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First Things First for Future Defense Strategy

Mr. Nathan P. Freier, Ms. Laura McAleer

May 27, 2015

Источник: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/index.cfm/articles/First-things-first-for-future-defense-strategy/2015/05/27

The Department of Defense (DoD) will face a dramatic and sustained transition period over the next decade. At no other time in recent memory have American defense strategists faced such a dizzying and complex array of challenges like those which they will be required to direct their attention, energy, and resources toward in the coming years. It is frankly impossible to overstate the scale and complexity of the decisions that they will be required to make. This degree of uncertainty and complexity makes the task of deliberately charting a responsible way ahead that much more difficult and urgent.

In the wake of 15 years of persistent combat operations, senior defense leaders will need to repurpose institutions and capabilities for use against a wider range of 21st century threats and challenges. They will have to do so with fewer aggregate forces and resources, more top-down constraints on their use, less clarity of overall purpose, and no bipartisan consensus on either the most compelling threats or the most appropriate responses to those threats. These factors support calls for top to bottom adaptation within DoD.

Resetting DoD to secure at-risk interests effectively will most certainly require a new set of governing “first principles,” since little about the current environment conforms well to the traditional defense playbook. These foundational assumptions will need to focus the enterprise on the most salient and durable characteristics of the decisionmaking and operating environments, while providing a reasoned road map for future requirements, operational priorities, and risk.

One constant amidst the dynamism, volatility, and hazards of the contemporary landscape is a bipartisan commitment to an outward-looking and activist defense of core interests. In all cases, whether or not there is broad agreement on the specifics, that commitment includes an explicit interest in maintaining robust military capabilities that as a rule collectively contribute to conflict prevention, reliable and timely military responses to crises, and durable results across the widest possible range of contingency events. In the end, senior defense leaders want agile military tools at their disposal that demonstrate the requisite competencies and depth of capabilities for assigned missions. They also want some confidence that those tools can deliver on time and at acceptable cost, regardless of operational conditions.

Three tangled, yet distinct, threat vectors make doing this an especially nettlesome challenge. Understanding and socializing these trends within DoD will play an essential role in defining the right first principles for 21st century defense. While precise prediction is a fool’s errand in defense planning, these three foundational trends present U.S. defense planners with a reasonable template for future decisionmaking. Albeit imperfect, they may nonetheless be the best available pacers for a risk informed defense strategy.

The first and perhaps most obvious among the vectors is the rise of a militarily capable revisionist power that increasingly presents a credible alternative to U.S. leadership in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. China’s provocative regional ambitions increasingly put it at odds with the United States in the vast region stretching from the Indian Ocean through the western Pacific and northeast Asia. Escalating regional tensions put both U.S. partners and fence-sitting third parties in the middle of an uncomfortable tug-of-war between two competing giants. Further, China’s distinct interest in actively countering U.S. power projection capabilities hazards triggering a high-end arms race reminiscent of the Cold War. We are entering dangerous times in the western Pacific for sure. Therefore, offsetting increased U.S. vulnerability there is and should remain a high priority for DoD.

Traditional security competition with our likeliest near-peer rival cannot, however, be DoD’s only priority effort. A second contemporary threat vector emerges from so-called “gray zone” actors. “Gray zone” competitors employ sophisticated hybrid combinations of capabilities and methods to encroach on important U.S. interests without decisively breaching unmistakable redlines. In short, “gray zone” competitors are skillfully “pushing our buttons” in ways that fail to conform to preferred U.S. military countermeasures.

In Europe, for example, a worrisome unease has settled in. Russia is incrementally advancing an obvious counter-Western agenda, adversely manipulating local political outcomes on its periphery by combining high politics, resource intimidation, political subversion, and proxy conflict. What we do not yet know is whether increased Russian activism is a sign of growing asymmetric strength or profound fear, weakness, and internal fragility. Both scenarios are equally bad.

Likewise, Iran employs its own unique high-low brand of “gray zone” competition as it simultaneously employs legitimate international engagement with harmful regional activism. While it appears to be negotiating a responsible nuclear accord with the P-5+1, it also actively exploits sectarian fissures region-wide through the same brand of subversion, intimidation, and proxy resistance exhibited by the Russians in Europe. Additionally, it has recently engaged in overt harassment of commercial shipping, raising the potential for miscalculation and escalation. Iran’s overall regional endgame is somewhat uncertain. However, strengthening its position at the expense of its regional and extra-regional rivals is a reasonable opening hypothesis. The Russian and Iranian brand of hybrid competition defies long-held defense convention and, thus, requires fresh ideas to combat it effectively.

Finally, in a wide swath of the Islamic world stretching through North Africa, across the traditional Middle East, and well into South Asia, we are seeing traditional authority structures disintegrating into violent seizures of civil disorder and conflict. Terrorism is one by-product of this trend. However, terrorism is neither the only nor the most important one. Perhaps more troubling than the pop-up extremism likely to emerge from any revolutionary change in the region is the persistent, contagious, and profoundly disruptive instability within countries and between peoples occurring in its wake. So far, the darkest manifestations of the at-first benign Arab Spring respects neither established political boundaries nor the virtue of deliberate political reform.

Thus, in somewhat rapid order, governments and the governed across the region are increasingly at odds over political primacy in an environment where hyperconnectivity, confessional identity, religious radicalism, and prolific violence have proven bankable currency for greater influence. New sources of extremism and the atomization and proliferation of armed conflict are local symptoms of a broader viral malady that increasingly undermine hopes for a stable transition to a more responsible regional order. Ignoring the potential for the worst security outcomes in the greater Middle East is a luxury DoD can ill-afford, and attention to it will require more creativity than a more robust counterterrorism program.

Each vector by itself harbors significant implications for the defense establishment, and all present immediate, compelling, and persistent dilemmas for DoD strategists. Though each is a distinct and definable challenge now, they are all also emblematic of the worldwide strategic and operational future of DoD. There may, for example, be other great power competitors on the horizon who generate niche asymmetries to limit U.S. freedom of action; time will tell. Further, following the Iranian and Russian lead, new challengers may opt to fight in the “gray,” employing ambiguous methods to achieve unambiguous benefits vis-à-vis the United States. Finally, American strategists might be well advised to consider prolific Middle Eastern instability as the leading indicator of systemic and networked resistance to the established order elsewhere.

Any one of these discrete challenges could, through overcommitment, dangerously consume the limited resources that U.S. strategists have at hand. Unfortunately, all of these challenges manifest themselves in knotted combinations that eschew simple categorization and, thus, dim the prospects for “one size fits all” defense optimization. For example, though clearly a traditional military power, China has skillfully entered the “gray zone” in the way it employs resources and capabilities to limit U.S. options. Likewise, while Russia and Iran are pre-disposed to indirect pressure, they possess just enough traditional military capability to threaten unacceptable costs in an open conflict with the United States. Finally, violent devolution in the Middle East occurs alongside old world power politics pitting the United States, Israel, and the Gulf against Iran.

Invariably, planners are likely to get the particulars about future conflict wrong. Further, with new vulnerabilities in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum, even straight forward defense challenges will manifest in less bounded ways. We can identify, plan for, and build against a divinable set of competing and irreducible macro trends. We suggest DoD start with these three to lay a foundation for a 21st century defense strategy that minimizes the likelihood for disruptive surprise.

China and America’s Coming Battle for Southeast Asia

By Peter Chalk

Источник: http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/china-americas-coming-battle-southeast-asia-12427?page=show

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has declared its intent to establish a fully integrated Community that extends across the economic, political, security and social realms by the end of 2015. Such a regional arrangement would, for the first time, provide the countries of Southeast Asia with a single regime of intergovernmental collaboration that can be used to draft, implement and refine joint policies and courses of action. That would greatly facilitate future proactive planning and aid the development of comprehensive and codified forms of supranational cooperation and governance.

The main aim of those changes is to better situate ASEAN to achieve its core goal of “centrality”—a term coined to emphasize how internal cohesion can be leveraged to both advance economic progress and manage the Association’s relations with external partners.

One external variable that’s likely to bear heavily on the trajectory of the proposed ASEAN community is the influence of an increasingly assertive People’s Republic of China (PRC). The country is now the pre-eminent power in the Asia-Pacific and its ties with the Association have grown substantially over the past 25 years. Both factors imbue Beijing with a real potential to sway the future course of ASEAN integration.

In economic terms, the PRC’s overall impact is likely to be largely positive. Since the signing of a strategic partnership agreement in 2003, bilateral fiscal and commerce relations have boomed and over the past decade the two-way flow of goods and services has increased more than six-fold—topping $400 million in 2013. The growth and prosperity of ASEAN and China will be highly contingent on further expanding that mutually beneficial economic partnership, something the two sides no doubt fully appreciate.

In the political and security realm, there’s far less certainty in ASEAN perceptions of China. This is especially true with regards to the PRC’s strategic intentions in Southeast Asia. Concerns that anti-access/area denial platforms may be used to restrict access in the South China Sea or to institute a regional order that’s determined in Beijing could encourage ASEAN’s littoral states to look to Washington—rather than the Association itself—as the ultimate guarantor of national and wider defense in this part of the world.

Beijing’s soft power is also relevant for ASEAN’s social and cultural integration, although the extent of that influence is difficult to determine. On the one hand, China’s official emphasis on peaceful development and shared Asian values would seem to fit well with ASEAN’s own commitment to stability and unity. On the other, the PRC’s effort to position itself diplomatically as a non-threatening power has fallen foul of a central administration that in many ways lacks self-awareness—something that’s been especially true with regards to its uncompromising stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

To be successful, the ASEAN Community will also require considerable backing from the U.S.—the other major power in Southeast Asia.

Washington has three main reasons to support the development of an ASEAN Community. First, economic integration will help to enhance growing and significant bilateral trade and investment ties. Second, promoting a more multilateral approach to security cooperation would directly contribute to burden sharing. Third, a fully integrated ASEAN would help to balance China and India, assure access to critical shipping lanes in the South China Sea and bring greater symmetry to important East Asian forums that involve American representatives.

There are several ways that the U.S. could help to support the institutional development of the ASEAN Community. Economically, it could deepen regional integration and buttress trade liberalization by expanding the Association’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). On the political and security front, the U.S. could provide input to the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting’s current deliberations by suggesting joint endeavours that support military interoperability. Finally, American soft power could be employed to promote programs that are designed to fully engage civil society across ASEAN.

Although the PRC and U.S. are both in a position to influence the process of ASEAN integration, ultimately it will be up to the Association itself to cement internal cohesion, achieve centrality and thereby remain a relevant player in the emerging Asian order. In this respect uncertainties remain, as in many ways the bloc’s member states continue to follow the age-old principles of unanimity, non-interference and informality that have traditionally shaped the manner by which they act and conducts business.

Now in its sixties, ASEAN sits at a critical juncture that could see it either occupying the driver’s seat in future regional cooperation or being marginalised as a relic of the past.

Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Strategic Net Assessment

Michael D. Swaine, Nicholas Eberstadt, M. Taylor Fravel, Mikkal Herberg, Albert Keidel, Evans J. R. Revere, Alan D. Romberg, Eleanor Freund, Rachel Esplin Odell, Audrye Wong

April 2, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/04/02/conflict-and-cooperation-in-asia-pacific-region-strategic-net-assessment/i560

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The Asia-Pacific region is undergoing enormous change, fueled by high levels of economic growth and deepening levels of integration. These and other forces are generating a shift in the distribution of economic, political, and military power across the region. This changing security environment poses a major challenge for the United States, the historically dominant power in maritime Asia. Efforts to enhance regional cooperation, reassure allies, and deter and shape potentially destabilizing behavior are demanding a more complex mixture of U.S. skills and understanding. An array of current and likely long-term forces will drive both cooperation and conflict across the Asia-Pacific region.

Key Findings

There are five different security environments that could emerge in the Asia-Pacific region over the next twenty-five years (in order of likelihood):

  1. Status Quo Redux: Constrained economic and political competition alongside continuing cooperation
  2. Asia-Pacific Cold War: Deepening regional bipolarization and militarization, driven by a worsening U.S.-China strategic and economic rivalry
  3. Pacific Asia-Pacific: Reduced tension and increased U.S.-China and regional cooperation
  4. Asian Hot Wars: Episodic but fairly frequent military conflict in critical hot spots, emerging against a cold war backdrop
  5. Challenged Region: A region beset by social, economic, and political instability and unrest separate from U.S.-China competition

Risks in the Evolving Security Environment

  • The primary risk: movement toward the conflictual side of the Status Quo Redux security environment due to an uncertain pattern of economic, political, and military multipolarity and a divergence in opinion concerning the proper distribution of power
  • A shift in resources toward security competition
  • Increased tests of resolve and political-military crises
  • A United States embroiled in third-party disputes
  • Greater challenges to the U.S. alliance system
  • Exclusionary political and economic arrangements
  • Domestic instability and regime collapse in North Korea
  • Domestic instability and ultranationalism in China
  • U.S. miscalculations in response to a more assertive China

Factors That Could Restrain or Eliminate Risks

  • Common support for sustaining economic growth
  • The absence of existential disputes
  • Enduring U.S. strength
  • The possibility of a more flexible China
  • Cooperation in dealing with North Korea
  • Collaboration in addressing transnational threats

Steps the United States Can Take to Avert Conflict

Identify U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific. U.S. agencies should identify the United States’ longterm primary, secondary, and tertiary strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific.

Conduct an unprecedented U.S.-China strategic dialogue. An ongoing, government-supported but unofficial track 2 effort could eventually feed into a more formal track 1.5 dialogue in the military and diplomatic realms.

Undertake a range of strategic assurances between the United States and China. A variety of specific reciprocal and joint actions should be considered as near- to medium-term initiatives to provide greater strategic reassurance between Washington and Beijing.

Clarify and strengthen the U.S. position on maritime disputes. In the South China Sea, Washington should encourage all sides to lower the perceived value of the disputed islands by delineating joint fishing, hydrocarbon, seabed minerals, and environmental protection zones. The United States should also encourage the disputants to enhance crisis management.

