Abstract Why might bilateral antagonism prove resilient to incentives for improvement from multilateral cooperation with shared third parties? Prominent theories predict that two actors with a record of cooperation in multilateral contexts would cooperate bilaterally as well; multilateralism is generally thought harder than bilateralism and provides opportunities for exposure and socialization that can facilitate preference convergence. This article presents Japan–South Korea relations as a deviant case for such expectations in the cooperation literature. Rather than think of multilateral cooperative contexts as “bridges” that facilitate closer, positive relations between actors, this case shows that multilateralism can instead be a “buffer” between two actors with negatively valenced ties, mediating bilateral friction sufficient to facilitate functional cooperation while insulating antagonistic national discourses or bilateral policies from pressures for change. In the case of Japan–South Korea relations, a pattern of simultaneous cooperation (with shared third parties) and friction (in bilateral interactions) over the same period illustrates a potential buffering logic of multilateralism; the multiparty context diffuses accountability for cooperative behavior that might otherwise generate domestic audience costs and allows policy elites to frame cooperation in a way that downplays or ignores the other. audience costs, multilateralism, Asia Introduction How can two states cooperate within the context of multilateral arrangements even when their bilateral relationship is fraught with political discord?1 And why would regularized cooperation in multilateral settings fail to improve the quality of an antagonistic bilateral relationship? As liberal, market-oriented economies, consolidated democracies, and treaty allies of the United States, Japan and South Korea exhibit just such characteristics. They share many attributes that we associate with relational harmony, yet theirs is a relationship famously devoid of trust; diplomatic friction is a recurring phenomenon, and basic forms of bilateral cooperation remain elusive. This defies intuitive expectations, as well as those of several theoretical traditions. How should we understand such seeming contradictions? Rather than thinking of multilateralism as a bridge that brings actors toward greater alignment, common preferences, and shared images, this article proposes that it can instead buffer relations of negatively valenced dyads, permitting two unfriendly actors to cooperate without requiring meaningful adjustments to the bilateral relationship. More established approaches to international relations, to the extent they weigh in on the question at all, expect two states that cooperate with one another in the presence of third parties would also cooperate with one another bilaterally. Yet, Japan–South Korea relations prove a deviant case, which is best explained by understanding multilateralism not as a relational salve or a means of triadic closure, but rather as a way for mutually antagonistic actors to cooperate on the cheap—that is, more easily pursue instrumental cooperation with one another that might not be politically feasible on a bilateral basis. This article advances what it describes as a logic of buffering to explain why and how two actors sharing negative ties to one another would nevertheless pursue positive cooperation together with shared third parties. Contrary to popular expectations, it argues that hostile dyads may be able to cooperate in multilateral settings more easily than they can bilaterally because multilateralism diffuses accountability for cooperation with the antagonistic party. If two actors have antagonistic bilateral relations, then we expect that domestic audience costs on leaders—especially on issues of high politics—would inhibit cooperation. But, “multilateralizing” the negative bilateral relationship allows leaders to pursue cooperation without incurring such costs, in part because it allows them to eschew the role of the antagonist. When leaders opt into multilateralism for these reasons, multilateral mechanisms of cost reduction, socialization, or persuasion are far less likely to have a softening or converging impact on national images and discourses. In the Japan-Korea case, incompatible national discourses reify a baseline of bilateral friction between them. Each country nevertheless pursues regular cooperation with the other in multilateral contexts. The seeming contradiction of simultaneous cooperation and friction without reconciliation is possible and sustainable if multilateralism serves as a cooperation buffer between antagonistic actors; absent from the bilateral and multilateral contexts is any attempt at building trust, permitting vulnerabilities, or conveying the politically courageous signals that would normally accompany transformative forms of cooperation. This explanation thus highlights the why (diffuse accountability) and how (enhanced narrative control) that support a buffering theory of multilateralism while implying important scope conditions on functionalist, rationalist, and even some sociological views of cooperation as spawning still more and deeper cooperation. It builds on existing understandings (Cha 1999; Lind 2008) of variations in bilateral friction over time by taking a broader, more relationally embedded view of the relationship. To show the plausibility of a buffering logic of multilateralism, this article examines three types of regional networks to which Japan and South Korea both share ties: with China, with the United States, and with Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) members. Despite positive and regular cooperation within all three sets of multilateral ties, Japan-Korea relations have remained mostly antagonistic at the bilateral level during the same period of observation. This pattern fits expectations of multilateralism not as a bridge or basis for convergences, but rather as a buffer between mutually antagonistic parties; multilateral mechanisms of convergence, even when present, are inadequate to temper the deeper and more politically salient identity clash between Japan and South Korea. We should not read their shared cooperation in multilateral contexts as evidence of convergent preferences or national images coming more into alignment. On the contrary, such multilateralism is best interpreted as allowing leaders to pursue instrumental cooperation that political circumstances would otherwise not easily accommodate if pursued bilaterally. Multilateralism offers this advantage because it diffuses accountability and allows procooperation leaders to influence favorably how the countries frame cooperation domestically. In an age often caricatured by the purportedly homogenizing effects of globalization and the unprecedented importance of low politics in international relations, the Japan-Korea case suggests a different and soberer way of looking at multilateralism. Evidence (of multilateralism) that we might traditionally associate with expectations of convergence and integration may, in some circumstances, be better seen as a buffer that accentuates, rather than collapses, identity boundaries, permitting mutually antagonistic actors to pursue limited forms of cooperation in ways that avoid the political costs of such cooperation, but also insulate policies and discourses that reify bilateral friction from pressures for more positive change. Problematizing Paradoxical Relations As liberal democracies, Japan and South Korea both embrace popular elections, individual rights, and minority protections. Comparativists and international relations theorists see shared regime type as a basis for cooperative relations, and they believe shared liberal values in particular engender peaceful behavior toward others who share such values (Russett 1993; Owen 1994; Doyle 1986). Japan and South Korea are also highly interconnected at the substate level, sharing both popular and traditional cultural influences that include extensive people-to-people ties (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008), and their economies are bound together by high amounts of trade and direct investment (Borrus, Ernst and Haggard 2003; Kawai 2005).2 Such economic interdependence and cultural commonality is supposed to incentivize peaceful relations (Kupchan 2010, 60–66). And, perhaps most compelling, Japan and South Korea share a great power patron as ally—the United States. The network analysis literature has identified shared third-party ties as a favorable condition for catalyzing cooperative ties between otherwise socially distant actors (Watts 1999; Maoz 2012; Kinne 2013). The aforementioned conditions all suggest that Japan and South Korea should get along rather well compared to other states with whom they lack such shared attributes and interconnections. Yet the two neighbors harbor distrust toward one another, and political relations are often tense and recriminatory, but why is this case? Historians and area studies scholars explain the baseline of friction in Japan-Korea relations as rooted in contradictory national narratives. In South Korea, Japan was an “illegal” and oppressive colonizer that not only deprived the Korean people of their independence, but that attempted to deprive them of a national identity as well (Dudden 2008, 63). In Japan, however, pre–World War II history remains contested, especially by reactionary political elites, and is not central to how Japan conducts its relations with neighbors. While Japan has offered apologies for the misdeeds of its colonial legacy, Japanese society widely views itself as a major victim of World War II, and right-leaning Japanese politicians have, on occasion, suggested that Korea actually benefited from Japanese colonialism in various ways (Dudden 2008, 40–42, 46–47; Glosserman and Snyder 2015, 30–32). Japan’s memory of the World War II era recognizes imperial misdeeds, but also places great emphasis on alternative narratives—that it is the only country to have ever suffered a nuclear attack and that Japan’s people were the victims of a small number of military elites who took control of the country and perpetrated heinous acts. At the extreme fringe of Japanese politics, some even believe that the Japanese empire was and still should