The Korea Herald


[Wang Son-taek] 'Lattice-like architecture' to manage alliances

By Korea Herald

Published : May 2, 2024 - 05:34

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Mr. Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, introduced the concept of "lattice-like architecture," which can be a new US alliance management system in the Indo-Pacific region, replacing the current "hub-and-spokes" system. Emanuel explained that the new system will help allies in the Indo-Pacific area work together and increase collective deterrence to counter China's coercive and aggressive behavior. The concept metaphorically describes several small-size cooperation groups, including the Korea-US-Japan trilateral cooperation, the US-Japan-Philippines trilateral cooperation, the AUKUS with Japan, and the Quad.

Though Ambassador Emanuel stressed the positive aspects of the concept, it should be carefully reviewed as it might cause problems in the future. It is also necessary to analyze the idea from the perspective of Korea, where alliance with the United States is the backbone of security.

Firstly, we need to see whether the term "lattice-like architecture" is appropriate for this situation. There should be patterns of triangles, squares, or diamonds among the allies of the US. However, the reality is that there are many mini-lateral cooperation groups that differ only in their third or fourth member, while the United States and Japan exist as constants. This is not a lattice-like structure but an extended form of the "hub-and-spokes" system.

In international politics, a lattice-type architecture may refer to a structure in which elements participating in a repeating pattern are interconnected in equal relationships. It does not require a separate central hub or axes. The concept might be attractive to general members, but it is not lucrative for a hegemon like the US.

Second, the US government needs to worry about whether other countries in the Indo-Pacific region will respond favorably to the new arrangement, in which Japan is a constant member if not a forward axis. As a country that waged war in the past, Japan has not sincerely apologized to the countries it victimized and has shown an acceptable attitude toward preventing the recurrence of similar incidents. It is not easy to predict that there will be a positive future for a multinational cooperation institution initiated by such a country.

In the case of South Korea, there is still strong negative sentiment toward Japan, so a structure under Japanese command is unlikely to be welcomed.

Third, it is crucial to examine whether the US anticipation that the new lattice-like structure will help keep or isolate China is accurate. The fact that the two camps antagonized each other during the Cold War originated from a rational response to the changing times. However, after the Cold War ended and the US-led unipolar system was established, the possibility of the resurrection of the Cold War was almost zero.

Many people perceive China as a hostile country that replaced the Soviet Union. However, China has benefited the most from the international order under the United States since the end of the Cold War. If the latticework is used as a means to isolate China, countries in the Indo-Pacific region will suffer from being forced to choose between the United States and China, and the future prospects of the new system will be dim.

If the United States adopts the latticework structure as a new alliance management system, efforts should be made to resolve some of the abovementioned problems. First, we must create a structure that matches the name "lattice." It is necessary to allow and facilitate the creation of a trilateral or quadrilateral collaboration without the United States. Trilateral collaboration between Korea, China and Japan is one example.

Would a regional collaboration without the United States benefit the United States? Yes, it will, because the allies and friends of the US, including Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, will talk with China based on the principles of liberalism and democracy, which secures US leadership as a hegemon. Such collaboration could help correct China's attitude, maintain US hegemony over the long term, and ensure peace and prosperity in the global community.

Second, if Japan should play an essential role as an agent of the US in managing the alliance, it should take measures to earn the trust of its neighbors. For Japanese officials and politicians to pay tribute at the Yasukuni shrine is a severe provocation, peeving people in neighboring countries. Japan's unreasonable claim of sovereignty over neighboring territories and concealing its description of imperialist atrocities in its textbooks indicate that it does not want to distance itself from its imperialist legacies.

These things should be stemmed. Japan should recognize the human rights abuses of its imperialist era, such as military sexual slavery and forced labor, and take measures to prevent the recurrence of such crimes. Japan will never achieve the legitimacy to become a forward axis for a lattice-like architecture as long as it tries to evade these issues.

Finally, trying to get China to change its attitude is anachronistic. We need to find a new way to adapt to the current situation. The answer is an engagement, not containment. China is a fundamentally different country from the Soviet Union in that it adopted some aspects of capitalism. China's political authoritarian leadership is a problem, but it is up to the Chinese people to change that. China's national development will likely stagnate within a few years unless it escapes from authoritarianism at this stage of its national development. It would be better to assess whether China's economic structure is faithful to the principles of the market economy and capitalism, rather than pursue a containment policy.

So, if the label of "core partner" is modified and the direction of this new approach is shifted a little bit, the lattice-like architecture can become a new alliance management system beneficial for everybody in the Indo-Pacific region.

Wang Son-taek

Wang Son-taek is an adjunct professor at Sogang University. He is a former diplomatic correspondent at YTN and a former research associate at Yeosijae. The views expressed here are the writer’s own. -- Ed.