Thursday, December 10, 2009

Final Readings Post

This will be the final post on this blog. I am not giving up blogging, however, as I and some friends have founded a group blog where I can continue many of these themes. (In fact, I've post many things over there that would have worked here as well, dealing with Taiwan and North Korea.)

Today's readings focus on the region as a whole.

David Kang. “Getting Asia Wrong,” International Security Vol. 27, No. 4, Spring 2003, pp.57-85
Adelphi Papers: no. 400-401 Asian Security Issue

Pax Asiatica versus Bella Levantina: The Foundations of War and Peace in East Asia and the Middle East ETEL SOLINGEN University of California Irvine

As usual, we'll take these one at a time.

Kang: This piece is a mostly theoretical piece, talking about how the most common IR theories do not really apply to East Asia, and how East Asia is a great opportunity for revising and universalizing theories created in the shadow of European experience. He focuses mostly on realism, which I find somewhat problematic because realism is so easy to pick on. Kang is quite frank about how none of realism's predictions for East Asia came true, but realism's predictions never come true anywhere. Even in Europe, NATO still exists, Germany does not yet have the bomb, and there has been no massive war between the European powers. (And no, the Yugoslav war doesn't count, because the component parts of Yugoslavia do not count as great powers. Besides, the fact that the internal dynamics of a country could so heavily affect the other states destroys the very ideas of realism as well.)

I also take issue with a few minor points (such as the idea that a nationalistic South Korea would rather balance with China, which has historically oppressed Korea, against the US, which has played a part but not as heavy handed), but overall, I think there is a lot to be said for the main ideas. East Asia offers a state system and history vastly different from that of Europe, and thus could be useful for refining our ideas of "how IR works."

Adelphi: I was not aware when I first put this on the syllabus that it was, in fact, a large number of different speeches at a conference. Therefore, it is hard to categorize in this way. Most of these involved policy makers from around the region pledging greater cooperation, with US SecDef Robert Gates also pledging greater attention from the US. The Korean representative talked a lot about how Korea has grown and is a model for the world, while the Chinese representative talked about multipolarity.

Solingen: This piece tried to draw out why, despite very similar starting points, the Middle East and East Asia have diverged so sharply, mostly in terms of conflict but also economically. The article says that it is due to "competing domestic models of political survival," or simply that most of the major Middle Eastern states were able to rely on oil rents and thus could pursue disastrous but popular policies, or else were able to be militaristic and conflictual in ways that were absolutely disastrous for East Asian states. In other words, the resource curse killed any chance at developing normal relations in the Middle East. There were other things at work (Nasser's consistent meddling in other states, etc.), but the resource curse has to be the greatest cause of it.

There is another point that Solingen does not get to for quite awhile that I think may have as much to do with it. At least in Northeast Asia, the states in question had far more legitimacy than the states of the Middle East. No one either within the states or without doubted the right of the states of Japan, Korea, and China to exist. The same applies to some of the states of Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Thailand. Questions could be raised as to exact borders, and they did not hold the exact same level of legitimacy as Westphalian states, but the basic right for the Koreans, the Japanese, the Thai, etc., to have states was never in question. This is not the case in the Middle East, where not only was Israel surrounded by countries that did not believe in its right to exist, but the Arab states (being largely artificial lines drawn on a map) never held the internal legitimacy of (for example) Japan. No one in East Asia was seeking to impose a united East Asian state, like Nasser was seeking in his United Arab Republic. This probably helped tamp down quite a bit on conflict as well.

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