Last week, in an op-ed for Nikkei Asia Review, I made the argument that the US and China ought to settle for a military balance in the Asia Pacific. Such a balance will be difficult to manage and will probably not satisfy the ambitions of either country, but would be less dangerous than the alternative, in which both strive for superiority over the other.
Now I see that Michael Swaine has made a similar argument for Foreign Affairs, though with far greater sophistication (h/t Sinocism). The premise of Swaine's argument is that in the face of China's rise, America cannot take the risk of trying to maintain its regional military primacy:
It is inconceivable that Beijing will accept U.S. predominance in perpetuity and that it will grant the United States complete freedom of action in the Pacific and recognize its ability to prevail militarily in a potential conflict. Trying to sustain such predominance, therefore, is actually the quickest route to instability, practically guaranteeing an arms race, increased regional polarization, and reduced cooperation between Washington and Beijing on common global challenges. And even if some Chinese leaders were tempted to accept continued U.S. predominance, they would almost certainly end up meeting fierce and sustained domestic criticism for doing so as China’s power grows and would likely end
up reversing course to ensure their political survival.
So what should be the ultimate aim?
...the primary future strategic challenge is finding a way to develop a mutually beneficial means of transitioning from U.S. predominance toward a stable, more equitable balance of power in the western Pacific—one in which neither nation has the clear capacity to prevail in an armed conflict, but in which both countries believe that their vital interests can nonetheless remain secure.
Read on for Swaine's specific proposals about what a negotiated military balance would look like in the South China Sea, Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.