Coordinate a force for sea lines of communication (SLOC) defense. Washington should undertake a sustained effort to establish a joint maritime force involving the United States, China, and other Asian states in SLOC defense.

Provide greater support for crisis management mechanisms. These mechanisms could help avert or manage future political-military crises over maritime territorial disputes and other contentious issues.

Establish a forum for the discussion of energy security issues. Such a forum would be a vital channel for addressing tensions over the control of energy resources and transportation routes in the region.

Strengthen engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and with individual member states. The United States should promote a U.S.-ASEAN free trade agreement and strengthen ASEAN institutions by endorsing their role as action-oriented bodies that are able to tackle regional issues.


Preview this publication China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment

Michael D. Swaine, Mike M. Mochizuki, Michael L. Brown, Paul S. Giarra, Douglas H. Paal, Rachel Esplin Odell, Raymond Lu, Oliver Palmer, Xu Ren

May 3, 2013

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/05/03/china-s-military-and-u.s.-japan-alliance-in-2030-strategic-net-assessment/i85g

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The emergence of the People’s Republic of China as an increasingly significant military power in the Western Pacific presents major implications for Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and regional security. But a comprehensive assessment of the current and possible future impact of China’s military capabilities and foreign security policies on Tokyo and the alliance, along with a detailed examination of the capacity and willingness of both the United States and Japan to respond to this challenge, is missing from the current debate. Such an analysis is essential for Washington and Tokyo to better evaluate the best approaches for maintaining deterrence credibility and regional stability over the long term.

Key Findings

    • The most likely potential challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance over the next fifteen to twenty years does not involve full-scale military conflict between China and Japan or the United States—for example, one originating from Chinese efforts to expel Washington from the region.
    • ƒƒ The likeliest challenge instead stems from Beijing’s growing coercive power—increasing Chinese military capabilities could enable Beijing to influence or attempt to resolve disputes with Tokyo in its favor short of military attack.
    • ƒƒ An increase in the People’s Liberation Army’s presence in airspace and waters near Japan and disputed territories could also heighten the risk of destabilizing political-military crises.
    • ƒƒ Significant absolute and possibly relative shifts in the military balance between China and the alliance in Japan’s vicinity are likely.
    • ƒƒ In the most probable future scenarios facing these three actors, the U.S.-Japan alliance will either only narrowly retain military superiority in the airspace and waters near Japan or the balance will become uncertain at best.
    • ƒƒ A significant drop in the potential threat posed by China is also possible if the Chinese economy falters and Beijing redirects its attention and resources toward maintaining internal stability.
  • ƒƒ More dramatic shifts in the strategic landscape are unlikely in the fifteen- to twenty-year time frame. Such shifts include an Asian cold war pitting a normalized U.S.-Japan alliance against a belligerent China and a major withdrawal of U.S. presence that heralds either the dawning of a Sino-centric Asia or the emergence of intense Sino-Japanese rivalry with Japanese nuclearization.

U.S. and Japanese Policy Responses

There are no “silver bullets.” No regional or alliance response can single-handedly deliver a stable military or political balance at minimal cost to all parties involved. Each of the major conceivable responses to these future challenges in the regional security environment will likely require painful trade-offs and, in some cases, the adoption of radically new ways of thinking about the roles and missions of both the U.S. and Japanese militaries.

Three general political-military responses offer viable ways to advance allied interests over the long term.

    • Robust Forward Presence: This deterrence-centered response is designed to retain unambiguous allied regional primacy through either highly ambitious and forward-deployment-based military concepts, such as Air-Sea Battle, or approaches more oriented toward long-range blockades, such as Offshore Control.
    • Conditional Offense/Defense: This primacy-oriented response nonetheless avoids both preemptive, deep strikes against the Chinese mainland or obvious containment-type blockades and stresses both deterrence and reassurance in a more equal manner.
  • Defensive Balancing: This response emphasizes mutual area denial, places a greater reliance on lower visibility and rear-deployed forces, and aims to establish a more genuinely balanced and cooperative power relationship with China in the Western Pacific.

These responses could be complicated by a number of factors.

    • Limits on the ability of Japan or other nations in the Asia-Pacific region to advance substantive security cooperation or embark on major security enhancements
    • ƒƒ Unwillingness in the U.S. military to alter doctrinal assumptions in operating in the Western Pacific ƒƒ China’s own suspicions of alliance efforts that might constrain the use of its growing capabilities
  • Low tolerance among stakeholders for uncertainty and even failure during political or diplomatic negotiations over vital security interests

The status quo is likely to prove unsustainable. Despite the potential complications, Washington and Tokyo must seriously evaluate these possible responses. Current economic and military trends in China, Japan, and the United States suggest that existing policies and strategies might fail to ensure a stable security environment conducive to U.S. and Japanese interests over the long term.

Advance Praise

“The Asia century is well under way, and with it the emerging challenges of a region in transition…. Any sound future policy will require a thorough assessment of China’s evolving military and foreign security capabilities and of the capacity and willingness of Tokyo and Washington to sustain their historic cooperation. There are no guarantees that the future will resemble the recent past, and the best approaches for continued deterrence credibility and regional stability will require careful consideration and thoughtful analysis.

To this end, the Carnegie Endowment has offered up an extraordinary contribution: China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment. The future security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region may very well be defined by the content of this assessment. But one thing is certain: the United States and Japan must recognize that in the future, status quo thinking is unlikely to guarantee a stable security environment that serves the long-term interests of the bilateral relationship or the region.”

—Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., former ambassador to China and former governor of Utah

“Michael Swaine and his co-authors have done an admirable job of thinking through the complex interactions of the U.S.-Japan-China relationship in the future. Using scenarios and trend projections, they go beyond simple predictions to examine the complex interactions of different developments and reactions among the three countries and different groups within them. While I do not agree with specific military and policy judgments in all the scenarios, I strongly endorse the effort to examine potential developments along with likely and possible reactions and counterreactions. The triangular interactive relations among these great Asian powers will determine both the overall future of the region and much of the futures of each of the individual countries.”

—Admiral Dennis Blair (U.S. Navy, retired), former director of national intelligence and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command

“The U.S.-Japan alliance has long been crucial to the military balance in the Western Pacific. The balance of power in the region is now shifting toward China, and tensions between Asian states are rising concomitantly. Current trends suggest that the United States and Japan will not find it easy to sustain immunity from coercion as they seek to preserve stability, secure their national interests, and manage crises in the region over the coming years. This study is a remarkably timely, thoughtful, and meticulous examination of the drivers and choices the allies will face through 2030. It illuminates probable shifts in the strategic landscape of northeast Asia, their consequences, and the policy and resource allocation choices they pose. In this strategic net assessment, the scholars Carnegie assembled have given decisionmakers in Tokyo and Washington a uniquely insightful and thought-provoking policy-planning tool.”

—Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. (U.S. Foreign Service, retired), former assistant secretary of defense

“There is nothing out there like this—a very important piece of work…. This is an elegantly framed study that systematically assesses the postures of China, Japan, and the United States and treats the dynamics between them. Obviously, this is tough to execute, but the authors have done an outstanding job. The report addresses a critical subject and offers empirically based suggestions…. There is nothing like it in terms of looking at the interactions between states to produce a set of possible future regional dynamics.”

—Eric Heginbotham, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation

The authors would like to thank the Japan Ground Self Defense Forces Research and Development Command NAT Project for translating the executive summary into Japanese.

U.S.-China Security Perceptions Survey: Findings and Implications

Michael D. Swaine, Rachel Esplin Odell, Luo Yuan, Liu Xiangdong

December 12, 2013

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/12/12/u.s.-china-security-perceptions-survey-findings-and-implications/gvqk#

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship. The U.S.-China Security Perceptions Project analyzes the content of these attitudes through original surveys and workshops conducted in both countries. The project’s findings have implications for policymakers seeking to reduce the likelihood of future bilateral conflicts.

Survey Findings

    • There is a low level of strategic trust between the United States and China, which could make bilateral relations more turbulent.
    • Despite this lack of mutual trust, only small minorities of all respondents in both countries saw the other country as an enemy. A majority of U.S. and Chinese elites and the American public as well as a plurality of the Chinese public viewed the other country as a competitor. Substantial minorities of all respondents saw the other country as a partner.
    • Majorities of all U.S. and Chinese respondents felt their own country should play a shared leadership role in the international system. Majorities of U.S. elites thought the world would be more stable if the United States remains the leading superpower, but Chinese elites felt that a balance of power between Washington and Beijing would be more conducive to global stability.
    • U.S. and Chinese elites prioritized strengthening the bilateral relationship, with an emphasis on improved economic cooperation.
  • Chinese respondents—especially government elites—cited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as a major source of tension. U.S. elites—especially retired military officers and business elites—saw alleged Chinese cyberattacks and intellectual property infringement as particularly problematic.

Recommendations for U.S. and Chinese Policymakers

Emphasize cooperation over competition. Capitalize on support among elites in both countries for strengthening bilateral ties. Sustained top-level leadership is needed to build public support and provide a strong foundation for managing potential crises in the relationship.

Keep extremist views in perspective. Most respondents were not hawkish or adversarial toward the other country. Minority extremist perspectives, such as those often expressed in social media, should not be allowed to hijack policy.

Build mutual trust. Deepening official and unofficial exchanges, engaging in a more meaningful dialogue on strategies and interests, and keeping bilateral commitments will increase trust, as will explaining the intentions underlying policies like the U.S. rebalance to Asia and China’s military expansion.

Reconcile divergent views of global order. American and Chinese elites’ differing preferences for the global distribution of power could cause tension unless the two countries candidly discuss how to coexist and accommodate each other’s interests.

Prevent the Taiwan issue from derailing broader cooperation. Washington should not underestimate the significance China attaches to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Beijing should not allow this issue to prevent it from recognizing Washington’s consistent support of the One-China policy. Both sides should understand fully the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue and avoid sending wrong signals that negatively impact bilateral relations.

Establish rules on cybersecurity. Mutual understandings will reassure both sides, especially business elites, who have historically constituted a stabilizing force in U.S.-China relations.

The U.S.-China Security Perceptions Project

Public and elite attitudes in both the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the U.S.-China security relationship. The U.S.-China Security Perceptions Project seeks to obtain nonpartisan, policy-relevant data and insights on the evolving content and influence of such attitudes as policymakers strive to reduce the likelihood of serious future bilateral crises or conflicts. The project has several key objectives:

  • Conduct rigorous, detailed comparative surveys of Chinese and American elites and the general public on critical topics related to national security, including mutual trust and impressions of each country’s national character; the nature of American and Chinese power, both globally and in Asia; and the major specific threats, challenges, and opportunities faced by each country.
  • Produce thorough analyses of the meaning and implications of the survey results for Chinese and American foreign and defense policies and the U.S.-China relationship.Offer recommendations for policymakers in both countries on how to address the problems and opportunities revealed by the survey results.
  • Undertake the above activities on a regular basis and in response to specific security-related incidents occurring in the U.S.-China relationship.

This project involved two phases in both the United States and China. During the first phase, public and elite opinion surveys were conducted in both countries. Elites from five distinct categories—government, business, academia, the military, and the media—were surveyed. During the second phase, workshops of foreign affairs experts with backgrounds in these same five categories were convened in Beijing and Washington to discuss the survey results and their implications for U.S.-China relations.

Project Participants

The U.S.-China Security Perceptions Project is a unique collaborative undertaking between leading research institutions in Washington and Beijing launched in 2011. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association (CSCPA) in Beijing coordinated this project, in collaboration with the Pew Research Center, the Research Center for Contemporary China (RCCC) at Peking University, and the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The Pew Research Center, in consultation with the Carnegie Endowment and the Kissinger Institute, conducted the elite and public surveys in the United States. The RCCC and the CSCPA together performed the surveys in China. Funding was provided by the China-United States Exchange Foundation and the Ford Foundation as well as by the project partners.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a unique global network of policy research centers in Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Our mission, dating back more than a century, is to advance the cause of peace through analysis and development of fresh policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decisionmakers in government, business, and civil society. Working together, our centers bring the inestimable benefit of multiple national viewpoints to bilateral, regional, and global issues. The Carnegie Asia Program in Beijing and Washington provides clear and precise analysis to policymakers on the complex economic, security, and political developments in the Asia-Pacific region.

The China Strategic Culture Promotion Association is a national, nonprofit civil society group composed of experts, scholars, and social activists who are engaged in studies of international issues, the Taiwan issue, and cultural issues. The association was founded in Beijing on January 5, 2011, aiming at promoting security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and encouraging peaceful development on both sides of the Taiwan Strait through studies, dissemination, and exchange of Chinese strategic culture.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. A neutral source of data and analysis, it does not take policy positions and was not involved in developing any of the policy recommendations contained in this report. It is a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The center’s work is often cited by policymakers, journalists, and academics as well as advocates from across the political spectrum. Its Global Attitudes Project conducts public opinion surveys around the world on a broad array of subjects ranging from people’s assessments of their own lives to their views about the current state of the world and important issues of the day. More than 330,000 interviews in 60 countries have been conducted as part of the project.

Founded in 1988, the Research Center for Contemporary China at Peking University is a self-financed, nonprofit academic institution that conducts statistically rigorous interviews and polling in China on a wide variety of subjects, including issues related to China’s foreign relations. The RCCC focuses on promoting rigorous social science scholarship in China; generating systematic social and economic data for scholars, government agencies, and the business community; integrating Chinese social science into the international scholarly community; and providing institutional assistance for Chinese and international scholars conducting research in China.

The Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, inaugurated in 2008, is dedicated to promoting greater awareness of the U.S.-China relationship and its impact on both countries and the world. It does so by exploring the political, economic, historical, and cultural factors that underlie the respective behavior patterns and world views of China and the United States. The institute is nonpartisan and committed to improving American expertise about China as well as Chinese knowledge about the United States.

