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Sharing Power? Prospects for a U.S. Concert-Balance Strategy

Sharing Power? Prospects for a U.S. Concert-Balance Strategy

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Sharing Power examines alternative U.S. grand strategies. It argues that, while retrenchment is prudent, new strategies will also have to cope with dilemmas that can be mitigated but cannot be avoided.
Sharing Power examines alternative U.S. grand strategies. It argues that, while retrenchment is prudent, new strategies will also have to cope with dilemmas that can be mitigated but cannot be avoided.

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Two recent incidents suggest that when faced
with the real prospect of it, states have little appetite

for unbridled competition. The frst was the abortive

“quadrilateral” initiative of 2007, when U.S. Vice-


President Cheney and Japanese Prime Minister Abe
attempted to introduce India into the three-way dia-
logue of Australia, Japan, and the United States, lead-
ing to large joint military exercises. Beijing responded
by issuing threats and formally protesting against
what it regarded as a “small NATO” forming against
it. In turn, India and Australia stepped back from the
initiative, for fear of their counterbalancing efforts

becoming a self-fulflling prophecy that would turn

China into a committed enemy. States that might have
formed part of a coalition to contain another state (like
China) instead balked at the prospect of a prematurely
hard-line containment strategy, in effect choosing to
develop their own military capabilities and develop
bilateral security arrangements while waiting to see
how China’s peaceful rise would take shape.71

suggests that the notion of a loose Western bloc exist-
ing as a counterbalancing force in being may be more
fragile and reluctant than some expect.72

Prime Minister Gillard has resumed this dialogue, but
also insists that Canberra’s goal is not to contain China.
These two impulses—to accommodate a rising China
while hedging against any threats it might pose—rep-
licate the two principles of a Concert-Balance strategy.
The second revealing incident occurred in Septem-
ber 2010, when a Chinese trawler and a Japanese patrol
ship collided near a contested island. After a Japanese
patrol arrested the trawler captain, China demanded
his release and an apology. China then halted the
export of rare earth metals to Japan, threatening to
cripple Japanese manufacturers, because Japan is reli-
ant on these metals for making electronics and hybrid
automobiles. Japan retaliated, promptly devaluing the
yen in currency markets, dropping it 3 percent against
the Chinese yuan. A destructive trade and currency


war loomed. Both sides had a taste of a spiraling trade
and currency war, and stepped back from the brink.73
These two incidents point to a broader issue, that in
these mercantile times, international relations are too
fragile for an all-out contest for supremacy between a
U.S.-led coalition and China. States are demonstrably
willing to compete within limits, to build up military
capabilities, court allies and partners, make claims on
scarce resources, and generally jostle for advantage.
However, thus far, states have proven to be nervous
when disputes escalate. Assembling a coalition to con-
tain China too intensively could trigger crises, not least
because China holds hundreds of billions of dollars
in U.S. debt that could be dropped onto the market.

America might fnd its allies distancing themselves

when the hard costs of unmitigated competition focus
their minds.

Thus, any viable U.S. strategy that a coalition
would buy into must straddle the delicate balance
between a self-defeating containment strategy and an
excessive withdrawal leading to power vacuums. As

Gordon defnes the dilemma:

concede too much ‘strategic space’ to China too eas-
ily, and Beijing might simply assume weakness; form a
coherent strategy for collectively balancing China and
Beijing might be alienated and pushed into something
akin to a new ‘cold war’.74

This desire to balance competition with strate-
gic cooperation is hardly a guarantee against future

armed confict. However, it does suggest that a
middle-ground strategy is a better ft with the current

diplomatic and economic pattern.


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