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War as it ‘is’

International Relations and the term ‘nascent’: A brief deliberation

First and foremost ‘nascent’ is a subjective term as its definition is indeterminate and prone to opinion and debate, from which each person or actor will take into account their own notions and configuration of what the term means. To be sure, it is impossible to determine a political actor’s ‘rise’ through the prism of a single term as the chronology and machinations associated with a rise is largely indeterminate. Furthermore, and there are inherent tensions within the argument—how much progress is a ‘rise,’ and how should it be measured? Notwithstanding these factors, there is a need to come to term with the tensions within what the term ‘nascent’ throws up. For instance, in feudal societies the rise of a clan or group may impact upon a region yet in the grand scheme of cause and effect of the rise, if there is not a ‘spill over’ beyond localised boundaries should it be designated a ‘rise’ or is it merely a coalescing of violent opportunism to undermine and defeat another actor? Extending upon this, if the initial success of an actor is not developed further through the continued conquering of additional groups is the term ‘rise’ applicable? From this broad-base, an understanding can be achieved. Beyond the triumvirates’ of the Roman Empire[1] and from which constituted the rise of organised, disciplined and focused power came about, and is to some degree the mechanism through which imperialism[2] is measured what constitutes a ‘rise’ can now be addressed.

A rise when viewed through a Western/Eurocentric framework of sovereignty affords a systemic application of sovereign power—through the prism of the Treaty—which assists expansionism through the lens of recognition. Beyond the Roman Empire the ‘rise of England’[3] is perhaps the most iconic and long-lasting example of power-stakes. For the purpose of clarity this is arguably is the model China is intending to emulate albeit through the prism of expansionism although at this stage, without the overall violence attributed to conquest and colonisation. Returning to what a rise comprises of, England from circa-1700 onward would, through the mechanisms of efficient tax collection, advances in science and technology through the auspices of education and apprenticeship; fiscal tenacity; inculcated nationalism; fear of being a penultimate power to France; sovereign aggrandisement; ‘impressment;’[4] a disciplined and loyal military; the practice of colonialism which was driven by a desire to ‘civilise’[5] the known world to a ‘standard’ beyond ‘savagery.’ Implicit in the understanding of conquering is the use of the dyad threat-of-force and direct force and are two of the major components of a sustained rise. Europe too, would be involved in a rise which throws up a point of when does an actor begin a trajectory to power, at what point should it be determined the rise began and moreover, at what point does a rise move beyond its nascent phase?

Within the paradigm of a rise, the complexities therein and the subjectivity of the matter it is pertinent to enquire if the trajectory stalls and a recovery period is required has the trajectory gone beyond its nascent phase and simply continues its political, economic, and strategic ascent, or does the actor begin another nascent phase? These are questions and facets which are in need of recognition although do not need further explanation as the political philosophy associated with the ascribed subjectivity is not required here and moreover, the debate is beyond the realm of geo-strategic necessities in this thesis. The complexities within the subjectivity of the term ‘nascent’ and what it represents are however, able to be lessened somewhat by simply understanding that a rise is viewed through a Western cum Eurocentric prism in which lands are absorbed as protectorates and suzerain-states and therefore have a direct attachment to the conqueror. Other examples are necessary to elaborate on the points made.

Germany is a good example of the aforementioned enquiry, as prior to WWI it pursued expansionist polices under the guidance of Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm Weimar. The republic began to rise and it would continue until its defeat in WWI. Through 1918 – 1929 a period of enforced stabilisation would take place as Germany struggled with the ramifications of the Treaty of Versailles after its defeat. Germany would rise again under the dictator Adolf Hitler and it would undergo another nascent phase of a military build-up which would trigger WWII. The upsurge in power would only be reduced when unconditional surrender took place and the European phase of WWII ended. Germany through the auspices of the Marshall Plan[6] would surge again and sustain its position as a powerful international economic actor throughout the 1980s; gain a commanding political status in Western Europe in part due to the successful merging of East and West Germany in the early-1990s; and become high-level European geo-strategic actor with a global presence. In the 1990s it would extend this to being a high-level economic actor through in the first instance the European Economic Community; and the European Union (EU) in the second. The example of Germany does supply the gravitas albeit briefly, of the way in which nation-states rise, fall and rise and in doing so supplies a ‘measurement’ of what the West purports to deem responsible government and governance—fiscal responsibility, personal well-being, safety, high education standards, good government and governance; and rule-of-law. Germany falls neatly within this measurement and offers examples one nascent phase of rising after another. Both England and Germany for all intent and purpose associated with this analysis have had a ‘rise’ happen several times under different circumstances and for different lengths of time.

