Axis Of War: The Japan-Korea-US Alliance

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

Peter Kuzinick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, has described the US as “the most war-making country” in the world. Case in point is the newly-minted Japan-US-Korea alliance (JAKUS), which is being lauded as a historic step toward peace and stability by the Biden administration, but in fact fuels the rising danger of war in the Asia-Pacific as part of Washington’s relentless quest for a US-led unipolar world.

On August 18, the first Japan-Korea-US (JAKUS) trilateral summit took place at Camp David amid the deployment of US nuclear assets to the Korean Peninsula, with the ostensible pretext of “enhancing deterrence and cooperation” against North Korea and China. President Biden has stated that such trilateral meetings will take place, “not just this year, not just next year, forever,” virtually guaranteeing that the 80,000 US troops garrisoned in Japan and South Korea will remain there as the permanent spearhead of a future regional war.

The US has long sought to formalize such a trilateral alliance against China, with more than 13 trilateral meetings held since 1994 in an ongoing attempt to seal the deal. Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”, which began the escalation against China, was succeeded by Trump’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. Biden rebranded his version as the “US Indo-Pacific Strategy,” intensifying the pressure on South Korea to join Washington’s anti-China bloc, broadening the scope of regional war games to include US nuclear assets, and finally culminating in the Camp David Trilateral summit. The JAKUS is part of the manufacture of consent for the buildup to war in the Asia Pacific.

The axis’s 4 takeaways merit particular attention.

First, the trilateral alliance formalizes regular war games, enhances military intelligence-sharing and advanced missile network integration specifically targeting China, introduces a collective security framework through the so-called “commitment to consult,” and creates an anti-China economic bloc. Clearly, these measures are not defensive, but amount to the creation of a “mini-NATO” in East Asia in preparation for war against China.

Second, the axis fuels Japan’s remilitarization. For years, Japan–a “failed peace state” actively girding for war under a so-called pacifist constitution–has used the North Korean threat as cover for a rearmament program targeting China. Prime Minister Kishida announced that Japan will double military spending within the next 5 years and develop “counterstrike measures”–a euphemism for pre-emptive strike capabilities–in direct contravention its constitution. Japan has already purchased US-made missile systems capable of targeting the Chinese mainland, and deploys its warships far beyond Japanese maritime zones. In effect, Biden’s axis fuels Japan’s long-simmering imperial ambitions by intertwining them with Washington’s hegemonic quest at the cost of placing Japan–propped up by South Korea–in the front lines of a brewing US-led war against China.

Third, the trilateral alliance is made possible by Biden’s steadfast backing of unpopular leaders in Japan and Korea whose extreme far-right ideology is based on egregious revisionism that whitewashes Japan’s historical war crimes and tramples the rights of victims of Japan’s brutal 35-year colonization of Korea. Japan’s crimes against humanity, its sexual enslavement of 200,000 mostly underage Korean girls (“comfort women”), and forced conscription of 150,000 Korean laborers have all been swept under the rug. South Korea’s deeply unpopular far-right president Yoon Suk-yeol, whose anachronistic McCarthy-era anticommunism fuels his eagerness to serve as the linchpin of Biden’s Cold War, has done his best to whitewash Japan’s historical crimes in Korea in order to facilitate Washington’s tripartite pact. Against considerable domestic backlash, Yoon nullified the 2018 South Korean Supreme Court ruling holding Japanese firms liable for conscription of forced labor during the occupation of Korea and normalized the US-brokered  General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which calls for the bilateral exchange of sensitive military information between South Korea and Japan. Former president Moon Jae-in nearly canceled the GSOMIA in November 2019, after Tokyo imposed retaliatory trade sanctions on South Korea following the Supreme Court rulings on wartime forced labor. Meanwhile, Kishida, doubling down on his uncompromising allegiance to the far-right faction of the LDP, has led the rehabilitation and resurrection of Japan’s brutal militarism. To drive home the point, just three days before the JAKUS summit, Kishida made a ritual offering to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honors convicted war criminals such as wartime Prime Minister Tojo, who was executed for crimes against peace. The blatant historical denialism of Biden’s Axis of War renders Washington’s vision for the future of Northeast Asia morally and politically untenable.

Fourth and most seriously for South Korea, the trilateral alliance subordinates it to the US-Japan diad, trampling its sovereignty and forcing it into the front lines of any US-led war in Asia. Tim Shorrock points out that Biden’s “Asia Czar,” Kurt Campbell, “sees Japan and its right-wing ruling Liberal Democratic Party as the linchpin of the US alliance system in the Asia region,”  and views South Korea as a subordinate partner to the US and Japan. Likewise, Noam Chomsky observes that “South Korea [is] enlisted by being occupied by the United States,” serving as a permanent US military base while Washington maintains carte blanche to deploy South Korean personnel against China or any other US-designated “threats” in the region. General Kim Byung-joo, former Combined Forces Command Deputy Commander and current member of the South Korean National Assembly, warns that the trilateral alliance destroys South Korea’s hard-won diplomatic framework of balanced diplomacy and opens a Pandora’s box of historically proven dangers.

The JAKUS fits all too well with Japan’s proven history of repeatedly invading Korea in order to secure mainland bridgeheads against other enemies. As in the past, by virtue of its geography, the Korean Peninsula remains Japan’s stepping stone and gateway to the continent. With the US military already firmly entrenched in South Korea, Japan is virtually guaranteed to use a “security crisis” on the Korean Peninsula as a pretext to dispatch and even base troops on South Korean soil in furtherance of its renewed imperial ambitions, handily facilitated by the US. Step by step, the US has been clearing the path for the Japanese military to once again operate on Korean soil. Apart from providing doctrinal cover for the deployment of Japanese forces to South Korean soil, the US has significantly evolved the nature of Japanese involvement in joint military exercises with South Korea. Unlike the past US-led joint naval exercises conducted in international waters, the latest maneuvers involve the operation of Japanese ground, sea and air forces in a consolidated rehearsal for the entry of the Japanese military into the Korean Peninsula. Mindful of the catastrophic consequences of forcing Korea down a proven and disastrous historical path, Kim considers Japan’s involvement in a crisis on the Korean Peninsula as the biggest single risk of Biden’s JAKUS, likening it to “letting a tiger into your own living room.” Thus, the alliance ushers in a bleakly high-risk, no-gain scenario for South Korean security and sovereignty by subordinating the nation’s interests to those of Washington and Tokyo, subsuming it in the intensifying power struggle between the US and China on the one hand and Japan’s resurgent militarism on the other.

But Washington’s quest for global hegemony does not place only Korea, nor indeed just the Asia Pacific at risk. Noam Chomsky has stated that “war with China would mean the end of humanity,” as such a confrontation would carry the chilling and very real risk of spiraling into all-consuming nuclear world war. Global solidarity is needed more than ever to hold the Biden administration accountable and to prevent the inevitable outcome of its dangerous policy of brinkmanship in the Asia Pacific.