Jiakun Jack Zhang
University of California, San Diego
This provocative volume applies the logic of bargaining theory to assess how East Asian countries are responding to the rise of China. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that a more assertive China has incited a regional backlash, Kang finds no evidence of East Asian arms races. The fact that few countries are investing heavily in their militaries, Kang argues, reflects their lack of resolve to risk war in the pursuit of their strategic interests. Instead, he illustrates through careful case studies of the foreign policies of US allies – such as South Korea – and non-allies – such as Vietnam – that most countries in the region are pursuing a strategy of comprehensive security, not confrontation, in their dealings with each other and with China. He shows that North Korea, the notable exception to this regional trend, supports his theory by demonstrating how a weak state could send costly signals to show resolve in the face of more powerful adversaries. The implication for American grand strategy that arise from these findings is that a military-first regional policy will be less effective than one which places greater emphasis on diplomacy and economics. A weakness of the book lies in the fact that military expenditure is not the only, and perhaps not the most important, means of costly signaling. As countries get richer, they can purchase enough destructive capabilities to credibly threaten a costly war without increasing their military budgets. The maritime and border disputes that Kang dismisses represent important cases of costly signaling because how states use military force in particular crises matter more for bargaining than how much they invest in national defense generally.