The project leaders from each organization include, on the U.S. side, Michael D. Swaine and Rachel Esplin Odell from the Carnegie Endowment, J. Stapleton Roy from the Kissinger Institute, and James Bell and Richard Wike from Pew Research. On the Chinese side, project leaders include Luo Yuan and Liu Xiangdong from the CSCPA and Shen Mingming and Yan Jie from the RCCC. Xu Ren, formerly of the Carnegie Endowment, and Meng Tianguang (“Max”) of the RCCC also provided invaluable assistance in processing the data and preparing materials for the workshops. The authors also wish to thank Alex Taylor, Han Yuxi, Hu Ran, Wang Yuhui, and Audrye Wong of the Carnegie Endowment for their vital assistance at various stages of the project, as well as Julia Judson-Rea, Ilonka Oszvald, Abby Arganese, Jocelyn Soly, and others in the Carnegie development, publications, and communications teams.

Phase I: Survey Research in the United States and China

In the United States, the general public survey was conducted April 30–May 13, 2012, among 1,004 adults. The elite survey was conducted March 1–May 20, 2012, among 305 elites, including 54 government officials in the executive and legislative branches; 52 retired military officers; 74 business and trade leaders; 93 academics, think tank experts, and nongovernmental organization leaders; and 32 reporters, editors, and commentators. Although not representative of all U.S. foreign affairs experts, the elite survey findings are indicative of attitudes among high-ranking individuals responsible for matters related to national security or foreign policy.

In China, the general public survey was conducted May 2–July 5, 2012, among 2,597 adults in urban areas. The elite survey was conducted May 22–August 22, 2012, among 358 elites, including 75 government officials (primarily retired officials with experience at the provincial and municipal levels); 73 scholars at military research institutions; 70 business and trade leaders; 76 scholars at nonmilitary academic research institutions; and 64 professionals working for the media.

For more details on the methodology used in the public and elite surveys in each country, see the accompanying reports on the survey results by the Pew Research Center and the RCCC.1

During the process of survey design and translation, extensive efforts were made to ensure that the results from the United States and China would be as comparable as possible. For the first iteration of the project, much progress was made toward this end. However, there are several important caveats that call for caution to be exercised in making certain comparisons among some of the elite categories in particular.

Military Elites in the U.S. and Chinese Data

The “military” categories in the Chinese and U.S. survey data are likely not directly comparable. The military category in the Chinese data only includes military scholars, not operational military personnel or retired officers. These military scholars very possibly do not represent the views of the broader People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on many issues. The military category in the American elite survey, by contrast, is composed of retired U.S. military officers. Future surveys will hopefully include at least retired Chinese military officers.

Government Officials in the U.S. and Chinese Data

The “government officials” categories are likewise not directly comparable. In the Chinese data, the government officials were primarily officials at the provincial and municipal levels. This survey did not include a large sampling of central government officials. Moreover, most of these officials, such as former ambassadors, were retired. Meanwhile, in the United States, the government officials were all current government officials at the national level—mostly from the executive branch, with some from the legislative branch. In future surveys, the goal is to make this category more comparable as well.

Comparisons Over Time

The project surveys conducted in 2012 are a snapshot in time and do not necessarily represent U.S. or Chinese views at present or in the future. In some cases, both quantitative and qualitative responses could change significantly; in other cases, perhaps not. One major objective of this project is to undertake repeated surveys to determine how attitudes in both countries change over time and in response to specific events. That said, the results of these surveys convey an important baseline or starting point for deepening understanding.

Phase II: Elite Workshops in China and the United States

The first elite workshop was held in Beijing on January 10–11, 2013. The workshop was attended by more than 20 Chinese experts from different elite categories (primarily academia, the military, and the media) in addition to the project partners from Carnegie, the CSCPA, the Kissinger Institute, Pew Research, and the RCCC. The second elite workshop was held in Washington on January 31–February 1, 2013. The workshop was attended by more than 20 U.S. participants from government, military, business, media, and academic circles in addition to the project partners. At both workshops, the participants engaged in a wide-ranging discussion of the U.S. and Chinese survey results and their implications for U.S.-China security relations.

Report Overview

The results of the surveys of elites and publics in the United States and China can be found in accompanying reports prepared by the Pew Research Center and the RCCC, respectively. These reports present the percentage of elite and general-public respondents that provided each response to each question. They also contain general statements identifying majority or minority views based on responses to specific questions.

The main body of this report, prepared jointly by the Carnegie Endowment and the CSCPA with input from the Kissinger Institute, goes beyond the initial analysis of the data by presenting in detail the policy-related significance of the findings and their implications for policy in both countries. These more qualitative assessments derive in large part from the views expressed by the project partners and American and Chinese elites at the workshops that were held to discuss the survey results.

This report is organized around three themes that were addressed by the elite and public survey questionnaires:

  • U.S.-China trust and cultural imaging
  • Global roles and threat perceptions
  • Specific security-related challenges and opportunities

In these first three sections, the most significant policy-relevant survey findings are summarized and the key observations made at the workshops are presented.

A fourth and final section presents a set of possible implications and recommendations arising from the survey and workshop findings for policymakers and other elites.

The project members intend to develop this undertaking into an increasingly rigorous, focused, and policy-relevant series of coordinated and collaborative survey efforts on vital security issues affecting the U.S.-China relationship. The findings will hopefully help deepen the understanding of scholars, policymakers, the media, and the general public in the United States and China about key aspects of the bilateral relationship, thereby helping to prevent miscalculations and facilitate the harmonious development of both U.S.-China relations and the world order.

U.S.-China Trust and Cultural Imaging

The first set of survey findings and workshop discussions revolved around the themes of mutual trust and cultural impressions. Attitudes toward these issues among each country’s elites and general public have important implications for the likelihood of effective U.S.-China cooperation, the ability of the bilateral relationship to endure strain and crises, and the propensity of the two sides to experience conflict.

Major Relevant Findings From Surveys

Mutual Trust
  • In both the United States and China, elites and the general public expressed low levels of trust in the other country (see figure 1)—below levels of trust U.S. and Chinese respondents reported feeling in most other countries.
  • Levels of trust were slightly higher among youth and scholars in both countries.
  • Despite this general lack of mutual trust, a majority of the public in both countries thought U.S.-China relations were “good.”
  • While the American public and U.S. elites alike expressed high levels of trust in Japan, Chinese respondents expressed extremely low levels of trust in their Asian neighbor. (And these surveys were taken before the current Sino-Japanese crisis over the Diaoyu [Senkaku] Islands that emerged in September 2012.)
  • Majorities of Chinese government elites, scholars, military researchers, and media professionals characterized their attitude toward the United States as mild rather than tough (only 44 percent of Chinese business elites said the same).
  • While a majority of the American public was more concerned about China’s economic strength (59 percent) than its military strength (28 percent), a plurality of the Chinese public (34 percent) was more concerned about U.S. military strength than U.S. economic strength (20 percent).
  • Clear majorities of U.S. elites in all categories expressed a belief that Chinese economic growth will lead to a more democratic China.

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Partners, Enemies, or Competitors
  • In general, very low percentages of U.S. and Chinese publics and elites viewed the other country as an enemy.
    • Roughly equal percentages of each country’s public regarded the other country as an enemy (15 percent and 12 percent in the United States and China, respectively).
    • However, 27 percent of Chinese government elites regarded the United States as an enemy, while only 2 percent of U.S. government elites regarded China as an enemy.
  • Strong majorities of the U.S. public and elites in all categories viewed China as a competitor, while substantial minorities (16 percent of the U.S. public and a range of between 13 percent and 22 percent of U.S. elites, depending on the category of respondents) viewed China as a partner.
  • A plurality of the Chinese public viewed the United States as a competitor (45 percent), and clear majorities of Chinese elites in all categories viewed the United States as a competitor (see figure 2).

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Culture and Characteristics
  • Three-quarters of the Chinese public either somewhat (48 percent) or very much (26 percent) agreed that Chinese culture is superior, while roughly one-half of the U.S. public responded that American culture is superior.
  • Clear majorities of the U.S. public and elites believed that the United States takes other countries’ interests into account in foreign policy. Only minorities of U.S. respondents felt that China does the same in its foreign policy.
    • The Chinese public and elites held nearly mirror-image views on this matter. Strong majorities believed that China takes other countries’ interests into account and that the United States does not.
  • Strong majorities of the U.S. public considered both Chinese and Americans to be competitive and nationalistic. Majorities of the Chinese public also saw both Americans and Chinese as competitive. But while a clear majority of the Chinese public (66 percent) described Chinese as nationalistic, only 45 percent believed Americans were also nationalistic.
  • The Chinese public’s images of Americans were more negative than the U.S. public’s images of Chinese. In addition, Americans tended to be more self-critical than Chinese.
    • Clear majorities of the Chinese public believed Americans are (in declining percentages) aggressive, competitive, violent, arrogant, and greedy, and 50 percent said they are selfish. In contrast, only minorities of the Chinese public said Chinese are aggressive, violent, arrogant, and greedy, although 51 percent did say Chinese are selfish.
    • Only minorities of the U.S. public viewed Chinese as (in declining percentages) aggressive, greedy, arrogant, selfish, rude, or violent. In contrast, majorities of the U.S. public regarded Americans as having all of these negative characteristics, with one exception—“only” 44 percent of the U.S. public said Americans are violent.
  • Respondents from the general public in both countries were generally more likely to assign positive traits to their fellow citizens than to their Chinese or American counterparts.
    • Strong majorities of the Chinese public saw themselves as hardworking, generous, honest, and tolerant, but only minorities saw Americans in those terms. However, majorities of the Chinese public saw both Chinese and Americans as inventive and modern.
    • Clear majorities of the U.S. public viewed American people as being modern, inventive, generous, tolerant, honest, and sophisticated. In each case, lower percentages of the U.S. public ascribed those same traits to Chinese people. There was one exception to this pattern; 93 percent of the U.S. public described Chinese people as being hardworking and only 78 percent of these respondents applied this term to Americans (see figure 3).

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Major Observations and Conclusions From Workshops

Mutual Trust

Differentiate Between Abstract and Concrete Trust

Both American and Chinese elites raised the point that trust as an abstract measurement may not be that important, particularly in light of the fact that respondents are interested in building a stronger relationship. The general public in particular may not have formal mechanisms for measuring the trustworthiness of another country, whereas a government can evaluate trustworthiness based on its counterpart’s propensity to adhere to formal or informal agreements. Even “adversaries” can trust each other if they believe the other government will follow through on its commitments. Similarly, businesspeople can measure trustworthiness based on their counterparts’ propensity to uphold business contracts or respect intellectual property.

Concrete Cooperation Is More Important Than Mutual Trust

One American discussant with government experience emphasized that when official negotiators get caught up in the psychodrama of the U.S.-China relationship, including concerns about mutual trust, it becomes very difficult to do anything. But once they have unburdened themselves of these issues and can address specific, concrete issues, they are able to accomplish much more, even in the bilateral military-to-military relationship. Other elites agreed that working together on concrete practical cooperative efforts is critical to improving the bilateral relationship.

Trust Can Serve as a Buffer in Rough Times

Some American elites observed that although many indicators suggest relatively positive views of China among Americans, the low level of trust U.S. respondents reported having in China suggests that this positive opinion could be quite volatile and subject to swings if the relationship were to suffer a major setback. One elite noted that trust provides a baseline buffer in relationships. When a shock occurs, the larger the buffer, the better the relationship can handle it. U.S.-China relations have not experienced a major setback in a long time, so the relationship is relatively positive. But the thinness of the trust buffer could portend problems in the event of a future shock.

Media Reports May Affect Trust Levels

The media tends to report on conflict and tension between countries, which likely influences the levels of trust that many elites and especially the public in a country have in another country. This dynamic may contribute to the low levels of mutual trust between U.S. and Chinese respondents, some Chinese elites noted. The fact that countries like Pakistan and African nations, which receive comparatively little news coverage in the Chinese press, were more trusted by the Chinese public may be partly because the media is not regularly reporting on tensions with those countries.

Personal Relationships Influence Trust Levels

Some Beijing workshop participants suggested that Chinese military and nonmilitary scholars may have expressed greater levels of trust in the United States than Chinese government officials or the general Chinese public because these scholars are more likely to have developed personal relationships with Americans.

Understanding High Levels of Strategic Distrust in China

One American elite pointed out that the percentage of Chinese government elites that viewed the United States as an enemy was particularly high. This outlier could potentially suggest that the problem of strategic distrust is worse in China. However, it is also difficult to take this one data point from one moment in time as representative of government views—especially keeping in mind the caveat that the Chinese government sample was relatively limited.

One Chinese participant argued that distrust of the United States among Chinese elites and the general Chinese public can be traced to specific factors. These include political and ideological factors, such as a sense that the United States wants to Westernize and divide China; the U.S. return to the Asia-Pacific, which has not been sufficiently explained; economic and commercial disputes, including U.S. antidumping duties against Chinese companies; and propaganda in the media that misleads and negatively portrays the United States (a phenomenon also seen in U.S. media coverage of China).

Expounding upon the political and ideological factors, several Chinese elites speculated that the higher percentage of Chinese elites who identified the United States as an enemy compared to the percentage of U.S. elites who identified China as an enemy could be attributed to the way the United States is seen to threaten China’s domestic political system and internal security (for example, on issues such as Taiwan and Tibet). This could be particularly true of local and provincial Chinese government officials, who composed the bulk of the Chinese government elites sample, since they deal most directly with domestic and internal security concerns.

Another Chinese participant suggested that in addition to differences in ideology and political systems, U.S. military deployments in areas surrounding China have also created an impression that such efforts are intended to contain China, contributing to Chinese distrust of the United States. This participant also cited as a source of distrust the way in which the United States is perceived as taking the opposite side whenever China has friction with surrounding countries.

According to Some Americans, China’s Low Trust in Other Countries May Recommend a U.S. Multilateral Strategy

One American elite remarked upon the fact that Chinese respondents expressed less trust in other countries than American respondents did in general. Another U.S. participant speculated that this might reflect the fact that Washington has more formal allies than Beijing, and it could imply that multilateral strategies may at times be useful for the United States to adopt in its relationship with China.

