13 December 2011

Asia Rising and the Maritime Decline of the West: A Review of the Issues

This study is as relevant today as when it was published. Many who have not done so already would benefit from reading this thought-provoking piece.

Geoffrey Till, Asia Rising and the Maritime Decline of the West: A Review of the Issues,” RSIS Working Paper No. 205, 29 July 2010.

The notion that Asia is rising and is set to dominate the latter half of the twenty-first century has become one of the most discussed of recent issues. The claim rests on a large number of economic, social, political and military assumptions and predictions. The scale and diversity of the issues to be addressed makes the validity of the claim hard to assess. This paper does not intend to provide a clear-cut answer as to whether the claim is true or not, but instead to review the issues upon which such a judgment will need to be based.

Asia’s current economic growth, relative to that of the West, is considered and its crucial maritime roots identified. This is closely linked to the region’s growth in naval power. The result is a greatly expanded range of naval capabilities that seem likely to challenge the erstwhile maritime dominance of the West in general, and of the United States in particular.

But is this alleged prospective shift in relative maritime power so certain? The paper investigates this and revisits many of the economic assumptions that underpin the argument, specifically with regard to China. Finally, the paper looks with some skepticism at both the particular notion of Western dominance as a historical phenomenon and the more general concept of international dominance in the globalized circumstances of the twenty-first century. It concludes that the whole notion of the rise of Asia and the end of the maritime ascendancy of the West is more complicated, and much harder to measure or predict than is usually claimed. …