Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Strategy in Asia: The Past, Present, and Future of Regional Security

Strategy in Asia: The Past, Present, and Future of Regional Security
by Thomas G. Mahnken & Dan Blumenthal (Editors)Mahnken - Strategy in Asia

I bought this book thinking it was a full academic text, then learned 2nd hand that one of the editors intends to use it for his class, suggesting it is a textbook. Now i’ve read it I’m not sure it fits either of those two broad categories. And that’s no bad thing.

This is an impressive short volume on some of the major issues and discussions in the field of strategic studies today, as it relates to the most important region for such debates: Asia. The book features 14 short, well written but scholarly chapters looking at how geography, culture and economics affect strategic choices, along with how different types of warfare from irregular to arms races and nuclear deterrence operate. In between are a handful of country chapters, particularly focused on whether China, Japan, India and the US have their own ways of war or particular fascinations and concerns.

Broad sweeping books like this often struggle for coherence, particularly when they are textbooks trying to say everything, or collected academic volumes without a strong editorial hand in control. This book, while not without faults holds together strongly. Bradford Lee’s chapter on economics is particularly strong (as an economist talking politics, rather than the other way around), as is Mankhen on Arms races, Bitzinger on Modernisation, Holmes on Maritime strategy and Yoshihara and Wilson on China’s approach to the sea and way of war respectively.

I would perhaps have liked to see some more on questions of whether there is an Asian approach to strategy – touched on but quickly dismissed by Michael Evans – and the lack of chapters on hierachy, conventions (norms and institutions) and cyber is a shame. I also think the somewhat exclusive focus on the great powers is a mistake – one somewhat admitted in the fine concluding chapter which seeks to remedy it with mini sections on the major middle powers. Still, there could always be more chapters, and those books that do try to take that route end up either without form or of such bulk that almost no one actually reads the good material within (I’m looking at you Oxford Handbook of  IR/Diplomacy/Policy etc. series)

This is a good refresher for the scholar, and a great tour of the grounds for the interested reader. One I’ll be recommending to my students and anyone else wanting to get a sense of how academia is trying to understand the tension and conflict in Asia today.