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Crisis stability or general stability? Assessing Northeast Asia’s absence of war and prospects for liberal transition


Is the relatively long peace of Northeast Asia a result of crisis stability or general stability? The article introduces two stability concepts – crisis and general stability. Crisis stability occurs when both sides in military crisis are so secure due to its military capability and are able to wait out a surprise attack fully confident that it would be able to respond with a punishing counter attack. On the other hand, general stability prevails when two powers greatly prefer peace even to a victorious war whether crisis stability exists or not, simply because war has become inconceivable as a means of solving any political disagreements and conflicts. While crisis stability entails delicate balance of military power from the deterrence literature of security studies, general stability bases its logic of inquiry on constructivism where the idea of war aversion – categorically rejecting war as a means to end conflicts – becomes the prevailing norm. Therefore, this article empirically examines how Northeast Asia has sustained its peace through crisis stability and presents a new trend toward general stability.

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The author would like to thank Bates Gill, Kevin Clements, Chung-in Moon, and Stein Tonnesson for their helpful comments on an early version of this article. Thanks also to Hans Schattle and Joe Phillips provided very meaningful comments on the semi-final version of the manuscript and the three anonymous referees, whose critical feedback comments pushed me to rethink several portions of the argument. The author finally thanks Kun Sik Hong and Do Hyung Kim for their research assistance. Financial support by the East Asia Peace Programme at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University is gratefully acknowledged.

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1 I define Northeast Asia as a subregion of East Asia that includes Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, and China. In this article, the United States of America is treated as an external-regional state.

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3 Jervis, Robert, ‘Theories of war in an era of leading-power peace’, Presidential Address, American Political Science Association 2001, American Journal of Political Science, 96:1 (March 2002), p. 1.

For literatures on the absence of major war among major states, see Mueller, John, Retreat from Dooms Day: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989); Goldgeier, James M. and McFaul, Michael, ‘A tale of two worlds: Core and periphery in the post-Cold War era’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 467–491; Shaw, Martin, Global Society and International Relations (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994); Duffild, John, ‘Transatlantic relations after the Cold War: Theory, evidence, and the future’, International Studies Perspectives, 2:1 (2001), pp. 93–115.

4 Europe, otherwise known as a stable region of peace, has also suffered from numerous militarised conflicts in areas such as the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Kosovo) and, most recently, Ukraine.

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41 Choi, Jong Kun and Moon, Chung-in, ‘Liberal transition in Northeast Asia?’, Mimeo (2010).

42 Mueller, John, Remnants of War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).

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45 Stein Tonnesson, ‘Peace by growth as priority’, Paper Presented to the East Asian Peace Program’s First Annual Conference, ‘Democracy and peace in East Asia’, held at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, 16–18 September 2011.

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48 Xuetong, Yan, ‘The instability of China-US Relations’, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 3:3 (2010), pp. 130; Johnston, Ian, ‘Stability and instability in Sino-US Relations: a response to Yan Xuetong’s superficial friendship theory’, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 4:1 (2011), pp. 130

49 Jerdén, Björn and Hagström, Linus, ‘Rethinking Japan's China Policy: Japan as an accommodator in the rise of China, 1978–2011’, Journal of East Asian Studies, 12:2 (2012), pp. 215–250; Fouse, David, ‘Japan’s new defense policy for 2010: Hardening the hedge’, The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 23:4 (2011), pp. 489–501.

50 The Ministry of National Defense, ‘The Republic of Korea’, The Defense White Paper (Seoul: Ministry of National Defense, 2010), pp. 28–34.

51 Ibid., pp. 28–34.

52 ‘South Korea deploys cruise missile amid North Korea tensions’, BBC News (19 April 2012), available at: {}.

53 Moon, Chung-in and Lee, Sangkeun, ‘Military spending and the arms race on the Korean Peninsula’, Asian Perspective, 33:4 (2009), pp. 69–99.

54 ‘Why China opposes US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea’, People’s Daily (19 July 2010).

55 Yuan, General Luo, ‘Why China opposes US-ROK military exercises in the Yellow Sea’, People’s Daily Online (14 July 2010), available at: {}.

