Using the framework of ‘prosperity-interest’ as outlined in Confederacy Theory, can China effectively overcome traditional realist security dilemmas, particularly with Taiwan and the United States, inherent in Great Power balancing?
One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is strong.
- Sun Tzu
China’s explosive economic growth over the past thirty years is currently funding a massive military modernization program that many analysts fear will destabilize tenuous East Asia peace and security (Christensen 1999, 49-50). These analysts fear that China’s improving military capabilities risk undermining current security dynamics predicated upon realism’s hegemonic stability theory. Hegemonic stability argues that because the United States possesses overwhelming economic and militaristic might, the international order has remained relatively stable (Snyder 2009, 6-7). Liberalism and inter-state cooperation has flourished because security has been guaranteed by the United States, who acts as an arbiter in local or regional disputes.
Of late, however, US hegemony is waning. After two failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a global economic recession, the relative power losses of the United States coupled with the economic and militaristic rise of China has realist analysts predicting deepening security dilemmas between China and her neighbors and China and the US (Christensen 1999, 49-51; Fravel 2007/8, 44; Newmyer 2009, 206-207). The ‘security dilemma’ narrative contends that declining US power and influence in East Asia will precipitate increased nationalism, instability, and conflict, and the emergence of a new great power capable of challenging the US will accelerate the decline of the US-backed liberal order (Snyder 1999, 10-12).
Accordingly, a security dilemma follows logically with the decline of a hegemon. However, as China continues its ascent and the US seems poised to decline, the stability of the international order has remained relatively in tact. In fact, rather than undermining or challenging the liberal international order, China seems eager to participate in the existing structure (Liang 2007, 5-20). China is not adhering to Sun Tzu’s maxim that a rising power will increasingly flex its military muscle. Instead, “China’s behavior challenges existing arguments...on power transitions, which assert that a rising state is likely to use force” (Fravel 2007, 47). Accordingly, the predominate systemic theories of realism and neo-liberalism are failing to adequately account for China’s peaceful and nonviolent behavior given its gains in relative power (Newmyer 2009, 207). If a different theory can more accurately explain China’s peaceful rise despite relative power gains, than perhaps the very notion of a security dilemma can be effectively overcome.
This essay will challenge hegemonic stability and introduce the nascent concept of confederacy theory and its guiding principle of a ‘prosperity-interest’. This essay will then demonstrate that prosperity-interests are effectively minimizing the traditional presence of a security dilemma in Taiwan and in China by elevating prosperity and commercialism as central to security rather than classic military power. Predictions of a security dilemma are a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you expect security concerns to be paramount, they will be. However, while this narrative predicts increased tensions, the reality presents a far different picture. Security dilemmas are being marginalized by an expanding commercialism that prioritizes growth and prosperity over conflict. Confederacy Theory
Confederacy theory was presented by Quddus Snyder who reflected that the actions of states in the current global order do not properly fit into extant systemic theories. Snyder argues that the liberal international order constructed post WWII is no longer being singularly supported by US hegemony. Instead, the international order is currently...
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