[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Herzog on Yeo, 'Asia's Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Oct 12 20:01:52 MDT 2019

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Date: Sat, Oct 12, 2019 at 7:23 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Herzog on Yeo, 'Asia's Regional
Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century'
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Andrew Yeo.  Asia's Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions
in the Pacific Century.  Studies in Asian Security Series. Stanford
Stanford University Press, 2019.  264 pp.  $70.00 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Stephen Herzog (Yale University)
Published on H-Diplo (October, 2019)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Bilateralism, Multilateralism, and Path Dependence in Asia?

Despite his open dislike of foreign travel and abandonment of Barack
Obama's "pivot" rhetoric, Donald J. Trump has found himself in the
Asia-Pacific region several times. The forty-fifth US president has
visited China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea
while even becoming the first American head of state to enter North
Korea during a cinematic photo-op with its supreme leader, Kim
Jong-un, at the demilitarized zone. Conducting bilateral diplomacy
with long-standing US allies, nascent partners, and rivals has not
been the only task. Trump also participated in the multilateral
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits. Meanwhile, administration officials
have been involved in track-I diplomacy like the Shangri-La Dialogue
(SLD) and track-1.5 initiatives like the Pacific Economic Cooperation
Council (PECC).

For all but the most dedicated policy practitioners and observers,
keeping tabs on the dizzying array of overlapping institutions in
Asia presents a formidable challenge. Fortunately, Andrew Yeo has
published a thorough and comprehensible compendium that explains the
evolution of this web of multilateral--and sometimes
trilateral--institutions. How is it, Yeo asks, that these
institutions have emerged irrespective of remarkable continuity in
the "hub and spokes" system of US bilateral security alliances in
Asia? Readers of such works as Victor Cha's _Powerplay: The Origins
of the American Alliance System in Asia_ (2016) and Thomas
Christensen's _Worse Than a Monolith: Alliance Politics and Problems
of Coercive Diplomacy in Asia_ (2011) will undoubtedly be interested
in this book.

One could be forgiven for being skeptical that a book discussing
understudied forums, such as the East Asian Economic Group (EAEG) and
the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), fits well with scholarship on "hard
security" and military alliances. Yet Yeo's use of the historical
institutionalism framework--more prominent in comparative politics
than international relations--helps him make the case. His argument
is one of path dependence premised on the notion that past efforts at
interstate cooperation inevitably condition future ones. That is, no
institutional choice should be seen as an independent event in
isolation from its predecessors. Yeo does not deny that exogenous
shocks like the 1997-99 Asian financial crisis led to the creation of
new institutions. Rather, he maintains that "endogenous processes of
institutional change suggest that macroinstitutional systems such as
the regional architecture will evolve gradually, even if actors face
periodic exogenous shocks" (p. 154). To Yeo, security threats during
the Cold War motivated the creation of the "hub and spokes" system,
which then gave rise to both material and ideational interests.

The argument follows that bilateralism birthed shared values and an
elite consensus in favor of maintaining alliances. Multilateral
cooperation in Asia has naturally developed over time in areas like
trade and disaster preparedness, but such initiatives involve a
process of institutional layering that preserves extant alliances.
Objectives and membership of new institutions may vary, but the
number of institutions continues to increase instead of contract. The
result is, in the phrasing of Cha, a "complex patchwork" of regional
bodies that often lack formal decision-making authority and involve
little delegation of sovereignty. And within this architecture, the
ASEAN Way and principles of noninterference and consensus also play a
significant role in conditioning each successive attempt at
institution building.

Yeo's approach is clever, but it may vex strong proponents of various
grand theories of international relations. For example, Yeo states,
"In addition to threat perceptions, the arguments here take into
account the role of ideas, institutions, and domestic politics in the
formation of an elite consensus" on bilateral alliances (p. 25).
Throughout the book, Yeo advances positions to explain the emergence
of multilateral institutions and temporal persistence of bilateral
alliances that have striking similarities with points made by
realists, liberals, neoliberal institutionalists, and constructivists
alike. Yeo appears to favor an approach that recognizes multicausal
explanations for events and sequences thereof. His attempt to avoid,
so to say, forcing square pegs into round holes is admirable and will
likely be appreciated by historians and policymakers.

