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Security expertise and international hierarchy: the case of ‘The Asia-Pacific Epistemic Community’

  • Björn Jerdén (a1)

Many states partially relinquish sovereignty in return for physical protection from a more powerful state. Mainstream theory on international hierarchies holds that such decisions are based on rational assessments of the relative qualities of the political order being offered. Such assessments, however, are bound to be contingent, and as such a reflection of the power to shape understandings of reality. Through a study of the remarkably persistent US-led security hierarchy in East Asia, this article puts forward the concept of the ‘epistemic community’ as a general explanation of how such understandings are shaped and, hence, why states accept subordinate positions in international hierarchies. The article conceptualises a transnational and multidisciplinary network of experts on international security – ‘The Asia-Pacific Epistemic Community’ – and demonstrates how it operates to convince East Asian policymakers that the current US-led social order is the best choice for maintaining regional ‘stability’.

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* Correspondence to: Björn Jerdén, Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Box 27035, 10251 Stockholm, Sweden. Author’s email:
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1 Lake, David A., Hierarchy in International Relations (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009); Lake, David A., ‘Regional hierarchy: Authority and local international order’, Review of International Studies, 35 (2009), pp. 3558 .

2 Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, pp. 8–9; Lake, ‘Regional hierarchy’, p. 38.

3 Lukes, Steven, Power: A Radical View (2nd edn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 [orig. pub. 1974]).

4 Haas, Peter M., ‘Introduction: Epistemic communities and international policy coordination’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 1216 ; Mai’a K. Davis Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities: Twenty years later’, Review of International Studies, 39:1 (2014), pp. 5153 ; Bueger, Christian, ‘From expert communities to epistemic arrangement: Situating expertise in International Relations’, in Maximilian Mayer, Mariana Carpes, and Ruth Knoblich (eds), International Relations and the Global Politics of Science and Technology, Volume I (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2014), pp. 4243 .

5 Lake, David A., ‘Rightful rules: Authority, order, and the foundations of global governance’, International Studies Quarterly, 54:3 (2010), p. 609 .

6 For example, Acharya, Amitav, ‘Power shift or paradigm shift? China’s rise and Asia’s emerging security order’, International Studies Quarterly, 58:1 (2013), pp. 116 ; Beckley, Michael, ‘China’s century? Why America’s edge will endure’, International Security, 36:3 (2011/12), pp. 4178 ; Beeson, Mark, ‘Hegemonic transition in East Asia? The dynamics of Chinese and American power’, Review of International Studies, 35:1 (2009), pp. 95112 ; Friedberg, Aaron L., ‘Ripe for rivalry: Prospects for peace in a multipolar Asia’, International Security, 18:3 (1993), pp. 533 ; Goh, Evelyn, The Struggle for Order: Hegemony, Hierarchy, and Transition in Post-Cold War East Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, pp. 181–4; Layne, Christopher, ‘This time it’s real: the end of unipolarity and the Pax Americana’, International Studies Quarterly, 56:1 (2012), pp. 202213 ; Joseph S. Nye Jr, ‘The twenty-first century will not be a “post-American” world’, International Studies Quarterly, 56:1 (2012), pp. 215217 ; Shambaugh, David L., ‘China engages Asia: Reshaping the regional order’, International Security, 29:3 (2004/05), pp. 6499 ; White, Hugh, ‘Power shift: Australia’s future between Washington and Beijing’, Quarterly Essay, 39 (2010), pp. 174 ; Wohlforth, William C., ‘How not to evaluate theories’, International Studies Quarterly, 56:1 (2012), pp. 219222 ; Xuetong, Yan, ‘The rise of China and its power status’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, 1:1 (2006), pp. 533 .

7 Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, pp. 80–2.

8 Ibid., pp. 68–71.

9 Ibid., pp. 52–5.

10 For a conceptual discussion on alliances, see Wilkins, Thomas S., ‘ “Alignment”, not “alliance” – the shifting paradigm of international security cooperation: Toward a conceptual taxonomy of alignment’, Review of International Studies, 38:1 (2012), pp. 5376 .

11 This does not mean, however, that references to identity-based factors are totally absent, see, for example, Kai Schulze, ‘Facing the “Rise of China”: Changes in Japan’s Foreign Policy Identity’ (PhD thesis, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, 2013).