Notwithstanding the above, there is a necessity to widen the focus of nation-states that experience a rise beyond England and Europe as the state-of-affairs alluded to is beyond Western influences, and to observe it is a robust practice is reflected in

Regional hegemony and the striving for it is not new. In 1948 it [‘Western hemisphere’ governments] created the Organization of American States [OAS] … to promote regional security and cooperation. American influence ensured that the OAS remained silent on, or even legitimized various U.S military and political interventions in Latin America. … Another regional hegemon. Japan pursued similar strategies in the empire that dominated the region in the early twentieth century. … it reformed and managed local economies in a regional network, standardizing the region’s currency in a “yen bloc” and despatching Japanese banks throughout the area so that they controlled the majority of the region’s bank deposits. Tokyo also created the Southern Development Bank, which provided financial services and printed currency in occupied territories.[7]

Japan, particularly after the Meiji Restoration (1895) developed into a successful trading nation and whilst it had been efficacious at mercantilism in both the pre-Meiji era and post-unification Japan would exponentially increase the rapidity of its rise. Japan, like countries such as Spain and France in previous centuries would utilise preponderance as an effective expansionist policy, and it would be a mainstay of power. Post-unification Japan would commence a war with Tsarist Russia (1904 – 1905)—a war the European elite expected Japan to lose—and would attain a victory that would place it on a trajectory of regional dominance. This is exemplified in its political manoeuvrings of attempting to become a member of the League of Nations (LN)—a forerunner to the UN. After its rejection by the LN it would nonetheless, maintain its regional dominance and invade Manchuria, control continue to control and the Korean Peninsula, and Formosa; and eventually attack Pearl Harbor (which initiated the Pacific phase of WWII). The short-term dominance of Southeast Asia would eventually, reach as far east as Micronesia. After the unconditional surrender of the emperor in 1945 Japan would undergo occupation and reconstruction by the victorious Allied forces and its subsequent fiscal, industrial and societal successes would come to fruition in the early-1970s and allow for another nascent economic and political rise to take place. To be sure, Japan would develop post-WWII into a strong international politico- and economic-actor; and from a military perspective it would become an A-P regional middle-power.

The examples provided are evidence that nation-states are able to undergo several ‘nascent phases’ when numerous programmes and strengths combine; and these components are able to be interconnected and interweaved successfully. For the purpose of this thesis the term ‘rise’ therefore remains grounded in the determined and focused elevation of political, economic, and military power and if there are interruptions to the elevation or if one aspect overrides another which are not cathartically disruptive—such as a revolution, a significant terrorist attack, or invasion by another actor—the rise will be deemed to be ongoing. Establishing whether China has begun its ‘nascent phase’—particularly in relation to the military facets alluded to, or has extended its power-base beyond ‘nascent’—can now be addressed. Within these paradigms Taiwan will be also assessed and be allocated the status of the least-powerful of the two actors and therefore, any determinations will be announced with this factor firmly embedded in the analysis. Within the constraints of the aforementioned it is assumed that the rise of China and the power-stakes therein will involve hostilities which for all intent and purpose, will evolve into a kinetic exchange. Based on this assumption, it is pertinent to address the underpinnings of war that must impact on said exchange.