Younger Americans Trust China More

When discussing why young Americans expressed higher levels of trust in China than older Americans, U.S. elites focused on a variety of factors. Some suggested that younger generations in general tend to be more trusting and open and that this was probably true historically as well. In addition, older generations today have had very different life experiences, such as living through the Vietnam and Korean Wars, which could shape their views toward China. Another elite pointed to the possibility that generations that lived through the Cold War may see China as filling the role that the Soviet Union played, whereas the younger generation has no memory of the Cold War and thus does not necessarily fit China into that box.

One U.S. elite felt that older Americans’ observation of the political incident of 1989 in Beijing could also influence how they viewed China. Another elite echoed this view and also pointed to the younger generation’s more limited knowledge of China’s ups and downs in general, including the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.

Trust in China Among U.S. Business Elites Has Deteriorated

Some elites observed that, while American corporations used to be a stabilizing ballast in U.S.-China relations, during the past five years there has been a significant deterioration in the way U.S. business elites view China. Some American participants noted that this shift might reflect greater concerns among some U.S. businesspeople over alleged Chinese efforts to restrict U.S. market access and maneuver Chinese companies into a dominant position that will enable them to move up the value chain in direct competition with U.S. companies. Others added that it also reflects concerns over alleged cybertheft and intellectual property theft more generally.

Explaining U.S. Military Elites’ Low Levels of Trust in China

Some elites attributed the lower level of trust in China among U.S. military respondents primarily to uncertainty about China’s military, which in turn stems partly from a perceived lack of transparency in the PLA. One American elite clarified that this lack of trust has more to do with a lack of understanding and confidence in China’s policies, intentions, and future direction than it does with any real or imagined obfuscation regarding the raw capabilities of the Chinese military.

Another U.S. expert suggested that it may have to do with the fact that U.S. defense analysts tend to glean information about the PLA from unofficial writings by younger Chinese authors, who often emphasize China’s rise and growing capabilities. Thus, in a sense, the level of distrust of China among U.S. military elites could be driven less by what they do not know than by what they think they do know.

Some U.S. elites emphasized that it is the military’s job to prepare and plan for worst-case scenarios and that military elites would be derelict in their duties if they did not do so. This could predispose them to trust China less. However, some elites also observed that U.S. and Chinese military personnel often work well together when they do interact, implying that military-to-military contacts are particularly important to maintain—and illustrating why China’s tendency to cut such ties off whenever there is a bump in the relationship is so problematic.

However, one U.S. military elite pointed out that trust of China among U.S. military elites was not actually as low as he had expected and in fact was comparable to the level of trust among U.S. media elites (only 31 percent of U.S. military elites and 31 percent of U.S. media elites reported a great deal or fair amount of trust in China). Moreover, these levels were quite positive in comparison to Chinese military scholars, 85 percent of whom reported distrusting the United States.

Partners, Enemies, or Competitors

Competition Can Be Malicious or Benign

Chinese elites emphasized that viewing another country as a “competitor” could be positive or negative. While malicious competitors might become enemies, benign competition can be win-win, particularly in the business world. Whether partners or competitors or both, China and the United States can emphasize their shared interests as a means for overcoming distrust.

Containment and a New Type of Major-Power Relationship

One American participant noted that competitors do not “contain” each other like enemies do; while America and China are competitors, the United States is not engaging in a formal containment policy toward China and does not consider China an enemy. A Chinese elite responded by emphasizing that there is a great deal of confusion in China about the concept of containment, particularly among the general public. He stressed that containment is a concept associated with enemies. Both Chinese and U.S. interlocutors agreed that the “new type of major-power relationship” advocated by Chinese President Xi Jinping could not consist of containment or competition and rivalry alone.

Possible to Be Both Partner and Competitor or Something In Between

Some Chinese elites suggested that countries can simultaneously be partners and competitors and that this may be the case in the U.S.-China relationship. Similarly, there may also be something between the categories of partner and competitor. One Chinese elite commented on what he saw as the inappropriateness of the term “adversary,” which he noted had been used by U.S. President Barack Obama during a presidential debate in fall 2012.

General U.S. Public More Likely Than Elites to See China as an Enemy

One American participant hypothesized that the general public has less knowledge about China and thus may be more inclined to be influenced by negative media coverage about China. Meanwhile, elites have a more subtle view of the bilateral relationship and of China’s history and contemporary political culture. A Chinese elite made a similar observation about the Chinese public, noting that it tends to be more emotional, which may make it more likely to view the United States as an enemy while elites will tend to see America more objectively as a competitor.

Another U.S. discussant argued that in fact the general public tends to take its cues from elites on matters of foreign policy, including China. If there is an elite consensus on an issue, then the public will coalesce behind that view. But if there is not a consensus, then the public will divide along partisan lines. Another American participant responded by suggesting that U.S. elites, including the media, need to speak of the U.S.-China relationship in more positive terms. For example, this individual suggested that elites should avoid painting the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific as containment of China.

Americans View China Quite Positively

One American discussant interpreted the findings on the American public’s view of China optimistically, indicating that several survey data suggested a rosier picture than was indicated by the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign ads about China, which were generally quite negative. First of all, Americans generally saw U.S.-China relations as positive, something that would not have been said of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War. This suggests that China has not taken the place of the Soviet Union as the United States’ geopolitical enemy. This elite felt that the percentage of the public who viewed China as an enemy was surprisingly low (15 percent) and that the larger percentage who saw China as a competitor (66 percent) is not worrisome as it is not inaccurate and even allies can be competitors.

Moreover, while the percentage of the public who expressed trust in China was not particularly high, the American people tend to be reluctant to express trust in general—for example, their trust in government and especially Congress is lower than their trust in China. Finally, in comparison to other challenges, Americans viewed China’s emergence as about as threatening as climate change—that is, rather low on the list of perceived challenges.

One Chinese participant responded by saying that while he also felt optimistic about the results, he was concerned over the way Obama and former U.S. presidential nominee Mitt Romney had discussed China in the 2012 presidential campaign. In particular, he wondered whether or not Obama’s remarks identifying China as an adversary reflected elite views.

Culture and Characteristics

Cultural Exceptionalism Is a Challenge to U.S.-China Relations

Both American and Chinese respondents perceived their country’s culture as being superior to that of others, although the percentage of Americans who feel this way has been declining in recent years, particularly among the younger generation. Such feelings of cultural superiority can present a challenge to U.S.-China relations. In order to confront this challenge, a Chinese participant suggested that the two sides need to do more than foster cross-cultural initiatives such as student exchange programs and tourism; they also need to engage in deeper discussion and debate on what these two great civilizations (not just nations) have to offer each other and the world.

One Chinese elite suggested that while China is proud of its long history, the United States is proud of its human rights and values. An American participant concurred, arguing that while Americans tend to see China as a country with a great culture, they take more pride in their own values than their culture. However, value superiority as well as cultural superiority can interfere with inter-country relationships. In fact, this U.S. elite suggested, one of the big deficiencies of American diplomacy is the tendency to moralize and preach about U.S. values and how other countries should behave—something that causes resentment in other nations.

Chinese Self-Criticism May Be Increasing

American survey respondents ascribed negative traits to themselves at a significantly higher level than Chinese did. One Chinese media elite commented that one of the things that is great about Americans is this self-awareness regarding their own shortcomings. However, this individual argued that although it was not necessarily reflected in the survey results, there has also been a growing degree of self-criticism in Chinese social media and culture in recent years, with satirical essays proliferating online that emphasize shortcomings in Chinese culture. This participant felt that such a trend suggests many Chinese recognize they are not perfect.

Features of Culture Change Over Time

Another Chinese participant observed that the perceived features of Chinese culture have arguably changed over time. For example, when he was young, he was taught in school that China had a long history of constant revolution and violence, in contrast to Europe, where religion had been used as an opiate to control the masses and prevent such wide-scale conflict. This supposed Chinese cultural proclivity was seen as dovetailing with the call at that time for continual proletarian revolution and struggle. In recent years, however, “harmony” has become China’s new watchword. The culture of the West—and the United States in particular—is perceived as the more aggressive and competitive, while China prefers to see its own culture as harmonious and peace-loving.

Along similar lines, one Chinese elite suggested that the United States is perceived by Chinese as more aggressive because of its history of nearly continuous warfare since World War II. In response, a U.S. participant suggested that Americans’ perception of themselves as aggressive is likely shaped by the fact that the United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade, conflicts that are increasingly unpopular among Americans.

National Confidence Affects a Country’s Role in the World

Some Chinese participants suggested that a country’s national confidence in its culture shapes the role it plays in the world. One Chinese elite suggested that China lacked confidence, as evident by the extensive Chinese coverage of Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Another participant remarked that low levels of confidence can make a country more sensitive to external influence. Yet another Chinese elite suggested that the lower percentage of American youth (as compared to older Americans) who expressed confidence in American culture indicates that the United States’ confidence in itself and its role in the world may be declining.

Cultural Characteristics Can Translate Into National Policies

One Chinese elite remarked that cultural perceptions are key to analyzing decisionmaking because how people think and behave will translate into national policies. For example, pointing to cultural depictions in American movies, this participant observed that American children are more independent. In contrast, Chinese culture focuses on tradition, family, and community, which he suggested might make China relatively more inward-looking. However, this participant also observed that the two cultures’ differing characteristics can be complementary in a way that enhances cooperation between the two sides.

The Complexity of Cultural Views May Lessen Their Impact on Bilateral Ties

Conversely, some Chinese elites argued that simply asking respondents if they believed their culture was superior was likely to produce artificial results. More nuanced conclusions could be drawn from questions about whether the respondents would prefer to study in or become citizens of the other country.

Similarly, one elite argued that the pluralism in Chinese culture means that the implications of Chinese culture for foreign policy are highly complex. In fact, one Chinese discussant suggested that the issue is likely so complex that it may not have much of an impact on the level of cooperation countries can achieve, since there is a great difference between the operational and conceptual levels. Another Chinese elite countered this perspective, arguing that although culture is difficult to define and cultural attitudes are difficult to measure, narrow factors such as trade volume are inadequate measures for explaining the complex variables shaping bilateral relations.

Perceptions of Cultural Difference Can Portend Conflict

One American elite noted that social science research has shown that people who perceive a large degree of difference between their own social group (the “in-group”) and another social group (the “out-group”) will be more prone to favor conflictual postures toward the out-group. The questions asked of each country’s public about whether or not they perceive a range of character traits as applying to Chinese and Americans could be instructive when placed in this context.

In the general public survey results, there were an average of 20.5 percentage points separating the percentage of U.S. respondents who viewed a given trait as describing Americans and the percentage of U.S. respondents who saw that trait as applying to Chinese. Meanwhile, there was on average a 26.7 percentage-point spread between the share of Chinese who ascribed a given trait to Chinese and the percentage who ascribed that same trait to Americans.

Viewed through the lens of social identity theory, this gap in perceptions on both sides could make each side more likely to view the other in conflictual terms. This effect may be somewhat stronger in the Chinese case given the larger difference in perceptions among Chinese respondents.

Global Roles and Threat Perceptions

The second set of survey findings and workshop discussions focused on questions of global leadership, world order, and international threats. Points of convergence and divergence in American and Chinese elite and public attitudes toward these questions shed light on the underlying sources of amity and tension in U.S.-China relations and can guide decisionmakers in both countries as they work to build a “new type of major-power relationship.”

Major Relevant Findings From Surveys

  • Very low percentages of the U.S. public and American elites thought the United States should be the single world leader.
  • Similarly low shares of China’s public and elites felt that China should be the single world leader.
  • However, strong majorities of elites from both the United States and China felt that their own country should play a shared global leadership role.
    • While 74 percent of the U.S. public shared this attitude, only 45 percent of the Chinese public did.
  • Sizable minorities of China’s public and elites (ranging from 12 percent among scholars and military researchers to 19 percent among the public and 21 percent among government elites) felt that China should play no leadership role at all in the world.
    • In contrast, not a single U.S. elite respondent in any of the five categories felt the United States should play no leadership role in the world. However, 12 percent of the American public did reject a leadership role for the United States (see figure 4).
  • Among those Americans who felt Washington should play a shared leadership role in the world, clear majorities in most categories of U.S. elites thought the United States should be the most assertive among leading nations (only a plurality of media elites held this view).
    • However, only one-third of the U.S. public who favored a shared leadership role agreed with that notion while two-thirds said that America should be no more or less assertive than other leading nations.
  • In partial contrast, among those Chinese who felt Beijing should play a shared leadership role in the world, a strong majority of both China’s elites and public said China should be neither more nor less assertive (qiangshi, 强势) than other leading nations.

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Global Order and Stability
  • Clear majorities in every U.S. elite category believed that global stability is best served by American dominance (that is, “the U.S. remaining the leading superpower”).
    • Not a single U.S. elite respondent favored China replacing America as the leading superpower.
    • Nonetheless, sizeable minorities of American elites (including as high as 45 percent of business elites) favored a balance of power between the United States and China.
  • In contrast, strong majorities of Chinese elites in all five categories favored a U.S.-China balance of power for world stability, ranging from 58 percent among scholars to 76 percent among government elites.
    • Very few Chinese elites believed that Chinese dominance would produce more stability, ranging from only 3 percent among military scholars to 12 percent among government elites.
    • Sizable minorities of Chinese elites in most categories felt that U.S. dominance would be more conducive to global stability. Nearly one-fourth of nonmilitary and military scholars espoused this view, but only 8 percent of government elites shared this attitude (see figure 5).

