Changing Security Dynamics in East Asia: A Post-US Regional Order in the Making?

By Salleh, Nur'Asyura | Contemporary Southeast Asia, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Changing Security Dynamics in East Asia: A Post-US Regional Order in the Making?


Salleh, Nur'Asyura, Contemporary Southeast Asia


Changing Security Dynamics in East Asia: A Post-US Regional Order in the Making? Edited by Elena Atanassova-Cornelis and Frans-Paul van der Putten. Hampshire, England, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Hardcover: 228pp.

This engaging volume compiles expert perspectives that focus on how the strategic uncertainty surrounding the future of America's security commitment to East Asia shapes the security dynamics of the region against the backdrop of China's growing influence. This discussion is timely, as the region responds to China's current power projection strategies, including the "One Belt, One Road Initiative". Derived from a panel discussion at a conference, this edited volume provides a theoretically informed debate on how strategic uncertainty informs the behaviour and perceptions of East Asian states and analyses the mechanisms used to respond to it.

Throughout the book, the authors consistently link China's rise to the strategic uncertainty of US security commitments to discuss how this impacts the security behaviour of East Asian countries. The book is divided into three parts. The first part tackles broad theoretical, historical and contemporary approaches to understanding East Asia's security dynamics. This is followed by individual studies on the impact of strategic uncertainty on the security behaviour of states in Northeast and Southeast Asia. The book's real contribution to the literature on East Asian politics and US-China relations can be found in the last section. Here, the authors discuss alternative regional models of order increasingly being used by East Asian countries to jointly manage strategic uncertainty. This forces readers to contemplate the possibility of a post-US regional order in which China is the paramount power.

The book's overview of East Asia's security order skillfully avoids a factual rendition of the region's strategic history and instead analytically exposes the layers of uncertainty and complexity inherent in the region. Nick Bisley scrutinizes the utility of three theoretical frameworks used in conceptualizing East Asia's security order: realism, hegemonic and hierarchical approaches, and liberal and analytical eclecticism perspectives. From this, Bisley uncovers wide theoretical divergences among regional scholars. Although this theoretical diversity may lead "policymakers to feel as if they have little to guide them when trying to understand and respond to Asia's dynamic security environment" (p. 24), Bisley concludes that an eclectic and non-paradigmatic research framework is most productive for understanding East Asia's strategic order. A more contemporary understanding of the region's security order is offered by Robert Sutter and Shi Yinhong in the following two chapters that investigate US engagement and US-China relations. Although both authors hold slightly opposing views on China's desire to exert regional leadership, they appear in general agreement on how East Asian states respond to Sino-US relations. The two authors conclude that as East Asia relies on the US presence to hedge against the implications of the rise of China, regional leaders have become wary of the possible waning of American influence.

The volume then evolves into a debate on the extent to which strategic uncertainty influences the security behaviour of East Asian states. In Japan's struggle to maintain US engagement in Asia, Kumiko Ashizawa acknowledges the influence of abandonment fears created by strategic uncertainty, but also places equal importance on the role of Japan's identity as both Asian and Western. Conversely, Larry Niksch accords a lesser role to strategic uncertainty in US-South Korean cooperation, which is shaped by a myriad of factors including China's relations with East Asian states and domestic political splits in both South Korea and the United States. …

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