Cold War Lessons Apply to Indo-Pacific Deterrence Efforts

Cold War Lessons Apply to Indo-Pacific Deterrence Efforts

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Xi Jinping’s visit this week to Vladimir Putin serves as a good reminder that while Russia is an acute threat to U.S. national security, China is the pacing challenge. Finding effective means of deterring China is key to maintaining strategic stability in the Pacific—and thereby protecting our allies and partners.

President Eisenhower faced a similar situation in the early days of the Cold War. Americans were war-weary after years of fighting in Korea, and economic considerations further discouraged any thoughts of putting more boots on the ground in Asia. Instead, Eisenhower looked to check the influence of the People’s Republic of China through military aid and military advisory efforts.

Eric Setzekorn details these efforts in the latest addition to the AUSA Book Program, Arming East Asia: Deterring China in the Early Cold War.

Setzekorn is a historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History and an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University and the University of Maryland. We sat down with him to discuss the book and today’s situation in the Pacific.


AUSA: What inspired you to become a military historian?

Setzekorn: I was in the U.S. Army for four years and I became fascinated by how the Army, and the military in general, changes as an institution and responds to shifting national policies.


AUSA: What initially drew you to the subject of deterrence in East Asia?

Setzekorn: I lived for many years in East Asia, both while serving in the Army and during graduate school, and the ongoing tensions between China and its neighbors are readily apparent across a wide range of political and military issues. Successful deterrence is crucial to ensure tensions do not lead to conflict, and to help preserve the economic and democratic gains the region has experienced since 1945.


AUSA: How did your view of Eisenhower change over the course of your research?

Setzekorn: I think Eisenhower is sometimes seen in popular culture as an old and somewhat out-of-touch president, but the Eisenhower I saw in the archives was efficient, focused, and even somewhat ruthless in pursuing his policies. He clearly saw East Asia as vitally important to American national interests and expended a great deal of time and effort to strengthen military forces in the region to deter China.


AUSA: What role did Eisenhower see for landpower in maintaining security in the Pacific theater?

Setzekorn: Eisenhower believed that landpower, including both American ground forces and allied armies, was vital, not just to deter China, but to help align broader regional security. In the 1950s, much like today, landpower is resilient, interconnected, and presents a credible deterrence without being threatening to potential enemies.


AUSA: What one lesson from the book would you like to see the US Army apply to the current situation in the Pacific?

Setzekorn: I think one lesson is that strengthening the defense infrastructure in the region and pre-positioning equipment is vitally important. East Asia includes numerous well-developed and sophisticated nations, and any potential conflict will likely be fought at high intensity, so supporting both our allies and deployed forces would be a challenge that can be mitigated by good planning and efficient investments.


To order a copy of Arming East Asia, please visit