Friday, February 25, 2011

The Future of Asian Security Order: Confucius and Kautilya Meet Kant...By Amitav Acharya

1. Will 21st century Asia be peaceful and prosperous or divided and dangerous. In the academic literature, thinking about Asia’s future security order has been shaped to a large extent by contrasting the conditions and prospects of peace in Europe with those in Asia. As we all know, Asia always comes out second best in such exercises. In reality, however, post-Cold War Europe has been less stable than post-Cold War Asia, especially if judged in terms of initial expectations and forecasts. As we have learnt from the Russian invasion of Chechnya, following conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, peace in Europe can be overstated, while stability in Asia can be under-stated. In Europe, the expansion of NATO’s turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, triggering a Soviet threat that liberals and constructivists had banished from their memory but neorealists had fervently hoped for. Europe’s much celebrated institutions with their elaborate toolkit of confidence-building, preventive diplomacy and early warning mechanisms failed to prevent what may turn out to be the most serious breach of international order since the US invasion of Iraq, or even the entire post-Cold War period. By contrast, Asia’s supposedly weak and ineffectual talk shops, by discouraging an American-led containment of China, making multilateralism palatable to Beijing and using the resulting Sino-US restraint to soften the region’s balance of power geopolitics, have prevented a Georgia in the region. Against this backdrop, there is a need to rethink our Eurocentric assumptions about what shapes the future of Asia’s security order and what would it look like. What follows is a preliminary attempt, in rather broad and conceptual terms, to do just that.

Will Europe’s Past be Asia’s Future?
2. The most influential articulation of the pessimistic or ‘divided and dangerous’ view of the future of Asian security order was offered by Aaron Friedberg in his 1993/94 article in International Security. His article, “Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in Multipolar Asia”, is probably the most well-known and influential article on the future of Asian security order. It views multipolarity as prone to conflict, but holds that peace in post-Cold War Europe would still be maintained by certain mitigating factors, including economic interdependence, multilateral institutions and shared liberal democratic domestic political systems. But the absence or near absence of these factors would render Asia ripe for rivalry. This argument was flawed for at least three reasons, which I briefly enumerate.
3. First, history suggests no necessary causal relationship between multipolarity and conflict, as Friedberg Instead, Karl Deutsch and David Singer argue, multipolar systems do contain their own stabilising mechanisms, including prospects for developing multiple channels of interaction.
4. Second, the ripe for rivalry thesis vastly understated the extent of economic interdependence and institutional mechanisms in the region, even in the early 1990s. More important, the absence of European-style institutions in Asia did not imply the absence of shared normative frameworks. And as I have argued elsewhere, Friedberg missed the extent to which Asia’s “thin gruel” of institutions, which he contrasted with Europe’s “thick alphabet soup”, was a dietary preference, rather than a product of inescapable geopolitical fate.
5. A third problem with the ripe for rivalry thesis was that it is yet to materialise.
6. This leads to Friedberg’s second contribution to the Asian security order debate, an article in Survival in 2000 suggestively entitled: “Will Europe’s Past Be Asia’s Future?” The question mark notwithstanding, here Friedberg left no doubt his prognosis about Asia’s future and which European past was he talking about. Its was Europe’s late 19th century and early 20th century past, driven by the unification and rise and expansion of Germany, triggering the catastrophic multipolar struggle for Europe’s destiny despite substantial regional economic interdependence. In posing this question Friedberg was certainly not alone. Its rhymed well with the tune of power transition theory, and synched with John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism which became powerful new basis for realist assessments about the future of Asia’s security order.
7. Like Friedberg, Mearsheimer was not an Asian specialist. A structural realist like Waltz, he assumed, as did Friedberg, that multipolar systems are more conflict prone than bipolar ones (hence Europe after the Cold War would be a case of “back to the future”). But he differed from Waltz’s defensive realism – the view that states in anarchy, states seek to ensure their security through a balance of power, rather than to expand. Mearsheimer argued that anarchy induced states, especially rising powers to seek hegemony, especially regional hegemony, in order to ensure their survival. If China continued its meteoric rise, a confrontation with the United States was inevitable, rendering Asia deeply unstable, the growth of regional economic interdependence and institutions notwithstanding. Note a key difference between Friedberg and Mearsheimer: the former did not think Asia had enough interdependence and institutions (along with democracy) to mitigate anarchy, while the latter simply dismissed them as in consequential to prospects for peace and stability.
8. Among the many criticisms that might be levelled at Mearsheimer’s thesis, three stands out. First, physical expansion is not the only or most profitable pathway to great power status, in fact it can be self-defeating. Second, the notion of survival as the motive for expansion is a simplistic caricature of the complex instincts driving the security strategies of rising powers. A third is his ignoring of alternative attributes and styles regional dominance, including the legitimacy that rising powers can attain from weaker states through shared norms and identity as well as historical cultural practice. Considering some of these alternative pathways to legitimation provide the basis for alternative scenarios of the future of Asian security order.

