Interest, Fear, and Honor

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For both structural and cultural reasons, it seems likely that China’s rise as a global great power will provoke conflict with neighboring states and even farther abroad. Rising powers throughout history have sought to reshape the international balance of power to their liking, and the particular East Asian order that China wishes to restructure–led by the United States but with a hub-and-spoke design that is problematic for collective deterrence and defense –is inherently vulnerable and made more so by the seeming weakness of current US policy. The retreat of the global guarantor creates power vacuums that revisionist states will seek to fill. Moreover, Chinese strategic culture makes for a strong internal engine pushing for geopolitical change. Beijing retains a traditional Sinocentric outlook on international affairs, and the last centuries of Chinese weakness have spawned a powerful desire to reestablish what the Chinese see as the normal order of things. Beijing is, in some ways, a status quo power but a deeply unsatisfied one; the status quo arrangement it wishes to reclaim is one that precedes the intrusion of the West in East Asia or the Meiji modernization in Japan. Trying to turn the clock back that far is a recipe for conflict.

Interest, Fear, and Honor, by Thomas Donnelly by Hoover Institution