TFR 30 – East Asian Security & The Trilateral Countries


Today, for the trilateral countries of North America, Western Europe, and Japan, the security of the East Asian region, including both Northeast and Southeast Asia, is increasingly important, both in its own right and for its connection with global security. The growing Soviet military deployments in the East Asian and Pacific region threaten the security positions of the United States and Japan, with which the countries of Western Europe have crucial ties. China, the most populated developing nation with nuclear capabilities, and Japan, a non-nuclear nation with great economic and technological capabilities, play more important roles in shaping the regional and global order than ever before.

The nations of Northeast and Southeast Asia1 have a combined population of about 1,500 million, nearly one-third of the world's total, and are also economically dynamic. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore have the world's highest rate of economic growth and frequently are referred to as NICS, newly industrialized countries. Other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) follow closely. The economic dynamism of Northeast and Southeast Asia has enhanced political stability and offered attractive economic opportunities for the trilateral countries. But at the same time, countries in the region are competing with the trilateral nations in certain important industrial sectors such as textiles, television sets, shipbuilding, and microcomputers. They threaten the equivalent sectors of the North American., European, and Japanese economies. A shift to protectionism in the trilateral countries could bring to a halt the economic growth of the region and its political benefits. The economic success of East Asia has popularized the concept of "the Pacific Basin Community," raising "the Atlantic versus Pacific" debate. There are fears in some segments of Western Europe that U.S. attention may be diverted from Europe to Asia, thus weakening the trans-Atlantic relationship and affecting trilateral security.

Because most East Asian nations have only limited experience in managing modern governments, they still lack mature political institutions, a situation which is reflected in personalized authoritarian leadership, coups d'etat, and political suppression. The rules of political succession have still to be established or confirmed through practice in most countries in the region. Furthermore, the multi-ethnic character of most societies in Southeast Asia carries the potential for intercommunal tensions, while their cultural heterogeneity generates social divisions such as those between Western-educated secular pragmatists and indigenous religious fundamentalists. These elements of political tension tend to undermine the political stability of the developing countries of East Asia, making them a potentially attractive target for interference by external powers. Political turmoil in the non-Communist parts of the region (as in the Philippines) may weaken the strategic interests of the United States in the region and may affect the political and economic positions of the other trilateral governments. Should such internal political troubles spill over into international regional and global relationships, they could become a focal point of East-West tensions and affect the security of all the trilateral countries.

The growing significance of the East Asian region requires a fresh examination of the questions that the Trilateral Commission countries face today: How does the security of East Asia affect trilateral interests, individually and collectively, and how should the trilateral countries respond to such threats, individually and collectively? What factors are promoting or damaging trilateral security interests? What differences among trilateral policies toward the region are adversely affecting their interests and thus need to be resolved through closer consultation and coordination? There exists a large literature on the interests and roles of the United States and Japan in East Asia, but there are few references to Canadian and Western European interests and involvements, and even fewer discussions of the link between East Asia's security and the common interests of the trilateral countries. Hence this report.

After presenting an overall picture of the security environment of East Asia in Chapter I, the report reviews the postwar transformation of trilateral interests and involvements in the region in Chapter II. Chapter III discusses the current interests of the trilateral nations in East Asia and their perceptions of strategic factors in the region. Next follow three chapters analyzing the new strategic situation in East Asia, elements of regional instability, and the prospects for arms control in the region. The final chapter discusses certain implications of these security issues for security in the trilateral countries and makes recommendations for the trilateral nations concerning their policies toward East Asia.


Masashi Nishihara, Professor of International Relations, National Defense Academy of Japan
John Roper, Editor, International Affairs, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London (Special Advisor)
Donald Zagoria, Professor of Government, Hunter College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (Special Advisor)

Table of Contents

I. The Security Environment of East Asia: An Overall Picture
A. Balance of Power that Favors the Non-Communist Side
B. Geostrategic Importance for the Superpowers
C. A Region of Potential Global Conflicts
D. A Region of Sustained Economic Growth
II. Past Trilateral Involvements in Review
A. More Dissonant Trilateral Involvements, 1945 Through Mid-1970s
B. More Consonant Trilateral Involvements After Mid-1970s
III. Current Trilateral Involvements and Perceptions
A. East Asia in the Global Strategic Balance
B. Regional Security
C. The Economic Potential: "The Pacific Basin"
IV. New Strategic Situations in East Asia
A. Assessing Soviet Politico-Military Achievements
B. Assessing a "New China"
C. New Interactions among the Great Powers
D. Trans-Pacific Security Cooperation
E. Korea
F. Indochina
G. The South China Sea
V. Other Regional Instability Issues
A. Sources of Political Instability
B. The Case of the Philippines
VI. Prospects for Arms Control in East Asia
A. Nuclear Arms Control
B. Conventional Arms Control
C. Confidence-Building Measures: Asian Types
VII. Toward Trilateral Partnership in East Asia
A. Strategic and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces
B. Conventional Balance
C. China
D. Korea
E. Indochina
F. Issues of Political Instability
G. Regional Arms Control
H. "The Pacific Basin Community"
I. Mechanisms for Trilateral Coordination
Trilateral Transactions with East Asia: A Statistical Appendix

  • Topics: Security, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  Trilateral Commission (New York University Press)
  • Publication Date:  © 1985
  • ISBN:  0-8147-5759-6
  • Pages:  111
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