(For part one of this post, click here.)
1. I am skeptical, because shared cultural bases have rarely stopped conflict in other areas. Instead, they often seem to encourage it, as various states claim leadership of the cultural space as a whole. Every Continental would-be hegemon from Charles V to Hitler said they were ‘uniting Europe.’ Further, we usually save our worst fury and anger for dissenting insiders, not outsiders. So Plutarch and Thucydides both noted somewhere that the ancient Greeks, despite their shared culture, were far more zealous in destroying each other than uniting against their common foes, the Persian, Macedonians, and Romans. Hedley Bull and the EU framers argue that European ideals and perhaps Christianity provide a shared cultural base for a ‘European society,’ but Christendom hardly stopped the Europeans from fighting bitterly to dominate each other, particularly over which form of Latin Christianity was right. Today, the Arab state system shows the same problems. Supposedly united by common language, culture, and religion, the Arab states have vied brutally against each other, frequently recruiting outsiders like the US or USSR to help them defeat local rivals.
Now, one can argue that Confucianism has special or unique war-reducing or –dampening properties, but that needs a lot of research and detailed process tracing rooted in specific examples of conflict averted by appeals to shared values. A far simpler answer is to say that China was a regional unipole (i.e., huge, when others were small), and therefore war against it was pointless. IR strongly believes this logic explains the current global Long Peace; war against the US unipole today is fruitless. So why not simply apply the logic to the regional level? Chinese preponderance made war in classical Confucian Asia less likely, because China’s opponents never stood a chance and so never tried. Following that causal logic, we should speak of a Chinese hegemonic peace, not a cultural Confucian peace.
2. The idea of a Confucian long peace stumps IR, because we aren’t really sure what to do with ‘culture’ as an explanation for outcomes. In fact, social science in general dislikes ‘culture,’ because it feels like a cop-out reason when you’ve got nothing else. If you can’t explain something otherwise, say it is ‘just their culture.’ So if I don’t know why Russians like vodka, the Irish like Guiness, and the Koreans like soju, then it is just ‘cultural preference.’ But that is awfully soft. It does not actually tell me much; it provides no account of mechanisms and choices. Besides, lots of so-called cultural artifacts actually have functional roots. For example, the Jewish and Islamic prohibitions on pork are rooted in the possibility of contracting trichinosis from flesh that might quickly sour and rot in the sun of the ME. Social science prefers such rationalist explanations. Actor X does Y, because there is some tangible material benefit. Maybe Confucian Asia will bandwagon with China for cultural reasons, but the causal map for this behavior feels soft, especially in contrast the explanatory clarity of the regional unipolarity thesis.
For examples of culture’s softness, look at the other three systems I noted with multiple states functioning within a shared culture (Greeks, Christian Europeans, and Arabs). They did not enjoy any war-reducing affects from common culture. In fact, the evidence from psychology points the other way: we tend to save our harshest opprobrium and violence for lapsed insiders (national traitors, religious heretics) than outsiders who are comfortably relegated as ‘barbarians.’ This was Plutarch and Thucydides’ tragic insight, e.g., on the ancient Greeks.
3. If there was a Confucian peace, I don’t think it is coming back. Kang does. He thinks China’s EA neighbors will accept some amount of Chinese hierarchy; that is why they are not balancing against China now. I don’t buy it. Koreans and Japanese strike me as way too nationalistic today to accept that. If anything, the Koreans and Japanese look down on the Chinese as culturally inferior. Koreans will tell you that the Chinese will eat anything (scorpions, beetles) and that Korea should ‘mediate’ China to the West. Sizeable chunks of Japan still think its imperialism liberated Asia from the West and brought modernity. EA states today are just way too nationalized now. Just like the nationalization and de-arabization of contemporary ME states that sets them against each other despite shared culture, EA states may share a vague Confucian background unity, but vague is all it is. EA is far from the level of cultural sharing and trust that undergird a project like the EU. And remember that the Europeans had to destroy each other for 400 years before they decided to live with each other. If no one is balancing against China today, as Kang says, then, 1. they can avoid it, because the US is still around to reassure everyone, and 2, they are certainly hedging against China, if not openly balancing it. No one in Asia is openly running with China, not even NK. This nationalization of EA states is why Samuel Huntington’s proposed Confucian civilizational bloc never really ignited local opinion here; it was based on the Sinco-centric past, which although attractive perhaps as a route to peace today, no longer exists. Asians will have to do the hard work of forging institutions to build trust; culture is not enough…