THE BLOG
08/31/2015 12:37 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

How Mutual Recognition Can Avoid a Future War in Asia

Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

SEOUL -- If a historical analogy is a useful tool in understanding contemporary realities, is it worth comparing pre-WWI Europe with the 21st century Asia?

Many pundits agree in broad terms with the notion that there are striking similarities between the pre-WWI European power constellations and the current security arrangements in Asia, fraught with power transition, alliance politics, rising nationalism and territorial disputes, among others.

But will history repeat itself?

In fact, today's situation is much more complicated than a century ago because it is not just about a new rising power, China, challenging the established power, the U.S..

One option is the establishment of a community of peers or a '21st century concert of powers' for the promotion of lasting peace and stability in Asia.

In a more complex manner, the two declining powers of the U.S. and Russia and two rising powers, China and India, have formed cross-cutting interests across potential Indian-U.S. and Russian-Chinese alliance constellations.

If we accept the logic of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who wrote on rising and declining powers in his own time, the war is unlikely to be started by China striving for power and status, but by the U.S., a relatively declining power gripped by the fear of losing its status and influences. However, if we put India and Russia in the picture, the scenario will become more complex than imagined thus far.

Nevertheless, many experts are relatively optimistic about avoiding the possibility of another international war in Asia in spite of the striking parallels between the two periods, even though it is impossible to rule out the possibility of Asia degenerating into a zone of power politics between the two poles, the U.S. and China.

They propose a variety of ideas and strategies to promote mutual understanding among rival powers and create international security mechanisms in Asia.

One option is the establishment of a community of peers or a "21st century concert of powers" for the promotion of lasting peace and stability in Asia. This is possible by the means of preventive diplomacy because the warring parties are not rational actors and often become gripped by unfounded passions, sentiments and illusions.

In the absence of self-conscious peers recognizing the victor, any victory in war would mean nothing but a form of self-indulgence, if not self-destruction.

Furthermore, Andreas Herberg-Rothe, editor of the book, "Lessons from World War I for the Rise of Asia," stresses the importance of recognition not just between China and the U.S., but among major Asian powers, including Japan, India and Russia. In particular, he argues that any future war in Asia, if one occurs, will not be a war of conflicting interests, but "a cultural war for mutual recognition."

Then, what lesson can we draw from the 1914-2014 analogy? Perhaps by turning to philosophy.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the renowned German philosopher, noted that the elimination of the enemy or enslaving the others is tantamount to self-destruction, because these acts result in removing the peers who can duly recognize the master. In the absence of self-conscious peers recognizing the victor, any victory in war would mean nothing but a form of self-indulgence, if not self-destruction.

All in all, we do not have a single road to peace, but many different paths to regional security in Asia. Even though it is questionable whether the major powers in Asia can form a concert of powers reminiscent of one in the 19th century Europe or start the process of recognizing each other's status and identities, the sheer lack of working security mechanisms in Asia makes any serious suggestions and developments in tension reduction and confidence building appear worthy of consideration.

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