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Strategic Stability in Asia

Strategic Stability in Asia edited by Amit Gupta. Ashgate, 2008, 171 pp.

Thinking about the dynamics of security governance in Asia gravitates easily toward the realms of fiction and fantasy. Even a cursory glance through a news bulletin on any given day would render the anxiety, concerns, and challenges experienced by scholars, policy makers, and publics in their confrontation with the nascent centrality of Asian actors in global politics. Thus, an ungainly but important task is to distinguish between the phantoms and substance underscoring the current fixation on Asian affairs. This volume, edited by Amit Gupta, an associate professor at the USAF Air War College (AWC), goes a long way in providing much-needed insights into these dynamics. In particular, its focus on the patterns of strategic stability in the continent and, in turn, on the dynamics that can potentially upset current projections, makes this collection a timely contribution to the discussion of the changing paradigms of international relations and security studies.

Strategic Stability in Asia details the strategic perceptions of six Asian states: China, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Australia, and Vietnam. Perhaps the inclusion of Australia would be surprising to some, but as Gupta points out, it simply reflects the recalibrations in Canberra’s international identity. The engagement with the foreign policy formulation of these six countries is undertaken from the state-centric perspective of traditional security studies. Most likely, a number of readers would find such an approach wanting; however, within its framework, the volume makes available an array of important observations corroborating the principles of strategic analysis. This is not least due to the consistency of the individual contributions, which is maintained by the robust structure of the volume. Two mutually reinforcing queries animate the analysis: “1) What do the major states of Asia view as the emerging challenges to their security environment? 2) What future security outcomes would make them believe that strategic stability has been achieved in the Asian continent?” (p. 1). Having set its objectives in such a clear fashion, the volume surveys the diplomatic, economic, and military measures undertaken by the six Asian countries to project and protect their strategic interests.

The book opens with a study of China’s external agency—the actor whose increasing prominence in international life has been single-handedly responsible for both altering the perception of Asian affairs and animating the current preoccupation with the continent. AWC professor David Lai indicates that Beijing’s impact on continental security would depend on its accommodation of and relations with “the other great powers” in Asia (p. 7). In this context, the ambiguous strategic stance of China makes it difficult to forecast future patterns of behavior. Probably less opaque, Japan’s “quiet transformation” of its strategic culture has been “one of the most underappreciated dimensions of Asian security,” according to Toshi Yoshihara, professor at the Naval War College (p. 59). However, just like in the case of China, it is the development of relevant models for interpreting Tokyo’s long-term strategic calculations that would influence the patterns of change and stability in Asia. This observation seems especially pertinent in the context of Japan’s growing willingness (as well as capacity) to contribute both to peacekeeping and humanitarian missions—a development that marks a significant break with the country’s traditional reticence to dabble in security matters. Unlike Japan, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, associate professor at the Army Command and General Staff College, argues that South Korea’s strategic agency in Asia still cannot overcome the ghosts of history. According to him, Seoul’s security horizon is still constrained by “unresolved historical issues, which are hardly in the past” (p. 87).

In the following chapter, Gupta makes it clear that continuity does not seem to undercut India’s strategic horizons. Instead, its “perceptions of international relations have remained fairly consistent since the times of Jawaharlal Nehru,” and it is this “Indian model of international relations” that underpins New Delhi’s current understanding of Asian security. Abetted by economic growth, India’s strategic culture has reasserted its position as the “reformist state” (p. 107) in continental affairs. While continuity seems to be the dominant motif of India’s foreign and security policy, Gupta (in his other contribution to the volume) indicates that it is change that marks Australia’s agency in Asia. By tracing the country’s strategic focus on “Northeast Asia—specifically China and Japan,” he suggests the shifting geopolitical realities of the broader Asian region (p. 149). Canberra’s emergence as an active participant in such interactions has contributed to the growing complexity of Asian politics. According to Stephen Burgess, AWC professor of international security, the uncertainty of such alterations is particularly palpable in Pakistan. The proliferation of domestic security dilemmas poses some of the most serious challenges to the security governance of the continent. Burgess therefore illustrates that “guaranteed national survival would be the security outcome that would make Pakistan believe that strategic stability has been achieved in Asia” (p. 141). Likewise, AWC professor Lawrence E. Grinter shows that “internal security” and preserving the rule of the communist regime in Hanoi dominate Vietnam’s foreign and security policy.

In this way, the survey of the issues dominating the strategic visions of these six countries indicates the complexity of Asian security dynamics. However, some might find problematic the absence of articles focusing on the roles of Russia, Iran, or Central Asia in the strategic stability of Asia. A further analytical point relates to the striking lack of definition of the ramification of “Asia”—even, if only as an operational concept. Despite these shortcomings, the volume provides a useful point of departure for further investigation. The analytical depth and contextual engagement of the contributions makes this collection highly relevant to practitioners, scholars, and students of the foreign and security policies of these countries. The ability to engage in this level of strategic analysis makes this volume valuable to anyone working on and dealing with the shifting patterns of Asian security issues.

Emilian R. Kavalski, PhD

University of Western Sydney, Australia

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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