Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 06:40 | SYDNEY
Thursday 11 Aug 2022 | 06:40 | SYDNEY

Asian order: Realist or idealist?


Hugh White

21 December 2012 12:15

Peter Layton's response to my post on Kevin Rudd's Pax Pacifica ends our blogging year on an appropriate note, reminding us of how momentous the issues are that we face in Asia's strategic future. Two quick points in response.

First, I don't think the evidence justifies Peter's hope that Rudd is any less 'realist' than I am. Rudd has often described himself as a realist, and even as a 'brutal realist' in his famous wikileaked comment to Hillary Clinton.

Both Rudd and I argue that Asia needs to build a new order to accommodate China's power and manage the rivalry that occurs when power shifts between states. It is true that Rudd says we should build that order through region-wide multilateral forums, while I put more faith in smaller groupings of great powers. But that is a difference of process, not outcome.

Which brings us to the second point. Whatever Rudd's views may be, Peter raises a serious question about the kind of outcome we should be after in Asia. Should we aim for Peter's more optimistic outcome, which is a regional order that does not have conflict in its DNA? Or should we content ourselves with the less ambitious goal of managing the reality of rivalry and the risks of conflict as best we can?

Well, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives. One might say that the first step towards eliminating strategic rivalry, as they have done in Western Europe, is to manage it effectively. My realist order might be the best, or only, way to reach Peter's post-strategic nirvana. And meanwhile, the Senkakus shows how serious and urgent are the issues to we need to manage. In this situation, as Voltaire said, the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

Photo by Flickr user theogeo.