GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Northeast Asian Rivalries in the Gulf and American Primacy
Paper Proposal Text :

The Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia has drawn a skeptical response from allies in the two regions where its impact will be felt most: Northeast Asia and the Middle East. In South Korea and Japan, many increasingly worry that the “pivot” is a largely rhetorical move. The muted United States reaction to North Korea’s provocations and China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims are viewed as evidence of its unwillingness to commit. Meanwhile, Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates view the US as abandoning them at a precarious moment. As sectarian conflict and political instability spreads in the wake of the Arab uprisings, and the threat of a nuclear Iran looms on the horizon, the “rebalance” is being interpreted as signal of surrender.

Yet while US foreign policy may indeed be de-prioritizing the Middle East, at least the Gulf, Northeast Asia’s priorities will increasingly focus on the oil-rich countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). While Northeast Asia’s long-term energy consumption points to a diversification away from coal and oil, overall energy consumption is nonetheless likely to rise in the coming decades. Similarly, while the development of tight oil resources commonly known as the “shale gas revolution” in North America is expected to dramatically reduce US dependence on Gulf oil, it remains uncertain whether Northeast Asian countries will directly benefit from these discoveries. In a future where the US becomes more energy independent and thus has reduced incentives in protecting the Gulf, the role of Northeast Asia’s increasingly powerful, yet energy-poor, countries will become important.

This paper will explore the consequences of this divergence in interests between the US and oil-importing Asian powers. It will examine numerous scenarios that could emerge and their impact on both Asian and Gulf power dynamics. However, it will argue that the US is likely to remain embedded in the Gulf for the long-term future in order to protect South Korean and Japanese energy interests.

For instance, discussions are growing about China’s possible future role as the Gulf’s primary security provider in coming decades. However, this would leave South Korea and Japan vulnerable to Chinese control over their energy supplies. China maintains a very diverse range of oil suppliers and only derives a quarter of its oil from the members of the GCC. In contrast, South Korea and Japan rely on the GCC for 65 and 75 percent of their oil imports, respectively. Both countries are thus likely to pressure the US to act on behalf of their interests in maintaining a security presence in the Gulf and preventing Chinese monopolization of oil supplies.