12 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘The Japan-US Security Arrangements’ (2012), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

13 Quoted in Ross, Robert S., ‘Balance of power politics and the rise of China: Accommodation and balancing in East Asia’, Security Studies, 15:3 (2006), p. 391 .

14 For example, Friedberg, ‘Ripe for rivalry’; Shambaugh, ‘China engages Asia’.

15 For example, Pyle, Kenneth B., Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009); Samuels, Richard J., Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2007).

16 For example, Kelly, Robert E., ‘The “pivot” and its problems: American foreign policy in Northeast Asia’, The Pacific Review, 27:3 (2014), pp. 479503 ; Park, Jae Jeok, ‘The US-led alliances in the Asia-Pacific: Hedge against potential threats or an undesirable multilateral security order?’, The Pacific Review, 24:2 (2011), pp. 137158 .

17 For example, Berger, Thomas, ‘Set for stability? Prospects for conflict and cooperation in East Asia’, Review of International Studies, 26:3 (2000), pp. 405428 ; Goh, Evelyn, ‘Great powers and hierarchical order in Southeast Asia: Analysing regional security strategies’, International Security, 32:3 (2007/08), pp. 113157 .

18 White, ‘Power shift’, p. 55.

19 Josh Frydenberg, ‘Washington is integral to our region’, The Australian (21 September 2010), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

20 Michael Danby, Carl Ungerer, and Peter Khalil, ‘No winners by appeasing China’, The Australian (16 September 2010), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

21 Greg Sheridan, ‘US involvement remains central to Asia-Pacific’, cogitASIA (24 September 2010), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

22 Brooks, Stephen G., Ikenberry, G. John, and William C. Wohlforth, ‘Don’t come home, America: the case against retrenchment’, International Security, 37:3 (2012/13), p. 35 .

23 Chan, Steve, ‘An odd thing happened on the way to balancing: East Asian states’ reactions to China’s rise’, International Studies Review, 12:3 (2010), p. 390 . See also Nolte, Detlef, ‘How to compare regional powers: Analytical concepts and research topics’, Review of International Studies, 36:4 (2010), p. 888 .

24 Nagashima, Akihisa, KatsuBei’ to Iu Ryūgi: Gaikō Anzen Hoshō no Riarizumu [The ‘Make Use of the US’ School: Diplomatic and Security Realism] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2013).

25 Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977).

26 Ikenberry, G. John, ‘American hegemony and East Asian order’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 58:3 (2004), p. 357 .

27 S. Nye, Joseph Jr, ‘The case for deep engagement’, Foreign Affairs, 74:4 (1995), p. 93 .

28 Zinnes, Dina A., ‘An analytical study of the balance of power theories’, Journal of Peace Research, 4:3 (1967), p. 271 .

29 Kivimäki, Timo, ‘East Asian relative peace: Does it exist? What is it?’, The Pacific Review, 23:4 (2010), p. 506 .

30 Goh, Evelyn, ‘Hierarchy and the role of the United States in the East Asian security order’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 8:3 (2008), pp. 364366 .

31 Ikenberry, ‘American hegemony’, p. 364.

32 Park, ‘The US-led alliances’, p. 147.

33 Berger, ‘Set for stability’, pp. 406, 425; Brooks et al., ‘Don’t come home’, pp. 35–7; Cha, Victor D., The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), p. 215 ; Friedberg, ‘Ripe for rivalry’, pp. 31–2; Goh, ‘Great powers’, p. 153; Pyle, Japan Rising, p. 350; Ross, ‘Balance of power politics’, p. 395; Samuels, Securing Japan, p. 151; Shambaugh, ‘China engages Asia’, p. 95.

34 Wohlforth, William C., ‘How not to evaluate theories’, International Studies Quarterly, 56:1 (2012), p. 220 . A similar argument is made in Lake, ‘Regional hierarchy’.

35 Kivimäki, Timo, ‘Sovereignty, hegemony, and peace in Western Europe and in East Asia’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 12:3 (2012), p. 440 .

36 Amitav Acharya and See Tan, Seng, ‘Betwixt balance and community: America, ASEAN, and the security of Southeast Asia’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 6:1 (2006), pp. 3759 ; Pempel, T. J., ‘More Pax, less Americana in Asia’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 10:3 (2010), pp. 465490 .

37 Goldstein, Avery, Rising to the Challenge: China’s Grand Strategy and International Security (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), pp. 6469 .

