Korea X Japan! Team Hyper! Go! Go! Go!

Yesterday Robert Kelley unleashed an interesting post about South Korean and Japanese relations. For the life of him, he could not figure out why two states he felt so similar, just could not come together on a myriad of issues. The root of the problem is that they’re actually different.  I’m not going to get into his realist approach because he may not be too far off there, but that’s the problem with realism and the black box. Perhaps it’s not the best tool(Because of massive generalization) for understanding these two different powers in terms of cooperation. Doing so would leave you with questions like this,

So if states balance power (Waltz), wouldn’t Japan and Korea be cooperating to hedge China, and mildly cooperating to more balance NK?

What’s the point when both states have security guarantees from the United States? South Korea seems more than happy to lean on its agreement with America, while Japan looks much more ambitious as far as security. I think it would be safe to assume that this would help encourage the current level of mistrust between the two. Prospects for partnership never looks good in this scenario.

The Liberalism section, not touching.

The constructivist section, holy cow. Yeah, I have a variety of issues with it — main one being I’m not sure if Robert Kelley misunderstands constructivism or he’s forcing the issue by downplaying their differences. Constructivism isn’t just about cultural similarities, there’s a huge component for identities and practices. What a state is able to and decides to do is based on their identity and norms created through a social framework. South Korea and Japan have different identities and different roles — actors in the international system recognize this and interact accordingly. Some of this has been decided by history, one piece of land has been invaded 100s of times throughout the centuries, the other nation could be considered as imperialists less than 100 years ago. Japan’s role as an imperialist power has led to conquering Korea after decades of Korea being nothing more than oppressed peasantry with low self esteem, and apparently there are Japanese people who think it was for the best. This is a very different view from that of Korea’s and I would imagine it is a contentious one. Still, westerners seem to get lost somewhere in understanding how big a difference it is to be influenced by Confucianism as a hegemon and a subaltern.

Brian Myers argues that this cultural similarity is one the reasons why Japan was able to absorb Korea without too much difficulty.

Could it be because the Koreans are really low-key flexible people? The Gabo reforms were basically extreme acts of cowardice in preparation for welcoming their new Japanese overlords, who just happened to be handing China’s(Korea’s former handler) ass to them.  I guess emasculating men by cutting off their top knots doesn’t provide “too much difficulty”, but this has more to do with Korea’s historical identity as subaltern people than cultural compatibility/similarities. This is a good time to point out Japan treated Korea like absolute shit, and if you actually do care about your identity and transforming it into something that increases your range of acceptable behavior, then maybe being your bullies’ water boy isn’t a good idea. Even if they have been reigned in by a mutual friend. Kelley seems to be oblivious to this, or possibly trolling his Korean students.

The more time I spend in Asia, the more I think Korea, Japan, and China are more culturally similar than they want to admit. (My students bristle at that one a lot.)

And then…

As a rule, I find Koreans worry far more about Japan than China, or even NK (yes, that’s not an exaggeration outside of the foreign policy set), and there is a far amount of paranoia about Japan lurking beneath the surface. I know Japan less well, but Japanese colleagues I know from conferences tell me similar stories about how many Japanese look down on Koreans and secretly think Japanese empire was good for Korea, because it brought modernity.

The constructivist answer to his problem is right in front of his eyes.

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Oil & Transparency

Stopped by Evan Lieberman’s blog and stumbled upon a working paper  by the International Budget Partnership has brought up the question of transparency among extractive industries. His paper holds that there is no link between transparency and mineral/oil wealth in democracies, but there is an issue of transparency within autocracies. In this paper he drops this little nugget of information — In 2009 petroleum counted for fourteen percent of the world’s trade. That’s an extremely large number for the majority of the world to be completely clueless about. In years of record profit we go, “wow, this is proof that oil is bad” if this is the case I think it’s time to know how/why, exactly.

Let’s find some real information to do the talking and the data we have on oil’s causal effect on democracies and autocracies alike may be misleading (Haaber and Menaldo 2011). We need to make claims based on newer, bigger, badder, bolder and nacho cheesier data sets, which I’m sure is on the way(minus some of those adjectives). This information should be the first step in true transparency, in a world where one can feel comfortable about fourteen percent of its trade. Maybe with the correct information we can create policy that adjusts the approach institutions, democratic or not, take with oil. Could transparency in the international trade be the answer to removing the resource curse? I don’t see why it wouldn’t.  Attempts at finding a way around the transparency issue are already starting to surface (Gelb and Mejerowicz 2011), but I would consider the suggestion in that paper to be nothing more than an unfeasible pipe dream. It still serves as a good example of people trying to find a solution to the problem.

Thinking off the top of my head would be increasing the barriers of entry when it comes to trading resources. Why wait until gross human rights abuse to start sanctioning the oil trade of an autocracy? A high standard of accountability and transparency should be the norms before you toss your barrels out to sea, before the firms that are private or state use their technology to begin extraction on foreign soil or offshore. Are we really so needy for the black stuff at a time where we are definitely not at peak oil, and we are getting more and more use out of extraction sites than ever before? Raising the barriers of entry, and making transparency the norm would make newly resource rich nations like Uganda and Angola think twice about corruption. Chances are, until they get their operation off the ground, they are more likely to need and accept conditional loans (that call for certain freedoms, and developmental goals, blah blah). In the event a state meets all of its requirements to enter the market, the increased capital is a very nice incentive to remain transparent, at least in the oil trade. The international community should be more than capable of enforcement, as developing nations often lack the technological prowess to make continued oil exploration and extraction an economical decision – assistance is often needed to turn a profit.

Just something to think about, and just because I’m blogging it, doesn’t mean I speak with certainty. This blog needs/is many an exercise in throat clearing. Note that I haven’t exactly said what these barriers of entry would be. The reason why is because I have no earthly idea.

Not Quite Yet

Kill all the “peak oil” talk, and hopefully the idea of even more painful prices at the pump. According to the Belfer Center’s Geopolitics of Energy Project, we still have a little wiggle room left with recent findings. I’m already familiar with the massive deposits Brazil found — the way they’ve handle the foreign direct investment in these oil projects has me feeling more optimistic about their growth than any country not named China or India. Angola and a couple of other African countries have managed to stumble upon a couple of fields as well. I always wondered what type of lifespan we’re looking at in these new-found oil black gold mines and it looks like the project just might have the answer and them some. From the research update,

1) field-by-field analysis of all projects underway in the most relevant countries in terms of production growth to 2020; 2) oil depletion rates, as calculated by several, influential sources; 3) the oil price-level and the other most relevant factors (geopolitics, political decisions, etc.) that may affect production growth in this decade. Moreover, a special, detailed focus is devoted to assess the geological, economic, and technical realities which support the development of U.S. shale oil, that may represent the biggest new oil frontier in many decades and a real “paradigm-changer”. The results of this research will later be analyzed in terms of potential impact on the oil market, oil geopolitics, other energy sources, and environmental/climate change public policies

Sounds good to me. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for this.