be a source of national pride (Lind 2008). These national discourses, of course, are very much at odds with one another and have been shown to be a foundational source of enduring antagonism (Lind 2008; He 2009; Jackson 2011). Yet, Japan-Korea relations are not consistently poor over time, instead varying between antagonism and cooperation. Offering a strategic rationale to account for the variation, Cha (1999) introduced a concept he terms quasi-alliance theory, expecting cooperation to occur when both Japan and South Korea fear US abandonment; antagonism prevails when one or both states find US alliance commitments credible. But, there is a missing dimension in all the treatments of Japan-Korea relations. Each analysis overlooks the possibility that cooperative or antagonistic outcomes can vary not just temporally, but spatially—contextualized as part of or separate from relational networks of which both states are a part. Theorizing Dyadic Cooperation in Third-Party Contexts Beyond studies specific to Japan-Korea relations, the international relations literature offers a number of perspectives whose claims bear on the general phenomenon in question—how cooperation with a shared third party affects the relationship between two parties. Rational theories of economic interdependence, constructivist theories drawing on a logic of normative convergence, and theories derived from the network analysis literature drawing on a logic of homophily all posit how repeating cooperative interactions in one context should impact interactions between the same parties in another. The problem is that, implicitly or explicitly, each of these perspectives effectively take dyadic cooperation for granted when the parties already cooperate with one another in extradyadic (that is, with common third parties) contexts. Whereas these theories all expect actors to move toward greater attributional homogeneity—that is, a growing convergence of either interests, identities, or both—due to the greater third-party interactions between the two, Japan-Korea relations display a bifurcated pattern of antagonistic bilateral ties but simultaneously cooperative ties to multiple shared third parties (discussed below). In this way, the case of Japan-Korea relations presents traditional theoretical perspectives on cooperation a simple hoop test that they fail to pass (Mahoney 2012). I discuss and summarize each of these theories in the Table 1 below. Table 1. Theoretical approaches to the dyadic effects of cooperation with shared third-party ties Theory Logic Mechanism(s) Expected Dyadic Outcome Theoretical Tradition Economic interdependence Cost avoidance/utility maximization Transparency/interest group pressure: iterative transactions reduce friction incentives/domestic constituency pressure for peaceful relations Cooperation Neoliberalism Norm convergence Conformity Socialization: interaction breeds common practices/norms Cooperation Constructivism Triadic closure Homophily Network externalities: interaction validates further cooperation Cooperation Social network theory Theory Logic Mechanism(s) Expected Dyadic Outcome Theoretical Tradition Economic interdependence Cost avoidance/utility maximization Transparency/interest group pressure: iterative transactions reduce friction incentives/domestic constituency pressure for peaceful relations Cooperation Neoliberalism Norm convergence Conformity Socialization: interaction breeds common practices/norms Cooperation Constructivism Triadic closure Homophily Network externalities: interaction validates further cooperation Cooperation Social network theory View Large As part of a broader neoliberal paradigm, theories of economic interdependence expect states with robust economic ties to cooperate for the instrumental promise of positive sum gains, minimized transaction costs, and mitigated economic risks of political friction. Of the numerous mechanisms hypothesized to explain how interdependence calculations encourage cooperation, two stand out as most defensible and relevant to the current inquiry. One is transparency or learning through iterative transactions; business relations create more connections across governments and societies, increasing exposure to better information, which in turn improves understanding and reduces propensities for friction (Doyle 1986). The other is interest group pressures on political leaders; firms and individuals whose livelihoods rely on foreign economic relationships will pressure leaders to get along amicably with trading partner nations (Mansfield and Pollins 2001; Kirshner 2007). Both mechanisms render cooperative relations between economically interdependent nations easier, less risky, and with greater upside potential than friction. Interdependence theorists are not usually explicit about expected outcomes of dyadic cooperation when two parties share third-party cooperative ties—except when third parties are defined as intergovernmental organizations (Boehmer, Gartzke, and Nordstrom 2004)—but such an expectation is inherent in interdependence theory whether “third parties” are understood as relations, regimes, or institutions. Under specified prevailing conditions, theories of interdependence predict cooperation, often without drawing a bilateral/multilateral distinction. Interdependence theorists further make claims of cooperative outcomes, not friction outcomes or hybrid outcomes that exhibit cooperation and friction between the same actors simultaneously. Even relaxing the narrow construal of interdependence from economic to a general state of complex interdependence, which more explicitly acknowledges social and governmental ties between states that often accompany economic ties, the logic is basically the same—iterative learning and dense interconnectivity incentivize future cooperation because of the potential for positive sum gains derived from lower transaction costs (Keohane and Nye 1977). Insights from a cross-section of constructivist research suggest a different rationale and explanatory mechanism, but nonetheless presume a cooperative dyad when both parties cooperate in third-party settings. Dyadic cooperation through this lens is an expected byproduct of normative convergence through socialization with third parties (Atkinson 2006). Johnston (2007), among others, has argued that Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN)’s norms of consensus and noninterference have had a socializing effect on China, which first emulated and eventually came to embody these norms. As states interact with one another in third-party contexts, they seek to mimic, adapt to, or adopt the preferences of others. Common standards for interaction (regulative norms) emerge from repeated dyadic and extradyadic interaction, which increases incentives for subsequent cooperation, and eventually comes to constitute converging identities and common preferences (Weber 1994; Ruggie 1998, 132; Barnett and Finnemore 2004). In these theories, socialization typically produces cooperation as an implied outcome from mutual identification and shared norms. Causes of conflict must be grounded in identifying differences between oneself and another, implying that a convergence of identity—that is, a move away from self/other distinctions—makes cooperation more likely because of increased trust and easier collective mobilization (Wendt 1994). A third theoretical approach comes from the network analysis literature, explaining dyadic interactions in the presence of cooperation with third parties as tending toward what it describes as triadic closure (Kinne 2013). In triadic closure theory, a distant or negative bilateral tie becomes a close or cooperative one when each party has a third-party tie it shares in common with the other. The logic is one of homophily; actors with shared salient identity categories tend toward cooperation with one another (“birds of a feather flock together” logic) (Kossinets and Watts 2006, 88; Kinne 2013; Kim and Hanneman 2014). The primary mechanism by which homophily generates greater dyadic cooperation is network externality. Shared third-party ties “materially deteriorate” the “status quo relationship, pressuring them to cooperate with one another directly due to an increasing gap in gains” (Kinne 2013, 771). Reinforcing this expectation, when two states share a third-party cooperative tie in common, it has a validating effect on dyadic cooperation, serving as a statement of reputability; it sends a signal that trust is less likely to be violated, conveying that, in effect, a friend of my friend is more likely to be a friend of mine too (Hafner-Burton and Montgomery 2006; Kim and Hanneman 2014). Third-party ties are thus seen as a way of overcoming the trust and reliability barriers that prevent comity (Kydd 2005). As a general proposition, then, triadic closure theory suggests that a dyad characterized as hostile or distant is more likely to become closer or more cooperative in the presence of a shared third-party relationship. But crucially, the application of triadic closure theory to international relations portrays contemporary Japan-Korea relations with the United States as a case that illustrates how homophily and third-party ties lead to triadic closure (Kinne 2013, 769–71). As I discuss more below, this is simply not empirically accurate. Multilateralism as a Buffer A broad assumption found even in the most optimistic literature on multilateralism and institutionalism is that multilateral cooperation is not easy—and certainly not easier than bilateralism (Ruggie 1993; Keohane and Martin 1995). Increasing the number of stakeholders increases the complexity of the transaction and may reduce the spread of the potential “win set” across all parties (Putnam 1988; Miers and Morgan 2002). Cha (2016) builds on this reasoning to explain why the United States opted for a system of bilateral alliances in Cold War Asia rather than a regional security institution. Yet the very empirical puzzle this article addresses challenges the notion that bilateralism is easier than and preferable to multilateralism. Even if true ex ante, such conventional wisdom does not as readily hold in cases of negatively valenced dyads, wherein two nonadversarial states nevertheless sustain long-running antagonism toward one another. This article’s basic contention is that bifurcated