38 Mikalsen Grønning, Bjørn E., ‘Japan’s shifting military priorities: Counterbalancing China’s rise’, Asian Security, 10:1 (2014), pp. 39 ; Ross, ‘Balance of power politics’, pp. 387–8; Samuels, Securing Japan, pp. 82–4, 94–9. One argument holds that these changes represent an evolutionary approach that does not depart significantly from Japan’s self-imposed constraints on its military policy, see Liff, Adam P., ‘Japan’s defence policy: Abe the Evolutionary’, Washington Quarterly, 38:2 (2015), pp. 7999 . Others contend that the meaning of ‘peace’ in Japanese identity discourse has been altered in such a way to enable, and even necessitate, remilitarisation, see Hagström, Linus and Hanssen, Ulv, ‘War is peace: the rearticulation of “peace” in Japan’s China discourse’, Review of International Studies, 42:2 (2016), pp. 266286 .

39 Cha, The Impossible State, pp. 39–40; Harrison, Selig S., Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and US Disengagement (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 196200 ; Wit, Joel S., Poneman, Daniel B., and Robert L. Gallucci, Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), pp. 3638 .

40 Cha, Victor D., ‘Powerplay: Origins of the US alliance system in Asia’, International Security, 34:3 (2009/10), pp. 186187 , 194; Kupchan, Charles A., ‘After Pax Americana: Benign power, regional integration, and the sources of a stable multipolarity’, International Security, 23:2 (1998), pp. 6266 , 78; Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, p. 55; O’Shea, Paul, ‘Overestimating the “power shift”: the US role in the failure of the Democratic Party of Japan’s “Asia pivot”’, Asian Perspective, 38:3 (2014), pp. 435459 .

41 Snidal, Duncan, ‘The limits of hegemonic stability theory’, International Organization, 39:4 (1985), pp. 579614 .

42 MacDonald, Paul K. and Parent, Joseph M., ‘Graceful decline? The surprising success of great power retrenchment’, International Security, 35:4 (2011), pp. 744 .

43 Tammen, Ronald L. et al., Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century (New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2000).

44 Paul, T. V., Larson, Deborah Welch, and William C. Wohlforth (eds), Status in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

45 Wohlforth, William C. et al., ‘Testing Balance-of-Power Theory in world history’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:2 (2007), pp. 155185 .

46 Brooks et al., ‘Don’t come home’, p. 10.

47 E. Keck, Cf. Margaret and Sikkink, Kathryn, Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998).

48 Guzzini, Cf. Stefano (ed.), The Return of Geopolitics in Europe? Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crises (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

49 Bigo, Cf. Didier, ‘Pierre Bourdieu and International Relations: Power of practices, practices of power’, International Political Sociology, 5:3 (2011), pp. 225258 .

50 Slaugther, Cf. Anne-Marie, A New World Order (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004).

51 Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.

52 Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities’, pp. 18–23; Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.

53 Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.

54 Adler, Emanuel, ‘The emergence of cooperation: National epistemic communities and the international evolution of the idea of nuclear arms control’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), p. 107 ; Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities’, p. 22.

55 Adler, ‘The emergence’, pp. 111–13, fn. 1.

56 Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities’, pp. 151–3.

57 Adler, Emanuel and Haas, Peter M., ‘Conclusion: Epistemic communities, world order, and the creation of a reflective research program’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), p. 380 ; Haas, ‘Introduction’, pp. 12–16.

58 On identification processes, see Wendt, Alexander, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 229233 .

59 This logic works similarly to what Emanuel Adler describes as the ‘imaginary’ science of arms control, see Adler, ‘The emergence’, p. 107.

60 For such processes of ‘securitization’, see Buzan, Barry, Wæver, Ole, and de Wilde, Jaap, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).

61 Adler, Emanuel and Bernstein, Steven, ‘Knowledge in power: the epistemic construction of global governance’, in Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall (eds), Power in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 294318 ; Christian Bueger, ‘From expert communities’, pp. 39–54. For a similar argument without reference to epicoms, see Eriksson, Johan and Norman, Ludvig, ‘Political utilisation of scholarly ideas: the “clash of civilisations” vs. “soft power” in US foreign policy’, Review of International Studies, 37:1 (2011), pp. 422423 .

