Luke Maynard writes:
Hugh White's final blog post of 2012 was characteristic in its effort to sketch the boundaries of Asia's strategic future while remaining firmly rooted in modern realities. In it, White draws parallels between his vision for order in this region with that described by Kevin Rudd in his recent address to the Brookings Institute.
Both foresee the development of a global strategic system centred on Asia as a result of power shifts led by an ascendant China, and the need to develop approaches to retain the liberal regional order throughout. However this is roughly where their paths diverge.
Rudd advocates the development of a broad institution-based order built on the benefit of shared values and processes, while White suggests that smaller groupings of great powers may present the best, and perhaps only, option for managing strategic rivalry.
That the geopolitical landscape will change is beyond question. In the pursuit of a just and secure peace, informed ambition and resolve must remain prevailing philosophies. It is on this point that White has sought to occupy the 'realist' stance, citing the tangible nature of material power in efforts to quell strategic rivalry. However, Rudd's plan does not discount such action, rather he emphasises the value of regional institutions in shaping the region for the better designedly, lest it alter for the worse spontaneously.
White negates Peter Layton's riposte, which points out some of the differences between these two visions, by suggesting the outcome remains shared – regardless of vastly different concepts of process. This would be appropriate if peace in Asia was a project with a defined end date.
Unfortunately, the dynamic and saltatory nature of the region's evolution demands a system more responsive to these demands. In seeking a 'peace without victory' we must retain a broad suite of instruments. As Woodrow Wilson stated to a world far less connected and interdependent than our own: 'There must be not a balance of power but a community power; not organized rivalries but an organized, common peace'. Such stable equilibrium will not be found in smaller groupings of power which retain an inherent essence of rivalry, but through a framework which allows the furtherance of an equitable rule-based system.
The community concept follows this logic, operating from a basis of mutual benefit and cooperation, and providing methods to avert conflict not bound to hard power credentials. Not limited to conflict management, this concept presents considerable substitution benefits, fostering ties of trade, culture and shared experience across the region. Additionally, its effect on the currency of power has a multiplying effect; increasing transparency, opportunities for arbitration, and ultimately the prospects for preserving peace. Rudd's inclusive approach provides the requisite diversity in options, and is the superior approach as a result.
The nature of this process will prove just as critical as its outcome. Prone to constantly evolving measures, the security of Asia remains malleable to ongoing shifts of time and circumstance, requiring continual review. For those who remain convinced that stability in Asia's strategic future is to be found in the precarious balancing of hard power alone, allow me to follow Hugh's lead and quote Voltaire in response: doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.