Challenging Structural Realism: Will Asia’s Past be Its Future?

9. Let me now turn to the main challenge to realism in thinking about the future of Asian security order. Although others have disagreed with Friedberg’s ripe for rivalry thesis, it was David Kang’s article in International Security in 2003 that offered one of the most powerful challenges to it. Criticising IR scholars on Asia for not “getting Asia wrong” because of their Euro-centric perspectives, a label that can be applied both to Friedberg and Mearshimer, Kang put forth an elaborate argument centered on the notion of hierarchy in Asia. China’s rise, he argued, would return Asia “back to the future” by recreating a Sino-centric regional order that prevailed during the tributary system. Moreover, he argued that such an order will be a stable one, because when China was rich and powerful, Asian was prosperous and stable. He dismissed realist pessimism about Asia’s future resembling Europe’s (late 19th century and early 20th century) past. Instead of being “ripe for rivalry”, to use Aaron Friedberg’s phrase, Asia will be “primed for peace”, to quote Stephen Van Evera’s metaphor for Europe after the Cold War.
10. There is an interesting parallel between Kang and Mearsheimer that is often ignored. Both implied the scenario of a Sino-centric Asian security order: Kang more explicitly than Mearsheimer. But while Mearshimer’s hegemony was unstable and malign, Kang’ Sinocentric order was stable and benign. Yet, despite my obvious sympathy for Kang, Kang was possibly as wrong as Mearsheimer.
11. First, Kang’s argument that Asian’s are not balancing China may well be right, but his claim that they are bandwagoning with China is certainly wrong.
12. Second, Kang overstated Chinese imperial benevolence that underpinned a supposedly stable classical East Asian order. The tributary system did not preclude major conflicts involving the Chinese use of force, and the voyages of Admiral Zheng He in the first half of 15th century was itself a symbol of imperial (though not colonial) militarism.
13. A third criticism concerns Kang’s historicism. Though soft and vigorously denied, it’s palpable. The conditions that sustained the benign Chinese world order during the Ming and Qing dynasties are not replicated in the 21st century.
14. Fourth and most important, Kang’s thesis ignored the powerful and growing forces of stability in Asia, economic interdependence and regional institutions, including normative structures.