patterns of simultaneous bilateral friction and multilateral cooperation involving the same two parties can endure without transforming the bilateral relationship because, in such situations, the third-party context facilitates cooperation on the cheap, by empowering leaders with greater narrative control about the cooperation that occurs. The cooperation literature discussed above does not envisage this possibility. A logic that accounts for why and how multilateralism buffers cooperation—enabling the resilience of antagonism between two states despite cooperation with shared third parties—draws on insights from rationalist (audience cost) and sociological/critical (narrative and framing) theories. Avoiding Audience Costs Following Fearon (1994), audience costs are broadly understood as observer-imposed consequences on leaders for violating commitments or taking actions that are deemed undesirable. When a leader makes a threat against an adversary and then does not follow through, for example, experimental evidence (and logical assumption) suggests voters will punish the leader (Schultz 2001; Gelpi and Griesdorf 2001; Croco 2011). Fearon (1994) focused on how the existence of domestic audience costs made the threats of leaders who escalate a crisis more credible—because they would be punished at home for escalating a crisis and then backing down. But the explanatory utility of audience costs is much broader than Fearon’s conception; some version of an audience cost causal mechanism or assumption is built into a wide range of theoretical models involving everything from international cooperation to financial transactions, and from casualty avoidance in war to alliance politics (Schultz and Weingast 2003; Lohmann 2003; Valentino, Huth, and Croco 2010; Gaubatz 1996). In situations involving long-running national antagonism between two states, we can assume that the domestic audiences of each state broadly support their politicians taking an antagonistic approach to the other because the mutual national hostility has endured over a significant period of time.3 Politicians would only continuously carry out policies and practices that generate ongoing friction toward a neighbor if they have incentive to do so, and that incentive—especially in democratic regimes (Slantchev 2006; Valentino, Huth and Croco 2010)—must be compatible with, if not directly driven by, the will of the people. Therefore, absent an exogenous intervention, the leaders of any negatively valenced dyad face domestic incentives to either perpetuate dyadic friction or at least not dramatically leaven it. Even leaders interested in transforming their bilateral relationship from enmity to amity may be constrained by the politics of exploiting (or at least not wishing to undermine) popular preferences in favor of enduring antagonism. We can understand these constraints as a particular form of domestic audience costs on leadership decision-making. When leaders are faced with such circumstances—a negatively valenced dyad in which their nation’s public opinion favors sustaining a negative valence—domestic audience costs incentivize eschewing commitments (toward the other party) altogether. Yet, leaders are not simply the agents of domestic audience demands; they are also the arbiters of numerous sets of foreign relations whose behavioral incentives may pull in a different direction. Leaders may view international cooperation as functionally useful, or even necessary, for their state’s interests even if the domestic politics of their foreign relations might make doing so costly. Since the (domestic audience) costs of bilateral cooperation within a negatively valenced dyad are likely to be high, multilateral cooperation may be relatively easier—less costly—to pursue despite its complexities. Specifically, by having cooperation with an antagonist take place primarily or solely in conjunction with shared third parties, leaders are able to water down4 potential backlash for cooperation that might otherwise cost them politically if it took place on a bilateral basis; leaders can minimize audience costs because cooperation is occurring as part of a larger group with little, if any, discernable bilateral cooperation in isolation. Controlling the Narrative Politicians battle over control of narrative frames because how we view a thing, and the symbols we assign to it, shapes decision and action in the social and political world; narrative control is power (Foucault 1984; Gramsci 1992). The content and degree of contestation over narrative frames in foreign policy have been shown to exercise tremendous influence on everything from the ability to set agendas and nudge polities toward supporting war (Mazarr 2007), the options available for pursuing peace with an adversary (Goh 2005; Jackson 2016), and even the ability to balance against emerging threats (Schweller 2010). We can extend this reasoning to managing audience costs. How leaders scope and justify their actions can dramatically sway how constituents and opponents judge their actions. A primary mechanism that waters down audience costs—that is, how leaders avoid domestic audience costs for cooperation that might otherwise incur them—is a leader’s enhanced ability to influence the narrative frame; cooperating within the context of shared third parties permits policymaking elites greater control over narratives about cooperation than if the same activity took place bilaterally.5 In this context, narrative control equates not to spin messaging so much as muted messaging or action that goes largely unobserved by media and opposition politicians. Multilateralized cooperation enables greater narrative control because it allows leaders to avoid frames that emphasize the party with whom it shares an antagonistic relationship in favor of frames that downplay or ignore the other party while emphasizing some larger benefit of the cooperation. Because multilateralism is often not sexy or headline-grabbing, channeling the cooperation of a negatively valenced dyad into a multilateral setting mutes the attention paid to it. Most circumstances do not necessarily dictate discursive frames, but the range of plausible frames expands and contracts depending on context, and circumstances of multilateralism provide an opportunity for governments to more favorably control how cooperation with an antagonistic other is publicly perceived. It does not give procooperation leaders guaranteed control over how others view cooperation or how much attention it receives, but it lends itself to public rationalizations other than working with a long-antagonistic neighbor. And if gaining narrative control represents seizing the strategic high ground from political opponents as Krebs (2015) suggests, then multilateralizing a negatively valenced dyad can be seen as outmaneuvering a leader’s political opponents who might wish to stimulate audience costs that punish the leader for cooperation; it puts political opponents in the difficult position of either having to acquiesce to the multilateral cooperation even though it includes an antagonistic other or oppose the multilateral cooperation altogether because it includes the antagonistic other. It may be difficult for opponents to adopt the latter position because it would involve introducing friction or social distance into other third-party relationships and abjuring functional cooperation that might be desirable in its own right. When taken together, insights about audience costs and narrative frames augur for an interpretation of cooperation involving negatively valenced dyads that departs sharply from functionalist and social expectations that cooperation or interaction of one kind cascades into still further cooperation and ultimately relationship transformation (Risse 2005). Observing Multilateralism as Buffering Once we have identified a negatively valenced dyad, what evidence would confirm multilateralism is serving a buffering rather than bridging role? A pattern of cooperation and friction during a common time period would constitute the primary correlative evidence, as long as the cooperative pattern occurs in mostly multilateral contexts and the friction pattern in mostly bilateral contexts. Second, additional evidence would come in the form of statements or narratives that demonstrate a firewall between bilateral tensions and its multilateral cooperation; we should see rhetoric and/or public opinion track in a bifurcated manner that aligns with the bifurcated behavior. We might be able, for instance, to observe unaltered narratives reifying bilateral friction even as multilateral cooperation occurs, or adapted narratives that rationalize patterns of multilateral cooperation as being limited and not impinging on bilateral relations. Third, we might further anticipate observing avoidance of certain types of multilateral cooperation—specifically any multilateral cooperation that might be seen as assisting its antagonist for any reason other than one’s own interests, that appears conciliatory toward the antagonist, or that appears to be an attempt at bridging historical friction. Finally, the absence of evidence would also be confirming of narrative control in relation to multilateralized cooperation; if a procooperation leader is successful in avoiding audience costs and managing narrative control, cooperation with third parties that involve the antagonist should receive little if any political or media attention, and to the extent it receives attention, we should expect the narrative to be about something other than cooperation with the antagonist. What we should definitely not expect to see is the conventional wisdom—antagonistic bilateralism transforming into bilateral amity on account of multilateralized cooperation. Contemporary Cases of Buffering Multilateralism in Japan-Korea Relations To demonstrate the plausibility of a buffering logic of multilateralism as developed above, this section examines cases of contemporary Japan-Korea relations from 2011 to 2015 for several reasons. First, examining Japan-Korea relations is useful for establishing plausibility because it satisfies the criteria necessary to compare its expectations and explanation with those of prevailing theoretical approaches. Second, the cases involve a dyad that has an established track record of cooperating in third-party