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China, the US.-Japan Alliance, and the SecurityDflemma in East Asia ThomasJ, Christensen I M a n y scholars and analysts argue that in the twenty-first century international instability is more likely in East Asia than in Western Europe. Whether one looks at variables favored by realists or liberals, East Asia appears more dangerous. The region is characterized by major shifts in the balance of power, skewed distributions of economic and political power within and between countries, political and cultural heterogeneity, growing but still relatively low levels of intraregional economic interdependence, anemic security institutionalization, and widespread territorial disputes that combine natural resource issues with postcolonial nationalism.’ If security dilemma theory is applied to East Asia, the chance for spirals of tension in the area seems great, particularly in the absence of a U.S. military presence in the region. The theory states that, in an uncertain and anarchic international system, mistrust between two or more potential adversaries can Thomas I. Christensen is Associate Professor of Political Science and a member of the Security Studies Program at the Mussachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and Sino-American Conflict, 1947-1958 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996). A version of this article was presented to the 1998 University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College conferences on ”The Emerging International Relationsof the Asia PacificRegion” and will appear in a forthcoming volume edited by G. John Ikenberry and Michael Mastanduno. For helpful comments I am grateful to Robert Art, David Asher, Paul Giarra, Bonnie Glaser, Paul Godwin, Avery Goldstein, John Ikenberry, Iain Johnston, Peter Katzenstein, Jonathan Kirshner, George Lewis, Li Hong, Michael Mastanduno, Thomas McNaugher, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, Theodore Postol, Edward Rios, Richard Samuels, Harvey Sapolsky, Stephen Van Evera, Cindy Williams, Xu Xin, four anonymous reviewers, and the members of the Brandeis University International Relations Seminar,the China Study Group at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, the National Security Group Seminar at Harvard University’s John M. Olin Institute, the Security Studies Program and MIST1 China seminars at MIT, and the Penn-Dartrnouth project mentioned above. I would like to thank the Olin Institute’sEast Asia Security Project for its generous research funding. I am also grateful to Kristen Cashin for administrative assistance. 1. Aaron L. Friedberg, ”Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in a Multipolar Asia,” International Security, Vol. 18,No. 3 (Winter 1993/94), pp. 5-33; Richard K. Betts, “Wealth, Power, and Instability ,” International Security, Vol. 18,No. 3 (Winter 1993/94), pp. 34-77; Stephen Van Evera, ”Primed for Peace: Europe after the Cold War,” International Security, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Winter 1990/91), pp. 7-57; and James Goldgeier and Michael McFaul, “A Tale of Two Worlds,”International Organization , Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring 1992), pp. 467-492. International Security, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Spring 1999),pp. 49-80 0 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 49 International Security 23:4 1 50 lead each side to take precautionary and defensively motivated measures that are perceived as offensive threats. This can lead to countermeasures in kind, thus ratcheting up regional tensions, reducing security, and creating selffulfilling prophecies about the danger of one’s security environment.2 If we look at the variables that might fuel security dilemma dynamics, East Asia appears quite dangerous. From a standard realist perspective, not only could dramatic and unpredictable changes in the distribution of capabilities in East Asia increase uncertainty and mistrust, but the importance of sea-lanes and secure energy supplies to almost all regional actors could encourage a destabilizing competition to develop power-projection capabilities on the seas and in the skies. Because they are perceived as offensive threats, power-projection forces are more likely to spark spirals of tension than weapons that can defend only a nation’s h~rneland.~ Perhaps even more important in East Asia than these more commonly considered variables are psychological factors (such as the historically based mistrust and animosity among regional actors) and political geography issues relating to the Taiwan question, which make even defensive weapons in the region appear threatening to Chinese ~ecurity.~ One...


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