Arc of Containment: Britain, the United States, and Anticommunism in Southeast Asia

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About the Publication

Arc of Containment recasts the history of American empire in Southeast and East Asia from WWII through the end of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Setting aside the classic story of anxiety about falling dominoes, Wen-Qing Ngoei articulates a new history premised on sure containment guaranteed by Anglo-American cooperation. He argues that anticommunist nationalism in Southeast Asia intersected with local antipathy toward China to usher the region from European colonialism to U.S. hegemony. Central to this assessment is the place of British power and the effects of direct neocolonial military might, as well as less overt cultural influences based in decades of colonial rule. Also essential to the analysis is the considerable influence of Southeast Asian actors. 

Ngoei shows how the pro-U.S. trajectory after the Pacific War was characteristic of the wider region’s history. Indeed, by the early 1970s, five key anticommunist nations—Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia—had quashed Chinese-influenced socialist movements at home and established a geostrategic arc of states that contained the Vietnamese revolution and encircled China. In the process, the colonial order passed into a condition of U.S. hegemony. Arc of Containment demonstrates that U.S. failure in Vietnam had fewer long-term consequences than widely believed, because British pro-West nationalism had been firmly entrenched twenty-plus years earlier.

Co-publication: Cornell University Press / ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

ISEAS edition is for distribution in ASEAN countries


Arc of Containment: Britain, the United States, and Anticommunism in Southeast Asia [Whole Publication], by Wen-Qing Ngoei, author
Preliminary pages
Introduction: Recovering the Regional Dimensions of U.S. Policy toward Southeast Asia
1. Darkest Moment: the Fall of Singapore, "Chinese Penetration", and the Domino Theory
2. Patriot Games: How British Nation-Building Colonialism Inspired the United States
3. Manifest Fantasies: British-Malayan Counterinsurgency and Nation Building in U.S. Strategy
4. The Best Hope: Malaysia in the "Wide Anti-Communist Arc" of Southeast Asia
5. The Friendly Kings: Southeast Asia's Transition from Anglo-American Prodominance to U.S. Hegemony
Coda: The "Reverse Domino Effect"

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