Networking hegemony: alliance dynamics in East Asia

Abstract

This Special Issue aims to explain the transition from the Cold War US-led system of exclusive bilateral alliances in East Asia (or “hub-and-spokes” system) into a “networked security architecture”, i.e. a network of interwoven bilateral, minilateral and multilateral defence arrangements between the US and its regional allies and partners, and that also partly includes China. Drawing from the English School of International Relations, it challenges dominant Structural Realist explanations which interpret such development as a form of external balancing against a revisionist China. By contrast, this Special Issue submits that China’s selective contestation of the US-led hegemonic order in East Asia has sparked a renegotiation of such order among regional powers, which has resulted in the restructuring of the underlying alliances and defence partnerships into a networked security architecture. Specifically, regional powers have sought to broaden the composition of the US-led hegemonic order in East Asia—by diversifying the range of defence ties between US allies and partners, but also by seeking to include the PRC in it. Thereby, rather than merely balancing the People’s Republic of China, they have sought to channel the trajectory of China’s rise within this hegemonic order through a mixture of resistance and accommodation. This introductory paper develops the theoretical framework and central argument of the Special Issue.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Two exceptions to the bilateral structure of the “hub-and-spokes” alliance system were the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS). However, not only was SEATO largely ineffective, but it was dissolved in 1977. New Zealand was suspended from ANZUS in 1986. See Cha (2016).

  2. 2.

    The concept of “networked security architecture” introduced in this Special Issue partly draws on Victor Cha’s work on the East Asian “complex patchwork” (Cha 2011, 2014). Cha’s (loosely defined) concept referred to an incoherent assemblage of “bilateral, trilateral and other plurilateral configurations” (Cha 2011, 28). A networked security architecture specifically entails the purposeful intent—on the part of regional powers—of participating in, and fostering growing connectivity through, a network of overlapping bilateral, minilateral and multilateral arrangements. Partly building upon Tow and Taylor (2010, 96), we define a security architecture as an overarching security structure for a geographically defined area which facilitates the resolution of that region’s policy concerns. Unlike that of Tow and Taylor, however, this definition does not assume ex ante the overarching coherence of this structure. This is because a variety of often competing priorities and interests (i.e. multiple agencies) shape and mould the organizational make-up of a security architecture.

  3. 3.

    The normative pillars of the US-led hegemonic order in East Asia are the recognition of great power status, respect of sovereignty, free trade, deterrence and international law (Buzan and Zhang 2014b)—and specifically freedom of navigation and overflight and the multilateral, rules-based system of dispute resolution. A definition of primary and secondary institutions is provided below.

  4. 4.

    In this Special Issue, “alliance dynamics” refers to the reordering of alliances and defence partnerships among states in a given region. This can entail the development of bilateral, minilateral and/or multilateral forms of defence cooperation. The “networked security architecture” that has emerged in East Asia is one possible configuration of alliance dynamics.

  5. 5.

    China is thus included in some of the initiatives constituting the networked security architecture (e.g. bilateral partnerships with individual regional powers, minilateral arrangements and multilateral fora), but not in others, i.e. the system of five US bilateral mutual defence treaties.

  6. 6.

    On Defensive Realism and the rise of China, see, for instance, Beckley (2017), Friedberg (1993, 2011), Fravel (2010), Glaser (2015) and Liff (2016). For an Offensive Realist perspective, see Mearsheimer (2001, 2006, 2010). On Power Transition Theory as applied to the rise of China, see Allison (2017), Lemke and Tammen (2003) and Tammen and Kugler (2006).

  7. 7.

    Other variants of Realism put forward partly different perspectives. Neo-Classical Realists introduce domestic intervening variables, such as nationalism, domestic mobilization or leaders’ perceptions of threats and interests that can impact the degree of China’s revisionism and the counter-balancing strategies of regional powers (Christensen 1996; Schweller 2018; Sørensen 2013). For their part, Classical Realists focus on a larger range of state goals than mere survival (e.g. fear, honour, prestige), on the role of both domestic and international politics in shaping state behaviour as well as on the importance of contingency (Kirshner 2010, 2018). On these grounds, they dispute the fact that China is a revisionist power that will inevitably bid for regional hegemony and that it should therefore be counterbalanced. On the contrary, they argue that the US can and should avoid conflict by accommodating China’s rise. For an overview of the key propositions of Realists on the consequences of China’s rise and the response by regional powers, see also Mastanduno (2014).