To construct his narrative of a path-dependent regional architecture,
Yeo uses a multitude of short case studies covering different
periods--mainly in the post-Cold War era. Examples include the US
bilateral alliances with Japan and the Philippines in the 1990s, the
ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, and South Korea) in 1997-98 during
the Asian financial crisis, and the Six-Party Talks over the North
Korean nuclear weapons program from 2003 to 2009. Yeo covers an
impressive breadth of cases for such a concise book, many of which
conform to a similar logic. They take note of declining external
threat levels and tensions in US bilateral alliances. These events
often create the necessary space for inter-Asian cooperation along
multilateral lines and new policy thinking to address regional
challenges. Regardless, Yeo maintains that the "hub and spokes"
system survives because of its long-standing material and ideational
benefits. Some scholars may, however, find these brief cases to be
slightly formulaic and lacking detailed illumination of causal
mechanisms. In just a few pages per vignette, it is difficult to
provide compelling process tracing with smoking gun or doubly
decisive evidence ruling out alternative explanations.

The book also would have benefited from establishing a bright line
regarding what constitutes an "institution." Drawing on a definition
from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an endnote reads,
"Institutions are rules, arrangements, and organizations 'ranging
from ad hoc and informal forums that lack an organizational core to
formal standing bodies that serve a particular purpose'" (p. 192n32).
This is an expansive definition that would have been useful in the
main text, for the sake of clarity, given the book's subject matter.
The institutions discussed by Yeo also vary across numerous
dimensions. Consider, for instance, a comparison of the Six-Party
Talks and ASEAN. The Six-Party Talks were a series of fairly informal
meetings intended to resolve a specific problem and had strategically
restricted participation. None of ASEAN's ten member states were
among the six parties in the Six-Party Talks, and ASEAN has
an--although admittedly weak--Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and a
secretariat that deal with a range of policy issues.

These small critiques aside, Yeo makes a compelling case for
historical institutional layering in Asia as a product of both slow
endogenous change and exogenous shocks. He justifies this approach by
arguing that political scientists should study continuity mechanisms
in international relations "because they affect the pace and
parameters of change" (p. 177). Readers might thus interpret, as Yeo
hints, that bilateral US alliances will likely have an extended shelf
life--even if in different forms--and multilateral institutions could
provide mechanisms for China to have a stake in Asia-Pacific regional
governance and stability.

However, another possible way to interpret the evidence is that the
geopolitical backdrop in Asia over the past few decades has simply
lacked game-changing variation. While reading, I was struck by the
parallels between present-day Asia and Europe during the interwar
years. Europe in the 1920s and early 1930s was characterized by
relatively weak, overlapping institutions like the League of Nations,
World Court, Kellogg-Briand Pact, and Geneva Protocol. States
maintained strong bilateral security alliances, but there was no
singular formal and effective multilateral institution. But the onset
of the Cold War and the rise of an existential Soviet threat was
sufficiently motivating to spur the creation of the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization, which included enduring rivals like France and
Germany among its members.

In the Asia of today, perhaps bilateral alliances with the United
States and weak multilateral institutions make sense for countries
like Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam. If in the
coming years China becomes a threat of similar magnitude to the
Soviet specter in Europe, it is unclear if the patterns observed by
Yeo will hold. Perhaps China will be content to counterbalance the
United States by enlarging its presence in current institutions and
forming new ones--like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
(AIIB) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)--where
Washington is notably absent. But could Beijing become intimidating
enough to encourage legitimate Japan-South Korea rapprochement, or
even a multilateral balancing coalition in Asia? Of course, Yeo's
analysis does not preclude these possibilities, but one wonders if
future Chinese military activities might tip the scales and trigger
regional security paradigm shifts. Some caution might still be
advised in using the path-dependent trends noted by Yeo as the basis
for longer-term predictions and strategic planning.

Overall, there is much to praise about _Asia's Regional
Architecture_. Yeo has written a book with indisputable value for
understanding international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
Its "big tent" approach to theoretically analyzing historical events
also should appeal to a range of scholars and policymakers. With
Asia's centrality to many events in global politics, Yeo's research
should find its way onto the bookshelves of regional specialists,
scholars of both alliance politics and international institutions,
and students with an interest in learning about the complexities of
Asian diplomacy.

_Stephen Herzog is a PhD candidate in political science at Yale
University and a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Harvard
Kennedy School'_s Belfer Center for Science and International
Affairs. A former US Department of Energy arms control specialist
with experience working in multilateral institutions in Asia, he is
affiliated with the Yale Project on Japan_'_s Politics and Diplomacy
and the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International

Citation: Stephen Herzog. Review of Yeo, Andrew, _Asia's Regional
Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century_.
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54110

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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