contexts, and in which both parties are homogenous across several salient identity categories described in the opening of the article, making them prime candidates for bilateral cooperation. Third, the importance of this set of observations in particular is amplified by the fact that the most compelling statement of triadic closure theory in international relations was made using contemporary Japan-Korea relations as its illustrative case (Kinne 2013), which my analysis shows was based on incomplete interpretations of select pieces of evidence. The time period under examination, 2011–2015, is meaningful as not only a period of high international cooperation involving the two states, but also incidentally one of the worst in their relationship since the end of World War II. Showing the resilience of Japan-Korea friction despite high levels of multilateral cooperation involving them presents the hardest possible test relative to any other periods in Japan-Korea relations that might be selected. In the remainder of this section, I first establish the pattern of bilateral friction that persisted during the 2011–2015 period, which scholars of Japan-Korea relations characterize as the baseline of the bilateral relationship (Cha 1999). I then describe three types of recurring cooperation between Japan and Korea that occurred during this same period, all of which involved shared third parties—China, the United States, and the PSI regime respectively. Contexts involving China and the United States are useful because of their potential contrast as very differently situated great powers and because they represent narrow trilateral contexts. The period 2011–2015 is also one in which Japan–South Korea cooperation with China and the United States reached previously unprecedented heights. PSI is useful precisely because it is not a trilateral context involving a great power, but rather a diffuse global context verging on a regime, making it a more normal or routine form of multilateral cooperation in contemporary international relations. And, although it might be argued that the China and US contexts constitute situations where the third party directly pressures the negatively valenced dyad to improve ties (though unsuccessfully if so), the PSI context is purely transactional and explicitly narrow in scope with no observable pressure for dyadic improvement. This is meaningful for the literature review of the prior section; theorized mechanisms for bilateral convergence are absent from some multilateral contexts, which suggests either incomplete or inaccurate theorization about how and when convergence obtains. In my analysis, high-level summit meetings held without incident constitute one type of symbolically meaningful cooperation in context, and their absence typically signals the opposite—friction or a lack of cooperation. Even more significant indicators of cooperation are interactions that yield a positive joint action or promise. I end this section with a brief discussion about how leaders scoped and rationalized multilateral cooperation to preserve bilateral friction. This evidence, which is congruent with a buffering logic of multilateralism, includes the following: a sparseness of public discussion about their shared multilateralism and a relative dearth of opposition politician criticisms about the multilateralism; downplaying the roles of one another in public statements (to the extent they exist) about their shared multilateralism; a Japanese discourse of “Korea fatigue,” which leaves room for multilateralized cooperation with Korea while rationalizing a lack of bilateral cooperation; and a Korean discourse of an explicit “two-track” approach to Japan, which explicitly embraces working with Japan for instrumental reasons in extradyadic contexts while holding firm on historical memory issues that inflame the bilateral relationship. Perhaps most compelling are observations of Japan and Korea pursuing certain cooperation in multilateral contexts that they explicitly do not do bilaterally even though we could make a reasonable case that it would be more efficient. The failure to secure bilateral information sharing and logistics agreements bilaterally in 2012, combined with securing comparable agreements together with the United States in 2014, is just such an observation. Table 2 below summarizes evidence of a buffering pattern. Table 2. Summary of buffering in Japan-Korea relations, 2011–2015 Type Scope Observations of Cooperation Observations of Friction China-Japan-Korea secretariat Economic Secretariat established in Seoul (2011) Foreign ministers’ meetings (2011, 2012, 2015) First trilateral investment agreement (2012) Working level dialogues and projects uninterrupted (2011–2015) Negative Korean opinion re: Japan after 3/11 disaster (April 2011) Japanese textbook controversy (2011–2015) Koreans block visit by Japanese politicians, ban fishery imports from Japan; Japan boycotts Korean airline (2011) Failed info-sharing agreement (June 2012) Korean president visits Dokdo/Takeshima (August 2012) Japanese defense white paper reiterates claims to Dokdo/Takeshima (2012–2014) Japanese PM says “comfort women” issue is closed (November 2012) Korean president says “no point” to meeting Japanese leaders (2013) Japan PM visits Yasukuni shrine (December 2013) Japanese newspaper apologizes for “sex slave” term, sparks Korean protests (November 2014) US-Japan-Korea Security Defense ministers’ summit (2011-2014) Presidential summit (March 2014) Joint Chiefs’ meeting (2014) Search and rescue military exercise (2014) Trilateral info-sharing agreement (December 2014) Proliferation security initiative Security Japan-led air interdiction exercise (2012) Korea-led Operational Experts Group meeting (2012) Korea-led Eastern Endeavor (2012) Joint participation in Leading Edge (2013) Joint participation in Fortune Guard (2014) Type Scope Observations of Cooperation Observations of Friction China-Japan-Korea secretariat Economic Secretariat established in Seoul (2011) Foreign ministers’ meetings (2011, 2012, 2015) First trilateral investment agreement (2012) Working level dialogues and projects uninterrupted (2011–2015) Negative Korean opinion re: Japan after 3/11 disaster (April 2011) Japanese textbook controversy (2011–2015) Koreans block visit by Japanese politicians, ban fishery imports from Japan; Japan boycotts Korean airline (2011) Failed info-sharing agreement (June 2012) Korean president visits Dokdo/Takeshima (August 2012) Japanese defense white paper reiterates claims to Dokdo/Takeshima (2012–2014) Japanese PM says “comfort women” issue is closed (November 2012) Korean president says “no point” to meeting Japanese leaders (2013) Japan PM visits Yasukuni shrine (December 2013) Japanese newspaper apologizes for “sex slave” term, sparks Korean protests (November 2014) US-Japan-Korea Security Defense ministers’ summit (2011-2014) Presidential summit (March 2014) Joint Chiefs’ meeting (2014) Search and rescue military exercise (2014) Trilateral info-sharing agreement (December 2014) Proliferation security initiative Security Japan-led air interdiction exercise (2012) Korea-led Operational Experts Group meeting (2012) Korea-led Eastern Endeavor (2012) Joint participation in Leading Edge (2013) Joint participation in Fortune Guard (2014) View Large Bilateral Friction On March 11, 2011 (3/11), Japan suffered a threefold disaster involving a massive earthquake, tsunami, and radiation contamination from nuclear facilities affected by the earthquake. The devastation evoked global sympathies, with Japan’s South Korean neighbor leading the emergency response with disaster relief assistance from the South Korean government and notable private entities, including Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea’s leading newspapers, and the South Korean Red Cross. All told, South Korean private contributions exceeded $60 million (Park 2011). Between Korea’s goodwill and Japan’s clear time of need, many observers hoped the 3/11 disaster was the kind of exogenous event that could lead to fundamental change in the tenor of Japan-Korea relations (Kang and Bang 2011). But, even in this best and most dire of times, bilateral friction persisted. Worse yet, while some harbored ambitions that the disaster could signal a departure from the past, in hindsight it marked the beginning of a four-year downward spiral in bilateral ties. By the end of the same month, Japan’s Ministry of Education had approved textbooks that described an island territory claimed by both Korea and Japan (called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japan) as belonging to Japan, and its ruling Liberal Democratic Party subsequently filed a highly publicized request with the government to establish a holiday to commemorate Japanese ownership of the disputed territory (Chosun Ilbo 2011). Both disputes between Japan and Korea—treatments of history in Japanese textbooks and the contested territory—are widely familiar sources of recurring provocation between Japan and Korea, along with recurring Japanese official visits to Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates ancestries that include war criminals, and debates over Japanese treatment of Korean sex slaves before and during World War II (Dudden 2008). Even goodwill relating to the 3/11 disaster fanned antagonist sentiment, with Japanese Netizens rebuking Korea for failing to rank in the top twenty of global donors to Japan’s disaster relief needs (Lee 2011). These events casted a shadow of negativity on bilateral relations despite a humanitarian disaster around which positive sentiments initially flowed in both directions; a March 31 opinion poll found a plurality of Koreans believed that Korean support for Japan was fleeting and unlikely to lead to any breakthrough in bilateral relations (Park 2011). When right-wing Japanese politicians attempted to visit the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima in August 2011, Korea denied them entry, sparking a Japanese boycott of Korean airlines (Lee 2011). On December 14, 2011, Korean protestors marked their 1,000th protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, against imperial Japan’s sexual slavery crimes for which Koreans sought reparations and contrition. The added attention of the sexual slavery issue compounded negative feelings in