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ASIANPERSPECTIVE, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2006, pp. 179-192. Commentary STABILITY AND COMPLEXITY IN ASIA-PACIFIC SECURITY AFFAIRS* Robert Ayson Understanding "Stability" This commentary offers a preliminary assessment of whether contemporary theories of complexity can help us understand leading security issues in the Asia-Pacific. In particular it focuses on the relevance of thinking about complexity for approaches to stability in the Asia-Pacific. With its variety of great and rising powers experiencing sometimes difficult interstate relations, a changing regional balance of power, a series of still embryonic institutions, a mixture of strong and weak states, and a combina­ tion of economic vibrancy and fragility, the Asia-Pacific is nothing less than a laboratory for some of the most important stability questions of the day. Can the understanding of stability in theo­ ries of complex systems help us better understand these stability issues? Can it enhance our appreciation of the dynamics that can cause dangerous, even life threatening, instability and the sorts of actions that might prove possible to avoid such harmful out­ comes? Can such an approach also allow us to make sense of the possibility of thinking about the stability of the Asia-Pacific in overall terms—to help us come to grips with the problematic notion of Asia-Pacific regional stability? These are the types of questions that guide this research. This article is a revised version of the author's presentation to the 2006 International Studies Association Convention in San Diego, California. 180 RobertAyson My earlier work found that Asia-Pacific stability could be understood in terms of at least five stability categories.1 These categories are: stability in the sense of the avoidance of war between states in the Asia-Pacific; the stability of the balance of power between these same states; the stability of institutions formed by countries in the Asia-Pacific (including norms of behavior as well as formal arrangements); domestic political sta­ bility within Asia-Pacific countries; and the degree of financial and economic stability that these countries enjoy. For each of these five types, the concept of stability was found to have two main reference points. First, stability can be understood as a given system's tendency toward equilibrium. This means understanding stability as a condition of something. Stability here can be the capacity to retain an already existing equilibrium—e.g., an existing regional balance of power among major contributors to the security environment in East Asia (including the U.S.-China balance) or existing political arrange­ ments within particular Asia-Pacific countries (including, for example, South Korea's own form of democratic governance). Or, stability can be the capacity to shift to a new equilibrium. This might involve movement toward a new balance of power in the region that recognizes a major alteration in relative capac­ ities (for example one that incorporates India's rise). Or, it might involve the transition from an autocratic to a democratic form of politics, as seen in Indonesia after the Suharto era or in the Philippines after Marcos. It is this capacity to find a new equilibrium in circumstances of significant change that is the real test of a system's stability. This holds whether the system consists of the domestic political arrangements within a particular Asian country, the institutions that help bind Asia-Pacific countries together in convergent behavior, or the balance of power in a changing Asia-Pacific of rising powers. The second reference point for stability is the avoidance of major harm: This means approaching stability as the aim or out­ come of a particular process. Examples here might include the 1. Robert Ayson, "Regional Stability in the Asia-Pacific: Towards a Con­ ceptual Understanding," Asian Security, vol. 1, No. 2 (April, 2005), pp. 190-213. Stability arid Complexity in Asia-PacificSecurityAffairs 181 avoidance of major violence between states as they adjust to a new power balance—the capacity, for instance, of the United States and Japan to accommodate China's reemergence as a regional great power in a reasonably peaceful manner. It could mean the capacity of regional countries to cope with substantial economic changes without incurring major harm—an important question for a modernizing China given the pace...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2288-2871
Print ISSN
0258-9184
Pages
pp. 179-192
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-23
Open Access
No
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