Peter Layton writes:

Hugh White praises Kevin Rudd's latest speech on a future Asian order but maybe goes a little too far in saying Kevin is converging on Hugh's concert of powers concept. There seems a fundamental underlying difference between Kevin and Hugh's proposed models. Hugh's starts from a realist position where order is based on conflict and where relative material power determines zero-sum outcomes. Kevin's starts from a more liberal position where order is based more on cooperation that can be institutionalised to achieve mutual absolute gains.

Hugh argues that the important issue is for a new order that ensures that China and the US avoid escalating strategic rivalry. His concert of power model though, in being built around notions of the management of conflict, seems to preserve strategic rivalry. Kevin's rule-based international order model, conversely, by focusing on cooperation tries to build conflict out.

The differences can be starkly seen in the different relations to war. For realists, the waging of war is a legitimate state policy; only imprudent wars are seen as unreasonable. The liberal cooperative approach is quite different in considering waging war as fundamentally illegitimate, albeit wars are acceptable if undertaken in self-defence.

There is much more nuance and subtly to all this than this short post provides. However, in being based on different fundamental principles, Hugh's and Kevin's models seem to suggest two quite different futures. Hugh's might be 'realistic' but incorporates conflict into its DNA. Kevin's might be more optimistic but offers a chance that Hugh's rightly feared strategic rivalry is progressively built out. Which future should we be working towards?