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Kumar asked: What is meant by strategic balance in Asia?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: ‘Strategic Balance’ is another term for the traditional concept of ‘balance of power’. It refers to the relative hard power capabilities (economic, military, nuclear, technological) that State A possesses vis-à-vis its competitor or competitors. The balance of relative hard power between State A and its competitor or competitors may be in A’s favour, or in the favour of its competitor or competitors singly or together, or be more or less equal between/among them. When applied either to the entire international system or to one of the world’s regions, strategic balance would refer to the relative hard power capabilities of the system’s or the region’s leading actors.

    In Asia, the world’s current centre of economic and military gravity, the strategic balance would refer to the relative power capabilities between the United States and China. The United States has been the most economically, militarily and technologically powerful actor in Asia since the end of World War II and as such has striven to maintain its hegemony over the continent including through economic partnerships, trade wars, alliances (Australia, Japan), strategic partnerships (India, Indonesia), a robust forward military presence and military interventions. During the last 15 years, China has begun to emerge as an economic, military and technological power with the capacity and the national interest to oust the United States from the region and forge its own hegemony over Asia.

    Although India has the potential to emerge, and has indeed articulated the aspiration of emerging, as the third leading power in Asia, the fact remains that it is at this juncture not yet one. Russia too has the potential and aspiration to play a role in Asia, but it too, like India, is not a leading actor in Asia today. Consequently, in effect, the strategic balance in Asia today is principally a function of the relative hard power capabilities of America and China. As of this writing, this strategic balance continues to remain tilted in America’s favour. China’s ability to drastically reduce this differential and establish a greater measure of strategic balance depends on a host of factors including its ability to maintain domestic political stability, transition to an innovation and technology-driven economy, build up a credible and powerful diplomatic coalition, and develop the military and technological wherewithal to nullify America’s advantages.

    Posted on April 16, 2019

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