as the Carnegie Endowment. It drew together over fifty senior officials and subject matter experts from the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as from Australia, given that country’s close security ties with the other three nations in the maritime realm. Among the more prominent speakers were Ambassador Sung Kim, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan and Special Representative for North Korean Policy; Abraham Denmark, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia; and Vice Admiral Robert L. Thomas, Jr., USN, Director of the Navy Staff and former Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The Japanese delegation included former Vice Minister of Defense for International Affairs Hideshi Tokuchi and former Administrative Vice Minister of Defense Masanori Nishi, while the ROK delegation included former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Sung Han Kim and former Ambassador for National Security Affairs Dr. Chung Min Lee. Click on the links to the right for a full list of attendees and an annotated agenda.

Workshop presentations and discussions focused on ways in which United States, Japan, and South Korea could take advantage of the improving climate for trilateralism to expand security cooperation with each other, both functionally and geographically; the degree to which cooperation on maritime security in particular could promote broader trilateralism in the wider Indo-Pacific; how that in turn might dovetail with (and support) the maritime interests of other key players and potential partners within that region, leading in time to wider networks of security cooperation throughout maritime Asia; the extent to which the three allies shared common priorities with respect to maritime roles and missions and a potential allied division of labor with regard to maritime security going forward; and the likelihood that lessons learned by Japan and South Korea from their participation in multilateral naval operations in the Gulf of Aden and other out-of-area theaters could be drawn upon to help promote trilateral (and broader) maritime cooperation closer to home. Workshop participants also took a hard look at the way in which the United States, Japan, and South Korea weigh the various risks and implications of a China that becomes increasingly dominant in the South China Sea, how they think that could shape events in the Indo-Pacific as a whole, and what they may be willing and able to do about it, especially in the event of a crisis that threatens to escalate, be it vertically, horizontally, or both.

In this particular context, workshop discussion zeroed in on each country’s growing maritime capacity-building efforts with key allies and partner nations within the South China Sea region, exploring ways in which these various efforts – aimed primarily at improving the capabilities of smaller Southeast Asian nations to patrol and defend their maritime zones – could be better coordinated in the years ahead and made more effective and sustainable. At the same time, participants explored the prospects for reaching agreement with China on confidence-building measures (CBMs) and related efforts to reduce risks and the potential for miscalculations at sea. Strategies for managing China’s inevitable emergence as a more powerful maritime nation in the Indo-Pacific were discussed in detail, as was the need for effective allied counters to undue assertiveness on Beijing’s part as an integral component of any such strategies. Finally, workshop participants discussed how trilateral cooperation in the maritime realm could be used more effectively as a building block in concert with other cooperative frameworks – and, if so, how – to set in place a security architecture better able to reduce risks and promote stability in the vast Indo-Pacific region, and to do so in a way that at least begins to share costs and defense burdens among key stakeholders in a more equitable manner.

Later in 2016, a final project report will be published and posted on this website, summarizing key findings and policy recommendations from both workshops and from additional project research conducted over a two-year period by the IFPA staff.