Book Review: James Steinberg and Michael E. O’Hanlon. 2014. Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: U.S.–China Relations in the Twenty-first Century

Published date01 April 2016
Date01 April 2016
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
James Steinberg and Michael E. O’Hanlon. 2014. Strategic Reassurance
and Resolve: U.S.–China Relations in the Twenty-first Century. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press. 260 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691159515
Regarding the Asia-Pacific stability and security, a major concern among policy-
makers and international studies theorists is whether China, as a rising power, is
bound to challenge the established power United States’ regional and global
hegemony, and the latter is destined to resist, thus making great power confron-
tation and even war a reality in the future. James Steinberg, US Deputy Sectary
of State (2009–2011), and Michael O’Hanlon, a well-known policy consultant
and practitioner in Washington, DC, give a promising answer. They argue that
the pessimistic outcome is quietly likely, but not inevitable. To escape from the
tragedy of great power politics, ‘each side must be prepared to do what it can to
reassure the other of its cooperative intentions—but at the same time, each will
need to demonstrate that it has the necessary will and capacity to defend its vital
interests if necessary’ (p. 203). To put it simply, both the United States and China
need to clarify their core national interests and red-lines in order to avoid
miscalculation, while reassuring each other of their commitment to resolve
differences peacefully and cooperatively.
Steinberg and O’Hanlon highlight two mutually reinforcing and pressing
dangers in the US–China military and strategic spheres—arms race instability and
crisis instability. Although no overall competition is under way in developing
nuclear, anti-satellite and conventional weapons between them, an arms race
remains possible because of Beijing’s efforts to develop anti-access/anti-denial
capabilities and Washington’s Air-Sea concept which, in Chinese military
planners’ eyes, is to ‘assure an American capability to deliver an overwhelming
pre-emptive, knockout blow to China’s defence’ (p. 114). Increasing military
contingencies also continuously destabilized the region, particularly in dealing
with the Taiwan cross-strait relations and maritime disputes. Even so, Steinberg
and O’Hanlon say ‘there are many reasons to believe that U.S. and Chinese
interests are not so fundamentally adverse’ (p. 12). For Washington, there are reasons
for optimism. China’s military and territorial aims do not appear to be infinitely
elastic (p. 123); unlike the former Soviet Union, China has no interest in imposing its
way of life or ideology on others. What is more, China benefits from US-led global
economic and security system, thus having limited incentives to challenge it,
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
3(1) 102–111
2016 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015626054

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