Ideational imperatives, national identity, and nuclear deterrence theory in East Asia
Simpson, James Turner
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Since the end of the Cold War, the emphasis on nuclear deterrence has declined. The rise of China has generated a voluminous literature on power transition theory and whether China and the United States can avoid the “Thucydides Trap.” A lacuna in this literature is the role that nuclear deterrence plays in the strategic dynamic between the United States, Japan, and China. This dissertation fills this lacuna by analyzing the role that nuclear deterrence plays in the military strategies of Japan, China, and the United States. How do China and Japan internalize and understand nuclear deterrence theory in ways that depart from the Cold War paradigm? What effect do dissimilar conceptions of nuclear deterrence theory have on the nuclear and conventional force structure and strategies of each country? To understand the reasons for variation in nuclear strategy in East Asia, I argue that contra systemic theories Japan legitimizes its military capabilities in an extended nuclear deterrence framework based on ideationally driven constitutional theory. Departing from Japan’s strategic mindset during the Cold War, China now occupies the place of the “Other” in Japanese national identity, thus in part explaining its shift to a more pro-active military posture. This is to say that it is not China’s rise that preoccupies Japan, but China’s rise that influences Japanese strategic behavior. Lastly, I argue that China’s assertive foreign policy behavior and nuclear strategy are driven not by structural incentives dictated by the international system, but by ideational and historical imperatives under the rubric of the “China Dream (zhongguo meng)” and “National Rejuvenation (minzu fuxing).” Using analyses of Japanese and Chinese language sources, e.g., official government and defense documents, newspapers, books, and journal articles, this dissertation makes two major contributions. First, departing from the dominant and acultural structural realist and game theoretic approaches to nuclear deterrence theory, it offers an alternative “thin constructivist approach” that considers distinct ideational determinants of each country’s approach to nuclear deterrence theory and their effect on nuclear strategy. Second, it uncovers dissimilar approaches to nuclear escalation that depart from Cold War-derived models.