Strategic Cultures and Security Policies in the Asia-Pacific

Editors:      Jeffrey S. Lantis

ISBN:        978-1-138-84144-4

strategic cultures and security policies in the asia pacific.jpg

Publisher: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Year:           2015

Pages:         180


Reviewed by Leo S.F. Lin, Ph.D. student, School of Social Science and Global Studies, The University of Southern Mississippi, USA

Like human beings, each country has its unique national character and historical socio-cultural background, which provide constraints and opportunities to its national security policies. In the everchanging dynamics of Asia-Pacific politics, strategic culture is a useful approach to understand the security environment in the region. This book, titled “Strategic Cultures and Security Policies in the Asia-Pacific,” edited by Jeffrey S. Lantis at the College of Wooster, touches upon this key topic- strategic culture- in International Relations and Security Studies. In the dominant neorealist presumptions about the region, this book situates itself in a role that connects domestic constraints and international pressure, as well as builds a bridge between ideational and material explanations of state behaviors. Using the strategic culture approach, this book “explores origins, patterns, and implications of the changing security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region” (p.3). More importantly, this book contends that strategic culture “may provide added value for understanding the development of security policy behaviors” (p.17).

This comparative work looks beyond the conventional lens, which only focuses on major powers in the region- particularly in China and the United States. Instead, this book also deals with other powers in the region, such as Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and South Korea. Although this book is written during the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” policy era, focusing on Chinese influence over ASEAN, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) issues, the arguments provided in the book still enriches our understanding of the role of strategic culture in shaping security policies in the region today.

This book contains eight chapters, in which six of them are case studies on specific countries. By surveying the ideational and material foundations of state behaviors in the Asia-Pacific region, the case studies in the book offer invaluable comparisons on the interplay of the roles of structural changes and domestic constraints, and the effects on security policy outputs. Moreover, the last chapter deals with methodological issues which are vital for those who utilize strategic culture as a research approach. Written by contributors mostly from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia (one from the Philippines), and reviewed by twenty-seven anonymous reviewers, this solid work provides a well-balanced view.

The first essay written by the editor Jeffrey S. Lantis serves as an introductory chapter. In this chapter, Lantis argues that globalization, the rise of China, and North Korea’s nuclear issues have impacted the Asia-Pacific region and have increased the tensions. In this situation, governments in the region “have entered into debates about identity, tradition, and security policy choices” (p.2). Lantis posits that the strategic culture approach adds valuable perspective in understanding the security policy choices in Asia-Pacific geopolitics. To provide the readers with a preview of the articles, he focuses on three themes, including strategic culture theoretical foundations, source of strategic culture, and the keepers of strategic culture in different countries. On country case studies in the articles, the author emphasizes the links between strategic culture and security policies, as well as the regional cooperation by discussing the regional security identity. Finally, he points out several methodological challenges, such as the issues of whether strategic culture should be viewed as an independent variable, of strategic subculture, units of analysis, and policy relevance.

In the next essay, Alex Burns and Ben Eltham touch upon the constraints and opportunities in Australia’s security policymaking. They draw on the debates from the fourth generation of strategic culture and demonstrate that there is “a gap between the rhetoric of Australian defense officials and more modest reality” (p.23). They argue that the limits derive from tensions between national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures. They start with introducing the historical background of the Longue Durée of Australian security policymaking, and then move to the examination of the “keepers” of Australia’s national strategic culture, showing the existence of competing for strategic subcultures. Burns and Eltham further argue that the strategic subcultures foster compartmentalization, constraints, and bureaucratic silos that narrow national conceptions of security threats and opportunities. In real examples, they review the security policies of the Rudd, Gillard, and Abbott governments, which develops national security policies in different ways, which places certain limits on Australia’s security policies in the region.

On the focal point of China in the region, Andrew Scobell analogs China’s strategic culture as “a Great Wall of the Imagination.” In his essay, Scobell surveys the historical development of Chinese strategic thinking and that there are two strands of thoughts have been identified. Building on Alastair Iain Johnston’s work Cultural Realism and his own earlier work, Scobell argues that both Realpolitik and Confucian-Mencian strands are operative in a dialectic fashion to produce a “Chinese Cult of Defense” (p.49). He further identifies that there are two faces of strategic culture- the first face concerned with a country’s self-image; the second face is about the image towards other country’s dominant strategic traditions. Scobell also points out the keepers of strategic culture in China are not just elites but society at large. He concluded that there is an increased likelihood of tensions due to the Chinese inability to recognize the existence of the gap between the first and second face of strategic culture.

Turning to another major power in Asia-Pacific, Andrew L. Oros examines Japan’s strategic culture. He posits that there are three distinct strategic cultures since the 19th century, including isolationist and non-military, militarist, and the post-World War II strategic culture based on antimilitarist principles. Oros aims to explain how the Japanese strategic culture can be best understood “through debates over recent Japanese security policy and by considering actual changes in Japan’s recent security practice” (p.80). He not only reviews the historical development of Japanese strategic culture but also offers counter-narratives on the dominant antimilitarist strategic culture. As for the keepers, the author posits that numerous political actors, such as governmental agencies, political parties, and Self Defense Forces (SDF),etc., are attempting to reshape the security policies by drawing on the forces of nationalism, historical memory, and the new security challenges. Finally, Oros analyzes the Japanese government’s security practices and concluded that its strategic culture “will continue to show a reluctance to use or further develop military power beyond very limited scenarios in the coming decade” (p.81).

