What the Hub Expects of the Spokes: How Japan, South Korea and Australia can Support the Rebalance to Asia


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When: Jun 3 2014 - 12:30pm until Jun 3 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

What the Hub Expects of the Spokes: How Japan, South Korea and Australia can Support the Rebalance to Asia

An Asia Pacific Seminar featuring:

Ms. Hayley Channer
Analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Canberra

Analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Canberra, Ms.Hayley Channer was visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Washington. While in the US, Channer researched the what the US expected of its allies as part of its new rebalance policy to Asia.

The Obama Administration’s ‘rebalance’ to Asia marked a major shift in US foreign policy as American forces drew down from the Middle East and Washington turned its attention to the Asia-Pacific. Many in the region, including US allies Japan, South Korea and Australia, welcomed the pivot; although some countries still harbor concerns that it may provoke a rising China.

Until now, analysis of the rebalance has focused on what the US should be doing to support its allies during a period of shifting power dynamics and heightened regional tensions. Much less has been said about how US partners can support the rebalance. While the US has been encouraging its allies to commit more resources to their own security and thus share burdens, Washington has been reluctant to articulate precisely how they could best contribute to the success of the rebalance.

Ms. Hayley Channer interviewed government officials and experts to gain insight into what support America’s allies in Asia can provide. Different allies, she explained, are contributing different things to the rebalance in the military, economic, diplomatic realms. In her discussion, she described the contributions Japan, South Korea, and Australia are already making to their respective alliances, what more the US will would like them to do, and her views as to whether these requests are feasible and desirable for these countries.

In the case of Japan, use to its constitutional restrictions on its military, the bulk of its contributions are diplomatic, particularly in supporting the US role in the region, and economic, through increased military spending and entering the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations-thereby bolstering the economic arm of the rebalance. In addition to “agreeing to the TPP,” the US wants Japan to earnestly continue to improve its economy, as well as its relations with its neighbors on the diplomatic front. Militarily, the US is largely in favor of the modernization and reforms being made to Japan’s Defense Forces and security strategy. However, some are impatient with the only modest increases to defense spending and slow pace of changes to laws restricting Japan’s use of Collective Self Defense to aid allied forces under attack. In Channer’s view, all of these “asks” are as much in Japan’s interest as the US. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees this but it will cost him political capital that he does not want to expend fully.

East-West Center in Washington director, Dr. Satu Limaye, raises a question to visiting scholar from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Hayley Channer, during her discussion of what the US wants of its allies.

In Australia, the rotation of US troops through the Northern port of Darwin has been the most visible of the country’s recent military contributions to the alliance, though military spending and exchanges have also increased. On the diplomatic end Australia’s largest move has been to vociferously speak out against Chinese aggression in the region and welcome US presence. The US would like to see Australia take an even larger leadership role and show greater solidarity with US policy in the region—though some experts she spoke to also noted they could establish themselves as an honest broker by disagreeing with the US here and there. Channer described a “laundry list” of what more they’d like Australia to do, including increasing interoperability and investment in higher levels of war-tech. She agrees that Australia should take a firmer stance on issues including the South China Sea as it makes it look indecisive. If in a tougher security situation, she argued, no one doubts that Australia would “hew resolutely” to the US on policy. Improvement to the military however will only come from attendant economic improvement, so Australia will not be able to try to meet all of the asks at once.

The most difficult ally for her to discuss was South Korea. Its view of the “Rebalance” has been that it is to counter China and therefore not in their self-interest. Therefore contributions have been understated with larger joint training missions, and the acceptance of a new battalion of US forces. The US would like to increased capabilities in the ROK military to that they can take over command of Peninsular operations from the US, as well as greater US-Japan-ROK interoperability and intelligence sharing with Japan. To that end, the US wants Korea to improve its relations with Japan and be more understanding of Japan’s attempts to modernize its military as a non-aggressive action. Economically there are frustrations that Korea is not holding up its part of the bargain on the KORUS trade agreement. For Korea the interest in meeting these expectations is mixed, owing largely to its relationship between to large powers (the US and China). Moreover while improving interoperability with of US-allied partners is critical for a peninsular contingency, bashing Japan has become an ingrained part of domestic politics.

Broadly, the US wants to see its allies build alliance webs, with greater cooperation and leadership stemming from its regional allies. However, Channer concluded, even if the allies are engaged in the right activities, none of it will be worth it if the expectations and capabilities are more correctly communicated between and among the partners.

Hayley Channer is an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra, Australia. She is active in the strategic policy community in Canberra and has previously worked for the Australian Institute of International Affairs and for former Australian Ambassador John McCarthy AO. In 2013 she was a Visiting Scholar at the National Institute for Defence Studies (NIDS) in Tokyo.
Ms. Channer has published numerous policy analyses and presented at international conferences on Japan-ROK defense relations, Australia-Japan security cooperation, the North Korean nuclear weapon program, and US extended nuclear deterrence. She holds an MA in International Studies from the University of Queensland and a BA in International Relations from Bond University.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762