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Illogic of Circular Reasoning

Nimmi Kurian

By Edward N. Luttwak
2012, pp. 320, price not stated.


This is yet another book that obsesses and agonizes over China’s rise, how the logic of strategy will dictate the choices China makes and the responses its actions are likely to evoke. China’s political leaders are said to have little agency to dictate this future course though, ‘trapped’ as they are ‘by the paradoxes of the logic of strategy’. Edward Luttwak goes on to argue that there is an ‘inherent incompatibility’ between China’s growing economic capacity, military strength and diplomatic influence. The ‘logic of strategy’ is said to be an ironclad one, which ‘applies in perfect equality to every culture in every age’. Attempts to throw in some humour to relieve the monotony of the narrative often tend to be facetious. Take for instance this flippant description of China’s rise and the reactions it evokes. ‘Riders in a crowded elevator cabin into which an extremely fat Mr. China has just stepped in must react self-protectively if he is becoming fatter at a rapid rate, squeezing them against the walls—even if he is entirely unthreatening, and indeed affable.’ He assumes that ‘mounting opposition to China’s aggrandizement’ is likely to result in a collective strategy of ‘geo-economic resistance’ to China. This is quite a leap both in reasoning as well as conjecture since he does not delve into how these coalitions will come about or their feasibility. He stiches together a laundry list of recent geoeconomic actions taken by countries but he is himself clearly not convinced that these amount to an overall strategy with the capacity to restrain China. This argument is hammered through over twenty-two chapters some of which are on average four to five pages long.   Such meta-analysis is problematic at several levels. For one, there is relatively little attempt to analyse under what conditions these scenarios are likely to become a reality. There is also a tendency by and large to study China as a monolithic identity disregarding the role that domestic politics, in particular political uncertainties, play in fashioning China’s strategic choices at any given point of time. There is only a passing acquaintance with domestic debates and how preoccupations with stability concerns and legitimacy challenges play out in foreign policy behaviour choices. Luttwak is also selective in his choice of cases and arguments and this provides a skewed understanding of issues. Often the cases omitted would have made for ...

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