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Mutual Threat Perceptions
    • Far smaller percentages of the U.S. public and American elites viewed China as the country posing the greatest overall danger to the United States than percentages of Chinese who viewed the United States as the country posing the greatest threat (weixie, 威胁) to China.
      • Strong majorities of China’s public and elites identified the United States as the country that posed the greatest threat to China, ranging from 63 percent among the public to 81 percent among business elites.
      • Chinese viewed Japan as the next-most threatening country after the United States, but far fewer Chinese pointed to Japan than America. However, the most recent Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands flare-up, which occurred after the survey was conducted, may have altered this perception.
    • America’s public and elites generally viewed China’s emergence as a world power as a far less serious threat to the well-being of the United States than other enumerated threats, such as international financial instability, Iran’s nuclear program, Islamic extremism, and North Korea’s nuclear program.
      • While a slim majority (52 percent) of the U.S. public saw China’s emergence as a world power as a major threat, only minorities of all elite categories espoused that view.
    • Meanwhile, the Chinese public and elites in most categories viewed the U.S. military presence in East Asia as the most significant among a similar list of enumerated threats, although in general they were less worried than their American counterparts about the other threats.
      • The exception was Chinese nonmilitary scholars, 55 percent of whom described international financial instability as a major threat and only 46 percent of whom said the same of the U.S. military presence in East Asia.
    • The U.S. public was more concerned about China’s economic strength than its military strength by a wide margin (59 percent versus 28 percent).
      • College graduates were four times more likely than those who had not graduated from college to express more concern about China’s economic strength than its military strength (70 percent versus 16 percent).
  • In contrast, the Chinese public was more concerned about U.S. military strength (34 percent) than U.S. economic strength (20 percent). Sixteen percent of the Chinese public expressed concern over both these issues, while 21 percent expressed concern over neither (see figure 6).

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

National Direction and Policies
    • When the surveys were taken in mid-2012, clear majorities of the U.S. public were dissatisfied with the United States’ direction and current economic situation, while most of the Chinese public expressed satisfaction with China’s current situation.
    • Majorities in most categories of U.S. elites expressed overall approval of Obama’s foreign policy, with the exception of retired military elites. Only 38 percent of retired military elites approved of Obama’s foreign policy, while 56 percent disapproved.
    • Similarly, most American elites felt that Obama’s China policy struck the proper balance between being too tough and not tough enough, but a plurality of retired military elites felt that it was not tough enough.
      • Very few elites in any category saw Obama’s China policy as being too tough.
      • The American public was split between those who felt Obama’s China policy was not tough enough (45 percent) and those who felt it was just about right (39 percent); very few (2 percent) felt that it was too tough.
    • Notably larger percentages of U.S. elites than Chinese elites believed their country relies too much on military force.
      • Only 10 percent of the American public and an even smaller percentage of U.S. elites said the United States relies on military might too little.
  • Fairly large percentages of China’s public and elites (ranging from 36 percent of the public to 56 percent of military scholars) believed China relies too little on its military power; a large share (20 percent) of the Chinese public responded “don’t know.”
    • Only small percentages of China’s public and elites, ranging from 3 percent of nonmilitary scholars to 16 percent of the public and of media elites, thought China relies too much on military strength (see figure 7).

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Major Observations and Conclusions from Workshops


“Shared Leadership” Refers to a Multipolar System

Chinese and American elites concurred that the term “shared leadership” did not necessarily refer to a “Group of 2” arrangement wherein China and the United States form a dual partnership of global leadership. Rather, it refers to a more multipolar distribution of power and leadership.

China Has Traditionally Been Reluctant to Engage in Shared Leadership

Some Chinese elites emphasized that China has traditionally been rather self-centered and reluctant to exercise global leadership, whereas the United States has long been accustomed to being a leader in the world and is generally expected to fulfill that role. The survey results demonstrated these phenomena, with very few Chinese favoring sole Chinese leadership in the world—and a notable minority favoring sole U.S. leadership. As a specific example, one Chinese elite pointed to China’s cautious behavior as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its hesitance to impose its will on Central Asian countries, which contrasts to the way Russia and the United States interact with the region.

Chinese Attitudes Toward Global Leadership May Be Changing

Several Chinese elites agreed that China’s traditional reluctance to engage in shared leadership may be changing as its interests grow, increasing the incentives for Beijing to cooperate and contribute internationally—particularly on nontraditional security issues. One elite pointed to the fact that a majority of Chinese survey respondents wanted China to play a shared leadership role in the world as evidence that the Chinese people are willing to play by the rules of the current system.

One American elite agreed that Chinese attitudes toward global leadership seem to be changing, recalling that during bilateral U.S.-China negotiations in 2006, Beijing balked at the use of the term leadership and did not even want to discuss the concept. Thus, the substantial proportion of Chinese survey respondents who expressed a belief that shared leadership is a good idea seemed like a major change in a short period of time. More broadly, one American elite interpreted the data to suggest that the Chinese clearly favor a change from the status quo in which the United States is dominant, while Americans—particularly elites—oppose any diminution in U.S. power and any rise of a peer competitor.

However, a Chinese participant noted that there was still a sizable minority of Chinese elites who felt that China should not play any leadership role, whereas there were no American elites who felt the same about their country. One American media elite wondered if the example of U.S. fatigue after a decade of war and nation building, with all of the attendant public relations fiascoes, might have contributed to the reluctance of some Chinese to embrace a global leadership role.

One discussant further emphasized that it will still be a long process to persuade China to join fully in a shared global leadership role. He pointed to sayings from former Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping—such as Deng’s famous maxim “taoguang yanghui, 韬光养晦,” frequently understood as “to hide one’s capabilities and bide one’s time”—suggesting that even when China becomes powerful, it will not be ready to become a world leader.

But another elite responded by reiterating that many Chinese want China to play more of a leadership role in the world. This elite argued that the phrase taoguang yanghui is often misunderstood; its true meaning is that China should avoid confrontation with the United States, not that China should avoid shared global leadership.

Political Philosophy Shapes Attitudes Toward Leadership

One Chinese participant observed that China eschewed global leadership in the past partly because of its political ideology; Chairman Mao was critical of superpower competition. Today, political ideology continues to drive, at least in part, China’s opposition to interference from other countries in its internal affairs. Conversely, the United States believes that it has the best values and political philosophy in the world and thus feels that it should be a global leader.

Shared Leadership Means Cooperation in Making the Rules

One Chinese elite emphasized that one of the reasons China is increasingly seeking a shared leadership role is that it wants to have more influence in making rules in the international system, a process that has been dominated by the United States in the past. Another Chinese discussant pointed to a concept called idiosyncrasy credits in the social psychology literature. This concept describes how newcomers to an institution will abide by the rules in order to build up credit and eventually seek to use that credit to be involved in shaping the rules of the system themselves.

Potential Future Changes in Chinese Attitudes

Some American elites wondered how Chinese responses to questions about leadership and global power distribution might change in coming years as China continues its rise. In particular, some observers pointed to the traditional structural realist belief that states will seek to maximize power and thus current intentions cannot be taken as sure indicators of future objectives. (This suggests that long-term surveys are necessary to track how people’s expectations change as their country’s power grows—or diminishes.)

As evidence of this phenomena, one U.S. elite pointed to the fact that many Chinese feel Deng Xiaoping’s taoguang yanghui maxim was appropriate for his time but is no longer applicable. This elite also proffered an anecdote from a high-level Obama administration official, who recounted that when he asked the Chinese why they reacted so strongly to Taiwan arms sales that were less than they had been in the past, the Chinese responded, “Well, we’re stronger now.”

Need to Focus on Regional Roles

Several American and Chinese elites emphasized the need to focus more in the future on regional leadership than global leadership and to analyze what roles elites and the general public think China and the United States should play in the Asia-Pacific. For example, one American discussant speculated that although few Chinese favored sole Chinese global leadership, a much higher proportion of Chinese might favor sole Chinese regional leadership. In fact, this discussant suggested that a significant number of American elites believe that China desires to be the dominant power in Asia. Although some of the survey findings seem to contradict that belief, they do not specifically address regional leadership. (This topic could be examined further in future surveys.)

Leadership as a Hierarchical Term in Chinese

One Chinese elite observed that the term “leader” in Chinese (lingdaoren, 领导人) has a more hierarchical and exclusive connotation than it does in English, which could raise some questions among Chinese respondents. Why, for example, would the United States want China to become a leader when it is the primary world leader? In other words, the Chinese people may be more inclined to conflate hegemony with leadership.

Connotations of “Assertive” in Chinese and English

Several elites agreed that the terms “assertive” and “qiangshi (强势),” used as parallel concepts in the survey, are actually not quite equivalent. An American elite argued that assertiveness is not about power but is rather a term that contrasts with passivity. However, qiangshi does have a connotation that implies the assertion of one’s power.

Global Order and Stability

Different Meanings of “Shared Leadership” and “Balance of Power”

One U.S. discussant noted that the terms “shared leadership” and “balance of power” do not necessarily mean the same thing. Balance of power may seem like it has a Cold War connotation, but it in fact has many meanings—among other things, it could refer to an unequal balance of power or a regional balance of power. Another American participant commented that a “concert” of powers is different still from a balance of power. A concert of powers connotes a greater level of mutual agreement and cooperation between states and may be what some elites think of when they hear the term “shared leadership.”

Furthermore, one Chinese elite noted that there are two types of balance of power. One is a peaceful balance, and the other involves confrontation, as in the Cold War. The latter is far more dangerous and unstable. It is unclear which type of balance of power respondents to this survey had in mind.

U.S. Elites Favor Unipolarity Over Balance of Power

One American participant observed that the majority of U.S. elites considered a unipolar system more conducive to global stability while many Chinese favored a multipolar balance of power. Another U.S. discussant speculated that these numbers among American elites may have been even more lopsided in this direction a decade ago, during the administration of then U.S. president George W. Bush, when unipolar U.S. leadership was an explicit part of the U.S. national security strategy. A Chinese discussant stressed that if Americans cling to this old mentality of favoring unipolar American power, they will be more likely to think that China’s rise will be unstable.

Avoid a Binary Approach When Considering Global Roles and Power Structures

One American academic elite stressed the need to avoid a strictly bilateral approach to these questions. Viewing global power distribution in terms of hegemony versus bipolarity is an American mindset that belies the complexity of the international system. Various actors other than the United States and China will play important roles in both U.S.-Chinese relations and the global political arena in coming years.

Another U.S. elite agreed, suggesting that particular issues—for example, financial stability and climate change—will likely necessitate cooperation from several major countries and nonstate actors, and thus different structures of power may be relevant for each issue. In any event, according to this discussant, viewing the international system in terms of dominant leadership or balance of power is an overly binary approach to complex global realities.

Mutual Threat Perceptions

Why Many Chinese Business Elites See the United States as a Threat

A relatively high proportion of Chinese business community elites in the survey reported seeing the United States as a threat. The workshop discussants expressed some surprise at this finding, since businesspeople are generally thought of as more internationally minded. One Chinese elite emphasized that U.S. antidumping duties imposed on Chinese companies are a specific threat that may increase their tendency to see the United States as a threat in general. A U.S. participant also speculated that this phenomena may be because Chinese business elites see the U.S. domestic market as an inhospitable investment environment and perceive the United States as hostile to Chinese business interests around the world.

U.S. Media Elites’ Views of China Not as Negative as Media Coverage Would Suggest

According to one American discussant, many U.S. government officials complain that the media portrays the U.S.-China relationship as highly conflictual, thus affecting public perceptions. In particular, many have faulted the media for painting the U.S. pivot or rebalance to Asia as an effort to “contain” Beijing. However, U.S. media elites in the survey did not themselves view China or the relationship in a particularly negative light.

In response to these observations, one media elite at the workshop recounted a time when he was reporting on a train crash in India and someone said, “There are hundreds of trains every day that don’t crash; why don’t you report on those?” He used this anecdote to demonstrate that journalists report on news-making events and developments because that is the nature of news media. More specifically, this discussant argued that while the U.S. pivot is not entirely about China, it is part of the story. Another media representative emphasized that journalists have to give a range of perspectives in their reporting, even if it may not reflect their personal views.

Translation of “Threat” Versus “Danger”

In the open-ended question about which country presented the greatest danger, one Chinese discussant suggested that “weixian (危险)” may have been a more appropriate translation of the word “danger” than “weixie (威胁),” which means “threat.” This could potentially explain why a higher percentage of Chinese felt the United States was a threat to China relative to Americans’ views of China.

National Direction and Policies

Chinese Public Writ Large Is Not as Hawkish as Netizens

Both American and Chinese participants expressed surprise that only 36 percent of the Chinese general public felt that China should rely more on military strength. One Chinese elite speculated that these numbers among netizens, or citizens active in the online community, would be more like 80 or 90 percent. One American participant suggested that this may indicate that relying upon netizen opinion to measure public opinion writ large may be problematic, as the latter may not be as hawkish as the former. Another U.S. discussant suggested, however, that Chinese decisionmakers may be more influenced by the 80–90 percent among the netizens than the 36 percent among the general public.

Moreover, discussants from both countries agreed that it is likely that the share of the general public that felt this way would have been greater if the survey had been conducted after the recent flare-up in tensions over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands.

On this same question regarding China’s reliance on military strength, one Chinese discussant pointed to the large numbers of “don’t know” responses among the general public (over 20 percent) as a complicating factor in interpreting this data and to the “don’t know” responses among elites, which ranged from 5 to 14 percent, as evidence that many elite respondents may have felt the question was too sensitive.

Explaining Retired U.S. Military Elites’ Disapproval of Obama’s Foreign Policy

When asked why a majority of U.S. military elites disapproved of Obama’s foreign policy, one U.S. government elite suggested that three major issues over the past four years—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward gays in the military—created significant tension between the military and the White House. These issues could have translated into greater dissatisfaction among retired officers, who are able to express their views more freely than active-duty military personnel.

Another American elite with military experience suggested that the cuts that have been made to the defense budget were also a major factor that may have led retired military elites to disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy. However, this discussant did observe that the military appreciates that Obama has been more reluctant to militarily intervene in foreign countries. This relates to the question about use of military force and the fact that a majority of U.S. military elites felt that the United States relies too heavily on the use of military force in its foreign policy.

Political affiliations may also account for at least some of this disapproval, as retired military elites were more likely to be Republican than elites in the other categories.

Specific Challenges and Opportunities

The final set of survey findings and workshop discussions dealt with pressing practical issues in the bilateral U.S.-China relationship, ranging from U.S. arms sales to Taiwan to cybersecurity and intellectual property protection. Elite and public attitudes toward these specific topics can suggest directions for Washington and Beijing to pursue as they seek to strengthen cooperation and minimize conflict.