Japan-Korea relations, which were further strained in the first half of 2012 after Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, stated publicly that Dokdo/Takeshima was the legitimate territorial possession of Japan (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2012a), leading the South Korean government to issue a formal diplomatic demarche rebuking Gemba’s remarks in response (Yonhap 2012a). Quietly negotiated information sharing and acquisitions agreements, the General Security of Military Information (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), respectively, sparked the most dramatic events in 2012. On June 28, only one hour before the two countries’ respective foreign ministers were scheduled to sign the GSOMIA agreement, outcries from Korean civic groups and the minority opposition Democratic Party pressured the ruling Saenuri Party leadership and President Lee Myung Bak to cancel the signing ceremony and ultimately abandon the agreement. The GSOMIA agreement required no actual sharing of information but put protocols in place for doing so amicably; its content was sufficiently anodyne that South Korea already had comparable agreements in place with dozens of nations, including Russia and China (Korea Times 2012b). Nevertheless, critics charged the Lee administration with willfully bypassing public consensus on a sensitive issue with Japan and accusing President Lee of “bowing to pressure from Tokyo and Washington, which they say is eager to see three-way military cooperation against the rise of China” (Yonhap 2012b). Within weeks of the scrapped agreement, Kim Tae-Hyo, a senior national security official who worked directly for President Lee and was thought to be central to the GSOMIA negotiations, was forced to resign (Korea Times 2012a). Only two months later, in a bid to shore up popular opinion, President Lee made the first-ever presidential visit to the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima. Japan’s Foreign Ministry responded by immediately recalling its ambassador to Seoul. It also attempted to lodge a diplomatic demarche with several senior officials in the South Korean government, but South Korean officials reportedly refused to even accept their calls (Hakoda and Higashioka 2012; BBC News 2012). Since 2012, political relations between Japan and Korea have continued to be distant and tense. Intermittent friction over conflicting public claims to Dokdo/Takeshima repeated each year, and the issue of sexual slavery continued stoking antagonism as the dispute went international, taken up by proxy in the United States by civic groups and lobbyists (Fackler 2014). In 2013, a reporter asked newly elected South Korean President Park Geun Hye whether tensions with Japan would prevent her from meeting with Prime Minister Abe. Park responded, “If Japan continues to stick to the same historical perceptions and repeat its past comments, then what purpose would a summit serve? Perhaps it would be better not to have one” (Williamson 2013). Added controversy came in 2013 and 2014, over Korea’s commemoration of Ahn Jung Geun. In the early days of Japanese colonialism, Ahn assassinated Japan’s then–Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito, who was considered a mastermind of Japanese colonial policy toward Korea. Ahn is designated a hero (uisa) in South Korea and has a museum dedicated to his life as a freedom fighter. Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, criticized South Korean and Chinese decisions to venerate Ahn’s legacy, describing him instead as a terrorist. A Korean Foreign Ministry statement responded by calling Suga’s comments irresponsible, adding, “[i]t’s astonishing that a person who speaks for the Japanese government has made such ignorant and antihistoric remarks” (Yonhap 2014a). One South Korean official described the relationship from 2011 to 2015 as “the worst he’s seen in forty years of service” (Gale 2015). Confirming as much, on June 2015, a poll conducted jointly by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun and Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo found that 86 percent of Japanese polled and 90 percent of Koreans polled held negative views of their bilateral relationship (Nagasaki and Nakano 2015). Polls conducted by the cabinet office of the government of Japan similarly found that whereas 62.2 percent of Japanese surveyed in 2012 had a positive view of South Korea, that percentage dropped to 31.5 percent by December 2014 (Ku 2016). At the end of 2015, Japan and South Korea did engage directly in closed-door negotiations about reparations to address the “comfort women” issue, and actually managed to reach a settlement on that narrow issue, which is one of many in dispute (Choe 2015). The agreement, however, brought out strong reactions of disapproval from constituencies in Japan and South Korea.6 Multilateral Cooperation In spite of a bilateral relationship that reached its nadir during the period observed, Japan and South Korea established an equally clear pattern of cooperation during the same period in a number of multilateral contexts. This section characterizes three: trilateralism with China (C-J-K); trilateralism with the United States (US-J-K); and regionally under the auspices of PSI. C-J-K trilateralism was born of a breakfast meeting held on the sidelines of the ASEAN–Plus Three summit meeting in 1999. The issues discussed at the time were exclusively economic. The three sides continued to meet annually and in lower-level meetings outside of the ASEAN–Plus Three summit, until 2005, when Japan’s prime minister visited the controversial Yasakuni Shrine, angering not only South Korea but China as well, consequently halting high-level trilateral meetings until 2007. C-J-K formalized their cooperation with the establishment of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul in September 2011, splitting the operational budget to keep it functioning three ways (Yeo 2012). This milestone of formal institutionalization took place despite the post-3/11 downturn in Japan-Korea relations documented in the previous section. Although technically there is no subject outside the scope of the C-J-K Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat—categories of cooperative activity include politics/security, economic, social/cultural, and environmental—there are de facto constraints. As C-J-K staff observed, “members may have less incentive to participate if discussion over sensitive issues results in a two against one scenario. For instance, if China and South Korea continued to raise Japan’s wartime past, Japan might be less willing to attend future meetings” (Yeo 2012, 6). All three countries also view their security environment quite differently, making traditional national security issues difficult to raise, let alone adjudicate (Cook and Jakobson 2014). As of June 2015, the C-J-K Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat had convened more than fifty meetings in support of more than one hundred joint projects, including nineteen ministerial level meetings (Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat 2015). Since the founding of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, they held more meetings to address economic issues (trade, finance, investment, and regulations) than any other issue set (Yeo 2012). The most hailed achievement of C-J-K trilateralism was a May 2012 ministerial summit that secured the first trilateral investment treaty in Northeast Asia, though critics suggest that China’s economic clout resulted in a wholly illiberal investment treaty that allowed it to maintain the same domestic legal constraints on foreign investment in China that investors and pundits have complained about for years (Corning 2014). For the purpose of observing a buffering logic, it is notable that the investment treaty that C-J-K achieved together did not previously exist in bilateral form between Japan and South Korea; a functionalist understanding of Japan-Korea relations might have predicted it would. Foreign minister–level C-J-K meetings were suspended during 2013 and 2014 due to resurgent historical tensions among all three parties (Japan Times 2014), but lower level C-J-K meetings proceeded despite high level political friction, contributing to trilateral progress on a number of other issues: trilateral free trade agreement negotiations; scholarly, media, and youth exchanges; tabletop exercises to improve coordination of disaster management and nuclear safety; and brokered private sector supply chain and investment connections (Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat 2014). Consistent with a buffering theory of multilateralism, neither Japanese nor South Korean media gave much coverage to specific lower level C-J-K meetings during the high friction 2013–2014 period, when high-level contact had been suspended. The primary evidence that meetings even took place during this period come from the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (2015) website, which continued to announce trilateral meetings on low-politics issues ranging from forestry cooperation and nuclear safety to journalist exchange programs. In instances where Japanese or South Korean media did report on C-J-K trilateral meetings—for example, on a trilateral free trade agreement (Chosun Ilbo 2012b) or the topics of infectious diseases and disaster management (Kyodo News Service 2015a, 2015b)—the coverage never mentioned the fact of Japan-Korea cooperation per se but instead focused exclusively on trilateral cooperation about the specific functional topic. And when the C-J-K ministerial level summits resumed in 2015, garnering significant press attention, media reports in Japan and South Korea characterized the prior three years as a period without high-level C-J-K meetings while making no mention of the low-level progress that occurred (Jiji Press 2015; ANN News 2015). The renewed media attention to C-J-K trilateralism in 2015 consistently focused on the meetings’ functional achievements or topics of discussion, not Japan-Korea cooperation. All of this comports with what we should expect to see and not see if multilateralism is playing the role of buffer between two parties rather than that of a bridge: a lack of media attention to the fact of cooperation, and when reporting