Worse Than a Monolith: Alliance Politics and Problems of Coercive Diplomacy in Asia

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Overview

In brute-force struggles for survival, such as the two World Wars, disorganization and divisions within an enemy alliance are to one's own advantage. However, most international security politics involve coercive diplomacy and negotiations short of all-out war. Worse Than a Monolith demonstrates that when states are engaged in coercive diplomacy--combining threats and assurances to influence the behavior of real or potential adversaries--divisions, rivalries, and lack of coordination within the opposing camp often make it more difficult to prevent the onset of conflict, to prevent existing conflicts from escalating, and to negotiate the end to those conflicts promptly. Focusing on relations between the Communist and anti-Communist alliances in Asia during the Cold War, Thomas Christensen explores how internal divisions and lack of cohesion in the two alliances complicated and undercut coercive diplomacy by sending confusing signals about strength, resolve, and intent. In the case of the Communist camp, internal mistrust and rivalries catalyzed the movement's aggressiveness in ways that we would not have expected from a more cohesive movement under Moscow's clear control.

Reviewing newly available archival material, Christensen examines the instability in relations across the Asian Cold War divide, and sheds new light on the Korean and Vietnam wars.

While recognizing clear differences between the Cold War and post-Cold War environments, he investigates how efforts to adjust burden-sharing roles among the United States and its Asian security partners have complicated U.S.-China security relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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Editorial Reviews

American Diplomacy
I am sure that there will be many who will dispute Christensen's emphasis on alliance politics as the major factor in recent U.S.-Asian diplomatic history. Personally, I find his evidentiary base persuasive and his analysis attractively parsimonious. . . . [A]n intelligent, accessible, and significant work.
— James W. White
Journal of Military History
Christensen both writes well and supports his hypothesis well; the material makes for mesmerizing reading.
— June Teufel Dreyer
New Global Studies
The [book] is a sumptuous array of original analysis and rich detail, backed up by judicious use of archival and secondary sources in both Chinese and English. . . . [F]or anyone teaching a college-level course on U.S.-East Asia relations or East Asian politics, the book should be required reading. . . . Christensen's Worse than a Monolith is a major contribution to Cold War studies and U.S.-East Asia relations.
— Sung-Yoon Lee
H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable Reviews
Christensen's volume greatly enriches our understanding of alliance politics and deterrence in Asia during the Cold War. It is thorough in its research, clear in its presentation, rich in its insight, and thought-provoking in its interpretations.
— Qiang Zhai
Political Science Quarterly
Christensen's book is an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on East Asian security. He provides a counterintuitive theoretical claim that alliance cohesion may be more stable than alliance disunity, and provides deeply researched evidence from the Cold War in East Asia to back up his claims. Careful, thoughtful, and always stimulating, this book will be an important addition to our understanding of historical and contemporary problems in East Asian security.
— David Kang
International Relations of the Asia-Pacific
The main strength of Worse than a Monolith lies in the skill with which Christensen uses his alliance politics framework to lend welcome analytical traction especially to explaining the Communist side of the conflict at a time when there is arguably little genuinely new to add to the historiography of the 'hot Asian wars' of the Cold War.
— Evelyn Goh
American Diplomacy - James W. White
I am sure that there will be many who will dispute Christensen's emphasis on alliance politics as the major factor in recent U.S.-Asian diplomatic history. Personally, I find his evidentiary base persuasive and his analysis attractively parsimonious. . . . [A]n intelligent, accessible, and significant work.
Journal of Military History - June Teufel Dreyer
Christensen both writes well and supports his hypothesis well; the material makes for mesmerizing reading.
New Global Studies - Sung-Yoon Lee
The [book] is a sumptuous array of original analysis and rich detail, backed up by judicious use of archival and secondary sources in both Chinese and English. . . . [F]or anyone teaching a college-level course on U.S.-East Asia relations or East Asian politics, the book should be required reading. . . . Christensen's Worse than a Monolith is a major contribution to Cold War studies and U.S.-East Asia relations.
H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable Reviews - Chen Jian
A great scholarly book is not one that offers ultimate answers to all the questions that it has raised and tried to deal with; it is one that asks meaningful questions and, in coming up with answers to them, serves as a new point of departure for scholarly discussion and intellectual exchange. Christensen's is exactly such a book, and it is in this spirit that I write this review and put forward the above suggestions. This book surely will be read, discussed and, at times, debated by scholars for a long time to come.
H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable Reviews - Qiang Zhai
Christensen's volume greatly enriches our understanding of alliance politics and deterrence in Asia during the Cold War. It is thorough in its research, clear in its presentation, rich in its insight, and thought-provoking in its interpretations.
Political Science Quarterly - David Kang
Christensen's book is an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on East Asian security. He provides a counterintuitive theoretical claim that alliance cohesion may be more stable than alliance disunity, and provides deeply researched evidence from the Cold War in East Asia to back up his claims. Careful, thoughtful, and always stimulating, this book will be an important addition to our understanding of historical and contemporary problems in East Asian security.
International Relations of the Asia-Pacific - Evelyn Goh
The main strength of Worse than a Monolith lies in the skill with which Christensen uses his alliance politics framework to lend welcome analytical traction especially to explaining the Communist side of the conflict at a time when there is arguably little genuinely new to add to the historiography of the 'hot Asian wars' of the Cold War.
Journal of International Law and Politics - Walter Brummund
[T]he book is well written, and chapters Two through Seven will certainly interest any student of Cold War or East Asian history.
From the Publisher
"I am sure that there will be many who will dispute Christensen's emphasis on alliance politics as the major factor in recent U.S.-Asian diplomatic history. Personally, I find his evidentiary base persuasive and his analysis attractively parsimonious. . . . [A]n intelligent, accessible, and significant work."—James W. White, American Diplomacy

