China and Japan could go to war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, even if it meant economic ruin

I can’t pretend to arbitrate between these two camps but I find that far too many observers sympathize with the second camp based on rational impulse. Of course China and Japan wouldn’t fight a war! That’d ruin their economies! I sympathize with the Clausewtizean notion of war being a continuation of politics “by other means,” and the problems caused by information asymmetries (effectively handicapping rational decision-making), but the situation over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands can result in war even if the top leaders in Tokyo and Beijing are eminently rational.

Political scientist James D. Fearon’s path-breaking article “Rationalist Explanations for War” provides a still-relevant schema that’s wonderfully applicable to the contemporary situation between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Fearon’s paper was initially relevant because it challenged the overly simplistic rationalist’s dogma: if war is so costly, then there has to be some sort of diplomatic solution that is preferable to all parties involved — barring information asymmetries and communication deficits, such an agreement should and will be signed.

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Of course, this doesn’t correspond to reality where we know that many incredibly costly wars have been fought (from the first World War to the Iran-Iraq War). So, if wars are costly — as one over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is likely to be — why do they still occur? Well, the answer isn’t Japanese imperialism or because states just sometimes irrationally dislike each other (as the affirmative camp would argue). It’s more subtle.

Rationalist Explanations for War in the East China Sea | The Diplomat

I use the – society as forest – model to predict that, yes, war is entirely possible. To learn more about my modeling check out this article: A System Collapse Framework for Societies | 1913 Intel