The 2016-17 Wendt Lecture: Arms Races, Comprehensive Security, and American Grand Strategy to East Asia

Wed, Feb 8, 2017, 4:30 pm

Is East Asia increasingly prosperous and stable? If so, why? There is little evidence that East Asian states are engaged in an arms race, and few states are sending costly signals about their resolve to suffer the costs of war. As East Asia has grown richer and more integrated over the past twenty-five years, and as China has grown richer and more integrated within East Asia itself, East Asian defense spending has steadily declined. Indeed, East Asian military expenditures are now similar to those in Latin America. The region is more peaceful, stable, and prosperous now than at anytime in the past century. Rather than engaging in military competition, East Asian countries are pursuing comprehensive security: a wide range of diplomatic, institutional, and economic strategies—as well as military strategies—in their dealings with each other. This comprehensive security is a regional phenomenon. China’s rise has occurred within a rapidly integrating region that has been experiencing dramatic economic growth and prolonged social and political stabilization. This regional transformation is deeply intertwined with China’s transformation. Accurately understanding East Asian regional perceptions and their grand strategies is central to formulating sound U.S. grand strategy to East Asia.  If the survival of East Asian states is not actually threatened, and East Asian countries prefer to pursue economic, institutional, and diplomatic tools to deal with each other rather than military force, then U.S. policy should emphasize economic and diplomatic engagement with the region in addition to its military presence.

The Wendt Lecture is followed by a reception at Prospect House.

*David C. Kang is the Provost Professor of International Relations and Business at the University of Southern California, with appointments in both the School of International Relations and the Marshall School of Business. He is director of both the USC Korean Studies Institute and the USC Center for International Studies. Kang’s latest book is Arms Races, Costly Signals, and American Grand Strategy to East Asia (Cambridge, 2017). He has authored four other books, and has published scholarly articles in journals such as International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and International Security. A regular consultant for U.S. government agencies, Kang has also written opinion pieces in the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and appears regularly in media such as CNN, BBC, and NPR. He received an A.B. with honors from Stanford University and his Ph.D. from Berkeley. 

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