Intensifying geopolitical rivalries, rising defence spending and the proliferation of the latest military technology across Asia suggest that the region is set for a prolonged period of strategic contestation. None of the three competing visions for the future of Asian order – a US-led ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’, a Chinese-centred order, or the ASEAN-inspired ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’ – is likely to prevail in the short to medium term. In the absence of a new framework, the risk of open conflict is heightened, and along with it the need for effective mechanisms to maintain peace and stability.
As Asia’s leaders seek to rebuild their economies and societies in the wake of COVID-19, they would do well to reflect upon the lessons offered by the pandemic and their applicability in the strategic realm. The societies that have navigated the crisis most effectively have been able to do so by putting in place stringent protective measures. Crisis-management and -avoidance mechanisms – and even, in the longer term, wider arms control – can be seen as the strategic equivalent of such measures, and as such they should be pursued with urgency in Asia to reduce the risks of an even greater calamity.
Table of Contents
1. A region in flux
2. Disputes and tensions in Northeast Asia
3. Strategic outlooks and languishing institutions in Southeast Asia
4. Geopolitical evolution in South Asia
5. Prospects for Asian order
Professor Desmond Ball was Special Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, having been head of the centre from 1984 to 1991. He was the author of more than 40 books or monographs on technical intelligence subjects, nuclear strategy, Australian defence and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Professor Ball served on the Council of the IISS from 1994 until 2000 and was Co-chair of the Steering Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific from 2000 until 2002. He was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2014 prior to his passing in October 2016.
Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau is Director of the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Her research interests focus on European and Asian arms trade, military spending and the arms industry. She was previously a Research Fellow for Defence Economics and Procurements at the IISS and an analyst at the French Ministry of Armed Forces.
Dr Tim Huxley was Executive Director of IISS–Asia until April 2021, where he played a leading role in organising the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue and the IISS Fullerton Forum, leading IISS research on the Asia-Pacific and editing the annual IISS Asia-Pacific Regional Security Assessment. Dr Huxley has worked for many years in the overlap between strategic studies and Asian area studies. His research and writing focus particularly on Southeast Asian states’ security and defence policies, and the security roles of the major powers in the Asia-Pacific region. He was awarded an OBE for services to security in Asia in the UK’s 2021 New Year Honours.
Professor C. Raja Mohan is Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and is one of India’s leading foreign-policy commentators. He was previously Professor of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Professor Mohan has also been associated with a number of think tanks in New Delhi and was the founding Director of Carnegie India. He writes a regular column for the Indian Express and was previously the Strategic Affairs Editor for the Hindu newspaper.
Professor Brendan Taylor is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, having been head of the centre from 2011–16. He is a specialist on great-power strategic relations in the Asia-Pacific, East Asian ‘flashpoints’ and Asian security architecture. He is the author or editor of 12 books, including The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes to War (Black Inc., 2018) and Dangerous Decade: Taiwan’s Security and Crisis Management (IISS, 2019).
‘Asia is one of the world’s most complex regions and one whose impact is increasingly felt globally. No one can claim to understand geopolitics anywhere without some understanding of Asian geopolitics. This is an invaluable, clear and comprehensive guide to the past, present and possible futures of Asian geopolitics.’-- Bilahari Kausikan, former permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
‘This Adelphi book accurately captures the present-day Asian anxieties over an unravelling regional order and a future filled with geopolitical strife and unknown dangers.’-- Yao Yunzhu, retired major-general, Chinese People’s Liberation Army
‘An important contribution to informed debate on the various visions for Asia’s future strategic order. Its sub-regional approach allows for cogent analysis of the unique dynamic and circumstances prevailing in each sub-region, while at the same time offering identification of some of the common challenges and opportunities.’-- Marty Natalegawa, former foreign minister of Indonesia
‘A sober assessment of how a number of factors, new and old, impact the state of geopolitics in the region. The in-depth and timely analysis of COVID-19, the lack of regional architecture, shifting balances of power and the intensification of rivalries and military build-ups – especially China’s – serves as a warning of the potentially troubled future for this dynamic and strategically critical region.’-- Oriana Skylar Mastro, Stanford University and the American Enterprise Institute