In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Peace Dynamics of East Asia
  • Alan Hunter (bio)
Stein Tønnesson. Explaining the East Asian Peace: A Research Story. Asia Insights, vol. 9. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2017. xix, 263 pp. Paperback $19.99, isbn 978-87-7694-223-6.
Elin Bjarnegård and Joakim Kreutz, editors. Debating the East Asian Peace: What it is. How it came about. Will it last? NIAS Studies in Asian Topics, vol. 60. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2017. xii, 315 pp. Paperback $22.50, isbn 978-87-7694-220-5.

These two books are outputs from an ambitious research agenda at the East Asian Peace Programme (EAPP), which was hosted by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden. The programme ran for six years, from 2011 to 2016, encompassing fieldwork, conferences, publications, and dissemination events. Stein Tønnesson, author of the monograph Explaining the East Asian Peace, is research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and was director of the programme. Elin Bjarnegård and Joakim Kreutz are associate professors at the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm. To explore the full background to these publications and to access reports and papers available in pdf, I would recommend a visit to the website,

The EAPP took a very broad view of its geographical scope. Many studies of "East Asia" focus on China and its immediate neighbours, primarily Japan and the Korean peninsula. The books reviewed here, however, also include work on Mongolia, Timor-Leste, and all the ASEAN countries. Tønnesson (xiv-xvi) justifies this scope by referencing the intensive trade and communication flows between southeast and northeast Asia, and shared security and diplomatic issues. China naturally features in both books, but especially the section "Predicting China" which constitutes part 2 of Tønnesson's study. Other chapters are more thematic, tackling issues such as nationalism, demography, and masculinity, with data and analyses from Indonesia, The Philippines, and elsewhere. So while the EAPP acknowledges the importance of China and Sino-Japanese tensions, its remit goes well beyond them. One level of conceptualisation that emerges, therefore, is to what extent East Asia is a "region" and whether there are any specific dynamics attributable to regional institutions and interactions.

Before addressing that, it is very germane to consider the other component of the titles: peace. Having worked in this field for two decades, I have to agree with a statement by Australian historian Blainey (1988: 3)1: "for every thousand [End Page 36] pages published on the causes of wars there is less than one page directly on the causes of peace" (cited by Bjarnegård and Kreutz, p. 5). The disparity is of course still more prominent in government expenditure on armaments compared to the insignificant investment in peacebuilding and conflict prevention. So I found it extremely encouraging to note the underlying purpose of the Uppsala Programme: to increase understanding of the phenomenon referred to as the East Asian Peace.

To keep the field of study within some kind of limits, the EAPP took a strategic decision concerning its focus among the many prevalent interpretations of "peace": the definition chosen is "absence of armed conflict," where armed conflict results in at least twenty-five battle-related deaths a year. A simple statistical exercise using this definition reveals what is meant by the "East Asian Peace." From 1936 to 1945, many parts of East Asia, including of course China, were a war zone with uncountable casualties. From 1946 to 1979, East Asians endured some of the most destructive fighting on the planet, accounting for perhaps 80 percent of global battle deaths in a series of conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Since 1979, East Asia has been one of the most peaceful regions; since 1990 for example, it has accounted for less than 2 percent of global battle deaths. One could adduce various qualifications about the phenomenon (e.g., that it has coincided with many instances of state repression and severe human rights abuses), but nonetheless, surely it is an inspiring and positive story compared to persistent warfare in some other parts of the world. Both books under review have an opening chapter that provides detailed statistical...