Explaining the East Asian Peace: A Research Story.

AuthorRolfe, Jim
PositionBook review

Explaining the East Asian Peace: A Research Story. By Stein Tonneson. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2017. Softcover: 263pp.

The standard trope in any discussion about East Asian security over recent decades has been on the uncertainty of the security environment, generally followed by the assertion that we live in dangerous times. And there has indeed been much uncertainty and some dangerous times. Stein Tonneson's book, however, moves away somewhat from the uncertainty and the danger and instead examines the (relative) peace which the region has enjoyed over the last three decades or so. In the eyes of the author--programme leader for a large and experienced international team hosted by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden--this is a much more interesting topic than asking the more normal question: "Why conflict and what causes it?"

In four parts, chapters really, Tonneson asks and answers, from his point of view, the big questions: How do we explain the region's generally peaceful nature? What should we make of China? Is the peace viable? and What could the future hold? Running through these issues is discussion of a six-year research programme at Uppsala in which the different perspectives, theories and approaches brought by the participants to the project are aired. This discussion, the "research story" of the subtitle, is as useful as the overall conclusions as it lays out the epistemological and methodological debates within the research project and reminds us that we all have our own analytical perspectives, and that the facts and issues we choose to privilege can reasonably and legitimately be disputed by others.

Tonneson recognizes that his definitions of peace--"the absence of armed conflict" (p. 3)--and of armed conflict--a "contested incompatibility" between two parties one of which is a state government resulting in "at least 25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year" (p. 3)--are contestable, and he spends time usefully discussing his approach. Both regional interstate and intrastate conflict are discussed, with due recognition that many of the conflicts have both international and domestic components and a clear delineation between the forms of conflict is not always possible (p. 25). Throughout, Tonneson discusses his conclusions, explores possible alternative conclusions, and explains why he has reached his conclusions.

Part One is a discussion of possible reasons for the enduring...

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