Tensions have subsided on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang withdrew its Musadan missiles from its east-coast launch site earlier this month, and the US and China have turned their attention to more pressing issues.
But the next time North Korea increases tensions, the United States will again look to China to rein in its ally. And Beijing might look for concessions in return, writes IISS’s Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga for the China–US Focus website.
‘China is able to wield North Korea as leverage because the Obama administration has outsourced its North Korea policy to Beijing,’ he argues.
The Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed to accomplish its intended goal of curbing North Korean provocations. Making Pyongyang’s cessation of hostilities a condition for direct US–North Korea contact leaves the United States no choice but to court Beijing for solutions.
It could be time for the United States to approach Pyongyang directly, particularly because Beijing may no longer be interested in bargaining.
‘The US “rebalancing” to Asia has increased Chinese suspicions of US intensions in the region, and thereby reduced Chinese goodwill to cooperate on resolving the North Korea issue, leaving Beijing seeking compensation for cooperation,’ he adds.
‘The United States can decrease the value of North Korea as a Chinese bargaining chip by increasing dialogue with China on US intensions in the region and by reclaiming its North Korea policy through reviving direct talks with the Kim regime.’
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By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security
Although the Shangri-La Dialogue will hold much of the Institute’s – and international – attention over the coming week, the IISS will remain active on other issues.
Yesterday, the IISS’ Bahrain office held the NATO Gulf Strategic Dialogue, bringing together a range of practitioners and academics, and in just under a week the Geo-Economics and Strategy Programme will run a seminar on Oil, Gas and Maritime Security.
The timing of these two sessions is not entirely coincidental. Just last week, the US Navy wrapped up its second annual two-week International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX). Involving participants from 41 different countries, the exercises are essentially a form of deterrent diplomacy.
The increase in US oil and natural gas production could have a dramatic effect on world energy markets, according to Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security at IISS–Asia.
Dr Noel appeared on CNN yesterday to discuss the future of the global oil market, the effect of sanctions against Iran, and new figures released by the International Energy Agency indicating increased oil and gas production in the United States.
‘US unconventional liquid supply is growing by a million barrels a day each year, which has the potential to revive the growth of non-OPEC supplies,’ he explained. The effect on future oil prices however is unclear, and ‘depends on the supply–demand balance, and it is very difficult to know what’s ahead of us’, he said.
‘Demand is growing rapidly in emerging economies: China, India but also Southeast Asia – so you may actually need this rise in unconventional supply, especially if other parts of the supply picture disappoint.’ US and EU sanctions against Iran, for example, might also make this unconventional supply a necessity.
Dr Noel discussed the effect the sanctions might have on the Iranian presidential elections in June. He explained that the latest round of sanctions were ‘working’ – meaning that the situation was getting harder for the Iranian population – but that this would not necessarily mean the public would choose a leader more open to engaging with the West. ‘The risk that I see politically is that a larger and larger share of the population will actually reward a politician tempted by a hardening of the Iranian position, rather than a softening,’ he said.
He also discussed the security impact that a hard-line Iranian position would have on the region, explaining that Iran’s neighbours were worried about the connection between Iran and the crisis in Syria. ‘I think the governments in this part of the world see the future as a very risky one geopolitically,’ he added.
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For more on this topic, watch the IISS’s May 15 panel discussion on the future of the Middle East oil environment, and read the IISS Strategic Comment on the United States’ falling need for foreign oil.
By Giri Rajendran, Research Associate for Defence and Economics
In preparing the latest edition of the Military Balance, launched last week in London and this week in the United States, the IISS team behind the book decided to try an experiment. Since the United States and China are the world’s biggest spenders on defence, and China a distant second, we wanted to see when both countries’ defence spending might converge.
We based our projections on several hypothetical scenarios, including one in which the trend rates of defence-spending growth over the past decade in the US and China were to continue, and another in which Chinese defence-spending growth was constrained by an economic slowdown. (Looking at past examples, particularly the 1980s Latin American debt crisis, we assumed that China’s economy would start booming again by 2031.) The US budget sequester was another variable we had to factor in.