Signs of tensions in Northeast Asia in the first half of 2013 have been on the rise. With North Korea making more than its usual threatening noises, simmering tensions over disputed islands, and growing signs of virulent nationalisms, many analysts and observers have struck a pessimistic and alarmist tone. It is as if the realist predictions that post-Cold War Asia will eventually devolve into conflict are at last on the verge of coming true (Betts 1994; Friedberg 1994). One cannot open a newspaper, magazine or website without finding articles or op-eds describing unmanageable tensions or predicting a conflict-laden future. One commentary in Time magazine went so far as to compare Northeast Asia to pre-First World War Europe, the very epitome of a region on the verge of a catastrophic explosion (Tharoor 2013). The first section of this chapter presents this orthodox (read, ‘offensive realist’) view of the sub-region. Using the terminology of this volume, realists see ‘security governance’ in Northeast Asia as limited to its most ‘primitive’ form, with nations threatened by multiple targets of security concern, and the mechanism for conflict resolution taking the form of power balancing and impermanent alliances. In this view, the normative framework undergirding relations is basically limited to the ‘rules of war’, and not only is there no common identity to bind the region together, but rather, fervent nationalisms and historical hatreds are likely to drive the region toward conflict.
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