[Michael E. O'Hanlon, The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small Stakes. Brookings Institution Press. Washington, 2019. 272 p.]


review / Jimena Puga

The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small StakesAfter the end of the Cold War, in which it confronted the Soviet Union bloc by defending the values of the Western order, the United States remained in the world as the hegemonic country. At present, however, it is rivaled by Russia, which despite its weakness Economics it struggles not to lose any more influence on the international stage, and for China, which, although still a regional power, aspires to replace the United States at the pinnacle of the world. The challenge it is not only for Washington, but for the entire West, as its very values are called into question by the advance of the diary of Moscow and Beijing.

The West needs to respond firmly, but how far does it need to go? When should you say enough is enough? Are you willing to go to war even if the cumulative steps taken by Russia or China are in themselves relatively minor or occur on the periphery? That's what Michael E. is asking. O'Hanlon, researcher Brookings Institution, in The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small Stakes. The book addresses a number of possible scenarios in the context of global hegemonic change and competition between the world's major powers for power.

The scenarios put forward by O'Hanlon consist, on the one hand, of a possible annexation of Estonia or Latvia by Russia, without prior consent and through a military attack. And, on the other, China's military conquest of one of the largest islands that make up the Senkaku, the name given by Japan to an archipelago it administers near Taiwan and which Beijing calls Diaoyu. In both cases, it is difficult to assess which side would have a better military strategy or to predict which side would win a hypothetical war. In addition, there are many unknown variables about cyber vulnerabilities, submarine operations, or the accuracy of missile strikes on each country's strategic infrastructure.

Thus, the author wonders whether both the United States and its allies should respond directly with a military offensive, in response to an initial attack, or if they should limit themselves to an asymmetrical response, focused on preventing future attacks, combining such responses with economic retaliation and certain military actions in different scenarios. What is clear is that while remaining vigilant in the face of the possible need to strengthen their positions on the international chessboard, Western countries must remain prudent and provide proportionate responses to possible crises, aware that their values – the defence of freedom, justice and the common good – are the greatest advantages of their democratic systems.

At present, Western democratic systems are under strong populist pressure, although there is nothing to suggest that countries with well-established democracies such as France, Germany or Spain will generate conflicts between them, much less in the European Union, which has been a guarantee of peace and stability since the 1950s. For its part, it would be advisable for the Trump administration to react with greater prudence in certain situations, to avoid an escalation of diplomatic tension that would unnecessarily increase the risks of conflict, at least regionally or economically.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing today poses an immediate threat to U.S. global hegemony, but China is the fastest-growing power in fifty years. Such rapid growth could lead China to dispense with multilateralism and regional cooperation and to carry out regional influence through economic or military imposition. That would make the People's Republic a threat.

Although it is true that the United States has the best military force, it is expected that around the year 2040 there will be both military and economic parity between the Central Empire and the American country. Thus, Europe and the United States, in the face of possible aggression from China – or Russia, despite their state of gradual decline – should respond appropriately and, as the White House says, be "strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable". And all this is done by seeking allies at the international level and by putting military pressure on the aggressor in regions that are compromised by him.

As the author argues, the White House needs better and more credible options to design an asymmetric defense based on deterrence and containment plans, which have the use of force as an option. For example, the article Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is not the best deterrent weapon for the US and its allies, as it poses a danger to stability and leaves no room for action in the event of deterrence. However, with the new subject NATO member countries would not be obliged to "fire the first bullet", so there would be room for other collateral actions, without the need to resort to direct confrontation to stop a possible escalation of more serious hostilities.

What is clear, O'Hanlon argues, is that both China and Russia seek to challenge the international order by any means necessary. subject and the West must adopt strategies aimed at anticipating possible future scenarios, so that they can be prepared to deal with them with guarantees of success. These measures don't have to be just military. For example, they will have to prepare for a long and painful economic war through defensive and offensive measures, while the US stops imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel on its allies. In addition, the US has to be careful about overusing the economic sanctions applied to financial transactions, especially the prohibition of access to the SWIFT code of the banking communication system, because if not, the countries allied with Washington will end up creating alternatives to SWIFT, which would be a disadvantage and a sample of weakness vis-à-vis Moscow and Beijing.

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