62 Ole J. Sending, ‘The formation and transformation of a transnational field’, unpublished manuscript (2009).

63 Adler, Emanuel, ‘The spread of security communities: Communities of practice, self-restraint, and NATO’s post-cold war transformation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:2 (2008), p. 199 .

64 Adler and Haas, ‘Conclusion’, pp. 384–5.

65 Haas, ‘Introduction’, fn. 5.

66 Ibid., p. 17.

67 Ibid., fn. 4.

68 Bueger, ‘From expert communities’, p. 45.

69 Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 34.

70 Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities’, pp. 9–11.

71 Sending, ‘The formation’.

72 Swartz, David, Culture & Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 117 .

73 Swartz, Culture & Power, pp. 73–4.

74 Young-kwan, Yoon, ‘Will Europe’s past be East Asia’s future?’, Politique Étrangère, 1 (2014), pp. 89 .

75 Jones, David Martin and L. R. Smith, Michael, ‘Is there a Sovietology of South-East Asian studies?’, International Affairs, 77:4 (2001), pp. 843865 .

76 Guzzini, Stefano, ‘The ends of International Relations theory: Stages of reflexivity and modes of theorizing’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:3 (2013), pp. 521541 .

77 Ibid., 523–4.

78 See the appendix for how each individual meets the membership criteria.

79 This term is borrowed from a class of civil servants in imperial China (in Chinese shi daifu).

80 In their innovative work on knowledge production about South East Asian regionalism in the 1990s, David Martin Jones and Michael Smith introduce the concept of the ‘scholar-bureaucrat’ (see especially Jones and Smith, ‘Is there a Sovietology’). Although they do not provide a clear definition of the concept, it seems to denote government-funded researchers (or alternatively, bureaucrats or politicians doing research) for whom academic ideals of objectivity and criticism have more or less completely given way to the propagation of state-sponsored ideology. My concept, however, does not imply any intellectual corruption on the part of the scholar-officials (or, for that matter, of TAPEC members in general).

81 The literature on other aspects of knowledge generation about East Asian international relations is too vast to discuss here, but the symposium running over two issues of The Pacific Review in 1994–5 (7:4 and 8:1) deserves a special mention.

82 Yeo, Andrew, Activists, Alliances, and Anti-US Base Protests (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

83 See, for example, Shambaugh, ‘China engages Asia’, p. 91.

84 See, for example, Xi Jinping, ‘Statement by H. E. Mr. Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China. Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA)’ (2014), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

85 See, for example, Gavan McCormack, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (London and New York: Verso, 2007); Kyoji Yanagisawa et al., Datsu Domei Jidai: Sōri Kantei de Iraku no Jieitai o Tōkatsu shita Otoko no Jishō to Taiwa [The Age of Leaving the Alliance: Dialogue and Self-Examination of the Man at the Prime Minister’s Office who Oversaw the Iraq Self-Defence Forces] (Kyoto: Kamogawa Shuppan, 2011).

86 Cf. Keck and Sikkink, Activists beyond Borders.

87 McCaffrie, Jack and Rahman, Chris, ‘The US strategic relationship with Australia’, in Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson (eds), Rebalancing US Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014), p. 89f .

88 On Chinese exceptionalism, see Feng, Zhang, ‘The rise of Chinese exceptionalism in international relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:2 (2013), pp. 310312 .

89 On CCP theory, see Heath, Timothy R., ‘What does China want? Discerning the PRC’s national strategy’, Asian Security, 8:1 (2012), p. 55 .

90 Song Xinning, professor at Renmin University and a prominent figure in the development of IR in China, made this assessment in conversation with the author in Warsaw, September 2013.

91 Yan, ‘The rise’, p. 14.

92 Cho, Il Hyun and Park, Seo-Hyun, ‘Domestic legitimacy politics and varieties of regionalism in East Asia’, Review of International Studies, 40:3 (2014), pp. 599600 ; Hughes, Christopher W., ‘The Democratic Party of Japan’s new (but failing) grand security strategy: From “reluctant realism” to “resentful realism”?’, Journal of Japanese Studies, 38:1 (2012), pp. 109140 ; O’Shea, ‘Overestimating the “power shift”’.

93 Berkofsky, Axel and Hagström, Linus, ‘Futenma and the Mobilization of Bias: an Alternative Perspective on the Japan-US Alliance’, ISPI Working Paper, no. 38 (2010); Hughes, ‘The Democratic Party’; O’Shea, ‘Overestimating the “power shift”’.