The Shifting Asian Security Paradigm

15. If neither realism nor communitarianism can offer an adequate and acceptable basis for thinking about Asia’s future security order, what can? From a long-term historical perspective, the foundations of Asian security order are undergoing fundamental shifts.
16. In the immediate post-War period, Asian regional order rested on three pillars: economic nationalism, security bilateralism, and political authoritarianism.
17. Economic nationalism, evident at the historic Asian-African conference at Bandung, led to an emphasis on import-substitution strategies geared to self-reliance and socialist economic approaches in India involving natioanalisation.
18. Security bilateralism was evident in the pervasive role of America’s bilateral military alliances in the region. These alliances, termed as “hub and spoke” or the San Francisco system, has been widely credited with providing not only the security of the alliance partners, but maintaining regional stability in Asia as a kind of collective good, even after the US defeat in the Vietnam war.
19. Another element of security bilateralism was bilateral modes of conflict management. Even in multilateral institutions like ASEAN, bilateral conflicts were not raised and resolved. China and India both strongly opposed internationalisation of their conflicts like Taiwan and Spratlys in the case of China and Kashmir in the case of India, by taking them to any global or regional multilateral fora.
20. Authoritarianism was the pervasive and a shared political basis of Asian security order. Not only the majority of East Asian countries were ruled by authoritarian regimes, including communist regimes and military dictatorships, it is even possible to speak of an “aristocratic peace”, exemplified by ASEAN, whose founding regimes had either reversed or significantly retreated from post-colonial experiments with liberal democracy.
21. Proponents of Asian Values, a rather explicitly Confucian-derived notion, like Lee Kuan Yew (but also many others less explicitly) equated democracy with absence of discipline and stressed the necessity of good governance over democracy. Performance legitimacy trumped liberal politics, and there was an implicit assumption than economic growth and hence performance legitimacy could not be achieved without authoritarian domestic political structures.
22. Is this paradigm holding? I argue that it is being replaced gradually and unmistakably by something more complex picture. Not a liberal paradigm of regional order resembling Europe, but a mixture of realism, communitarianism and Kantianism that could decisively shape the future of Asian security order. In other words, the traditional foundations of Asia’s security order, Asian economic nationalism, security bilateralism and political authoritarianism is giving way to a complex mix of economic interdependence, security multilateralism, and political pluralism. Let me elaborate.
23. Of these, the economic interdependence trend is perhaps the most advanced and noticeable. This is not such simply trade-based interdependence, but to a much greater extent that pre-World War I European economic interdependence, one underpinned by transnational production, more costly to break.
24. Less advanced is Asia’s security multilateralism. But here too progress is pronounced and consequential. Asia. This is not just about a growth in numbers of multilateral institutions and dialogues,.but also expansion of their scope to cover both inter-state, transnational, and increasingly, domestic security issues. Moreover, Asian institutions have slowly shedding their aversion to institutionalisation and legalisation, although there is still a far way to go, and not everyone in the region is convinced of the necessity or wisdom of European style formalism.
25. Despite being consistently disparaged by Western scholars for their failure to emulate European and Atlantic institutions, Asia’s regional institutions have arguably done a better job of dealing with a rising China than Europe’s in dealing with Russia. European regionalists and IR scholars who lauded NATO expansion for its role in diffusing liberal-democratic norms and identity to East European states, and legitimised the US’s determined effort to deny the alliance the decent burial it certainly deserved in post-Cold War Europe, forgot George Kennan’s warning that its expansion would be “a policy error of historic importance”. Asia, which had long eschewed the NATO option by rejecting all forms of multilateral collective defense, avoided any similar provocation to China. NATO expansion directly contradicted OSCE’s doctrine of common security, or security with, rather than against, the adversary. Asians regionalists, whose doctrine of cooperative was borrowed from OSCE, actually imbibed it and followed it in spirit, if not in its legalistic form (CBMs, high representatives for minorities, etc) by offering a genuine hand of engagement to China. The provocation of NATO expansion aside, the OSCE’s military and political intrusiveness might have aggravated Russian regime insecurity to an extent that ARF or other ASEAN-based regional institutions could not do to Chinese regime insecurity.
26. Least advanced in Asia’s the Kantian ladder is the trend towards political pluralism. But it cannot be ignored. Friedberg and other realists did not even address this issue of domestic politics as a basis of Asian regional order. But it is important.
27. The traditional democratic peace theory does not and would not apply to Asia. Asia has too few democracies historically, and Asian democracies are distinctively illiberal. But Asia certainly offers a number of examples to refute the view that democratisation increases the danger of war, or the democratic war thesis. No two democratising states in Asia have fought a war against each other. While democratisation has been accompanied by violence, as in Indonesia following the downfall of Suharto, such violence is not necessarily peculiar to transitions to democracy. Descent into authoritarian rule has been equally or even more violent, as happened during the onset of the Suharto regime. Authoritarian regimes have engaged in more political violence against their own people resulting in more deaths (i.e. deaths resulting from suppression of political opposition, I am not including ethnic or religious violence here although the two cannot be separated) than democratic regimes in Asia.