does occur, focusing on some functional aspect of multilateralism rather than direct Japan-Korea engagement. Whereas principally economic interests have driven C-J-K cooperation, principally security interests have driven US-J-K trilateral cooperation. During the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993 and 1994, the United States consulted regularly with Japan and South Korea, but did so separately. After North Korea’s test-fire of an intercontinental ballistic missile that traveled over Japanese territory in 1998, the Trilateral Coordination Oversight Group (TCOG) was announced in 1999 to coordinate the diplomatic, economic, and military moves of Japan, South Korea, and the United States in relation to North Korea. The Six-Party Talks (6PT) quietly subsumed the TCOG to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in 2004, partly because South Korea’s view of North Korea policy began diverging with that of the United States and Japan while aligning more closely with China and Russia, and partly because 6PT superseded the TCOG in the US view (Schoff 2005). Although the TCOG no longer formally exists, US-J-K defense trilateralism experienced renewal after North Korea withdrew from the 6PT process in April 2009 (Korean Central News Agency 2009). US-J-K defense ministers and foreign ministers have met semiregularly since 2010—usually on the sidelines of regional multilateral meetings—catalyzed by North Korean attacks against South Korea in March and November that year (Department of State 2012). Beyond the symbolism of high-level trilateral meetings between 2011 and 2015, three major achievements also resulted. The first was a joint statement in 2012 that came close to North Atlantic Treaty Organization–like collective defense solidarity by declaring North Korea a shared threat and that they shared “a deep and abiding interest in maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability in the region” (Department of State 2012). This was followed by a joint statement of the Defense Trilateral Talks, announcing that “[t]he United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan will closely coordinate to deter a potential DPRK nuclear test and to respond to ballistic missile threats” (Department of Defense 2013). The second US-J-K achievement was the conduct of recurring humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises, which they explicitly scoped to improve readiness to respond to a contingency situation in North Korea (American Forces Press Service 2012). The third achievement in US-J-K security cooperation was an intelligence and information-sharing agreement signed in December 2014. Although it reinforced the hub-and-spoke structure of the alliances by routing information through the United States, it established procedural mechanisms for doing what Japan and South Korea failed to accomplish bilaterally with the GSOMIA in 2012: share critical information relating to North Korean nuclear and missile activity. The United States viewed the 2014 agreement as a stepping-stone toward achieving a bilateral Japan–South Korea information-sharing agreement, which from a purely functionalist perspective should have been much easier to achieve (Department of Defense 2014). Japanese and South Korean media characterizations of US-J-K trilateralism during this period avoided the theme of Japan-Korea collaboration in favor of a focus on a common North Korea threat and secondarily a theme of cooperation with the United States. When all three defense ministers met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2012, South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo (2012) framed it as cooperation against North Korean provocations. Shortly after they met again in 2014 to again commit to cooperation against North Korea as a regional threat, all three countries’ Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) met as well, which South Korean media framed as being entirely about North Korea. South Korea’s Yonhap (2014b) reported that the tri-CJCS meeting was “an opportunity for the allies to boost necessary military cooperation amid growing threat by North Korea at a time when soured Seoul-Tokyo relations have effectively hampered bilateral cooperation in almost all fields.” This characterization shows US-J-K trilateralism as a workaround for otherwise sour bilateral ties, not as a bridge toward improving them. Japanese media took a similar tack in characterizing US-J-K trilateralism as an effort to deal with North Korea, not something with any prospect of enhancing relations with South Korea. When the three defense ministers met in 2012, Japan’s Jiji Press (2012) merely reported consistent with government statements—that the three ministers had a common view that “North Korea’s provocative actions are serious threats to world peace and stability.” And, following the 2014 tri-CJCS meeting on North Korea, Japan’s Kyodo News (2014) reported that the meeting was about solidarity against the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles, making no mention of South Korea or its frayed bilateral ties. For all the tension in Japan–South Korea relations from 2011 to 2015, this period also saw both countries cooperating consistently as leaders of the informal PSI regime. PSI originated in response to a 2002 failure of the international community to stop North Korean ship-trafficking Scud missiles to Yemen. Over time, PSI’s international legitimacy grew, receiving not only UN Secretary-General endorsement (Annan 2005), but also eventually boasting a 103-nation membership. Japan was part of the founding core of PSI in 2003, and by 2009, South Korea had joined as well (Koch 2012). South Korea’s participation and eventual leadership in PSI is one part of its multipronged embrace of nuclear nonproliferation—with other prongs being leadership of the Nuclear Security Summit, adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, membership in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and cooperation with the United States to establish best practices for civilian nuclear energy processing (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea 2014). Its motivation for supporting nonproliferation efforts is openly linked to its security concerns about North Korea—its 2009 PSI membership took place during a highly confrontational period with North Korea, for example, while it abstained from joining during a prior period of warmer North-South relations. Although 2012 was the year of greatest drama in Japan-Korea relations, it was also the year when Japan hosted an air interdiction exercise for PSI, which included South Korea, Australia, and Singapore as core participants (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2012a). It was also the year South Korea hosted Eastern Endeavor 12, a large PSI summit that involved multilateral tabletop exercises with mid-level and senior officials from South Korea and Japan, as well as a naval interdiction exercise off of South Korea’s southern coast in which both South Korea and Japan contributed air and naval assets (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea 2014). While the multilateral cooperation took place successfully and without any international controversy, South Korea quietly blocked Japan from entering its port of Pusan like other ship contributing nations as a means of minimizing public perceptions they were cooperating with Japan (Joongang Daily 2012). Japan participated in everything, but its military assets were required to stay in a defined area just outside the port of Pusan to avoid agitating anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea (Kim 2012). Eastern Endeavor 12 was the starkest illustration of bilateral friction simultaneous with multilateral collaboration, but Japan–South Korea cooperation under the auspices of PSI continued in subsequent years despite the continuing negative bilateral relationship as well. At Leading Edge in 2013, Japan and South Korea sent government officials to conduct presentations and participate in tabletop exercise interdiction scenarios in Abu Dhabi (DoD News 2013). At Fortune Guard in 2014, Japanese and South Korean officials again joined the tabletop interdiction exercises and additionally contributed naval ships and visit, boarding, search, and seizure teams to the live military exercise (Garamone 2014). None of the major newspapers in either South Korea or Japan covered one another’s participation in the events of 2013 and 2014,7 though US defense news sources did. However, media coverage of Eastern Endeavor 12 did garner modest coverage in Japan and South Korea. In Korea, the Chosun Ilbo (2012a) reported on the event with reference to a statement by its defense ministry, which justified PSI (and Japan’s involvement) by claiming a firewall between that event and ongoing bilateral friction: “PSI is a completely separate matter from a derailed Korea-Japan military pact or tensions surrounding the Dokdo islets.” In Japan, the Sankei Shimbun’s reporting emphasized that the event demonstrated solidarity with the United States and the international community on an important functional issue (counterproliferation) but that Japan experienced “discomfort” and “discourtesy” because South Korea “refused Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels’ port of call” (Kuroda 2012). In the Japanese and South Korean characterizations, PSI was not a bridge toward lessening bilateral friction, but something that proceeded in spite of it. Japanese media even suggested that US involvement was the only reason sufficient for Japan to participate (Kuroda 2012). Even in the worst of times, then, Japan and South Korea found common cause with the international community’s efforts to build capacity to prevent nuclear proliferation as long as such cooperation made no particular demand of Japan and South Korea separately to work together on a bilateral basis. Justifying Bilateral Antagonism and Multilateral Cooperation The Japan-Korea cooperation that took place in multilateral contexts documented above was pursued in a way that minimized the impact on the overall bilateral relationship, as a buffering theory of multilateralism expects. C-J-K trilateralism’s scope exceeded economic issues, but avoided traditional national security topics like territorial