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Prospects for East Asian security : a Korean perspective

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Lho, Kyongsoo

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Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University
Korean Journal of Policy Studies, Vol.15 No.2, pp. 1-9
East Asia has been at peace for more than a quarter century. For nearly every East Asian country save the most
laggard, this long peace, to borrow John Lewis Gaddis words, has brought about unprecedented economic development and
internal growth. The economic slump brought about the financial crisis of 1978-79 notwithstanding, East Asia continues to
move forward and grow, becoming more intercomected, ever more interdependent, and increasingly more transparent. In the
age of instant telecommunication and the internet, the process of integration and interdependence is likely to accelerate not
slow. Arguably, after nearly a century of bloody conflict, destruction, and lost opportunities, East Asian states have finally
come to appreciate the benefits of cooperation over conflict. It would, of course, be premature to assert that the dangers of
renewed conflict in the region have declined to genuinely tolerable levels. North Koreas capacity to make trouble, the potential
volatility of the China-Taiwan relationship, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, are among the more obvious areas of
concern. Tension in between the United States and China over the introduction of Theater Missile Defense (TMD) is the latest
issue of contention clouding the regional security horizon.
But in spite of these problems, East Asia is a fairly stable place at this juncture. There are no immediate political or military
challenges that threaten to undermine the regions fundamental strategic stability. Nor is there any permanent basis for hostility
amongst the major players in East Asia. The dangerous fires of militant nationalism that inflamed the region in the first half of
the past century, and the antipathetic ideologies that fueled the Cold War for most of the second half, have now receded into
history. In spite of East Asias apparent strategic stability, however, the major regional actors appear to be as preoccupied about
their security as ever. What accounts for this paradox? Are security prospects for the region tmly darkening as we enter this
century? Or does the professed unease instead reflect exaggerated or unfounded fears and suspicions? What ought to be done
in order to maintain strategic equilibrium, promote cooperative behavior on the part of potential rivals, and extend peace in the
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