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The Fall and Rise of Navies in East Asia

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On March 20, 1997,t he Thai navy took deliv ery of the Chakri Naruebet, a 10,000-ton Spanish-builtaircr aft carrier equipped with eight Sea H arrier ghters and six Seahawk heli-co pters. Wi th this purchase, Thailand became the rst East Asia n state sincet he 1950s to own and operate an aircraft carrier. The purchase was one of manyeven ts signaling the rise of naval power across the region. Since 1980, aggre-gate East Asian naval tonnage has increased 69 percent, while the average ageo f warships has decreased.1N o comparable growth was recorded in the equip-m ent holdings of armies, air forces, or navies anywhere else in the world. Whatacc ounts for this shift in military strategy in East Asia, and wh at is itss igni cance for international peace and security?The Fa ll and Ris e of Navi e s in East As iaThere are two common explanations for this phenomenon, both of which areawed. The rst is that the combination of the end of the Cold War and the de-v elopment of regional multipolarity increased the level of insecurity in EastAs ia and thus the need for enhanced military capabilities. This explanationfails to consider, however, the timing of the naval buildups, some o f which be-gan in the early 1980s and others only in the late 1990s (in most cases withoutapparent connection to either the end of the Cold War or the geographic pos i-t ion o f the states i nvolved). Also, in most cases, these buildups occurredaround th e same time that the leaders of these states were busy heralding them ost secure international environment in decades. A second explanation holdst hat the increases in naval power were by-products of economic growth anddec isions to replace labor with capital.2This explanation is insufcient becauseThe Fall and Rise ofNavies in East AsiaEric HeginbothamMilitary Organizations, Domesti c Politics,and Grand Strateg yInternational Security, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Fall 2002), pp. 86–125© 2002 by the President and Fel lows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.86Eric Heginbotham is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.The author thanks Thomas Christensen, Aaron Friedberg, George Gilboy, P.R. Goldstone, BarryPosen , Richard Samuels, Jack Snyder, Christopher Twomey, Stephen Van Evera, Wu Xinbo, andZhu Mingquan as well as two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of thisarticle.1. Except where otherwise noted, the information on East Asian militaries in this article includesdata from twelve countries: Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Malay-sia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Although Australia is not in-clu ded in some assessments of East Asia, its primary strategic concerns lie in this region. Surfacewar ships weighing more than 500 tons (loaded) are included.2. The two explanations discussed here appea r frequently together in works on East Asian secu-rity. Those emphasizing strategic competition include Paul Bracken, Fire in the East: The Rise ofAsian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age (New York: HarperCollins, 1999); Aaron L.it cannot account for why the navies of several East Asian states (e.g., Th ailanddu ring the late 1940s and Indonesia during the 1950s) stood at the cente r ofpo stwar defense planning despite regional economic stagnation. Nor does itexpl ain why these forces subsequently declined in size and power despiterapid national economic growth.Thi s article proposes an alternative explanation for the rise of East Asian na-v al forces over the last two decades, as well as the vagaries of Asian naval for-t unes more generally after World War II. I argue that because of theirco mposition, organization, and sociology, navies have domestic (economic, so-ci al, and po litical) preferences that differ from those of armies. As a result, na-v al ofcers generally ally with liberal political leaders in domestic politicalbatt les over the organization of the state, whereas army ofcers form alliancesw ith integral nationalist leaders. (Int egral nationalists believe that economic,s ocial, and political development should be balanced across regions and thatinc ome be relatively evenly distributed—conditions that require a strong stat eand a high level of state intervention in the economy.) Political leaders whoem erge victorious from thes e struggles seek to protect their positions by pro-m oting military ofcers who share their ideology: Liberal leaders generallys upport naval interests, integral nationalists frequently back army leaders, andbo th often seek to reduce the strength of the other.Thi s explanation is part of a larger, civil-military coalition theory that ad-v ances several general propositions about (1) the involvement of military orga-nizat ions in the domestic politics of developin g states and (2) the effects of thisinv olvement on strategic outco mes. A brief regionwide survey of major politi-cal and military trends from 1945 to the present and a more detailed assess-m ent of ev ents in three states (Thailand, China, and Indonesia) conrm thet heory’s predictions. In East Asia, naval fortunes improved during the briefowering of liberal government in the immediate aftermath of World War II,and they fell following the emergence and consolidation of integral nationalistregim es, only to rise again with the rebirth of liberalism in the 1980s.The article is divided into six section s. First, I describe the rise of East Asiannav al forces and doctrines from 1980 to the present. Second, I assess problemsThe Fall and Rise of Navies in East Asia 87F riedberg, “Will Europe’s Past Be Asia’s Future?” Survival, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Autumn 2000), pp. 147–159; and Paul Dibb, “Strateg ic Trends: Asia at a Crossroads,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 54, No.1 (Winter 2001), pp. 22–38. Treatments that stress the importance of economic growth include KentE. Calder, Asia’s Deadly Triangle: How Arms, Energy, and Growth Threaten to Destabilize Asia-Pacic(Lo ndon: Nicholas Brealey, 1996); Desmond Ball, “Arms and Afuence: Military Acquisitions inthe Asia-Pacic Region,” International Security, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Winter 1993/94) , pp. 78–112; andPaul Mann, “Arms Races Likely When Asia Recovers,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, March4, 2002, pp. 22–23.w ith existing explanations for the rise of navalism. Third, I lay out the generalpro positions o f the civil-milit ary coalition theory


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