Strategic Stability in Asia

Strategic Stability in Asia

Author:       Amit Gupta

ISBN:           978-0745325187

Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Year:           2008

Price:         £55.00


Reviewed by Elena Atanassova-Cornelis, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.

This easily readable and concise volume, edited by Amit Gupta, seeks to address two interrelated questions that are fundamental to our understanding of the contemporary strategic environment in Asia: first, what perceptions the major states of Asia have regarding the emerging security challenges in their regional environment, and, second, what future security scenarios they would regard as acceptable for ensuring stability in Asia. The authors in this collection tackle these questions by examining how domestic, regional and Asian variables shape the security debates in various countries. The introduction, written by Gupta, stresses that while the insecurity dilemmas are different in each country, a common concern in Asia is the path of China’s “rise to superpower status” and hence how it can be ensured that this path would be a  “peaceful” one (p. 1). Related to this is the issue of China’s future relationship with the United States.

The book is organised into seven chapters, which analyse the security perspectives and visions of strategic stability of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Australia and Vietnam, respectively.

The first and the longest chapter, by David Lai, discusses how China views its role in Asian stability. Lai poses one of the most important questions pertaining to the region’s future security: “Can the rising Asian powers avoid the tragedy of great power destruction?” (p. 7). He emphasises that, historically, the rise of new great powers has not been peaceful. Further, Lai points out that it is in the context of China-US relations, especially the Taiwan issue, that many challenges may arise in great power politics in Asia. Lai is, however, optimistic about China’s peaceful rise whereby Beijing will not challenge other great powers, including the US, but will “work with the existing international order” instead (p. 17). He also sees a China that is building constructive relations with its neighbours – learning to accept Japan’s “normalcy”, settling border disputes with Russia, promoting economic cooperation with India –and playing a major role for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. All in all, Lai’s analysis suggests that China is emerging as a status quo and responsible power.

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on two regional actors in Northeast Asia – Japan and South Korea, respectively. Toshi Yoshihara, in chapter 2, argues that Japan has “quietly” transformed its strategic posture and thereby shown an increasing willingness to become a more “normal great power”. Yoshihara examines how domestic factors, including the emergence of conservative politicians like Koizumi and Abe, together with a redefinition of the US-Japan alliance have paved the way for Japan’s expansion of its security-related responsibilities not only in Northeast Asia, but also in a global context. Further, Yoshihara stresses that China “is never far from Japan’s strategic calculations” (p. 77). Although rivalry for regional leadership exists between Tokyo and Beijing, Yoshihara also asserts that the two sides have tried to improve their relations. In conclusion, he maintains that as long as Asia remains a volatile region, Japan will continue to be “embedded within the US-led security architecture as a strategic hedge” (p. 86).

In chapter 3, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes analyses South Korea’s security dilemma and argues that the division of the Korean Peninsula is still the “biggest national security concern” for Seoul (p. 87). Sarantakes claims that while South Korea and the US differ in their perceptions of, and approaches to, the North Korean threat, the alliance with Washington continues to form the centrepiece of Seoul’s strategic thinking. Further, Sarantakes asserts that the persisting strong animosities between South Korea and Japan, and in Northeast Asia in general, mean that the US “still has an important role in bringing about stability” in the region (p. 98).

Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the security perceptions in South Asia, namely those of India and Pakistan, respectively. Gupta, in chapter 4, argues that while India is the other rising Asian power (besides China), it remains a “reformist state”. India, writes Gupta, does not compete “for the top position” in the international system (p. 108), but seeks to bring about incremental changes to that system in order to have “a greater say in world affairs” (p. 107). Gupta examines how India’s rise to major power status is complicated by a number of both internal and external security challenges, such as the situation in Kashmir, the relations with Pakistan and, especially, the rise of China. Gupta asserts that New Delhi’s strategy towards Beijing combines economic engagement with efforts to counterbalance Chinese influence, while India’s perception of strategic stability in the broader Asian region rests on “China behaving as a status quo power” (p. 126).

For Pakistan, as argued by Stephen Burgess in chapter 5, its security dilemma primarily stems from the troubled domestic situation, not least due to the dominance of the military, as well as the continued rivalry with India. Burgess analyses how “the need to survive against India” (p. 134) has formed the core of Islamabad’s security strategy, and led Pakistan establish partnerships with the US and China. Burgess concludes that the desired security outcome for Pakistan would be one of “Chinese dominance of Asia” with India “restrained and deterred” (p. 141).

The final two chapters are on Australia and Vietnam. In chapter 6, Gupta argues that Canberra’s perception of strategic stability in the broader Asian region has been shaped by its willingness to accommodate a rising China without jeopardising Australia’s alliance with the US. According to Gupta, for Australia, a secure Asia is one where the US security umbrella remains, while China continues its economic growth and “accommodates the interests of major players” (p. 159).

Lawrence E. Grinter, in chapter 7, discusses Vietnam’s internal and external security challenges, and points out that the latter stem from Hanoi’s respective relations with Beijing and Washington. Grinter maintains that, at present, economic engagement seems to define Vietnam’s approach to the great powers, although he admits that historical sensitivities do remain.

The conclusion of the book, written by Gupta, emphasises that the rise of China is viewed in the region as an enormous economic opportunity for future prosperity in Asia. Yet, “doubts remains about China’s intentions” (p. 175) and a potential US-China rivalry is especially worrisome. Many readers will agree with Gupta’s assessment that the Asian countries will have to reach a consensus regarding their desired regional order, while Washington and Beijing will need “to show a willingness to play their ascribed roles” (p. 176). Gupta, however, admits that “this is easier said than done”, suggesting that we are yet to see whether the Asian future will be one of  “traditional power politics” or of  “rapid economic globalization” (ibid.).

This high quality collection of articles addresses timely questions for Asian security and provides a useful insight into the region’s security dynamics. This reviewer would have appreciated, however, a more clear definition of what is meant by “Asia” in this book, as well as a more explicit justification for the choice of case-studies. For example, although Gupta in the introduction stresses that the contributions “cover the major sub-regions of Asia as well as the principal states that are likely to react to the rise of China” (p. 1), a chapter on Russia – a major power in Northeast Asia that shares a concern with other Asian states regarding the path of China’s rise – has not been included in the analysis. Some readers may find this omission somewhat puzzling.

Gupta’s edited volume is highly recommended to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in area studies, as well as international relations. The accessible style makes this collection also a valuable source on Asian security for the wider public.