|A perspective on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute. Courtesy: Defense of Japan 2012|
There exist real intellectual limitations to the strategic study of some contemporary crises and conflicts. Cases like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the civil war in Syria, or even about conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa are obviously enjoying varying levels of intellectual capital to their many termination possibilities. In this sense, you could find as many sound strategic analyses arguing for U.S. intervention in Iraq as against it, and policy-making usually attracted a healthy debate amongst analysts.
The same appears not to be true to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute between Japan and China (and Taiwan). Reams have been written on the issue lately, as actions in and around the islands has intensified after a series of controversial government policies on both sides, including the Japanese government's decision to nationalise three of the islands. Most analyses, though, express limited strategic insight.
First caveat: the transparency of strategic debates in the countries concerned is arguably lower than that of the Anglo-Saxon publishing world. Certainly the amount of open source information, especially of a strategic nature, available on issues pertaining to American foreign policy dwarves that on Taiwanese, Chinese or even Japanese foreign policy.
It was in the context of the research undertaken for a recent scientific paper that this intellectual deficit became evident. The said paper (pending approval) presented some strategic perspectives on the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. My aim was to explore how the threat or use of military force impacted the perceptions and behaviour of Japan vis-à-vis China. I did so by emphasising the importance of analysis at the military-strategic and geopolitical-geostrategic levels, as I believe there is not sufficient scholarship done on these aspects of the dispute.
|Lack of strategic (in)sight? Courtesy: The Telegraph|
What most surprised me throughout my readings on the subject was the absence of an integrated strategic analysis which reflected the many overlapping layers that attribute the dispute its strategic nature. Some would focus entirely on the economics of it, referring to the calculated oil and gas reserves said to be located in the islands' surrounding waters. Others pointed out to political changes ashore to account for the increased tension felt at sea. Few highlighted the fact that China's military modernisation has greatly influenced its deployments to the region, namely in terms of the number and quality of hulls of the Maritime Surveillance Force (MSF). Only in rare occasions would some prescient analysts elaborate on the unfathomable risks posed by deficiencies in the crisis management institutional framework in both countries. None, to the best of my knowledge, made the effort to integrate historical, economic, socio-cultural, technological, geographic, military and political factors in a comprehensive and strategically-oriented fashion.
Second caveat: I have not consulted all of the English-based, and certainly not all of the Japanese-based, publications on the subject. I did run extensive database searches and deduced the analytical framework of the publications either from their titles or abstracts. For example, an entry entitled "Oil from the Wells of China" by a Lawrence Ma (1980) in the Geographical Review will hardly contain the kind of integrated strategic analysis I was looking for.
So this is my call to the passersby: have you come across any such study on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute?