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International relations

Daniel Twining : Trilateral bloc could defend a fraying liberal order

Japan, Europe and the United States are the leading stakeholders in the liberal international order constructed after 1945 and consolidated after 1989. Together, the allies rebuilt a world ruined by war, defeated Soviet tyranny, sustained great-power peace in Asia, spurred a wave of democratic transitions, and catalyzed a global economic miracle.

But as these nations prepare to gather for the G7 summit in May, that liberal order is now fraying. China's leaders are deploying military force to redraw the strategic map of Asia. Russia's leader, instead of celebrating the liberation of his people from tyranny, sees the collapse of the Soviet system as a tragedy and is working to build a new shadow empire in Eurasia. Western democracies are under pressure at home from forces of nativism, populism, and protectionism that threaten historic gains from globalization.

In response to the steady erosion of the liberal international order, the U.S., Europe and Japan must cooperate more systematically to bolster a system that best protects their people's common interests. The alternative is a more fragmented and contested world, with powers that do not share the allies' core values shaping global politics at their expense. The need for trilateral cooperation among the world's principal market democracies is urgent, both to strengthen the rules-based order and to create a more accommodative international context in which to renew the foundations of governance and growth at home.

The allies should begin by championing the indivisibility of the global security order. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appealed powerfully for an international system governed by rule of law, democracy, and peaceful resolution of conflict. China and Russia spurn such a vision and seek instead to advance revisionist territorial objectives through the threat and use of military force. America is determined to remain both Asia's and Europe's security provider of choice in light of these threats, but it requires the active help, support, and co-leadership of its allies -- including those in Europe that President Barack Obama calls "free-riders."

Western leaders should more expressly support Japan's ambition to serve as a regional security provider in Asia and beyond. Japan is increasing its defense budget and realigning its forces so as to better uphold regional peace. It has revised domestic laws to enable its defense forces to cooperate with allies.

Notwithstanding the recent failure of Tokyo's bid to sell submarines to Australia, Japan is emerging as a military partner to friendly countries like Australia and India, boosting allied capabilities to maintain strategic balance in Asia. It is helping to train and equip maritime forces in Southeast Asia to better police their waters. From an American perspective, more European allies should follow Japan's example -- rather than outsourcing security to Washington, they should actively expand their capability to provide public goods of security and stability.

As this year's G7 chair, Japan will earn more robust support from Atlantic nations for its defense of a rules-based order in Asia if it remains committed to the same principles in Europe. Although Abe aspires to construct a strategic partnership with Russia in northeast Asia, he has nonetheless joined Western allies to impose sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. The pending renewal of sanctions against Russia in 2016, given Moscow's refusal to honor the Minsk cease-fire agreement, will be a test of all the allies' commitment to an international order governed by rules rather than the unilateral use of force, whether in the Donbas or the East China Sea.

Similarly, European leaders could take a stronger stand in favor of international law and peaceful resolution of conflict in Asia. The European Union originally adopted a policy of "principled neutrality" in the face of China's revanchist claims in the East and South China Seas. More recently, the EU has condemned China's territorial revisionism. At the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting in November 2015, European leaders joined Japanese and other counterparts in underlining the importance of "refraining from the use or threat of force, of abstaining from unilateral actions and of resolving maritime disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law."

Deepening solidarity

Given global dangers from great power revanchism, terrorism, and contested commons, it makes sense to institutionalize connectivity between the democratic alliance networks in Europe and Asia. One way to do this is through more robust NATO engagement with global partners including Japan, South Korea, and Australia. These Asian allies put boots on the ground with NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Closer cooperation could involve joint patrols of the global commons in the Indian Ocean that link the Atlantic and Pacific domains; collaboration on missile and cyber threats that cut across regional dividing lines; military training and education programs that transcend regional boundaries; and joint planning for contingencies in Africa and the Middle East.

Abe has appealed to the North Atlantic Council to call for invigorated Japan-NATO cooperation. Tokyo could boost Europe's defenses by joining NATO naval exercises in the Mediterranean or collaborating on Arctic security.

Japan has also tightened bilateral defense relations with the U.K. and France, demonstrating how America's core Atlantic and Pacific partners view the mutual benefits of closer security ties in an era when threats are no longer purely regional in scope. Germany also would be wise to enlarge bilateral ties with Japan, given the growth of a Berlin-Beijing "special relationship" that is founded on close trade and investment ties but which has implications for international security dynamics. A balanced German approach to Asia would include equally strong, if not stronger, ties to democratic governments in Tokyo and other Asian capitals like New Delhi.

A new trilateral alliance spanning the Atlantic and Pacific realms could help offset pressures on the global system, including those created by the projection of Chinese power and influence well beyond East Asia. Japan could deepen ties to Central and Eastern Europe, through which passed the "arc of freedom and prosperity" envisioned by then-Foreign Minister Taro Aso a decade ago. This could be a useful counterpoint to China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative to increase its footprint in the region through infrastructure investments.

Upholding universal values

The U.S., Europe, and Japan can also use their combined moral voice as democracies representing nearly one billion people to jointly challenge the Chinese government to be attentive to its peoples' natural rights. In doing so, they would ally themselves with Chinese citizens who seek greater freedoms, rather than with leaders who come and go. This is particularly urgent in light of the crackdown on free expression and association under President Xi Jinping.

Western and Japanese diplomats are speaking out, as recently reported by Simon Denyer in the Washington Post. In January 2016, the ambassadors to China of the U.S., Japan, Germany, the EU and Canada signed a joint letter expressing unease about China's new counter-terrorism law and punitive draft laws on cybersecurity and non-governmental organizations, arguing that these would "infringe on China's obligation to protect human rights in accordance with international law."

In February, this same group expressed "growing concerns" over China's crackdown on civil society leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, and labor leaders. In March, Japanese, European, and American representatives condemned China's "problematic" and "deteriorating" human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Beijing is bound to take such combined protests from the world's leading powers more seriously than when they are done in isolation -- and to treat Western and Asian democracies with more respect for standing up for their values than for abandoning them.

Part of any strategy to incentivize transparency and accountability inside China is to shape its neighborhood in ways that promote high regional and global standards for democratic development. In that light, the U.S., Europe, and Japan could coordinate more closely to promote free institutions, human rights and the rule of law in transitional states like Myanmar, and engage more systematically with pivotal democracies like Indonesia to support the economic growth that reinforces political freedom.

Economic growth at home is the foundation for effective grand strategy abroad. The U.S., Japan, and Europe are engaged in major trade initiatives that, if enacted, would provide positive growth shocks to their economies. These include the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; and the Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement. Of course, voters - especially in the U.S. - must support candidates who understand the link between domestic growth and international engagement, rather than erecting barriers that make everyone poorer.

Although the relative weight of the U.S., Europe, and Japan has diminished, these three market democracies still generate half of global gross domestic product. Together they enjoy a preponderance of military power and dominate international institutions. They should not underestimate their combined ability to steer the coming era in a direction that continues to benefit their interests and values, while integrating friendly rising powers like India, in ways that channel China's own choice ultimately to join the global liberal order rather than subverting it.

Daniel Twining is director for Asia at the German Marshall Fund and a former member of the U.S. Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff.

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