disputes, crisis and conflict management, North Korea policy, or arms control. It further adhered to a de facto norm of not raising sensitive historical issues that would—and did at certain points—introduce friction into the cooperative network. In Japanese and Korean government statements issued after the 2015 C-J-K summit following a three-year hiatus, moreover, neither side mentioned the other except in conjunction with references to China (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2015; Office of the President of the Republic of Korea 2015). Japanese and South Korean officials also scoped US-J-K trilateralism to ensure it did not violate the boundaries of sustained bilateral friction. They did this in two ways. The first was by generally rationalizing US-J-K trilateralism as being limited to the shared perception of North Korea as a threat, even when conducting ostensibly general-purpose activities like humanitarian assistance exercises. The second way was more specific and manifested in the December 2014 US-J-K information-sharing agreement. Among the steps taken to insulate, Japan-Korea relations were codifying the agreement as a memorandum instead of a legally enforceable agreement, making information sharing purely voluntary and ad hoc, and limiting the scope of information sharing to North Korean nuclear and missile intelligence (Hankyoreh 2014). Finally, Japan–South Korea cooperation in the context of the PSI regime proceeded during the 2011–2015 period with little public attention, which naturally insulated it from domestic political discourses. But during 2012, when South Korea was hosting a PSI event and therefore could not avoid having it appear in the press, South Korea scoped Japan’s cooperation in such a way as to avoid the narratives opined by South Korean opposition politicians—that South Korea’s president was soft on Japan, not hewing to the anti-Japan history litmus test in South Korean politics, and inching toward an unconscionable alliance with Japan (Hankyoreh 2012). South Korea did not block Japanese participation; both countries agreed for Japan to participate in a limited, low-key way to avoid further inflaming political tensions (Joongang Daily 2012). And yet, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun stated that Japan might not have participated in the exercise given its partial exclusion except for US intervention (cited in Kuroda 2012). PSI as an instance of multilateral cooperation that includes a negatively valenced dyad thus highlights a buffering logic—minimal media or public attention—and when attention was paid the focus was on the United States or counterproliferation per se; to the extent that Japan-Korea relations become part of public narratives linked to PSI, it is only to reify bilateral friction, not to claim or seek a lessening of it. In addition to the above scoping, distinct narratives relating to the Japan-Korea bilateral relationship emerged during this period. In Japan, a narrative arose among policy elites that can be characterized as Korea fatigue. In South Korea, the government established and promoted a two-track policy relating to cooperation with Japan. Both narratives permit cooperation with the other in multilateral contexts, but also reinforce the negative dimension of their bilateral relations among domestic constituencies. The Korea fatigue narrative in Japan suggests that it does not need to get along with South Korea, and that, whatever Japan’s past, the latter is now responsible for the state of poor bilateral relations today. On the question of reparations for any misdeeds toward Korea, Japan maintains that all legitimate demands were resolved with the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic and economic relations between Japan and South Korea (Sneider 2014). So when South Korea regularly calls for apologies, abandonment of claims to Dokdo/Takeshima, or recognition of the wartime practice of sexual slavery, Japanese officials see no need to appease, particularly given the likelihood of domestic political backlash in Japan from conservative constituencies that view concessions to Korea’s repetitive demands as not only unnecessary but even borderline dishonorable (Glosserman and Snyder 2015). Japanese conservatives characterize South Korea’s demands relating to history as a “hard-line stance,” but the pervasive perception in Japan that South Korea is relentlessly “attacking Japan” about history “is turning off even those Japanese who have been relatively sympathetic toward South Korea” (Yoshida 2014). Confirming Korea fatigue among the Japanese public, a 2013 Pew Research Poll found that 48 percent of Japanese believed Japan had apologized enough for its misdeeds during the imperial era, while only 1 percent of South Koreans shared that view (Taylor 2015). A joint poll conducted by Seoul Shinmun and the Tokyo Shimbun in January 2013 shows further evidence of Korea fatigue; whereas 94 percent of Koreans surveyed believed Japan’s acknowledgement of history had been insufficient, 63 percent of Japanese surveyed “could not comprehend the demand for a Japanese apology” (Ahn 2013). Japan’s narrative of Korea fatigue thus describes a situation in which they believe they have made sufficient amends and Korea remains unreasonably aggrieved. Such a narrative even reached the point of a popular meme; in 2010, slightly predating the sharp downturn in bilateral relations, the Japan Times circulated a cartoon in which then–Prime Minister Kan was in a chiropractor’s office for “back pain” incurred from bowing too much; the doctor’s recommendation in the cartoon was to “get plenty of rest and cut back on apologies” (Japan Times 2010). Nothing about this narrative prevents Japan-Korea cooperation in multilateral contexts, but it delegitimizes continued or unceasing expressions of guilt or remorse for history with the implication that if refraining from further apologies damages bilateral relations, then only Korea is to blame. Among Korean officials, there is a growing recognition of the need to work together with Japan in many settings and on many issues despite a negative bilateral relationship,8 giving rise to President Park Geun Hye’s decision to pursue a two-track policy toward Japan that separates its bilateral disputes with Japan from cooperation with it (Yonhap 2015). Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se remarked that “I do not believe that because of historical issues there can be obstacles to cooperation between Korea and Japan … we are going to separate the historical issues and the rest” (Department of State 2015). The two-track approach is thus explicitly intended to insulate South Korean domestic political discourses about Japan and corresponding bilateral friction from pragmatic cooperation with Japan necessitated by other interests in larger webs of cooperative relationships. When the overwhelming majority of Koreans blame Japan for the poor state of bilateral relations and harbor negative views of Japan—which was the case as of 2015, when 74 percent of Korean citizens polled felt this way (Jeong 2015, 2)—cooperative endeavors with Japan are naturally difficult to pursue. Only by reifying a commitment to the issues of contention that make for an antagonistic relationship can the Korean government cooperate with Japan without incurring audience costs; this is what the two-track approach signals to domestic and Japanese audiences. Caveats and Implications The theoretical argument advanced in this article deviates from typical treatments of international cooperation, especially involving states that share common key attributes like regime type, economic orientation, and great power patronage ties. As much as Japan and South Korea may distrust—and even harbor enmity toward—one another, neither has shown a willingness to allow that familiar dynamic to trump their joint participation in instrumental forms of regional cooperation. And, as much as they find common cause to cooperate in multilateral contexts, we see no meaningful spillover; bilateral friction remains surprisingly resilient. Even the comfort women deal struck bilaterally in December 2015 generated backlash (Tiezzi 2015), illustrating the political risks of pursuing cooperation with a long-running antagonist. Bilateral friction derives from clashing national identities and competing historical narratives, which is in tension with imperatives to show solidarity or act in concert with other regional actors with whom Japan and South Korea jointly share ties. Contrary to expectations in the literature, we consistently see Japan and South Korea capable of sustaining both multilateral cooperation and bilateral friction simultaneously. This is so because multilateralism diffuses accountability for cooperation that might otherwise generate audience costs each aided by framing that marginalizes the presence or involvement of the other. Caveats I anticipate two types of objections to the analysis presented here. One may be that my theory seems to offer no hope of improving a hostile bilateral relationship, which would be at odds with the many historical dyads that have transformed from enmity to amity. This objection misreads the intended scope of a buffering theory, which is limited to negatively valenced dyads who nevertheless find common cause to cooperate. A buffering theory of multilateralism makes no essentialist claim about hostile dyads being forever trapped that way. It explains the durability of an already hostile dyad to one specific type of intervention that other theories expect to lead to better dyadic relations: the cascading or spillover effects anticipated from cooperation with third parties. It implies that multilateralizing negatively valenced dyads is not the most likely path to converting them to friendly ones. Any number of factors may intervene in a bilateral relationship to transform it over time; I simply make the case that cooperation with shared third-party ties is not one of those factors as long as negative pressures persist. Indeed, we might view a buffering theory of multilateralism as optimistic given that it shows the ability of hostile parties to cooperate consistently in third-party contexts despite bilateral antagonism. A second type of objection may argue that Japan-Korea relations are sui generis, and at any rate represent only