The Regional Security and Economy of East Asia: Prospects for the 1990s

The Regional Security and Economy of East Asia
Prospects for the 1990s

by Robert Gilpin and Donald S. Zagoria
April 1, 1991

This NBR Analysis presents assessments of recent security and economic developments in East Asia by two of America’s leading scholars and policy analysts, Professors Robert Gilpin and Donald Zagoria. Despite the current crisis in the Persian Gulf, both authors see a relatively stable security climate and commercial outlook in the Asia-Pacific region for the long-term future. To be sure, the region faces significant challenges in the decade ahead. The future of the Soviet Union and the possible rise of regional trading blocs, two principal issues addressed in these essays, weigh heavily on events in East Asia.

Yet, Professor Zagoria argues that even if the Soviet Union adopts a more repressive stance domestically, it will still have an interest in peaceful relations with its neighbors in the Pacific and elsewhere. He sees five “pillars” of security on which stable international relations in East Asia have rested in the decade and a half following the Vietnam War. While there remain significant threats to this stability, Professor Zagoria delineates a security agenda based on a redefined U.S.-Japan alliance in which the two countries ease their economic tensions and devise strategies vis-a-vis the other two great powers in the region, the Soviet Union and China. Neither of these countries, however, shows signs of exercising the kind of expansionist foreign policy characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s.

Professor Gilpin observes how the rapidly growing economy of the Asia-Pacific region will be influenced by external developments in the global arena, where multinational corporations are internationalizing production and integrating national economies into regional trading groups. This trend of regionalization, however, does not necessarily imply a return to the hostile economic and political blocs of the 1930s. Rather, the growth of trading regions means that the policy options available to nations and corporations are no longer simply economic liberalism or mercantilism. The important question, Professor Gilpin says, is whether these regions–Western Europe, North America, and possibly East Asia–will be able to resolve conflicts that arise in the course of their interaction as regional units. Another important issue is whether East Asian nations will coalesce into a unitary trading region at all. While Japanese corporations stand to play an important role in such a system, the institutional leadership and purposes of such an entity are much less established than those of two more obvious regional systems, Western Europe and North America.