Australian Outlook

In this section

An Introduction to Asia-Pacific Security

19 Aug 2018
Reviewed by Professor Alan Tidwell
Asia-Pacific Security

This book makes for an excellent primer on issues of Asia-Pacific security, with 12 chapters exploring both traditional and non-traditional topics. Divided into three sections, the first, entitled The Changing Asia-Pacific Security Order, might well be renamed Questions of Status in the Asia-Pacific.

The text begins with Brad Glosserman’s exploration of the role of the United States as a guarantor of security in the Asia Pacific and questions about Washington’s ability to share power in the region. Lowell Dittmer follows up and explores China’s rise and muses over China’s great-power status. H. D. P. Envall and Ian Hall continue in a similar vein exploring India and Japan’s status as potential great powers. The penultimate chapter in this section by Andrew Carr’s “Are Middle Powers on a Collision Course in the Asia-Pacific?” and Joanne Wallis’ “Why are Small States a Security Concern in the Asia-Pacific?” round up the examination of status. Each chapter illuminates important dynamics of change in the region and helps guide students towards important questions for consideration.

Out of the five chapters that make up the section entitled, Current and Emerging Security Challenges, the chapter by Tim Huxley and Brendan Taylor on “Military Modernization and Arms-Racing in the Asia-Pacific” and James Manicom’s “Maritime Security: Will Asia’s Next War Occur at Sea?” provide solid discussions of traditional security threats. Christopher Paul and Nick Nelson turn their focus on the now well-trod ground of terrorism and insurgency in the Asia-Pacific. Internal and non-traditional security challenges are examined by Alistair D. B. Cook and Rex B. Hughes, who undertake the task of discussing the impact of the cyber revolution on the Asia-Pacific. Taken together, these chapters provide an excellent overview of traditional and non-traditional security threats in the Asia-Pacific.

In the final and brief section entitled Security Solutions, Mathew Davies asks “Can Multilateralism and Security Communities Bring Security to the Asia-Pacific?”. Sarah Teitt follows up and similarly wonders whether human security provides a solution for problems facing the Asia-Pacific. A thoughtful concluding essay by Brendan Taylor and William Tow on the Asia-Pacific’s likely security future nicely summarises the fundamental challenges in the region.

Looking forward to a second edition one could imagine some useful updates. The book, published in 2016, foreshadowed a world somewhat different from the one today. The intervening years underscore just how rapid change can be. The leaders of the two largest powers in the Asia-Pacific look very different today than they did in 2016. Donald Trump and his “America First” mantra have radically altered prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (now without the US) and Obama’s Pivot is a distant memory. Xi Jinping now holds undisputed control over the Chinese Communist Party and has embarked on an assertive campaign of expanding Chinese regional influence. Today, the promise of multilateralism looks nothing like it did when the editors first conceived this book. North Korea boasts a ballistic missile capacity unlike anything it had in 2016, thus destabilising not only northeast Asia, but also at least half the globe.

The authors may also want to revisit the emphasis on status, as the frames of “middle” and “small” state offer limited analytical usefulness. Such classifications will always attract quibbles. For example, is Malaysia a small state or a middle power? But more importantly, how does that classification affect the understanding of its international behaviour? It probably doesn’t. Status is relative for most states, and even for superpowers not always absolute. New Zealand is a small power relative to the US, but a large power relative to Samoa.

Wallis and Carr have produced an excellent textbook on security in the Asia-Pacific and their second edition will be equally as good or even better.

Joanne Wallis and Andrew Carr, eds. Asia-Pacific Security: An Introduction (Washington, D. C.: Georgetown University Press)

Alan Tidwell is Professor and Director of the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.  

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.