a single observation. There is some merit to this objection, but it makes two discrete misleading claims. The first is that while there are many aspects of Japan-Korea relations that are unique, that does not mean that all aspects of it are so. As I have done here, we can render characteristics of this relationship into generalizable terms. A buffering theory of multilateralism offers a different way of understanding the international behavior of negatively valenced dyads and might give us leverage in analyzing, for example, Japan’s relations with China, China’s relations with the United States, or US relations with Russia. In all of these cases, there exists what we might describe as an antagonistic or hostile relationship bilaterally, yet each country pair also cooperates in the context of shared third-party ties. The second claim in this objection challenges the generalizability of my findings given that I base them on a single “case.” Again, in some sense this is correct, but also misleading. One case does not necessarily equal one observation. Three of the more powerful uses of single case study research are to (1) explain deviant outcomes relative to the expectations of more general or dominant theories, (2) probe the plausibility of a theory through an initial, limited test, and (3) revisit a crucial case, which is to say a case that is disproportionately meaningful relative to other individual cases, such as World War I for the causes-of-war literature (Bennett and George 2005; Levy 2008). Analyzing the case of Japan-Korea relations offers all three types of leverage: it explains a pattern that deviates from the expectations of several theories of cooperation; it illustrates the plausibility of a buffering theory of multilateralism; and it reinterprets the same case that was used to add empirical weight to triadic closure theory, which predicts a different outcome than a buffering theory of multilateralism under the same conditions. I elaborate on these payoffs further below. Implications One advantage of a buffering theory of multilateralism has been to illuminate a heretofore unexplained aspect of Japan-Korea relations, filling a gaping hole in studies of that relationship. But, even accepting the buffering explanation offered here, one may nevertheless question what leverage this offers the larger international relations enterprise. This analysis represents only a single set of observations, which gives reason to be cautious about the applicability of such a theory to a larger universe of cases. Nevertheless, given homogeneity across several important identity categories, Japan-Korea relations constitute a “most likely” case for extant theories of cooperation, making the inability to explain the lack of bilateral cooperation more challenging than analysis of a single random case. And, irrespective of generalizability, the findings rendered of Japan-Korea relations specifically have a number of implications that matter for scholars and policymakers alike. First, this analysis suggests that the scope of triadic closure theory may need to be circumscribed. Far from validating triadic closure theory, the Japan-Korea case gives reason to call it into question. Minimally, we might say that triadic closure is least likely when a negative tie reflects social accountability to some constituency that pressures leaders to perpetuate the negative tie, domestic or otherwise. The scope of triadic closure theory may be limited to bringing together socially distant but not negative ties. Triadic closure theory potentially errs in assuming that efficiencies gained from bilateral cooperation will override historically contingent forces that spur animosity. Second, while the Japan-Korea case does not falsify extant theories of cooperation (nor tries to), it cautions against taking dyadic cooperation for granted among those involved in multilateral schemes. The case itself, and the logic of buffering, suggests why: cooperation is costly within a negatively valenced dyad, and multilaterizing that cooperation can secure cooperation on the cheap; it does so by empowering leaders with greater control over how cooperation is framed, so as to avoid domestic audience costs. Third, this article responds to an unfinished task in the vast literature on economic interdependence and cooperation: understanding why and when interdependence produces other than expected outcomes (Mansfield and Pollins 2001). This is a task best accomplished by examining deviant cases, as was done here. There is no shortage of critics of interdependence theory of course, often with realist orientations, but rarely does such research attempt to identify how certain types of intervening variables or regional contexts affect the effects of interdependence (Waltz 1999; Waltz 2000). We can therefore cash out the Japan-Korea case for a specific clue about one condition under which interdependence should not lead to cooperative outcomes—when leaders’ states are part of a negatively valenced dyad. Finally, the analysis presented here is suggestive for policymakers in multiple ways. US officials have described trilateral relationships as a “building block” toward multilateralism with more than three parties (Department of Defense 2015). Beyond the United States, moreover, the Asia-Pacific has seen a rising trend of new configurations of informal trilateral and quadrilateral defense cooperation in recent years that serve myriad purposes but lack adequate explanation (Jackson 2014). The logic of buffering offers one way to make sense of these emerging patterns, challenging the conventional wisdom about the relative ease or difficulty of various forms of cooperation. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the findings in this article suggest that under certain conditions bilateralism is harder (more costly) than multilateralism. Distinguishing multilateralism further between three-party and four- or more party contexts, this article also hints at the possibility that trilateralism may actually be more fragile than multilateralism involving more than three parties, and by extension, multilateralism may be more resilient than trilateralism or bilateralism. This was the case with C-J-K trilateralism, which twice suffered setbacks due to Japan’s strained relations not just with Korea, but China as well. The 6PT plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula displaced US-J-K trilateralism; the latter only resumed when North Korea declared the 6PT dead. By contrast, Japan-Korea cooperation in the context of the PSI regime continued even through the worst period in Japan-Korea relations without disruption. The question requires greater attention, but there may be a certain strength in diffuse ties; that is, the larger number of parties involved makes a multilateral arrangement more resilient to individual defections than a trilateral arrangement while further watering down accountability for pursuing otherwise costly cooperation. If the C-J-K secretariat had involved five or six players, for example, would the secretariat have still suffered temporary setbacks due to Japan’s strained relations with China and South Korea? And, even if only tentatively, the findings presented here weigh in on potential strategies for improving relations between antagonistic or socially distant parties. If two states have no recurring track record of interaction good or ill, then cooperation between them in multilateral settings may be a means of forging friendly ties between them. Multilateral initiatives can even be a way to bring hostile states together for a limited shared purpose and may help wring functionalist cooperation out of them when they would otherwise be disinclined. But as long as the antagonism of the bilateral relationship is driven by identity or national discourses and the cooperation pursued is purely instrumental, multilateral or regional cooperative arrangements have questionable prospects of exerting countervailing pressures sufficient to induce spillover effects that render enemies into friends. Rather than seeing mutually antagonistic actors cooperating within multilateralism as an indication of better days to come, it is more likely a signal of the opposite. Acknowledgements In July 2017, Dr. Van Jackson joined Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand as a Senior Lecturer in International Relations. He is the author of the book Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His research focuses on East Asian security, strategic studies, US foreign policy, and relationalism. I am grateful to Robert Kelly, Andrew Yeo, the editors of International Studies Review, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback. I also thank Ryota Akiba for research assistance and translations of Japanese sources. Any errors or omissions are mine alone. Footnotes 1Except where noted otherwise, this article treats multilateralism as any cooperative arrangement involving three or more parties. 2The extent of trade and investment flows between Japan and South Korea has ebbed and flowed over time, and from 2011 to 2015, the degree of bilateral economic interdependence was lower than previous all-time highs in the 1990s and early 2000s. Nevertheless, levels of trade and investment flows between the two states from 2011 to 2015 was much higher than during the Cold War, when their diplomatic relations also ebbed and flowed. Thanks to an anonymous referee for this clarifying point. See Korea International Trade Association (2016). 3In at least one case (Midford 2008), audience costs were adapted to the historical memory context between Japan and South Korea. 4Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this term. 5This enhanced control may derive at least partly from the anonymity or plausible deniability that multilateralism affords; it can be difficult to pinpoint the agent responsible for organizing cooperation. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point. 6The comfort women deal was divisive for both countries, but viewed somewhat more favorably in Japan—as a means of getting beyond the past—than in South Korea. See Ku (2016). 7In Japan, the highest circulation newspapers are Mainichi Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nikkei Shimbun, and Sankei Shimbun. 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