Major Relevant Findings From Surveys

Priorities for the U.S.-China Relationship
    • Strong majorities of U.S. elites (ranging from 81 percent of government officials to 94 percent of media elites) cited building a strong relationship with China as a very important U.S. policy priority (see figure 8).
      • Far smaller percentages cited economic and trade issues, human rights, Taiwan arms sales, and freedom for Tibet as very important.
    • Clear majorities of the U.S. public stressed the importance of being tough with China on economic and trade issues (56 percent); building a strong relationship with China (55 percent); and promoting human rights (53 percent).
      • Much smaller percentages of the U.S. public said the same about advocating more freedom for Tibet (36 percent) and continuing to sell arms to Taiwan (21 percent).
    • In response to an open-ended question about policy priorities, some U.S. experts considered managing the international balance of power between the two nations to be a top priority, though they were divided on the best approach.
      • While some said it was important to contain China by preventing a buildup of its military and countering its growing military power in Asia and the South China Sea in particular, there was also a desire to avoid conflict between the two countries by increasing military-to-military communication and learning to accommodate China’s growth as a world power.
  • Certain economic issues were also mentioned as priorities by U.S. elites—especially protecting intellectual property, improving cybersecurity, and opening up Chinese markets to U.S. exports.
  • Clear majorities of all Chinese elites cited building a strong relationship with the United States as a very important policy priority. This ranked higher than any other policy priority among all elite categories except government elites, who most frequently cited the need to strongly oppose U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
  • Slightly more than one-third of the Chinese public cited building a strong relationship with the United States as an important Chinese policy; 32 percent said it was the most important priority. A larger share (45 percent) identified opposing Taiwan arms sales as the most important priority.
  • In response to an open-ended question about policy priorities, Chinese elites most frequently stated that mutual trust and balance should be the highest priority in U.S.-China relations, followed by the economy and mutual benefit and cooperation.
    • Relatively few Chinese elites cited the need to increase China’s strength and counter threats as the most important policy priority vis-à-vis the United States.

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Potential Sources of Collaboration
    • In response to an open-ended question about potential sources of cooperation, U.S. elites cited the economy as the primary area for collaboration—for example, fostering global economic stability and developing equally beneficial interdependence.
      • American elites also mentioned the potential to collaborate to confront common threats (climate change, terrorism, pandemics, and hot spots on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East) and to engage in cultural and scientific exchanges.
  • Similarly, Chinese elites most frequently pointed to the economy as the most helpful way to improve U.S.-China cooperation—more than collaboration in science and technology, cultural exchanges, or other issues.
Greatest Concerns and Potential Sources of Conflict
    • U.S. elites generally expressed less concern than the U.S. public about China’s emergence as a world power (see figure 9).
      • Out of eleven potential sources of concern in U.S.-China relations included in the survey, only alleged cyberattacks from China were considered a very serious problem by at least half of the respondents in all five U.S. elite groups.
      • Relatively small minorities of U.S. elites saw China’s alleged human rights problems, China-Taiwan tensions, or China’s exchange rate policy as a very serious problem.
    • Clear majorities of the U.S. public regarded the U.S. debt held by China, loss of jobs to China, and the trade deficit with China as very serious problems.
      • Among the general public, Republicans were more concerned than Democrats about these three economic issues and about cyberattacks.
      • In contrast, U.S. elites did not express nearly as much concern over U.S. debt held by China, the trade deficit with China, or the loss of jobs to China. In only one case did more than 50 percent of any elite group view one of these issues as a very serious problem (53 percent of media elites saw U.S. debt held by China as a very serious problem).
        • Alleged intellectual property theft, however, was viewed as a very serious problem by U.S. elites, especially businesspeople (62 percent) and retired military elites (60 percent).
    • In response to an open-ended question about potential sources of conflict, U.S. elites most often pointed to regional territorial disputes, economic issues (especially intellectual property and currency), competition for regional dominance, and disagreements over North Korea and Iran.
      • Retired military and business elites also often cited competition over scarce natural resources.
    • There were no problems in the list of eight potential bilateral U.S.-China concerns that a majority of the Chinese public viewed as very serious. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were regarded by a significant share (45 percent) of the Chinese public as a very serious problem for China, followed by U.S. hegemony (39 percent), curbing China’s rise (that is, containment—37 percent), U.S. support for Tibet (33 percent), U.S. reconnaissance along China’s coast (32 percent), the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific (28 percent), China-U.S. trade (18 percent), and Internet security (last, at 17 percent).
    • Chinese government elites cited the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific as the most serious problem for China (57 percent), followed by U.S. efforts to contain China and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
      • Chinese media professionals, nonmilitary scholars, and military scholars identified U.S. containment of China as the most serious problem, while business elites pointed to U.S. hegemony.
  • In response to an open-ended question about potential sources of conflict in the relationship, Chinese elites mentioned military issues, followed by the economic realm and then Taiwan.
    • In response to a similar closed-ended question, China’s public and elites viewed Taiwan and then the South China Sea as the most likely among a list of potential sources of conflict over the next two to three years.

Public and elite attitudes in the United States and especially China are exerting a growing influence on the bilateral security relationship.

Taiwan Issue
    • Ten percent of the U.S. public indicated that they had heard a lot about China-Taiwan relations; a majority (54 percent) had heard a little, and a third had heard nothing.
      • The members of the U.S. public who had heard a lot about China-Taiwan relations were split between those who said the United States should use military force to defend Taiwan if China were to use force against the island (48 percent) and those who said the United States should not do so (43 percent).
      • While a strong majority of American elites favored U.S. use of force if China were to attack Taiwan without Taiwan having made a unilateral declaration of independence, a strong majority opposed the use of force if Taiwan were to make such a declaration.
  • More Chinese elites (61 percent) thought the United States would use force to intervene against a Chinese attack on Taiwan without a unilateral declaration of independence than thought the United States would do so if such a declaration were declared (46 percent).

Major Observations and Conclusions From Workshops

Priorities for the U.S.-China Relationship

U.S. Elites Prioritize Building Strong U.S.-China Relations

The majority of American elites surveyed prioritized building a strong U.S.-China relationship above all else. (This is also largely true of Chinese elites, though not to the same extent as American elites.) One U.S. discussant speculated that this could signify that U.S. elites feel that the United States and China are at a critical time when bilateral cooperation could be very positive and beneficial but that tensions could worsen down the road. Therefore, according to this discussant, U.S. elites could believe now is the time to take action and implement confidence-building measures to prevent the relationship from deteriorating.

One elite noted, however, that this does not necessarily mean elites are optimistic about the prospects for a positive relationship. Another discussant commented that although a wide range of elite respondents favored strong relations with China, there is likely wide variation in the policy measures they see as necessary for forging that kind of relationship.

Chinese Government Elites Prioritize a Strong U.S.-China Relationship

Although Chinese government elites in the survey indicated that they strongly endorsed opposing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, when they were asked to choose one policy priority for the bilateral relationship, the highest priority they identified was building a strong relationship with the United States.

However, one Chinese elite observed that if one of the options on the list of policy priorities had been to increase Chinese capabilities to constrain American actions and defeat the United States if necessary, many Chinese would have likely also supported that priority. Another discussant emphasized that the Chinese government and people have a two-sided policy and perspective on the United States. While they want to build a strong relationship, they also want to deter American behavior that they deem threatening, including nearby naval reconnaissance and Taiwan arms sales.

Another Chinese elite agreed, arguing that the Chinese people view America with both admiration and animosity, much as did Mao Zedong with his “American complex.” In policy terms, then, the areas of tension need to be brought under control and the areas of potential cooperation need to be prioritized.

Taiwan Issue

Taiwan Seen as Most Likely Source of U.S.-China Conflict

One survey question asked Chinese respondents what they saw as the most likely source of conflict between China and the United States in the next two to three years. One American elite expressed surprise that even though the question focused on such a short time horizon, most respondents still identified Taiwan, despite the positive state of cross-strait relations at present and the fact that the Kuomintang Party, which favors eventual reunification with the Chinese mainland, is in power.

Some of the Chinese discussants suggested this may have been because the respondents did not pay particularly close attention to the time frame attached to the question and instead focused on general sources of conflict. They also emphasized that this question was asking not about the likelihood of such a conflict in the next few years but rather what the cause would most likely be were such a conflict to occur. In particular, the question focused on conflict between the United States and China, and the Chinese discussants at the workshop felt it highly unlikely that any of the other factors besides the Taiwan issue would bring the United States into armed conflict with China. One Chinese participant explained that this is because China has not renounced the use of force on the Taiwan issue, but it has sworn off firing the first shot in other disputes. Another Chinese elite pointed to the fact that the United States would likely be unwilling to commit military force in other potential conflicts besides Taiwan, for example, with the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

One Chinese elite emphasized that the finding shows how seriously the Chinese people take the Taiwan issue. Another Chinese discussant speculated that the percentage of Chinese identifying Taiwan as the most likely source of conflict may have been even higher had this survey been done when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was in power in the early to mid-2000s.

Recent Disputes Over Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands Would Have Likely Changed Perceptions

This survey was conducted in spring–summer 2012. However, some Chinese elites suggested that the results to some of the questions on specific issues may have been different if the survey had been conducted after the flare-up in tensions over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands that began in September 2012. In particular, this dispute may have been seen as a more likely source of tension and conflict in the U.S.-China relationship even relative to the Taiwan issue.

Mismatch Between Chinese and Americans in Importance Attached to Taiwan Arms Sales

Chinese respondents viewed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as a much larger issue than Americans did. The Chinese saw it as a major impediment to U.S.-China relations, whereas the Americans placed it very low on a list of bilateral priorities. When a Chinese elite queried why the United States, then, continued this policy, an American discussant responded by pointing to a variety of factors, including the pressures from the U.S. military-industrial complex and its interests in selling arms to Taiwan, a desire to prevent Congress from intervening too much in the matter, and a genuine effort to deter a military solution and maximize the possibility of a peaceful resolution.

However, this U.S. elite emphasized that the level of arms sales should be related to the cross-strait situation based on objective criteria and the larger political context, particularly since the United States will not be able to maintain the cross-strait balance for the next thirty years in the way it has for the last thirty years because China will continue to build its military for other reasons besides Taiwan.

Another American participant expressed his opinion that arms sales to Taiwan are not viewed as a serious threat to the relationship, even in China, unless they were to grow to a level far above what has been seen previously. Thus, Americans in particular look at this problem and see it as far from the most important issue in the relationship.

Public Opinion on Military Intervention in Taiwan Issue May Not Affect U.S. Policy

American elites noted that although the general public does not strongly favor U.S. military intervention in a Taiwan conflict, this would not necessarily dictate U.S. decisionmaking in the event of a conflict.

Suggestions for Framing the Question of Intervention in a Taiwan Conflict

Several Chinese elites believed the questions asked of the American public about whether the United States should use military force to intervene in a conflict over Taiwan should have been framed with a hypothetical scenario of some sort (similar to that used in parallel questions posed to the elites, which posited Chinese use of force with and without a declaration of independence from Taiwan).

However, American discussants responded by explaining that most of the American public was ignorant of the complexities involved in this issue and such a framing would not necessarily reveal much beyond how Americans feel about foreign military intervention in general. In fact, because of this concern, this question was only asked of those 10 percent or so U.S. respondents who indicated that they had heard “a lot” about the Taiwan issue. Some of the Chinese participants felt strongly, however, that the question should have been posed to the entire general public sample, not solely those familiar with the issue.

Cyberattacks and Intellectual Property Theft2

Distinction Between Military Cyberespionage and Cyberattacks and Commercial Cybertheft

American elites emphasized the distinction between cyberespionage and cyberattacks conducted against military and governmental targets on one hand and commercial cybertheft on the other. The former is to be expected and is conducted by the U.S. security apparatus as well, although the U.S. government is loath to acknowledge or discuss this. However, according to these elites (and U.S. government statements), the latter is supposedly not conducted by the U.S. government for a variety of reasons. In contrast, these elites believe, rightly or wrongly, that commercial cybertheft is being carried out by official Chinese government- and PLA-affiliated organs.

One American elite noted that military cyberattacks and cyberespionage may become a greater irritant in the future if the U.S.-China relationship becomes more zero-sum and conflictual. For the moment, however, intellectual property theft is front and center in the minds of elites.

Why U.S. Elites See Cyberattacks and Intellectual Property Theft as Such Serious Issues

One American elite speculated that at present it would be irrational for China not to steal American intellectual property because there is no cost to doing so. Thus, according to some U.S. participants, American elites are struggling with how to make alleged commercial cybertheft more costly for China. Whether this viewpoint is based on an accurate assessment of the actual situation or not, there is a sense of anger about alleged Chinese commercial cybertheft in large parts of the community of people who pay attention to this, even some of those sympathetic to China. Although this issue did not register as much among the American public respondents, it did register high among all five U.S. elites as a serious irritant in the relationship.

The American discussants offered several possible explanations for why alleged Chinese cyberattacks and cybertheft of intellectual property rank so high among elites’ concerns. One participant observed that although there has always been intellectual property theft, cybertheft from China is now supposedly taking place on an unprecedented scale. Another discussant pointed to the sense of vulnerability that cyberattacks induce (regardless of the source of such attacks), as they present a new type of threat that elites may not feel prepared to confront.

In addition, one participant noted that the threat of cyberattacks is immediate rather than latent, which elevates its importance for many elites. Furthermore, many elites have themselves been targeted by what they view as supposed cyberattacks from Chinese sources in a way that the general public has not, so it can become more of a personal issue for them. Finally, elites argue, rightly or wrongly, that American industrial superiority is not always guaranteed and that intellectual property theft is one way China could supposedly gain a competitive advantage over the United States.

Chinese Concerns About U.S. Capabilities in Cyberspace and the Need for Rules

A Chinese elite chimed in during the discussion on cybersecurity issues to argue that China too has its own concerns related to these matters. Not only is China also victimized by cybercrimes, but many Chinese also fear that U.S. computer companies insert malicious technologies into their hardware and software. In the event of a U.S.-China conflict, Chinese fear those technologies could be activated and could wreak havoc on Chinese infrastructure. China also feels that the United States is generally far more advanced in computer and Internet technology. This Chinese elite argued that this sense of mutual victimization and vulnerability suggests the need for the two sides to sit down together and work through rules and mutual agreements on issues of cybersecurity.

