Commentary |
1 November 2018

A strange complacency

Daniel Flitton reviews The Four Flashpoints: How Asia goes to war by Brendan Taylor.

Originally published in the Australian Book Review.

Daniel Flitton
Daniel Flitton

Book review: The prospects for conflict in Asia

THE FOUR FLASHPOINTS: HOW ASIA GOES TO WAR by Brendan Taylor La Trobe University Press, $29.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781760640378

The danger is complacency. Brendan Taylor cautions readers of this timely assessment of the swirling currents of power in Asia – and currents is the right metaphor, given the heavy focus on disputes at sea – not to simply have faith that everything will turn out okay. ‘The risk of major war in Asia is much greater today than most individuals assume,’ Taylor writes. Even among regional leaders and key players, he sees a ‘strange complacency about the prospects for conflict in Asia’, despite knowing just how devastating such a conflict would be.

This is about more than Kim Jong-un and his nuclear toys, although North Korea is one of several headline-grabbing regional hotspots Taylor surveys. It is also about more than Xi Jinping’s assertively ambiguous ‘Chinese Dream’ and trouble between Beijing and its neighbours, especially Taiwan, or Japan, or the smaller yet collectively significant nations of Southeast Asia. Nor is this solely a product of doubts about a US commitment to a role in Asia, given Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades and isolationist impulses.

Taylor’s warning is to see each of the region’s foaming disputes as part of a larger whole, connected rather than separate, each with the potential to cascade into something much more frightening: the prospect of a war between nations, with professional militaries, sophisticated hardware, and, in some cases, nuclear weapons or the potential to quickly develop them.

Read on here.