  8. 8.

    Lim and Cooper (2015) argue that the range of hedging states in East Asia is smaller than usually assumed in the literature.

  9. 9.

    This argument differs substantially from the debate over whether the US should engage or contain the PRC (or a combination thereof) (e.g. Friedberg 2011, ch. 4; Khalilzad 1999; Shambaugh 1996; Tellis 2013). First, as Silove (2016) stresses, these two components (engagement and containment) are possible means, rather than the primary goal, of US policy—that she identifies as the enhancement of its overall power in the region. Secondly, previous analyses neglected to link these various components of Washington’s policy to the overarching goal of upholding the US-led hegemonic rules-based order in East Asia. We contend that the US does not merely seek to contain the PRC or to expand its power position in East Asia. Rather, together with its allies and partners, Washington aims to shape the trajectory of China’s rise within such order—from a position of pre-eminence—through a combination of positive and negative incentives (i.e. accommodation and resistance), with the ultimate goal of upholding the existing regional rules-based hegemonic order (see Meijer in this Special Issue). Third, whereas the engagement/containment debate has largely revolved around the US–China bilateral relationship, this Special Issue takes into account the role and agency of all regional powers in developing the policy response to China’s rise.

  10. 10.

    Only very few authors have analysed East Asian security dynamics through the lenses of the English School (e.g. Buzan and Zhang 2014b; Goh 2013). These works, however, do not examine the relations between the contestation of regional order by rising powers and the shifting regional alliance dynamics.

  11. 11.

    Given that this Special Issue seeks to explain the changing alliance dynamics in East Asia since the end of the Cold War, we focus specifically on regional (rather than international) order. On the conjunctions of the regional and global levels of analysis, see Foot and Goh (2019).

  12. 12.

    Realists such as Gilpin (1981) do consider the role of norms and institutions, but they conceive them as a mere superstructure of the existing distribution of material capabilities (see Ikenberry 2014, 6–7; Kupchan 2014, 52).

  13. 13.

    For early attempts at moving beyond this dichotomy, see Johnston (2003) and Schweller (1994, 1999). On the revisionist/status quo dichotomy, see also Chan et al. (2018).

  14. 14.

    As shown by Meijer in this Special Issue, the Trump administration has displayed contradictory impulses vis-à-vis China and in managing its alliances in East Asia. On the one hand, in contrast to all its post-Cold War predecessors, it has labelled China as a “revisionist” power and displays greater scepticism on the prospects of integrating the PRC in the US-led rules-based order. On the other hand, the Trump administration’s defence policy in the region—and its approach to alliance dynamics—has displayed very substantial continuity. Under the rubric of the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy, it continues to foster what itself has begun to refer to as a “networked security architecture” (U.S. DoD 2019, 9, 44–45). In short, compared to previous post-Cold War administrations, the Trump administration has displayed patterns of both continuity and discontinuity in its approach to alliance dynamics in East Asia. Furthermore, as detailed in the various contributions to this Special Issue, the vast majority of US allies and partners in the region have not substantially revised neither their perceptions of the modalities of China’s contestation of regional order nor their role in the development of the regional networked security architecture.

  15. 15.

    On the continuities/discontinuities in the policies of the Trump administration and of those of its allies and partners in the region, see the previous footnote.

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Acknowledgements

For useful and constructive feedback, the authors would like to thank Shaun Breslin, Tim Dunne, Rosemary Foot, Evelyn Goh, Joseph Grieco, Jonathan Kirshner, Beverly Loke, Avinash Paliwal, Luis Simón, Pascal Vennesson and Jiang Zhongjin.

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Dian, M., Meijer, H. Networking hegemony: alliance dynamics in East Asia. Int Polit 57, 131–149 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-019-00190-y

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Keywords

  • English School
  • Hegemony
  • Alliances
  • Defence cooperation
  • United States
  • China
  • East Asia