Along with the six-party negotiations on North Korea's nuclear arms, talks have been quietly proceeding on broader political, economic, and security issues in Northeast Asia and a future regional "architecture" that would foster peaceful, constructive relationships into which North Korea would be incorporated. This essay argues for accelerating definition of this new regional framework without waiting for North Korean denuclearization as well as envisioning its structural relationships with ASEAN, APEC, and other Asian regional organizations. Ed.
The tempo of discussion has increased over future political and security architecture for Northeast Asia as nuclear and other issues involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) become more malleable. The recent visit of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Japan, South Korea, and China hopefully will advance this dynamic.
Six-party experts seem to expect greater definition of regionalism for the northeastern tier to be revealed in late 2008 or 2009. Russia has been charged to mother-hen this aspect of the six-party process, and a senior U.S. official is to visit Moscow soon to continue the official conversation on regional architecture. Some Asian regionalists would argue that the effort should be more expansive though not greatly more ambitious and somewhat less tuned to the narrower objectives of DPRK integration and controlling Pyongyang's behavior.
A broader set of guidelines would more accurately reflect the overarching regional opportunities and challenges, as well as anchor NAPSM in the larger Asian context. Such considerations should include:
Getting There From Here
Some deconstruction of the regional interests of Tokyo and Seoul is also relevant. Japan, tentatively recovering from a period of economic stasis, is seeking revivified trade, energy, and financial relationships with ASEAN and bilaterally with its traditional southern partners, Thailand and Indonesia, through new closer economic cooperation agreements. Japan also wants to tie Australia more closely to regional affairs on a trilateral basis with the United States. Broader Northeast Asia regionalism, therefore, should appeal to Tokyo's more expansive view and better position it to manage relations with Russia, the ROK, and, of course China.
With regard to Southeast Asia, some voices have questioned whether a separate Northeast Asian peace and security forum would upstage ASEAN and the ARF. Realists, however, cannot see how the ARF, consensus-driven and remote as it may be, could possibly engage North Korea. Translating the ARF's potential into an effective body to deal concretely with denuclearization, the normalization of relations of the DPRK with six-party participants, and economic harmonization is difficult to imagine. At the same time, clear linkages are needed between the Northeast Asia structures and the institutions having ASEAN at their core.
A Reformulated Vision
Flexibility will be needed to integrate the DPRK and other interests. Therefore the creation of two inter-governmental councils is recommended: a Peace and Security Council (PSC) and an Economic Cooperation Council (ECC). There should be scope in the ECC, in particular, to include representation from specialized ministries as well as diplomats. Canada and Mongolia should be added to the PSC and ECC, while Taiwan (benefiting from the prospect of better cross-Strait relations) and Hong Kong could be added as adjunct members of the ECC. The deliberative nature of these bodies should make this possible.
Annual plenaries of the PSC and EEC should be synchronized with the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Consultations (PMC) and the East Asia and APEC summits. Inter-sessional work could be conducted in a limited number of sub-councils, thus avoiding the APEC disease of spawning a large number of narrow and unsustainable working groups. A small secretariat, perhaps sited in Seoul, would have seconded staff and minimal overhead. One major responsibility of the head of the secretariat would be to manage relations with other Asian and some outside bodies, including the United Nations, European Union, NATO, and the SCO, but the most important of these relationships would be with ASEAN.
United States Backstopping
Into the Future
Advancing consideration of Northeast Asia regional architecture could create an incentive in negotiations with North Korea. If regionalism is moving ahead, then the North has reason to join. But if NAPSM is simply allowed to run its course, without definition of a broader integrative process, then no regional actor most especially China will have a stake in seeing it to fruition.
For the United States, a more purposeful approach would provide serious policy recommendations for action early in the next administration. Broadening regional architecture options, especially to include the key relationship with ASEAN, will create a foundation for consensus-building and underscore the vital stake of the United States in Asia.