Focusing on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Renato Cruz De Castro examines the shifting of AFP’s doctrine from internal security to territorial defense in his chapter. In particular, Castro assesses the Benigno Aquino III administration’s defense efforts through the strategic culture perspective. On the baseline, he posits that Philippine’s strategic culture is constrained mainly by its archipelagic geography and the isolation from continental Asia. Thus, historically the strategic culture has been emphasized on internal security, such as asymmetric conflict, or what he termed “Guerrilla Warfare” (p.86). Additionally, another dimension of its strategic culture is the reliance on an alliance with a foreign power. In terms of the keepers of Philippine’s strategic culture, Castro points out that the elite groups, referring to the 400 families who dominated the domestic politics, influencing and shaping its national defense policies. However, the changing dynamics of security environment in the region have made the doctrinal shift from internal security to territorial one, which shows continuity in its strategic culture in Aquino administration.

On the strategic culture of the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea), Jiyul Kim states that, in the post-Cold War era, its strategic culture has evolved accompanied by democratization and economic growth. At the same time, South Korea’s strategic challenges have moved beyond North Korea. More challenges come from its neighboring countries (China and Japan), the transformation of security alliance with the U.S., and other global issues. Kim reviews the historical experience of South Korea through the lens of strategic culture. He posits that there are three fundamental pillars that guild the security policies: The first is the national goal of building a prosperous and powerful nation. The second pillar is the constant existential threat of North Korea, and the third is the alliance with the U.S. Following this structure, he explains the keepers of strategic culture, rooted in the neo-Confucian philosophical influence, stress in the importance of “Confucian hierarchy and personality-driven politics” (p.114). The keepers include governmental executive branch, notably the President, and other keepers such as the National Assembly, the media, the public, and the external keeper of the U.S. The author illustrates that the strategic situation is the outcome of the three pillars and concluded that South Korea seeks a balance between strategic autonomy and great power competition.

The United States is the most influential external actor in the Asia-Pacific regional security. In his essay, Brice F. Harris adopts a historical socio-cultural approach to analyze the U.S. strategic cultural tendencies. Harris traces the historical roots of the “American Way of War” which is the mutually constitutive relationship between technology and political structures (p.126). He argues that “the American tendency to invoke technological solutions to strategic dilemmas has remained constant” (p.127); thus a strategic culture of technology has formed. This “strategic culture of technology” has been an essential foundation for Pentagon’s propensity to security challenges. Specifically, he provides a detailed discussion about the American military thought of constructing Network-Centric War (NCW) and Effects-Based Operations (EBO) which defines American modern organizational military culture. By revisiting the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia policy, he argues that this policy is a reflection of “more historical continuity than change in America’s strategic calculus (p.134). He concluded that the biggest challenge for the U.S. is “that of institutional intransigence, or the lure of ideological conformity when addressing American military requirements and budgetary commitments” (pp.138-139).

In the final article, David G. Haglund reflects the concept of strategic culture and the analytical and policy guidance that this concept could supply to Asia-Pacific security. He points out that the challenge is “to determine exactly which components of the strategic-cultural toolkit may be most valuable in the explicating security relations of the Asia-Pacific region” (p.146). He further considers the “old (national character)” and the “new (path dependence)” invocations in the strategic culture. The author explicitly makes two points in the article. The first consideration is how strategic culture could be used for the explication of security policy choices in the region. Secondly, he argues that there is a potential for the strategic culture to shed light on the security policy discussion. In reviewing articles in this previous essays in the book, Haglund points out that, although there is a variation in applying the master concept of strategic culture laid out in the beginning article, one thing in common is that the authors take it seriously “ the utility of a cultural approach to national strategic choices”, and “have contributed valuable insights in to the policy dilemmas of cultural provenance and content confronting the core state of the Asia-Pacific” (p.160).

To sum up, this book provides compelling insights into the strategic culture linking to security policy choices of several vital countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, the authors trace the above countries’ political structures, strategic propensity, and the “keepers” through the lens of strategic culture. They provide bridges between the cultural component of strategy and the actual policy practices of some important actors in the region. These works have helped the readers understand the regional strategic culture in a comparative perspective. The only weakness of this book might be that there is a lack of detailed discussion of other equally important actors in the region, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Singapore, etc., which all have unique strategic cultures and regional influences. Nevertheless, this is still a worth-reading book that contributes to the literature of strategic culture and Security Studies in the Asia-Pacific context.

Suggested citation:
Leo S.F. Lin (2019). Review of “Strategic Cultures and Security Policies in the Asia-Pacific,” edited by Jeffrey S. Lantis, Routledge (2015), East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. , no.