Dr John Blaxland is Senior Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Australian National University.
Rikki Kersten is Professor of modern Japanese political history in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University.
The recent activation of Chinese weapons radars aimed at Japanese military platforms around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is the latest in a series of incidents in which China has asserted its power and authority at the expense of its neighbours.
The radars cue supersonic missile systems and give those on the receiving end only a split second to respond. With Japanese law empowering local military commanders with increased discretion to respond (thanks to North Korea’s earlier provocations), such incidents could easily escalate. In an era of well-established UN-related adjudication bodies like the International Court of Justice (ICJ), how has it come to this? These incidents disconcertingly echo past events.
In the early years of the 20th century, most pundits considered a major war between the great powers a remote possibility. Several incidents prior to 1914 were handled locally or successfully defused by diplomats from countries with alliances that appeared to guarantee the peace. After all, never before had the world been so interconnected — thanks to advanced communications technology and burgeoning trade. But alliance ties and perceived national interests meant that once a major war was triggered there was little hope of avoiding the conflict. Germany’s dissatisfaction with the constraints under which it operated arguably was a principal cause of war in 1914. Similarly, Japan’s dissatisfaction helped trigger massive conflict a generation later....