The U.S.-Japan-ROK Strategic Triangle and Maritime Security: Building Capacity in Northeast Asia and in the Broader Indo-Pacific Region

Last updated March 11, 2017

This project focused on the prospects for improving and expanding U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) trilateral cooperation by promoting and building upon greater opportunities for maritime collaboration between and among these three critical allies. While improving U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral cooperation has been viewed by Washington as a strategic priority for a number of years now, it has proved difficult to establish and even more difficult to sustain. Indeed, far too often in the past, historical animosities, competing territorial claims, differences over how best to manage a rising China, and the combined impact of these factors on domestic politics, among other issues, have stood in the way of closer Japanese-ROK relations, despite the importance of such improvements to the security of both nations. As a result, American-brokered efforts to promote trilateral security coordination among Japan, the ROK, and the United States have been on-again, off-again affairs, without much lasting effect.

The primary goals of the project were 1) to develop a deeper understanding of the incentives for and potential roadblocks to U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral cooperation overall; 2) to highlight more precisely how maritime collaboration in Northeast Asia and in the wider Indo-Pacific region could be an ideal route to broader trilateral cooperation; 3) to assess how trilateral maritime collaboration could provide both an effective hedge against Chinese military pressure at sea and a potentially attractive avenue for military cooperation with China, be it on a bilateral, trilateral, wider “mini-lateral,” or more truly multilateral basis; 4) to identify and prioritize specific policy options and courses of action in the realm of cooperative maritime security that would be directly useful to (and implementable by) key decision makers in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul; 5) to produce at the same time a much-needed analysis of how maritime cooperation and capacity building at the trilateral level can open the door to broader collaboration in other important security sectors; 6) to build, through workshops, a lasting network of trilateral expertise in all three countries; and 7) to contribute in a substantial way to the policy-minded literature on trilateralism.