Kautilya and Confucius
28. I do not imply Asia is not marching inexorably towards a Kantian paradise. But Kantian elements are changing Kautilyan realism and both Kautlilya and Confucius are meeting Kant.
29. I am using Kautilya and Confucius as metaphors, to refer to broad realist and communitarian elements of Asian security order, rather than as analytic constructs.
30. Kautilyan realism has two principal elements, that in some ways combine aspects of what modern IR scholars would call offensive and defensive realism. As Mearsheimer would appreciate, in 4th century BC, Kautilya advised Prince Chandragupta Maurya, to seek hegemony, to become a Chakravartin (universal monarch) and helped the latter become India’s First Emperor. But Kautilya also outlined a manual for kings to pursue a checks- and-balances type power politics, a defensive strategy par excellence, known as the Mandala theory.
31. In Asia’s future security order, balance of power politics will not disappear from Asia. Instead, it may be used to prevent the scope for regional hegemonism by China. The closer security relations between Japan and India and India and Afghanistan exemplify this.
32. Moreover, the continued working of balance of power politics does not mean it will occupy the role of a prior or decisive force shaping Asian security order, but rather as fall back position, or last resort principle. Contemporary Asian hedging against China exemplifies this approach. Many though not all Asians are not balancing against China, neither are they bandwagoning. Even the United States itself has officially adopted a hedging strategy. At the same time, as I have argued before, they have not eschewed a balancing option. But countries in the region are willing to give cooperative security a decent chance, not just because they see as guarantee of peace, but the alternative approach of containing and balancing China to be fraught with uncertainties and dangers, including, for the weaker states, a dependence on the US.
33. The ideal type of a Confucian international order may also be said to have two key elements: hierarchy and communitarianism in social relations. Of these two, I believe hierarchy will be less important than communitarianism in shaping Asia’s future security order.
34. The proponents of Asian values have been more concerned in applying the society above the self to domestic politics than to international relations. But this Confucian dictum holds greater normative appeal as the basis for a regional international society in Asia underpinned by multilateral approaches and institutions. While Asian regional bodies like ASEAN and ARF will not supplant Kautilyan realpolitik, they will increasingly temper temptations towards regional hegemony and moderate balance of power politics. While Asian countries will desire balance of power as a condition in the sense of equilibrium of power, they will not necessarily pursue balance of power as an approach through unbridled competition and arms racing.
35. To sum up, the defensive elements of Kaulilyan realism and the communitarian aspects of Confucian social philosophy will remain important factors shaping Asia’s future security order. But as Kantian elements intrude into this selective Confucian and Kaulilyan landscape, what would the future of Asian security order look like. At the risk of some oversimplification, I would call it a consociational regional security order.

Towards a Consociational Security Order?
36. Derived from the notion of consociationalism in multi-ethnic societies, a consociational regional order may be defined as the political order of a culturally diverse region that rests on political and economic inter-connectedness, institutional arrangements and the cooperative attitudes of leaders (partly resulting from the perceived dangers of non-cooperation) reconciling their parochial national thinking with the regional common purpose.
37. The key feature of a consociational order is cultural diversity. Unlike IR theories, the notion of a consociational order is sensitive to culture: an important advantage of borrowing from domestic politics. This cultural diversity ensures that there will be no single Asian community: Asia is not and will not be One.
38. In a consociational order, the most powerful states respect the wishes of the weaker states. There will be an uneven and multipolar configuration of power among states rather than absolute dominance of a single power. These powers may balance each other, thereby ensuring stability. In other words, balance of power behaviour is an integral part of consociational orders, but there is no also considerable scope for cooperation.
39. Unlike in a concert, the powerful states in a consociation respect decisions of the weaker actors, who are not left to be governed by the whims of the great powers alone. Unlike a community, a consociation has no natural sense of collective identity or “we feeling”, but a sense of togetherness is constructed out of regular interactions. And while a regional consociation is not free from serious divisions and conflicts, these are managed through diplomatic processes and institutions so that they never reach breaking point.
40. Another key feature is “balanced disparity” (Emmerson): the distribution of power is uneven, hence hierarchy exists as an objective fact. But outcomes are decided by majority vote among ethnic groups which is respected by the majority ethnic group. In a regional consociation, the most powerful states respects the wishes of the minority.
41. Institutions are vital to managing the working of a consociation. Regional cooperation under a consociational framework is induced negatively. In other words, states cooperate not because they love and respect each other (although some may do so to some others), but because the price of non-cooperation will be too high under existing conditions of high security and economic interdependence. Conflict (economic or political) will be avoided not because the members of ASEAN, ARF, APEC or EAS are bound by shared values and common identity, but their members view conflict avoidance as a necessary precondition for economic growth and development. Institutions will be vital to engaging all actors and inducing restraint as arenas of conflict resolution.
42. Conceptually, a consociational regional order combines elements of realism (balance of power), liberalism (especially economic interdependence and functional institutions), and constructivism (socially constructed, as opposed to naturally given, regional identity and norms). Figure 1 represents the model. Like Kang, the CRO perspective does incorporate a notion of hierarchy, but unlike him, the CRO perspective acknowledges Asia’s cultural diversity, rather than cultural conformity. There is no return to Asia’s past, if hierarchy remains or emerges, it will not be historically or culturally pre-ordained, but based on normative and rational calculations derived from present. It adopts neo-liberal emphasis on dangers of non-cooperation. In this writes view, a consociations regional order is the most likely outcome of Asia’s IR. Conflict will not disappear. But managed. ASEAN will be a Security Community, although it might also become a CRO. At least it will provide the basis for a CRO.

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