"Christensen both writes well and supports his hypothesis well; the material makes for mesmerizing reading."—June Teufel Dreyer, Journal of Military History

"The [book] is a sumptuous array of original analysis and rich detail, backed up by judicious use of archival and secondary sources in both Chinese and English. . . . [F]or anyone teaching a college-level course on U.S.-East Asia relations or East Asian politics, the book should be required reading. . . . Christensen's Worse than a Monolith is a major contribution to Cold War studies and U.S.-East Asia relations."—Sung-Yoon Lee, New Global Studies

"A great scholarly book is not one that offers ultimate answers to all the questions that it has raised and tried to deal with; it is one that asks meaningful questions and, in coming up with answers to them, serves as a new point of departure for scholarly discussion and intellectual exchange. Christensen's is exactly such a book, and it is in this spirit that I write this review and put forward the above suggestions. This book surely will be read, discussed and, at times, debated by scholars for a long time to come."—Chen Jian, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable Reviews

"Christensen's volume greatly enriches our understanding of alliance politics and deterrence in Asia during the Cold War. It is thorough in its research, clear in its presentation, rich in its insight, and thought-provoking in its interpretations."—Qiang Zhai, H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable Reviews

"Christensen's book is an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on East Asian security. He provides a counterintuitive theoretical claim that alliance cohesion may be more stable than alliance disunity, and provides deeply researched evidence from the Cold War in East Asia to back up his claims. Careful, thoughtful, and always stimulating, this book will be an important addition to our understanding of historical and contemporary problems in East Asian security."—David Kang, Political Science Quarterly

"The main strength of Worse than a Monolith lies in the skill with which Christensen uses his alliance politics framework to lend welcome analytical traction especially to explaining the Communist side of the conflict at a time when there is arguably little genuinely new to add to the historiography of the 'hot Asian wars' of the Cold War."—Evelyn Goh, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific

"[T]he book is well written, and chapters Two through Seven will certainly interest any student of Cold War or East Asian history."—Walter Brummund, III, Journal of International Law and Politics

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Product Details

Meet the Author


Thomas J. Christensen is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Chapter 2 Growing Pains: Alliance Formation and the Road to Conflict in Korea 28
Chapter 3 Alliance Problems, Signaling, and Escalation of Asian Conflict 63
Chapter 4 The Benefits of Communist Alliance Coordination and the Continuing Costs of U.S. Alliance Formation, 1951-56 109
Chapter 5 The Sino-Soviet Split and Problems for the United States in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, 1956-64 146
Chapter 6 From Escalation in Vietnam to Sino-American Rapprochement, 1964-72 181
Chapter 7 The Fall and Revival of Coercive Diplomacy: Security Partnerships and Sino-American Security Relations, 1972-2009 221
Chapter 8 Conclusion 260
Bibliography 277
Index 297

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