In This Review

Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia
Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia
By Victor D. Cha
Princeton University Press, 2016, 352 pp

In exploring the sources of the unique “hub and spoke” alliance system in Asia—in which each of the main defense treaties involves the United States and one partner—Cha has embedded a lively narrative of post–World War II diplomatic history inside a thought-provoking analytic framework. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and other U.S. policymakers wanted to deter communist expansion but also to restrain messianically anticommunist allies such as Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek and South Korea’s Syngman Rhee from launching attacks that might trigger World War III. To do so required treaty arrangements that gave the United States veto power over the Taiwanese and South Korean militaries. Washington likewise wanted what Cha calls a “neo-imperial” level of control over Tokyo’s economic and security policies so that the United States could shape Japan as its strategic cornerstone in Asia. Multilateral arrangements have proliferated in the region recently. But Cha argues that bilateral patterns continue to dominate U.S. diplomacy there because they give the United States maximum influence with minimum risk of entanglement. China is following a similar strategy, preferring whenever possible to extend economic and diplomatic influence over its neighbors one by one rather than multilaterally, although without forming military alliances.