War as it ‘is’: A conceptual underpinning

The fact that wars exist in contemporary times is an obvious statement and one need only access the news media via its many platforms to observe that sovereign nation-states utilise war as a means-to-an-end; and where necessary advance this form of suasion as an autocatalytic process. This germane understanding however, does not analyse war, nor does it offer an explanation of the ‘how and why’ of war—and in some cases ‘warfare,’ or the way in which a war is fought—and this requisite needs to be established. War is the most substantial exploitative element of suasion and one which it must be assumed Taiwan will have to confront in its A-P machinations.

First and foremost war and its inherent aggression components is deemed by a belligerent to be politico and military necessity and therefore, has a meaningfulness ascribed to it. In order to understand this more fully is to exclude moral, ethical and other existential parameters and observe it in the clinical reality of what it represents. Vasquez succinctly states, war comprises

[C]ontention over something and that while war differs from other contentions in that it employs a special means, namely force, we should not lose sight of the fact that war is a form of contention … From this perspective, war may be considered a violent way of getting objects of value.[8]

In the post-WWII realm and in the process of gaining the ‘objects of value’ alluded to by Vasquez, ‘war’ as an act must be a legally recognised occurrence and whilst this will be of particular relevance to Taiwan in the future and which will be addressed later in this thesis, it is pertinent at this time to only reflect on what war ‘is.’ The way in which the recognition happens is for a ‘war’ is for it to be recognised and approved of (read: given a legal status) is within the UN Security Council (UNSC) and by the UNSC Permanent Five (P5) members: China, France, United Kingdom, the US and Russia.[9] In accordance with the post-WWII legitimacies there are also ten non-permanent members[10] of the UNSC which influence, develop and offer opinions regarding a given crisis or crises. To be sure, there are many conflicts around the world in 2018, and whilst there are often more than two belligerents involved in order to emphasise the point of war per se, are Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq[11]; the US and its allies contesting the Taliban in Afghanistan[12]; and the Saudi – Yemeni border conflict.[13] The three conflicts are ongoing and have long-term histories although they are not ‘legally-recognised’ wars. The UNSCP5 must issue the legitimacy for a war (or conflict) to become a legal occurrence and when this paradigm is met the UN is able to put into place whatever mechanisms its members deem appropriate to bring about an irenic agreement; or enforce UN-approved conditions upon the belligerents.

The success or otherwise of the UNSC and the UNSCP5 is a moot point and need not be debated here beyond a simple explanation of the UNSC’s role. The only extension that need be offered for clarity is in there is much debate in the UNSC when making and issuing of resolutions. The UNSCP5 however, has the legal power to veto any or all issues associated with the making of a resolution. The ultimate point is and remains: the UNSC must be the arbiter and decider of whether a war is legal; and whether it should be accorded due status. To date the conflicts mentioned—along with many others—have not been issued the aforementioned legal status. Understanding ‘war’ as a concept is to go beyond whether an action or actions is legal or otherwise and is beyond the remit of this thesis although it is safe to argue the public-at-large observe conflicts as ‘wars’ and do not expand on this understanding. It is with this in mind that a ‘type’ of war can now be explored and moreover, can be used as evidence and further extrapolated upon—including a direct relevance to Taiwan through the auspices of the UNSCP5 later in this thesis.

In keeping with refining and understanding the Taiwan-China frictions and whether there will be a war, it is a germane yet pertinent point to make that this thesis excludes the advent of a thermonuclear kinetic exchange should the ructions in the A-P escalate and any belligerents that are capable of utilising nuclear ordnance, should they choose to do so, would completely change all other possible outcomes. Resorting to this type of war—commonly referred to as mutually-assured-destruction[14]—would create a situation in which the consequences of such an action would be so dire as to plunge the world into a situation of which the A-P would only be a small part of the problems facing humanity. With this in mind the two types of war that are relevant to the A-P, and the Taiwan-China milieu are ‘total’ and ‘limited.’

Continued tomorrow … Total war

Previous instalment … International Relations and War


[1] Adrian Goldsworthy. Augustus. From Revolutionary to Emperor. Great Britain: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2014, 512.