56 On 23 November 2010, during North Korea’s bombing of Yeonpyong Island, South Korea refrained from retaliating against North Korea with superior air power and precision-guided missiles, as President Lee Myung-bak was worried about escalating the situation into a major, uncontrollable conflict. It was reported that Lee issued a specific order not to escalate the situation. See ‘Cheong, Hwakjeonbang ji Jichim Neryotda’ [Blue House Ordered No Escalation], Hangyoreh (11 December 2010), available at: {} accessed 27 July 2012.

57 Wachman, Alan, Why Taiwan? Geostrategic Rationales for China’s Territorial Integrity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

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60 Mearsheimer, John, ‘The gathering storm: China’s challenge to US power in Asia’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, 3:4 (2010), pp. 381396; Ross, Robert, ‘China’s naval nationalism: Sources, prospects, and the U.S response’, International Security, 34:2 (2009), pp.46–81; Qi, Xu, ‘Maritime geostrategy and the development of the Chinese Navy in the early twenty-first century’, trans. Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, Naval War College Review, 59:4 (2006), pp. 47–67 (p. 53); McVadon, Eric A., ‘China’s maturing navy’; Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, William S. Murray, and Andrew R. Wilson (eds), China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007), p. 4.

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62 McDevitt, Michael and Vellucci, Frederic, Jr, ‘The evolution of the People’s Liberation Army Navy: The twin missions of area-denial and peacetime operations’, in Geoffrey Till and Patrick C. Bratton (eds), Sea Power and the Asia-Pacific: The Triumph of Neptune? (New York: Routledge 2012), pp. 75–92 (p. 81).

63 ‘China’s Ballistic Missile, Stealth Fighter Advances Draw Attention of US’, Bloomberg (27 July 2012), available at: {} accessed 6 January 2011.

64 Clinton, Hilary, ‘America’s Pacific Century’, Foreign Policy (November 2011), available at: {}; US Department of Defense, ‘Sustaining US Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense’ (5 January 2012), available at: {}, p. 2; Miere, Christian le, ‘America’s pivot to Asia: the naval dimension’, Survival, 54:3 (2012), pp. 81–94.

65 Friedberg, Aaron, A Contest For Supremacy: China, America and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (New York: Norton, 2011).

66 Xinbo, Wu, ‘Not backing down: China responds to the US rebalance to Asia’, Global Asia, 7:4 (2012), pp. 18–21; Ross, Robert, ‘The US-China Peace: Great power politics, sphere of influence, and the peace of East Asia’, Journal of East Asian Studies, 3 (2003), pp. 351375.

67 Pempel, T. J. (eds), The Economy-Security Nexus in Northeast Asia (New York: Routledge, 2012); Calder, Kent and Min Ye (eds), The Making of Northeast Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).

68 Kim, Min-Hyung, ‘Why does a small power lead? ASEAN leadership in Asia-Pacific regionalism’, Pacific Focus, 27:1 (2012), pp. 111134; Acharya, Amitav, Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order (New York: Routledge, 2014).

69 Donegan, Brendan, ‘Governmental regionalism: Power, knowledge and neoliberal regional integration in Asia and Latin America’, Millennium: Journal of International studies, 35:1 (2006), pp. 23–51.

70 Liu, Fu-Kuo, ‘East Asian regionalism: Theoretical perspective’, in Fu-Kuo Liu and Philippe Regnier (eds), Regionalism in East Asia: Paradigm Shifting? (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 429.

71 Originally cited in ‘East Asian regionalism’, p. 21; Severino, Rodolfo, ‘The ASEAN way in Manila’, Far Eastern Economic Review (1999), p. 27.

72 Frost, Ellen L., Asia’s New Regionalism (London: Lynne Rienner, 2008); Mahbubani, Kishore, The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (New York: Pubic Affairs, 2008); Overholt, William, Asia, America, and the Transformation of Geopolitics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

73 Chung, Eun Sook, ‘Six-Party Talks, Kim Jong Un, North Korea, nuclear problem, multilateral security cooperation’, Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 5:1 (2013), pp. 1 –15; Ki-Joon, Hong, ‘The Six-Party Talks in the post-Kim Jong-il era: an emergent path toward a Northeast Asian security mechanism’, North Korean Review, 8:2 (2012), pp. 111126.

