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Preventing Crises Contingent to Regime Transitions:
The Cases of China and North Korea

Yasuhiro Takeda

Associate Professor
National Defense Academy

 

The security environment after the end of the cold war has been characterized by an increase in internal conflicts. The majority of future international crises in Asia will also arise from instability within states in the process of regime transition. Especially, traces of the transition process in China and North Korea will have serious impacts on regional security. This paper discusses how to prevent these internal conflicts from escalating beyond borders while creating and sustaining momentum toward democracy.

The paper first introduces a theoretical frame of reference in which to analyze the causal mechanisms that regime transitions tend to associate with either an increased chance of war or with a massive flow of refugees. The modality of regime divisions and the nature of domestic crises are determinant factors in predicting two types of international security problems.

Next the current political realities and possible future scenarios of China and North Korea are examined. The point is that two scenarios—military adventure and regime breakup—are unlikely to happen simultaneously. A vertical division within the Chinese ruling block facing crises of obsolescence will give the party leadership an incentive for the diversionary use of external force. A horizontal division between the ruling elite and the military in North Korea, given the current crises of effectiveness, will bring on regime collapse followed by an exodus of refugees.

Third, as possible prescriptions for preventing crises stemming from regime transitions, military means, technical assistance for party building and military training, and political use of economic means are addressed. The preventive policy toward China calls for maximum deterrence combined with various military exchange programs for promoting military professionalism and democratic norms. A nuanced mix of economic sanctions and inducements should be used only after reformers establish certain power positions in the regime. Minimum deterrence combined with economic inducements conditioned on the introduction of political liberalization would be effective for North Korea.