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Reading response to Asian Security Order by Muthiah Alagappa

October 19, 2012

 

In the first chapter of Asian Security Order, Alagappa has constructed a very useful analytical framework to facilitate our understanding of “order” before bringing us into the Asian context. Different from Hadley Bull’s definition of order that emphasizes “sustaining the elementary goals of international society”, Alagappa defines order as “a formal or informal arrangement that sustains rule-governed interaction among sovereign states in their pursuit of individual and collective goals.” (39) He further argues that “the key criterion of order is whether interstate interactions conform to accepted rules, not whether they sustain particular goals.” Based on this notion, three types of international orders are identified, namely instrumental order, normative-contractual order and solidarist order, which represent the conception of realism, liberal institutionalism and constructivism respectively. Certain arrangements are essential to sustain order (rule-governed interaction). Such arrangements basically fall into three categories (forms). There are also different pathways under each category:


a.Order through power and competition;
Pathways: hegemony, balance of power, concert of powers.

b.Order through cooperation;

Pathways: collective security, international regimes, economic independence and cooperation

 

c.Order through transformation.

Pathways: democratic peace, international integrations.

 

As Alagappa demonstrated in this chapter, “no approach (pathway) is sufficient by itself to sustain order. Features of the different approaches usually coexist and overlap.” (63) This is particularly true in Asia, where the interstate interactions are so complex, fluid and difficult to identify through simplistic synthesis. Given the intertwined and ever-changing nature of Asian security, it is not only important to understand how different pathways have led us to the current stage, but also necessary to grasp the changes that are taking place—as Alagappa put it, “change within an order” and “change of the type of order itself.” (64)

 

Unlike Europe, Asia has “skewed distribution of power, low level of economic interdependence, anemic security institution, historic antagonisms and widespread territorial disputes.” (2) Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the rule-governed Asia is a “far more stable and predictable place” than it used to be. (3) As several author noted, there has been no major shooting war in Asia since Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Asian countries have reached an informal consensus that “disputes should be settled without recourse to war.” (18) However, the weak institutionalization in Asia also determines that this consensus is actually quite fragile. With the end of the Cold War and the rise of China and India, it is possible that the US-dominated unipolar security order may change (not in the near future) as Asia is gaining importance, but “an Asian century is unlikely in the foreseeable future.” (13)

 

Buzan’s Security Architecture in Asia has wonderfully explored the transformations of the Asian security paradigm as well as its interplay on regional and global levels along the historical trajectory since World War II. In the post-Cold War context, instead of asking the clichéd question “how to construct a new international order?” when the unipolarity is in decline, I think a more proper way to put it is, “how a new international order will be constructed by multiple players?”

 

In answering this question, Mastanduno’s piece on the US imcomplete hegemony and Goldstein’s work on balance-of-power politics have provided useful insights by focusing on the “order through power and competition.” While pointing out that the US hegemonic order is incomplete and is facing various challenges, Mastanduno argued that it also has significant advantages over other paths in the contemporary Asia Pacific: a. keeping potential power rivals at bay; b. helping to mitigate the security concerns of smaller states; and c. managing security crisis that might escalated to local war and even regional conflict. (153-155) By showing the shortcomings of unipolarity and the unfeasibility of either bipolarity or multipolarity, Mastanduno indicated that the creation of security order through the identity transformation and integration of Asian states would be possible and more desirable. Then the question emerges: how do Asian states find shared values and interests while putting aside long-standing disputes and intrinsic conflicts?

 

To some degree, Alice Ba’s case study of ASEAN expansion implicitly answered this question—that is, despite various differences in terms of political systems and levels of economic development, states can integrate with each other just for the sake of integration, as long as they have ultimate shared goals such as the realization of self-determination. It is worth noting that the Southeast Asian states are relative weak, the lack of regional dominant power may thus act an advantage for cooperation and integration. Therefore, it is questionable whether the same mechanism is still applicable in broader context with the participation of China, Japan, Russia, India and the United States.

 

With regards to conflict management among greater powers, Wang Jianwei’s piece on Asian territorial disputes introduced several pathways to ease tensions, namely through bilateral consultation and negotiation, multilateral confidence- building regimes, and by multilateral institutions. He implied that “the intrinsic and relative value of traditional border has declined”, and it might be superseded by “national desire to create a peaceful and stable external environment for domestic modernization.” (417) Wang also pointed out that the bilateral relations, the configuration of major power relations and significance of the territory’s strategic, economic, and symbolic values could all play a role in influencing regional security order through such kinds of dispute. I would like to relate this point to the current maritime territorial dispute between China and Japan. While both countries acknowledge the importance of maintaining the two country’s economic relations, it seems that the domestic politics of each country are factors that escalate the conflicts. I am wondering how the “economic interests vs. national identity” relationship will play out in the long run.

 

Bibliography
1. Alagappa, Muthiah, in Alagappa (ed.) Asian Security Order: Instrumental and Normative Features (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 2003), "Introduction", Chapters 1-2.

2. Ba, Chaps. 4-5. 

3. Buzan, Barry, “Security Architecture in Asia: The Interplay of Regional and Global Levels,” The Pacific Review, 16, 2 (2003): 143-173.
4. Christensen, Thomas J., "China, the US-Japan Alliance, and the Security Dilemma in East Asia" in Ikenberry and Mastanduno, International Relations Theory and the Asia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003): 23-56.

5. Goldstein, Avery, "Balance-of-Power Politics: Consequences for Asian Security Order" in Alagappa (ed.) Asian Security Order: Instrumental and Normative Features (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 2003): 171-209.

6. Mastanduno, Michael, "Incomplete Hegemony: The United States and Security Order in Asia" in Alagappa (ed.) Asian Security Order: Instrumental and Normative Features (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 2003): 141-170.

7. Wang, Jianwei, "Territorial Disputes and Asian Security: Sources, Management, and Prospect" in Alagappa (ed.) Asian Security Order: Instrumental and Normative Features (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 2003): 380-423.
 

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