94 WikiLeaks, ‘Cable 09TOKYO2197: EAP Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell’s Meeting with MOFA DG Akitaka Saiki’ (2009), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

95 WikiLeaks, ‘Cable 09TOKYO2377: A/S Campbell, GOJ Officials Discuss PM Hatoyama’s Comments on US/China/South Korea’ (2009), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

96 WikiLeaks, ‘Cable 09TOKYO2618: Ambassador Discusses President’s Visit with Japanese Ambassador Fujisaki’ (2009), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

97 See Hughes, ‘The Democratic Party’, pp. 136–7.

98 WikiLeaks, ‘Cable 09TOKYO2946: Ambassador’s December 21 Lunch Meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Yabunaka’ (2009), available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

99 WikiLeaks, ‘Cable 09TOKYO2197’.

100 O’Shea’, ‘Overestimating the “power shift”’, pp. 442–4, 449–53.

101 Brad Glosserman, ‘Celebrate or separate? The Japan-US security treaty at 50: a conference report’, Pacific Forum CSIS Issues & Insights, 10:15 (2010), p. 4, available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

102 Ibid., p. 5.

103 Nihon Keizai Shimbun, ‘Shushō: Kaiheitai, shōshiryoku to omotte inakatta’ [Prime Minister: I did not think that the marines provided deterrence], available at: {} accessed 23 June 2015.

104 Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, pp. 8–9.

105 On expertise as a source of international legitimacy, see Hurrell, Andrew, ‘Legitimacy and the use of force: Can the circle be squared?’, Review of International Studies, 31 (2005), pp. 1532 . For a critical view, see Rapkin, David P. and Braaten, Dan, ‘Conceptualising hegemonic stability’, Review of International Studies, 35:5 (2009), p. 125 .

106 Lake, David A., ‘Rightful rules: Authority, order, and the foundations of global governance’, International Studies Quarterly, 54:3 (2010), p. 609 .

107 Weiss, Thomas G. and Wilkinson, Rorden, ‘Rethinking global governance? Complexity, authority, power, change’, International Studies Quarterly, 58:1 (2014), p. 211 .

108 Mattern, Janice Bially and Zarakol, Ayşe, ‘Hierarchies in world politics’, International Organization, 70:3 (2016), p. 623654 .

109 On soft power, see Nye, ‘The twenty-first century’, p. 216.

110 Cf. Bigo, ‘Pierre Bourdieu’, pp. 253–4.

111 For example, Acharya, ‘Power shift’; Beckley, ‘China’s century’; Beeson, ‘Hegemonic transition’; Friedberg, ‘Ripe for rivalry’; Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, pp. 181–4; Goh, The Struggle for Order; Layne, ‘This time’; Nye, ‘The twenty-first century’; Shambaugh, ‘China engages Asia’; White, ‘Power shift’; Wohlforth, ‘How not’; Yan, ‘The rise’.

112 Shambaugh, ‘China engages Asia’, p. 99.

113 Yan, ‘The rise’, p. 29.

114 Beeson, ’Hegemonic transition’, p. 100.

115 Goh, Evelyn, ‘The modes of China’s influence: Cases from Southeast Asia’, Asian Survey, 54:5 (2014), pp. 825848 ; Gustafsson, Karl, ‘Is China’s discursive power increasing? The case of the “power of the past” in Sino-Japanese relations’, Asian Perspective, 38:3 (2014), pp. 411433 ; Shambaugh, David L., China Goes Global: The Partial Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

116 Goh, The Struggle for Order.

117 Smith, Steve, ‘Singing our world into existence: International Relations theory and September 11’, International Studies Quarterly, 48:3 (2004), pp. 499515 . See also Bueger, ‘From epistemic communities’, pp. 51–2.

118 Lake, David A., ‘Why “isms” are evil: Theory, epistemology, and academic sects as impediments to understanding and progress’, International Studies Quarterly, 55:2 (2011), pp. 465480 .

119 Eriksson, Johan and Sundelius, Bengt, ‘Molding minds that form policy: How to make research useful’, International Studies Perspectives, 6:1 (2005), pp. 5171 .

120 Joseph S. Nye Jr, ‘Scholars on the sidelines’, Washington Post (13 April 2009).

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