In this special report, Brendan Taylor challenges the prevailing recommendation among Australian strategic observers that bolstering deterrence strategies ought to be the primary means to forestall a major war in Asia. Taylor points out that many of these same observers argue that such a catastrophic scenario would most likely stem from inadvertent escalation or ‘accidental conflict’ rather than a deliberate act or policy choice, but do not recognise the tension that exists between these two viewpoints, asserting that deterrence strategies may, in fact, heighten the risks of inadvertent escalation rather than mitigate them.
To address this tension, the report makes the following recommendations to Australian policymakers:
- Balance an increased focus upon deterrence with greater advocacy for crisis management and avoidance mechanisms designed to reduce the risks of inadvertent escalation and accidental conflict
- Recognise that the risk of inadvertent escalation extends beyond the US-China relationship; reinvigorate regional risk reduction measures, especially on the Korean Peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait
- Work with other Asian middle powers – including Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam – to identify areas where new crisis management and avoidance mechanisms should be developed
About the Author
Brendan Taylor is Professor of Strategic Studies and Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), Australian National University. He is also Research Chair of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA). He is a specialist on great power strategic relations in the Asia-Pacific, East Asian ‘flashpoints’, and Asian security architecture. His writings on these subjects have appeared in leading journals, such as Survival, The Washington Quarterly, Australian Foreign Affairs, The Pacific Review, and International Affairs and Review of International Studies. He is the author or editor of 13 books, including “The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes to War” (Black Inc, 2018) and “Dangerous Decade: Taiwan’s Security and Crisis Management” (IISS, 2019). He is a regular op-ed contributor to publications such as The Australian, The Straits Times, Nikkei Asian Review, The Australian Financial Review, The Interpreter, East Asia Forum and The Strategist.
The publication of this report was supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The views represented herein belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of APLN or ELN, their respective staff, boards, or members, nor do they reflect the views of the FCDO.
Image: Canberra, Australia, 9 March 2016. The front entrance of the Parliament House in Canberra at sunset (iStock).