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Power and choice: Asian security futures

31 May 2010   |   Reports   |   By Dr Malcolm Cook, Rory Medcalf, Andrew Shearer and Raoul Heinrichs

This paper sets the foundation for the Lowy Institute’s MacArthur Asia Security Project. It outlines four regional security futures, the strategic dynamics and political choices that could give rise to each of them, and their implications for the region’s security architecture. It then examines four plausible ‘shocks’ – strategic events which might dramatically tip the region’s future in one direction or another – and concludes with a discussion of the need for realistic confidence-building measures to help mitigate the most serious risks of disruptive change.

‘Two types of decisions or choices by major powers will be crucial to the region’s future. The first are long-term preparatory or shaping decisions: judgments about how to respond to, anticipate or direct emerging trends in the strategic environment. These could determine the conditions under which leaders need to make the second kind of decisions: rapid choices during crises.'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan arrive for a joint statement reading in Beijing
Reuters/Jason Lee
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan arrive for a joint statement reading in Beijing
Key Findings
Power and Choice analyses four possible Asian regional security futures;
Future 1: US primacy
Future 2: An Asian balance of power
Future 3: An Asian concert of powers
Future 4: Chinese primacy

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    Asia is in flux owing to the region’s changing distribution of power. However, as the region’s longstanding security order potentially gives way in the coming years and decades, the kind of arrangements that are likely to emerge in its place remain unknown, and to some extent unknowable. At the same time, the shift of world economic and strategic weight to Asia means that the global strategic order will be increasingly shaped in Asia by Asian powers. The strategic future of Asia has never mattered more to the world – yet nor has it ever been less clear.

    This paper sets the foundation for the Lowy Institute’s Asia Security Project, part of the MacArthur Foundation Asia Security Initiative. It outlines four regional security futures, the strategic dynamics and political choices that could give rise to each of them, and their implications for the region’s bilateral and multilateral security architecture. It then examines four plausible ‘shocks’ – strategic events which might dramatically tip the region’s future in one direction or another – and concludes with a discussion of the need for realistic confidence-building measures to help mitigate the most serious risks of disruptive change. The paper’s approach is based on the assumption that power distributions determine strategic orders, which in turn shape the region’s structures, processes and institutions.