[2] Imperialism is the ‘state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Because it always involves the use of power, whether military force or some subtler form imperialism has often been considered morally reprehensible, and the term is frequently employed in international propaganda to denounce and discredit an opponent’s foreign policy.’ See: ‘Imperialism.’ Encyclopædia Britannica. The Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

[3] Whilst the rise of England and its successful imperialistic endeavours through territorial expansionism are tantamount to focused application of geo-strategic strategies of power, it is important to note that other than the cultural and institutional reasons alluded to in the main text, it should be noted that England over an the long-term dedicated abundant fiscal resources to its endeavours. To be sure, England’s rulers dedicated ‘between 70 and 90 percent of their financial resources to the acquisition and use of the instruments of military force.’ See: David Held. Democracy and the Global Order. From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995, 53.

[4] ‘Impressment is ‘recruitment by force’ and was used extensively by the British Navy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. See: ‘British Navy Impressment. The History Detectives.

[5] The French embarked upon a colonialist mission, the mission civilisatrice or ‘civilising mission,’ (1895 – 1914) as it was ‘their duty as an enlightened race to elevate the ignorant masses of the non-Western world.’ See: ‘Mission Civilisatrice.’

[6] The European recovery Plan/Marshall Plan was put in place at the end of WWII to fund Western Europe after the devastation of WWII. See: ‘Marshall Plan.’

[7] Jennifer Lind. ‘Life in China’s Asia.’ Foreign Affairs. New York: Council of Foreign Relations. Edited by Gideon Rose. March/April, 2018. 74.

[8] John Vasquez. The War Puzzle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 30. Emphasis in original.

[9] United Nations Security Council. ‘Current Members. Permanent and Non-Permanent Members.’ See:

[10] The ten non-permanent members of the UNSC 2018 (at the time of writing): Bolivia; Côte d’Iivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Kazakhstan; Kuwait; Netherlands, Peru; Poland; and Sweden. See:

[11] ‘ISIS Fast Facts.’ CNN Library.

[12] Michael Fuchs. ‘It’s time to end America’s war in Afghanistan.’ The Guardian.19 Aug, 2018.

[13] ‘Key facts about the war in Yemen.’, 26 Mar, 2018.

[14] The relevant aspects of mutually-assured-destruction (MAD) are complex and dependent on model-driven analysis as it never eventuated in a real world event. Mutually-assured-destruction is a singular hypothetical event and is dependent upon a multitude of factors associated with missile warfare—as advanced upon after WWII—and there are definitive and specific actions needed in order to support the hypothetical. To wit, ‘underlying technical and timing factors in a simulated missile war…[and] the Richardson Model is one of the first analytical approaches to an arms race between two countries…This model has been applied in modern treatments to arms races in the missile age.’ See: Michael Intriligator. ‘Strategic Considerations in the Richardson Model of Arms Races.’ The Journal of Political Economy. Vol. 83, 2, 339.

Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.


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1 comment

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  1. David Bruce

    When discussing the issue of war, one must always be mindful of the fact that so many “confrontations” have evolved into military actions. Many of these confrontations are the result of sovereign countries moving away from the International Banking System. Actions in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and probably others as well, were the result of direct or indirect confrontation with the International Banking System (centred around the Bank of International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland and their reserve banks).

    In all cases mentioned, there were large amounts of Gold involved. Saddam had 2,000 metric tonnes, Gaddafi had more! In the more recent examples, large oil reserves were (are) involved. Vietnam, for example, has large resources of oil off shore (Australia was buying $4 Billion a year at one stage). The Paris Peace Accord was delayed by Kissinger (problems with the “seating arrangements”) so the US Geological Services could complete the seismic survey, for oil reserves, under the protection of the US Navy.

    Perhaps that is also why MH370 went “missing” in the southern Indian Ocean. Seismic surveys would be an integral part of the maritime search!

    Much of this information is still “classified”, including the Murdoch-Cheney-Rothschild interests in Genie Oil, which is waiting for Syria to be “balkanized” so the they can drill the Golan Heights after its annexation!

    I look forward to reading your next instalment…

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