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Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters

Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters by Bernard D. Cole. Naval Institute Press, 2013, 320 pp.

In Asian Maritime Strategies, Bernard Cole offers his readers an expansive, albeit worn, rendition of "trouble is brewing in Asia." Although his monograph is useful to individuals unfamiliar with the changing scene in the Pacific, it reveals little to those with a decent understanding of the growing tensions there. Regrettably, one finds no new insights in this study. He does, however, provide some handy facts concerning the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has become the axis around which disputes revolve but, interestingly, has also added octane to what had previously been less combustible sovereignty issues.

The author charts a predictable path as he analyzes the Pacific "landscape" before delving into specific maritime strategies of the United States, Japan, China, and India, among others. He addresses the much-trumpeted American "pivot" to Asia, pointing out that it has been heavy on rhetoric and less so in any tangible sense, to date. As such, many states, most notably Japan, have begun hedging their bets by expanding cooperation with other Asian players to offset robust Chinese maritime defense spending.

The utility of the work can be boiled down to the intended audience. As an introductory volume, it does a relatively good job of casing the region and the inherent challenges. If, however, the audience is the academic community--specifically, those fully conversant about the area--then this book falls short because it does not push the boundaries; rather, it stays neatly within expected parameters of a prefatory exposition.

A more fruitful approach might have involved examining whether China can stay true to the maxim proffered by its most clairvoyant leader Deng Xiaoping, who wisely advised his countrymen to "hide your strength and bide your time." Undeniably, China's continued rise to prominence depends on a tranquil environment in Asia. Yet, Beijing increasingly appears unwilling (or unable) to manage the contradictory forces of pronounced nationalism and dynamic globalism. Domestic forces may significantly derail China's future progress just as Beijing appears to be in the initial stages of eclipsing Washington's power in the region. Ironically, domestic frustrations, stirred in the past to deflect criticism of central government control and authority, may ultimately prove the downfall of the stellar rise orchestrated by Communist leaders. Logically, it is difficult to fathom why China would risk greatly heightened confrontation within or outside Asia. Then, again, logic takes one only so far. As is often the case, rational approaches can be short-circuited by primordial influences like fear, self-interest, and honor. Obviously, America is not immune to these influences. It would have been interesting if Cole had delved into how each side could potentially agitate the relatively placid waters by assuming too much, or too little, about the other.

Asian Maritime Strategies updates the ongoing regional disputes and concerns, adding to the glut of coverage. However, it misses the mark in terms of addressing the most crucial questions associated with an impending geopolitical shift of this magnitude.

Lt Col John H. Modinger, PhD, USAF
USAF Academy

"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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