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Hard Interests, Soft Illusions: Southeast Asia and American Power [Hardcover]

Natasha Hamilton-Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 28, 2012 0801450543 978-0801450549 1

In Hard Interests, Soft Illusions, Natasha Hamilton-Hart explores the belief held by foreign policy elites in much of Southeast Asia—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam—that the United States is a relatively benign power. She argues that this belief is an important factor underpinning U.S. preeminence in the region, because beliefs inform specific foreign policy decisions and form the basis for broad orientations of alignment, opposition, or nonalignment. Such foundational beliefs, however, do not simply reflect objective facts and reasoning processes. Hamilton-Hart argues that they are driven by both interests—in this case the political and economic interests of ruling groups in Southeast Asia—and illusions.

Hamilton-Hart shows how the information landscape and standards of professional expertise within the foreign policy communities of Southeast Asia shape beliefs about the United States. These opinions frequently rest on deeply biased understandings of national history that dominate perceptions of the past and underlie strategic assessments of the present and future. Members of the foreign policy community rarely engage in probabilistic reasoning or effortful knowledge-testing strategies. This does not mean, she emphasizes, that the beliefs are insincere or merely instrumental rationalizations. Rather, cognitive and affective biases in the ways humans access and use information mean that interests influence beliefs; how they do so depends on available information, the social organization and practices of a professional sphere, and prevailing standards for generating knowledge.

Editorial Reviews


"Hamilton-Hart raises a fascinating, overlooked question: Why is the United States widely viewed as a benign power in Southeast Asia, its presence welcomed rather than feared despite the many violent, selfish, and unwise things it has done over the years? . . . Her core answer to the puzzle is the overlap of local elite interests with American anticommunism during the Cold War. . . . For Southeast Asian elites—although not for labor movements or insugent groups—the U.S. presence has in fact been largely beneficial."—Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs (September/October 2012)

"Hard Interests is theoretically innovative and genuinely interdisciplinary. The approach taken in the case studies 'owes more to historiography and anthropology than political science' (p. 196). While the territory covered is broad and diverse, the analysis is careful and reflective. . . . Hard Interests is a provocative and refreshing read, asking a big, important question that is curiously absent from the regional security literature."—David Capie, Contemporary Southeast Asia (August 2012)

"Natasha Hamilton-Hart offers a provocative book that affirms and challenges the status of the United States in Southeast Asia. It affirms by detailing broadly held elite conceptualizations of the stabilizing role of the United States in Southeast Asia. But it also challenges by questioning the foundations of those beliefs—especially the assumption that the geopolitical justifications, domestic benefits, and 'national interests' associated with the United States are uncontroversial and clear. . . . Hamilton-Hart’s argument goes beyond familiar arguments about the utilitarian relationship between domestic regime interests and foreign policy alignments . . . she has given students, scholars, and practitioners of Southeast Asian comparative political economy, foreign policy, and international relations much food for thought."—Alice Ba, Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2013)

"In this important and well-written study of Southeast Asian attitudes to American power since the end of World War II, Natasha Hamilton-Hart examines 'foreign policy beliefs' in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. . . . Although she writes in part for a specialist audience of foreign policy and political science scholars . . . the book will be of general interest to historians of Southeast Asia and useful in teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels."—Tony Day, Pacific Affairs (Dec 2013)

"This fascinating book addresses important questions and offers thought-provoking answers that challenge current directions of debate on the foundations of American primacy, the origins of alignment, and the making of soft power. . . . Hard Interests, Soft Illusions presents a stimulating and important contribution not only to the study of Southeast Asia's international relations and the foundations of American primacy but also to the debate over the origins of alignment and the workings of soft power."—Alexander L. Vuving, Asian Politics and Policy (April 2014)

"A major strength of Hard Interests, Soft Illusions is its perceptive point of departure. Natasha Hamilton-Hart describes the U.S. position in East Asia as hegemonic, despite official discourses in the region portraying the United States as an offshore 'balancer.' Hamilton-Hart suggests that If anybody needs to be ‘balanced’ against (in pure power terms), it is the United States. The book invites us to make a distinction between the political, administrative, and economic elites who, according to her, gain disproportionately from the U.S. role in the region and the general populations of the region, who gain little. Whether or not one agrees with Hamilton-Hart’s thesis, it is a book well worth reading."—Yuen Foong Khong, University of Oxford

"Natasha Hamilton-Hart provides a well-researched and trenchant analysis of the reasons for key Southeast Asian states' alignment with the United States. Her findings point to some serious challenges for Washington and its regional security partners in maintaining these relationships in the rapidly changing contemporary strategic context. This book is important reading for scholars of Asia-Pacific international relations as well as U.S. strategy more broadly."—Evelyn Goh, University of London

About the Author

Natasha Hamilton-Hart is Associate Professor in the Department of Management and International Business at the University of Auckland. She is the author of Asian States, Asian Bankers: Central Banking in Southeast Asia and Hard Interests, Soft Illusions: Southeast Asia and American Power.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801450543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801450549
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Msupp
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was immediately struck by the creative combination of IR, politics, and psychology in this very interesting read. It covers an important topic, especially today in Southeast Asia: Why does the US for the most part get a pass for being an imperialist power with clout in virtually every southeast Asian nation, but countries such as China (for example) are feared, even when following a very similar path as the US? Hamilton-Hart has interesting answers to these questions, which draw into domestic politics, IR, History, and most surprising, the psychology of viewpoints and decision making. A very creative, and important book.
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