Taiwan Issue for Chinese Comparable to Cybersecurity Issue for Americans

Chinese and American discussants thought that, in some ways, the cybersecurity issue is to Americans what the Taiwan issue is to the Chinese. American elites take the matter of cybersecurity very seriously but tend to discount the importance of Taiwan arms sales. Meanwhile, Chinese elites express major concern over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan but are less sensitive to U.S. complaints over cyberattacks. Each side feels that the other has cheated on these two issues. Thus, one Chinese elite suggested that if the two sides can make progress on both these matters, the relationship could be greatly improved.

Economic Issues

Partisan Difference in U.S. Concern Over Economic Issues Vis-à-Vis China

Among U.S. respondents, the top three issues for the general public—debt, jobs, and trade—were economic. Republicans were particularly concerned about these issues. One Chinese elite observed that he would have expected Democrats to be more concerned about these economic issues given their traditional skepticism toward free trade and outsourcing. American discussants responded by speculating that the timing of the survey was probably important in shaping the results. In particular, this survey was conducted in the midst of a presidential campaign wherein these issues were frequently raised, especially in the Republican primary, which may explain the partisan difference.

Economics Seen as Source of Both Conflict and Cooperation

In the open-ended questions asked of elites, economic matters were mentioned most frequently as a source of both potential conflict and potential cooperation. One American participant pointed to former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s statement that economics is the backbone of the U.S.-China relationship. However, if the business community were to sour on China, that could pose a serious challenge going forward. (This is one reason why this survey should be repeated in the future, so such attitudes can be tracked longitudinally.)

Another U.S. discussant provided examples of how the economic relationship between the United States and China exhibits a certain duality and how it has cooled in recent years. For instance, there were expectations five to six years ago that clean energy would be a major area of cooperation between the United States and China (and there still are such expectations to some extent). But in reality, clean energy has become an area of significant tension and conflict, with antidumping battles and competitive tensions over issues such as photovoltaics and wind towers.

In another example, although there was effective U.S.-Chinese cooperation through the Group of 20 in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, that collaboration waned significantly. And even though the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which aims to create a unified free-trade area across the Pacific, was originally not targeted at China and is still by and large not about containing China (though China is not a negotiating party), there is now a competing process—the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is based on a framework that includes countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan, and South Korea but excludes the United States.

Policy Implications and Suggestions3

While the survey data could be interpreted in many ways, what follows are some possible implications for decisionmakers and leaders in each country.

  • Take Advantage of the Political Room for Cooperation: Among elites and the general public in both countries, there is strong majority support for strengthening U.S.-China relations. There are also relatively small proportions of the public on both sides that see the other country as an enemy. This should encourage policymakers to enhance bilateral cooperation.
  • Move Away From Military Solutions: Arms buildups and military-oriented solutions to foreign policy challenges and bilateral conflicts were not strongly favored in either country, suggesting support among both publics and elites for decisionmakers to pursue policies designed to reduce such activities.
  • Top Leaders Need to Set the Example: Elites in particular emphasize the need to strengthen bilateral relations. However, there are a range of specific issues that could derail positive relations if they are not given effective policy attention (most importantly, military competition, cybersecurity and intellectual property concerns, and the Taiwan issue, among other topics). Sustained top-level leadership, including at the presidential level, is needed to guide and strengthen public opinion in support of a positive U.S.-China relationship. This will help give the relationship a stronger foundation that can withstand crises or tensions on certain issues.
  • Emphasize Cooperative Elements: The surveys clearly confirm the existence of both highly competitive and highly cooperative elements in the bilateral relationship. Some specific issues, especially in the economic realm, also contain both competitive and cooperative dynamics, likely reflecting mixed sentiments among elites and publics in both countries. This confirms the need for policymakers in the United States and China to better understand how and why specific policy issues generate competitive or cooperative behavior (or both) and to develop more effective policies designed to minimize competition and maximize cooperation. This is especially important given the possibility that the U.S.-China relationship could be entering a period of growing tension over a wide range of issues, from cybersecurity to maritime territorial disputes in East Asia.
  • Build Mutual Trust Through Cooperation, Exchange, and Dialogue: There are relatively low levels of trust between the United States and China, even though the relationship is generally seen as positive and both countries’ publics and elites alike favor strong ties. This could be problematic, as it suggests that there is only a thin buffer to protect the relationship when crises or acute tensions arise. To some extent, it may be that some of the most important ways to build trust are through implementing specific measures of policy cooperation and keeping bilateral commitments. However, these policy measures can encounter difficulties when trust is lacking (for example, the Chinese are very suspicious of the U.S. rebalance in part because they do not trust U.S. assurances that it is not about containing China). Thus, in order to build trust as a basis for cooperation, the two sides should work to deepen official and unofficial exchanges—especially in areas relating to security issues, such as military-to-military contacts—and engage in a more meaningful, deeper dialogue about long-term strategy and interests.
  • Explain Policy Intentions: Many Chinese elites express concern that the United States is seeking to contain China. Likewise, on the part of U.S. elites, there is concern over the uncertainty of China’s long-term intentions. Both sides need to do more to explain their intentions, particularly regarding the U.S. rebalance and China’s military growth.
  • Reconcile Divergent Views of Global Order: In particular, there is a clear divergence between American and Chinese elites on what distribution of power will best serve the interests of both sides and ensure global peace and stability. U.S. elites tend to favor a continuation of dominant or sole U.S. leadership in the world, whereas Chinese elites favor a more multipolar system. This difference could present a serious challenge to the relationship, especially in the Western Pacific, where Beijing is increasing its economic and military capabilities at a significant rate. The two countries would benefit from a much more far-reaching and in-depth discussion of how they intend to coexist and accommodate each other’s interests in the medium to long term in this vital region.
  • Rethink the Taiwan Issue: Elites and the public in the United States tend to underestimate the importance that the Chinese attach to the Taiwan issue (both American groups rank arms sales to Taiwan as a low priority while the Chinese attach strong importance to opposing these arms sales). At the same time, the Chinese do not sufficiently recognize the balance present in U.S. policy when they focus so heavily on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and apparently undervalue U.S. support for the One-China policy. This leads them to allow the issue to damage the overall U.S.-China relationship and military-to-military relations in particular. Both sides should rethink their understanding of this issue to enhance mutual trust.
  • Do Not Treat the Taiwan Issue as an Insurmountable Obstacle: At the same time, the data suggest that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan need not be an automatic and insurmountable impediment to the relationship. On one hand, U.S. elites and the public do not strongly prioritize this issue. On the other, while the Chinese do emphasize the need to oppose U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, they place an even higher priority on building strong relations with America. These data suggest that there may be room for the two sides to work together to reach an understanding on the Taiwan issue—or at least that it does not have to derail the broader relationship.
  • Establish Bilateral Rules on Cybersecurity: Elite opinion in the United States suggests that supposed Chinese intellectual property theft and cyberattacks are seen as the greatest sources of conflict and tension in the bilateral relationship at present. These views are particularly acute among business elites, who have historically been a stabilizing constituency in the U.S.-China relationship. Thus, these issues urgently need to be addressed by the two governments, with mutual rules and procedures to ensure better protections for commercial interests on both sides.
  • Media Should Emphasize the Positive: Representatives from the media in each country do not necessarily espouse more negative views toward the other country than other elite groups or the public. In fact, in some cases, their attitudes are more positive. This suggests that there may be room for them to do more positive reporting on the U.S.-China relationship, particularly since elites who might provide commentary and expert opinion tend to favor stronger bilateral relations. The media should reach out to experts who will provide positive commentary, not only those who are inflammatory. Likewise, governmental, business, and scholarly elites should reach out to the media to help guide the conversation in a positive direction.
  • Keep Social Media Opinion in Perspective: The Internet and social media tend to amplify and reward extremist viewpoints. Much of the data in this survey reveal a general public in both countries that is less extreme, less hawkish, and less adversarial than the tone of social media (or the media in general) might suggest. Chinese and American policymakers should keep this in mind and not let extremist views expressed online or in the broader media hijack the relationship or force their hand on policy decisions.
  • Engage in Cultural Exchanges: There is an appreciation in both countries of various positive characteristics associated with the other country’s people. This suggests that there may be room for more cultural exchange and that people on both sides may be open to learning from each other’s culture.


1  For the report on U.S. survey results, see “U.S. Public, Experts Di¬ffer on China Policies,” Pew Research Center, September 18, 2012, www.pewglobal.org/2012/09/18/u-s-public-experts-differ-on-china-policies. For the report on Chinese survey results, see “Report on 2012 China-U.S. Security Perceptions Project,” Research Center for Contemporary China, December 2012, available at www.for-peace.org.cn.

2  These workshops took place in early 2013, prior to the revelations by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s cyberespionage activities. As those activities have come to light, many Chinese have expressed their feeling that the revelations blunted the force of U.S. complaints about China in this area.

3  The Pew Research Center does not take policy positions and was not involved in developing any of the policy recommendations contained in this report.

Navigating a New U.S.-Japan Defense Technology Frontier

James L. Schoff

March 10, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/03/10/navigating-new-u.s.-japan-defense-technology-frontier/i4b8


Deeper U.S.-Japan defense technology cooperation can enhance the allies’ military advantage beyond what either can accomplish alone while avoiding a regional arms race.


Japan’s government is overhauling the way it develops, procures, and exports defense equipment and technology in a series of bold steps begun in April 2014 that should open a new avenue of U.S.-Japan security cooperation. It could be the most significant change in this area since 1954, when Japan established and began supplying its own Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

Fortuitously, Japan’s effort coincides with a recent U.S. defense technology initiative aimed to “sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st Century.” It was launched amid concerns that America’s qualitative advantage is eroding steadily.

The United States and Japan should be able to collaborate more closely on developing the next generation of military technologies for mutual benefit and to help undergird regional stability. The allies already have experience cooperating on missile defense, and both countries’ defense industries are currently exploring new business opportunities. But a higher level of strategic collaboration can be pursued. A good time to begin shaping this cooperation is at the expected rollout of new bilateral defense cooperation guidelines in April 2015.

There are, of course, challenges to deeper collaboration. Questions remain about how far Japan’s government and industry will push these new boundaries and whether or not the allies can identify significant practical benefit for new technology cooperation and manage it more effectively than they have in the past. In addition, emerging powers like China that are investing in their own military might feel compelled to keep pace with a major defense innovation push by the United States, and Japan’s involvement could complicate this dynamic.

In fact, a major objective of such U.S.-Japan cooperation is to make a regional arms race seem both unappealing and unnecessary to Beijing, by maintaining a comfortable military edge without threatening China. Ineptly pursued, however, this confluence of the two countries’ defense technology initiatives could exacerbate regional suspicion even as it fails to qualitatively improve the allies’ defense condition.

Still, the potential benefits of bilateral collaboration make it worth taking on these challenges. Success requires deft diplomacy and an element of restraint, along with smart investments in technological innovation.

A Turning Point for Japan’s Defense Industry

Japan’s move to begin participating in the global defense market is just one part of a new national security strategy unveiled in late 2013 by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Concerned with rising Chinese military spending and activity amid bilateral tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea, as well as North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile programs, the Abe government took steps to strengthen its crisis management capability. It is also loosening legal restrictions on the SDF to allow the force to better defend the country and contribute more to regional stability.

Japan’s new security strategy includes enhancing its defense production and technological bases, in part by strengthening international competitiveness. Overall, Tokyo is approaching defense procurement reform as a two-level strategy to help domestic firms at the micro-level reach the highest international standards and to diversify Japan’s security relationships at the macro-level through broader and deeper defense equipment and technology cooperation with trusted partners.

Accomplishing this strategy involves policy moves designed to extract more value from Japan’s limited defense spending, to strengthen the country’s defense industrial sector (for both economic and national security benefits), and to bolster alliance cooperation with the United States and other partners (to enhance competitiveness and deterrence).

Tokyo started to implement the defense-industry component of the strategy by revising its principles on the transfer of defense equipment and technology in April 2014. Until this administration, Japanese governments since the end of World War II have effectively banned defense exports as a way to demonstrate the country’s commitment to peace and avoid foreign entanglements. This included items that contained any Japan-made content, which made Japanese firms undesirable business partners because a co-developed product could only be sold in Japan.

Tokyo allowed a few exceptions when the United States and Japan collaborated on certain missile defense and aircraft technologies, but this never opened the door to meaningful exports. Instead, Japan’s defense industry focused only on the domestic market, developing some sophisticated capabilities but in small quantities and at relatively high prices.

Under the new rules, Japan now allows defense transfers overseas in a variety of situations, including those that support peacekeeping and disaster relief efforts as well as “international cooperation.” Transfers are also permitted when they contribute to Japan’s national security, such as by implementing joint development projects or otherwise deepening defense cooperation with allies and partners. Tokyo will still abstain from arms sales if they violate treaty obligations or United Nations–backed sanctions, or if they would be sales to a country in a current conflict where the UN is trying to broker peace.

The new rules also allow follow-on sales to another country beyond the initial buyer (a so-called third-party transfer) when “appropriate control” of that technology is ensured, which widens the potential market further. The first export license Japan issued under the new rules was for a small gyroscope used by the United States in the Patriot missile defense system (to be sold to Qatar), but it will not be long before the government is issuing licenses for parts of a submarine sold directly by Japan to Australia or an entire patrol plane to India.

Japan followed up its revised principles for defense transfers by publishing a Strategy on Defense Production and Technological Bases in June 2014 that aims to help industry navigate both the greater competition and the opportunities expected from the new transfer policies. The strategy calls for forging long-term government and industry partnerships, doubling the upper limit for contract length out to ten years, promoting international joint development of certain technologies, formulating a research and development vision for the industry, and strengthening research cooperation with universities, among several other measures.

