Northeast Asia in an Age of Upheaval
NBR Analysis vol. 6, no. 2

Northeast Asia in an Age of Upheaval

by Robert A. Scalapino and Harry Gelman
August 1, 1995

Protecting long-term U.S. interests in Northeast Asia will require policies that capitalize on the dramatic, structural changes of recent years without losing sight of established relationships that have long been foundations for peace. The end of the Cold War has altered the complexion of the region, injecting new tensions into the United States relations with its long-time allies as well as with China and North Korea. Rapidly changing domestic political and economic conditions throughout East Asia have only served to exacerbate these trends, further magnifying the challenges faced by U.S. leaders to find the wisest path of engagement—one that will protect national interests, maintain alliances, and fortify regional security.

In this issue of NBR Analysis, two authors address the monumental restructuring occurring in Northeast Asia and assess its implications for U.S. policy. Harry Gelman of the RAND Corporation focuses on new challenges to America’s alliances with South Korea and Japan, which have arisen as a result of the disappearance of the Soviet threat and the vastly expanded economic strength of these countries relative to the United States. He dissects the recent increase in regional frictions, including North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, stressing the risks these developments hold for long-term U.S. interests. After demonstrating that America’s relationships with South Korea and Japan should continue to be central components of U.S. strategy in Northeast Asia, Dr. Gelman cautions policymakers against allowing disagreements over trade and relatively minor issues to undermine the essential strategic cooperation.

Robert Scalapino, who is professor emeritus and former director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, interprets the changed domestic and regional realities of today’s Northeast Asia by placing them within the global context of post-Cold War political realignment. Drawing on his vast understanding of the history of the region, Professor Scalapino examines the effects of economic dynamism in the present age of political uncertainty on the international relations of the region. He is hopeful that despite the rise in tensions accompanying the decline of ideological, patron-client-type alliances, economic interdependence and issuespecific multilateralism will keep outright aggression to a minimum. The message to policymakers is that in the present period of rapid change, solid alliances of the sort found during the Cold War will most likely be superseded by alignments characterized by ad hoc problem-solving based on national and regional interests. In Professor Scalapino’s view, economic interdependence is essentially a positive development, but one that will greatly complicate the diplomatic processes necessary to keep the peace in Asia and the world.