23 July 2012

CMSI China Maritime Study #9–“Not Congruent but Quite Complementary: U.S. and Chinese Approaches to Nontraditional Security”

Lyle J. Goldstein, ed., Not Congruent but Quite Complementary: U.S. and Chinese Approaches to Nontraditional Security, Naval War College China Maritime Study 9 (July 2012).

U.S.-China relations, difficult in the best of times, have lurched in a dangerous direction since 2009. Against the backdrop of a weakened global economy and sharpened ideological tensions, there has been a disturbing new atmosphere of crisis in East Asia over the last two years, with incidents occurring in greater frequency and sowing serious doubts about the sustainability of the “long peace” that this region has enjoyed for decades. Indeed, any one of the following incidents could have escalated into a serious regional crisis: the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan; the collision between a Japanese coast guard cutter and a Chinese fishing trawler and the ensuing Chinese restrictions on the export of rare-earth minerals; and a string of confrontations between Chinese patrol ships and vessels from both Vietnam and the Philippines.

Taken together, these incidents starkly illustrate the fundamental fragility of interna­tional security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region and the troubling failure of the United States and China to adequately manage vexing regional challenges. In the United States and elsewhere in the West, the pervasive view is that Beijing is “feeling its oats”—eager to reap the strategic benefits of its dynamic economy even as Washington confronts major difficulties at home and abroad. Not surprisingly, Chinese observers are inclined to view these tensions differently. Difficulties with many neighboring states, such as Vietnam, are seen as encouraged and abetted by Washington, which is viewed as all too eager to exploit regional differences as a way to “contain” China’s rise. With­out significant course corrections in both capitals, the United States and China seem destined to follow the path of intensified rivalry that may even lead to the possibility of large-scale armed conflict. As Henry Kissinger has recently written, this path is “the road to disaster.”

Facing such difficult circumstances, some observers in the United States are inclined to exert new and extraordinary efforts for the purposes of enhancing military deterrence. Aaron Friedberg, for example, argues that the “U.S. position in Asia must appear so strong and so resilient that Beijing will ultimately choose to stand down rather than risk everything.” By contrast, this assembled volume describes a much more hopeful and cooperative approach. Surveying global security over the last two decades, the collection makes it apparent that both sides of the Pacific frequently articulate surprisingly similar security concerns—such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy, environmental crisis, humanitarian disaster, ethnic strife, and economic disloca­tion—all of which are issues that sit under the “large tent” of nontraditional security (NTS) concerns. To be sure, traditional security threats remain a regional concern. But scholars, practitioners, and leaders in international security—including recently retired secretary of defense Robert Gates—are all focusing new energy on issues that are decid­edly different from classic strategies of interstate conflict and zero-sum outcomes. Un­fortunately, relatively few academic studies have fully explored the potential for overlap in American and Chinese interests with respect to NTS.

An especially noteworthy contribution to the field of international relations and one that takes the U.S.-China cooperation problem with due seriousness is Michael Swaine’s recent America’s Challenge: Engaging a Rising China in the Twenty-First Century. Ac­cording to Swaine, “America’s strategy toward China will need to place a much greater emphasis on cooperation instead of rivalry.” Moreover, Swaine argues not only that NTS cooperation between the United States and China could build the trust necessary to tackle more challenging problems but also that “without strong U.S.-China cooperation, such transnational threats will prove virtually impossible to manage.” Thus, successful U.S.-China cooperation is not simply imperative for Asia-Pacific security but will also be key to global governance more generally.

The present volume reflects a commitment to develop international maritime coopera­tion between the United States and China through academic dialogue—and also to the careful examination of unique Chinese perspectives on critical issues related to NTS. It is the result of the China Maritime Studies Institute’s annual conference in Newport during May 2010, which involved the participation of almost a dozen Chinese specialist pre­senters, who were able to exchange ideas with their American counterparts. It is worth noting that despite a major effort to invite wide PLA Navy participation in this confer­ence, the Chinese navy ultimately declined to attend, because of political difficulties in the bilateral relationship. Despite this initial setback, the conference was quite successful, as the insightful chapters that follow will demonstrate. For their help in planning the initial conference, I wish to acknowledge the major assistance of Mr. Dalton Alexander and Lt. Cdr. Edward Fiorentino, as well as Naval War College faculty members Professor Andrew Erickson and Professor Kathleen Walsh.

The volume is unique in several respects, and not only because it offers both Chinese and American perspectives side by side. First and foremost, the assembled papers offer a glimpse into the rapidly developing and wide-ranging Chinese-language discussion about NTS issues and their role in Beijing’s future foreign policy. A plethora of Chinese citations attest to the careful efforts that have been made to synthesize this important literature, heretofore largely inaccessible to Western scholars. In addition, the volume includes both the views of policy insiders and also the ideas of individuals outside of government. Indeed, many of the authors do not shy away from challenging current policies. What this volume is not is a rote recitation of “happy talk.” The analyses are clear-eyed about certain limits with respect to NTS capabilities and sensitive regarding the implications of certain divergent views on NTS issues for the bilateral relationship overall. The assembled papers broadly assess the full scope of the bilateral NTS rela­tionship and simultaneously dive deeply into crucial case studies, in such vital areas as counterpiracy and peacekeeping. Finally, as befits the work of an institute focused on maritime studies, there is a distinct focus on maritime issues, including a chapter on maritime counterterrorism, without ignoring key developments ashore that are crucial components to addressing any NTS challenges and to furthering the bilateral relation­ship as a whole.

A strong consensus at the conference and among the chapters that follow emerges that new Chinese interest in and capabilities for NTS operations offer a vital strategic op­portunity to enhance U.S.-China security cooperation. The chapters also reveal that while American and Chinese viewpoints on NTS issues are hardly congruent, they are surprisingly complementary. It is therefore hoped that this volume will help to build the foundation of a more cooperative pursuit of Chinese and American national interests and of international security more generally. …