74 Rozman, Gilbert, ‘Turning the Six-Party Talks into a multilateral security framework for Northeast Asia’, in KEI 2008 Towards Sustainable Economic & Security Relations in East Asia: U.S. and ROK Policy Options, Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies, 18 (2008), pp. 149166.

75 Choi, Jong Kun, ‘Bolstering economic interdependence despite bullying memories in Northeast Asia’, in T. J. Pempel (ed.), The Economy-Security Nexus in Northeast Asia (New York: Routledge, 2012), ch. 5.

76 Hamanak, Shintaro, ‘Is trade in Asia really integrating?’, ADB Working Paper Series on Regional Economic Integration, 91 (2012).

77 Lee, Hyun-Hoon, Huh, Hyeon-Seung, and Park, Donghyun, ‘Financial integration in East Asia: an empirical investigation’, The World Economy, 36:4 (2013), pp. 396418.

78 For an analysis that shows the statistical salience of economic interdependence in East Asia, see Goldstein, Benjamin E., ‘A liberal peace in Asia?’, Journal of Peace Research, 44:1 (2007), pp. 527.

79 Pempel, T. J. (ed.), The Economy-Security Nexus in Northeast Asia, p. 10.

80 ‘South Korea, China Agree on Outline of Free-Trade Deal’, Wall Street Journal (10 November 2014), available at: {} accessed 23 February 2015.

81 Acharya, Amitav, ‘Engagement or entrapment? Scholarship and policymaking on Asian regionalism’, International Studies Review, 13:1 (2011), pp. 12–17; Evans, Peter, ‘Between regionalism and regionalization: Policy networks and the nascent East Asian institutional identity’, in T. J. Pempel (ed.), Remapping East Asia: The Construction of a Region (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), pp. 195215.

82 The Center for Strategic and International Studies, ‘Strategic Views on Asian Regionalism: Survey Results and Analysis 2009’ (Washington, DC: CSIS, 2009).

83 Chicago Council on Global Affairs, ‘Soft Power in Asia: Results of a 2008 Multinational Survey of Public Opinion: Asia Soft Power Survey 2008’ (Chicago: Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2008).

84 Jhee, Byong-Kuen, ‘Public support for regional integration in Northeast Asia: an empirical test of affective and utilitarian model’, International Political Science Review, 30:1 (2009), pp. 49–66.

85 The World Value Survey (2010–14) finds that 60.6 per cent of the Chinese respondents see themselves as ‘Asian’ while 72.2 per cent of the Korean respondents see themselves as ‘Northeast Asian’. The survey does not report the Japanese data. See V215_07 for Korea and V215_14 for China in World Survey Wave 6: 2010–14, An On-Line Data Set, available at: {}.

86 The survey result can be found at ‘How Asians View Each Other’, available at: {}.

87 Cho, Il Hyun and Park, Seo-Hyun. ‘Anti-Chinese and Anti-Japanese sentiments in East Asia: the politics of opinion, distrust, and prejudice’, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 4:3 (2011), pp. 265290; Choi, Jong Kun, ‘Can Japan engage Northeast Asia? Overcoming perceptual and strategic deficits’, in Purnendra Jain and Brad Williams (eds), Japan in Decline, Fact or Fiction? (Kent, UK: Global Oriental, 2011), pp. 129144.

88 Choi, Jong Kun, ‘Sunshine over a barren soil: the domestic politics of engagement identity formation in South Korea’, Asian Perspective, 34:4 (2010), pp. 115138; Moon, Chung-in, The Sunshine Policy: In Defense of Engagement as a Path to Peace in Korea (Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 2012).

* The author would like to thank Bates Gill, Kevin Clements, Chung-in Moon, and Stein Tonnesson for their helpful comments on an early version of this article. Thanks also to Hans Schattle and Joe Phillips provided very meaningful comments on the semi-final version of the manuscript and the three anonymous referees, whose critical feedback comments pushed me to rethink several portions of the argument. The author finally thanks Kun Sik Hong and Do Hyung Kim for their research assistance. Financial support by the East Asia Peace Programme at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University is gratefully acknowledged.

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