Jonathan Holslag On world order and disorder

The Limitations of Deterrence: China’s Response to Military Balancing in the Western Pacific

The best way to avoid an armed conflict with another great power is to make any conflict scenario as lethal, costly, prolonged, and unpredictable as possible. That is the essence of deterrence: building up military capabilities to the degree that the price of war nullifies the prizes of aggression. To be effective, however, deterrence must coincide with reassurance. That is at least the commonly held view among today’s realists. The most optimist strands of realism even assume that such deft deterrence could create the necessary stability for closer cooperation in other areas and facilitate the emergence of a security regime This paper tests how much these ideas hold true in case of the evolving tensions between China and the other Asian powers over the Western Pacific since 2009. It finds that China’s alleged assertiveness in this area was indeed met by balancing through deterrence, and that China on its turn counterbalanced by shoring up its military capabilities. The reassurance part, though, has been remarkably absent. There is no evidence whatsoever that a security regime is in the making and China seems to keep all options open for defending its claims. Moreover, it is not unlikely that security in the Western Pacific could take a turn for the worse. In: Andrew Ta,  2013. East and South-East Asia: International Relations and Security Perspectives. London: Routledge. (Read the manuscript)