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  • Cyber and Other Powers in Asia
  • Walter C. Clemens Jr. (bio)
Ellings, Richard J., and Robert Sutter, eds. 2018. Axis of Authoritarians: Implications of China-Russia Cooperation. Foreword by Angela Stent. Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research.
Sanger, David E. 2018. The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. New York: Crown.
Tyson, Neil deGrasse, and Avis Lang. 2018. Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance between Astrophysics and the Military. New York: Norton.

Which kind of interaction will prevail in the Far East in the next decades: constructive cooperation or destructive conflict? Will domestic factors such as authoritarian rule motivate foreign policy, or will the perceived imperatives of geopolitics shape internal politics and economics? To what extent will the major actors mobilize to influence others by soft or by hard power—by persuasion and cooption or by pressure and coercion? How will these forces interact with an emerging form of persuasion and coercion—cyber power?

Axis of Authoritarians analyzes several key trends in the shift away from democracy as they shape and are shaped by the evolving balance of power. To do so, the volume's editor Richard J. Ellings, co-founder and president of the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), and five other experts (each associated with a US university or think tank) weigh the material assets of China, Russia, and the United States—their economic, military, and political strengths and their vulnerabilities. The authors ask what levels of hostility may emerge in coming years and what are the policy implications for the United States.1 Of course, each actor's mind-set not only reflects the objective metrics of power but is, by hopes and fears of future trends, often distorted by wishful thinking and undue anxiety. [End Page 585]

Ellings notes (37) that China began constructing bases on islands, shoals, and rocky features in the South China Sea shortly after the United States and North American Treaty Organization (NATO) failed to take any military action in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and occupation of eastern Ukraine in 2014. The implication: a weak-willed posture in the West encouraged both Russian and Chinese aggression. This explanation stands in contrast to that of other experts who assess China's expansion as a response to the Obama administration's 2011 decision to rebalance toward Asia. Nonetheless Ellings and co-editor Robert Sutter think it feasible and useful for the United States to improve relations with Russia—if not under Putin then after his administration—to weaken China (178). But all of the contributors to Axis of Authoritarians argue for a tougher US posture toward both Russia and China.

The NBR essays fulfill their objectives in ways that are both professional and graceful. The book takes note of game-changing new factors in world affairs, which include the rise of China as a multifaceted world power and North Korea as a rising nuclear-weapons state, coupled with a widely perceived (but perhaps erroneous) perception of an overall decline of the United States, Japan, and Western Europe. Shifting from the general to the realms of praxis, two other game changers are the emergence of tools for cyberwar and combat in space. Peter Mattis's chapter, "Russian and Chinese Political Interference Activities and Influence Operations," summarizes Russian and Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities and practices. In three short but authoritative paragraphs, Mattis notes that Russian practices have been more "malicious" toward external foes such as the United States than toward the Chinese (134); in contrast, Chinese efforts have been more defensive, and more focused on controlling domestic dissent.

David E. Sanger's Perfect Weapon leaves behind the old parameters of power politics and dives into a new, inchoate realm in which major powers are no longer the only critical actors. He illuminates how cyberweapons have empowered entities traditionally viewed as weak, including non-state actors, to credibly threaten others, even superpowers, with crippling strike potential. Sanger cites very few official documents to make this case; most of his citations reference articles in the New York Times (many by him, and often with colleagues), other major newspapers, or more informal blogs and commentaries. Sanger's achievement is his synthesis...


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pp. 585-592
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