Arc of Containment (2019 book)

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Arc of Containment recasts the history of American empire in Southeast and East Asia from World War II through the end of American intervention in Vietnam. Setting aside the classic story of anxiety about falling dominoes, Wen-Qing Ngoei articulates a new regional history premised on strong security and sure containment guaranteed by Anglo-American cooperation.

Ngoei argues that anticommunist nationalism in Southeast Asia intersected with preexisting local antipathy toward China and the Chinese diaspora to usher the region from European-dominated colonialism to US hegemony. Central to this revisionary strategic assessment is the place of British power and the effects of direct neocolonial military might and less overt cultural influences based in decades of colonial rule. Also essential to the analysis in Arc of Containment is the considerable influence of Southeast Asian actors upon Anglo-American imperial strategy throughout the post-war period.

In Arc of Containment Ngoei shows how the pro-US trajectory of Southeast Asia after the Pacific War was, in fact, far more characteristic of the wider region’s history than American policy failure in Vietnam. Indeed, by the early 1970s, five key anticommunist nations—Malaya, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia—had quashed Chinese-influenced socialist movements at home and established, with U.S. support, a geostrategic arc of states that contained the Vietnamese revolution and encircled China. In the process, the Euro-American colonial order of Southeast Asia passed from an era of Anglo-American predominance into a condition of US hegemony. Arc of Containment demonstrates that American failure in Vietnam had less long-term consequences than widely believed because British pro-West nationalism had been firmly entrenched twenty-plus years earlier. In effect, Ngoei argues, the Cold War in Southeast Asia was but one violent chapter in the continuous history of western imperialism in the region in the twentieth century.

[Description from the Cornell University Press page]

Arc of Containment (#arcofcontainment) is available now on the Cornell University Press website and Amazon

For the paperback edition of Arc of Containment published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), for distribution strictly within Southeast Asia, visit the book’s page on the ISEAS Publishing Bookshop online.


“In this well-argued and convincing book, Wen-Qing Ngoei… delivers a perceptive and comprehensive… overview of the diplomatic and strategic evolution of Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. Arc of Containment situates the Vietnam War in a regional context, and students of history, diplomacy, politics, and security should find it interesting and illuminating.”

Journal of Asian Studies (February 2020)

“Wen-Qing Ngoei’s Arc of Containment: Britain, the United States, and Anticommunism in Southeast Asia is a thought-provoking, compelling, and significant contribution to the study of American hegemony and intervention in postwar Southeast Asia.”

Southeast Asian Studies (December 2019)

“This interesting study breaks new ground on interpreting the Vietnam War and Southeast Asian history in fresh and important ways. As China’s resurgence today challenges this extant [U.S.-led] order, Southeast Asia returns to the forefront of an arc of containment. Reflecting on the region’s history, Ngoei issues a sad warning about the costs for the peoples of the area subjected to new and re-emergent Asian Cold War challenges. This is an important scholarly contribution. Highly recommended.”

Choice Reviews (September 2019)

“In this important book, Wen-Qing Ngoei applies a fresh, wide-angle lens to Southeast Asian regional dynamics from the 1940s to the 1970s. He offers a challenging new interpretation of US and British policies toward the region while tracing Southeast Asia’s uneasy transition from a European-dominated colonial order to an era of American hegemony. Deeply researched in the archives of several nations and engagingly written, Arc of Containment illuminates critical elements of the international history of modern Southeast Asia long obscured by our fixation on the Vietnam War.”

Robert J. McMahon, Ralph D. Mershon Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University

“Wen-Qing Ngoei makes a persuasive case for the deeply connected colonial and post-colonial trajectories of Malaysia and Singapore’s neighbors. Ngoei’s book belongs in classes on US and British foreign relations, Southeast Asian politics and history, and should be read by every scholar in these fields.”

Bradley Simpson, University of Connecticut, and author of Economists with Guns

Arc of Containment is a genuine pleasure to read. Wen-Qing Ngoei deftly places the history of the Vietnam war in a larger regional perspective. He is able to show—very convincingly—that Vietnam was something of an anomaly.”

Mark Atwood Lawrence, University of Texas, Austin, and author of Assuming the Burden