To lay the groundwork for international collaboration, Japan has negotiated a series of defense equipment cooperation agreements with Australia, France, India, and the United Kingdom (so far) to complement its existing pact with the United States. These agreements create legal frameworks for Japan to participate in joint research, development, and production of defense technologies with partners, and they establish joint committees to manage each relationship. This should create more opportunities for Japanese industry and could even facilitate trilateral cooperation in certain cases involving the United States, Japan, and one other partner. Early ideas being considered include Japan-UK collaboration on an improved air-to-air missile and Japan-U.S. cooperation on a new amphibious vehicle to sell in Japan and abroad. These are incremental steps, but they could become more ambitious over time.

The final major part of Japan’s process of shoring up its defense industry is the formation of a new agency to oversee the entire procurement process, from R&D and identifying military requirements all the way through selection, purchasing, and life-cycle management of the equipment.

Over the course of 2015, Japan will stand up an Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) under the minister of defense, consolidating functions that had been scattered around the ministry and the SDF branches and adding new capabilities to manage international collaboration and exports. Roughly 1,800 officials and SDF personnel will work in ATLA under an agency commissioner reporting directly to the defense minister (see figure). ATLA will be responsible for policy, R&D, testing and evaluation, project management, contracting, technology security, and other functions in close cooperation with the SDF, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), and the National Security Secretariat.

Deeper U.S.-Japan defense technology cooperation can enhance the allies’ military advantage beyond what either can accomplish alone while avoiding a regional arms race.


An Alliance Opportunity

If Japan took these policy steps a couple of decades ago amid lingering U.S.-Japan trade tensions, suspicion in Washington would have run high that Tokyo’s main goal was to seek to increase its market share at the expense of U.S. defense firms. Today, however, U.S. policymakers are welcoming Japan’s moves, in part for the opportunity to broaden the United States’ supplier network, improve cost efficiency, enhance alliance interoperability, and maintain an allied edge in certain military technologies where they fear other states are gaining.

As such, revised defense guidelines almost completed by the two governments will likely describe equipment and technology cooperation as a new bilateral enterprise. And large U.S. defense firms like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are currently upgrading their corporate presence in Japan to take advantage of these changes. This should lead to increased bilateral defense research and procurement collaboration in an almost organic or market-driven way, but the overall impact will be modest if there is not additional leadership on the issue and investment.

The allies have an opportunity to move beyond this incremental approach and take their cooperation to a higher level by involving Japan as a partner in executing the U.S. Defense Innovation Initiative. Also known as the Third Offset Strategy, this Defense Department effort harkens back to America’s Cold War military competition with the Soviet Union. It is being placed in a similar context as then president Dwight Eisenhower’s “New Look” of the 1950s and the second “offset strategy” developed in the 1970s and 1980s to address perceived defense gaps in the face of Soviet numerical or technological advantages.1 This time, China has joined Russia as a major concern, primarily due to its development of accurate long-range missiles and integrated air defense systems, its progress toward fielding fifth-generation fighter aircraft and well-equipped nuclear-powered submarines, and its significant cyberwarfare and space capabilities.2

China’s advances are expected to increase the vulnerability of U.S. bases in Asia and the United States’ most expensive weapons platforms. This vulnerability, in turn, could call into question America’s willingness to risk conflict escalation with China and thus undermine deterrence stability under certain circumstances. Many U.S. officials see foreign military investments by China, Russia, Iran, and others as designed to deter and defeat a regional intervention by the U.S. military, which is a concern to Japan as well.3

In response, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work has emphasized the need to provide U.S. military personnel a competitive advantage, “so that they will never find themselves evenly matched in a conflict.” He called this “the essence of deterrence and what will ultimately safeguard all of our interests.”4

An important aspect of this new U.S. initiative is a Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program to identify, develop, and field breakthrough technologies in the areas of space, undersea, air dominance and strike, and air and missile defense as well as a flexible basket of emerging technologies. The Defense Department organized small teams for each category, drawing on the best talent in the government and military, which will solicit and receive information from industry, academia, federal labs, think tanks, and others—including from other countries. The department wants early results completed in time for inputs to the fiscal year 2017 budget submission, but once initiated, these technology programs could carry on for years and possibly decades.

The Defense Department is placing particular emphasis on the fields of autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and advanced manufacturing. Japanese prowess in robotics, energy storage, artificial intelligence, and other U.S. focus areas make this a natural new avenue for bilateral cooperation, involving not only traditional Japanese defense firms but also off-the-shelf commercial technologies from Japan repurposed for defense application.

The defensive nature of many of these systems makes them good candidates for bilateral collaboration, given Japan’s political sensitivity to offensive arms exports. Such collaboration could make cheaper and more effective missile defenses (using electromagnetic rail guns or directed energy), for example, that could defeat Chinese cruise missiles without threatening China itself. Unmanned underwater vehicles might strengthen deterrence vis-à-vis Chinese or Russian submarine operations. Improving the resiliency of forward bases and space-based command-and-control systems are other priorities, and all should be within Japan’s political limits.

Still, although the potential benefits of collaboration are great, so are the challenges.

Obstacles and Dangers Ahead

Some of these challenges stem from a lack of clarity about how Japan will implement its revised policies, how Japan’s corporate culture will respond, and what steps the allies take to manage this unique kind of public-private sector cooperation. Navigating this new frontier will require patience, persistence, flexibility, and consistent leadership attention.

The United States and Japan share a sense of urgency about trying to take advantage of this opportunity, but old habits are hard to break, regardless of whether they reside in the government or private sectors. Many Japanese bureaucrats, for example, hoped that last year’s defense transfer relaxation would stimulate multiple corporate deals and export license applications in something of a market-driven dynamic, but companies have been cautious. Japanese firms in particular are looking for more guidance from the government regarding what kinds of collaboration will be supported, and it will take an accumulation of new applications and precedents to clarify what ventures will contribute to “peace,” “international cooperation,” or “Japan’s security.” Japanese executives note that simply making money is not a sufficient reason to receive export license approval, and many would feel more comfortable working within a government-to-government framework at this early stage.

A policy-driven approach to defense technology cooperation, however, will take time to coordinate between the allies. To start with, the United States and Japan have slightly different ways of managing the process. The Defense Policy Bureau in Japan has traditionally overseen the fulfillment of the SDF’s acquisition needs, but its U.S. counterpart only supports the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, who has the lead role in the United States. Additionally, there is a bilateral tool for coordinating government-to-government cooperation on defense-related R&D—the Systems and Technology Forum (S&TF)—but it was not designed to consider the wide range of cooperation options that now exist.

The recent introduction of a Capabilities Group to the S&TF is helping to bridge the gap between each country’s determination of technology requirements and how to acquire them, but it is possible that further adjustments will be needed if the allies are to take full advantage of the opportunity before them. The S&TF, for example, only involves the Ministry of Defense on the Japan side, but many of Japan’s technologies that interest Washington—energy storage, certain materials, and others—are not necessarily under the purview of the Defense Ministry. Consequently, the U.S. side will need to build linkages to the wider civilian-industry community in Japan, including in the space and cybersecurity arenas, via other ministries.

Another challenge is the legal confusion about what kinds of assurances Japan requires regarding third-party transfer. The lack of clarity in this area has added time-consuming procedures to gain approval for the few exports to date, so this needs to be streamlined. New legislation and regulation are also possible in Japan, perhaps in the form of a Defense Production Act to guarantee a reliable supply chain and/or new rules to protect Japan’s technology security. Accessing classified information in general is already a complex and expensive procedure for companies new to the process, and some believe that an industry annex to the bilateral agreement on securing military information might be required.

Japan’s revamped defense procurement agency should help address many of these challenges, but ATLA will not be fully operational until the fall of 2015, and it is not clear yet how effective and efficient it will be. Some in Japan already complain that the current ATLA plan leaves the agency understaffed and without sufficient funds to carry out all of its new responsibilities. This has the Defense Ministry looking for ways to leverage other parts of the Japanese government to assist, perhaps by conducting defense R&D in certain METI-funded laboratories that are already in operation or receiving marketing or financing help from other agencies currently providing this support to Japanese industry overall. The other ministries will cooperate to some extent, but their primary responsibilities are not in the defense arena.

On the U.S. side, Congress has put in place a variety of restrictions related to international defense procurement in general, and these cannot be sidestepped until Tokyo and Washington conclude a Reciprocal Defense Procurement memorandum of understanding. The U.S. government has signed these with several other partners, but doing so involves a review process that can take up to two years. Moreover, the U.S. defense technology and procurement structure is so expansive that it often defies a coherent process that moves predictably from the identification of requirements to R&D and then to acquisition, with a compatible disclosure policy that facilitates international participation. Industry representatives in both countries are actively exploring new opportunities and partnerships, but all of these uncertainties make them hesitant to consider major new investments.

Besides this bureaucratic or legal risk, Japanese firms also face an element of reputational risk. Defense-related sales often make up just a small percentage of a company’s total revenue, and many executives worry that high-profile arms exports might alienate the peace-loving Japanese public. Even if the defense operation is a separate division within a well-known Japanese electronics firm, for example, the business name might be tied to the weapons sales, which could generate more harm than good for the company overall. This is truer for companies considering a new entry into the defense industry supply chain. A few Japanese universities and science labs are beginning to collaborate on some research with defense applications, but this is politically sensitive for them as well.

Finally, the allies must also consider how neighboring countries might react to an allied push into the next generation of military technologies, especially one so clearly designed to counter recent Chinese advances. One country’s deterrent can always be another country’s perceived threat, which means the way in which Washington implements its new defense initiative will affect the security environment.

China’s response does not necessarily have to be negative, but that depends in part on whether or not Washington pursues its innovation initiative in ways that serve wider regional interests. The United States has a positive (though not perfect) track record when it possesses significant military advantages in support of public goods. Asia’s prosperity and relative stability since the end of the Cold War supports this observation. Japan, too, wants Washington to be confident in its ability to control escalation and discourage military adventurism in the region.

Early in the Defense Innovation Initiative, the Defense Department outlined multiple goals such as providing a significant warfighting advantage, disrupting and countering material investment strategies pursued by potential future adversaries, and imposing significant costs on future adversaries. This is sure to raise alarm bells in Beijing, and Moscow as well, but there are ways to dampen a potential arms race. If the allies can demonstrate an ability to develop new defense systems affordably, and if those new systems offer the allies military advantages to negate an opponent’s power projection without raising existential concerns, then this might actually foster restraint by making an effort to keep pace appear unsustainable and less necessary. The latter point can be strengthened by open-minded diplomacy and a focus on common interests.

Failure in this area, however, could foster mutual suspicion and a fruitless pursuit of total security and military dominance that would inevitably lead to greater defense investment by China (given its means), feeding into a vicious cycle. This will have expensive implications in terms of financial, human, and opportunity costs, echoing the Cold War experience. In that example, U.S. and Soviet defense budgets rose steadily through the 1970s and 1980s to reach about 6 percent and 30 percent of annual GDP, respectively, spending over $2 trillion combined on weapons procurement and R&D during that time.5 It was a tremendous waste, but it shows the lengths that countries will go to if they believe that their vital security interests are threatened.

Recommendations for a New Bilateral Enterprise

Investing time and money in U.S.-Japan defense technology cooperation can enhance the allies’ military advantage beyond what either can accomplish alone. Although it is not aimed foremost at reducing procurement costs, it might help in this regard, either through better manufacturing processes, more efficient sourcing, or improving such systems as missile defenses using directed energy instead of expensive missile interceptors. Cooperation can also facilitate breakthroughs that could be applied to other fields such as energy efficiency, protecting against terrorist threats, or mitigating environmental challenges and natural disasters.

Still, the main purpose of this new enterprise should be to reduce allied vulnerabilities and demonstrate clearly that military coercion or adventurism against their interests in the region cannot succeed. This will have to be combined with assurances and corresponding actions that show the interests of other stakeholders in the region will be respected, lest cooperation accelerate a costly security dilemma.

Until there is greater mutual agreement among the major nations in Asia regarding the region’s future, a concert of powers is unlikely to be harmonious and deterrence will remain vital. A Cold War redux should be avoidable in Asia given the absence of a true ideological struggle, growing economic interdependence, and many shared interests. The region’s nascent security architecture, however, is unable to prevent some countries from resorting to force to seize economic or military advantage, as they acquire the means and confidence to do so.

There is no single approach to successfully navigate this new defense technology frontier in alliance cooperation. The effort will be both driven by the market from the bottom up and guided—and occasionally subsidized—by top-down policymaking. Private firms will look to build partnerships and find ways to solve supply chain and technical problems, to make existing products more efficiently, and to develop innovative ways to satisfy evolving military requirements. The two governments, meanwhile, can also communicate and build an enabling environment for bilateral cooperation including opportunities for long-term R&D collaboration in key strategic areas.

The U.S. secretaries of defense and state plan to meet their Japanese counterparts this spring at a so-called 2+2 meeting ahead of a leaders’ summit in Washington between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Abe. As the two countries’ defense and foreign policy leaders roll out the revised defense cooperation guidelines at the meetings, they should highlight this new bilateral enterprise of defense technology cooperation and instruct alliance managers to clarify policy objectives and mobilize an interagency effort to make the most of this opportunity.

The first step is for leadership in both countries to endorse long-term bilateral technology cooperation in support of certain U.S. and allied military requirements, and to involve Japan in the U.S. Defense Innovation Initiative when advantageous. Implementing this collaboration will likely require supplementing or expanding the bilateral Systems and Technology Forum with civilian agency, private sector, and academic involvement to better assess long-term technology trends and consider options to address a wide range of security challenges.

Policymakers should also enhance current S&TF linkages to the ongoing alliance dialogues on bilateral planning and military roles, missions, and capabilities so that U.S.-Japan cooperation is truly responsive to warfighter needs. At the same time, foreign and defense policy leaders need to coordinate closely on a strategy to reassure neighboring countries, maintain sufficient transparency, and consider ways to avoid an arms race in the region.

In addition, the two countries can facilitate government-industry communication to identify and remove obstacles to bilateral cooperation without jeopardizing technology security. An early issue is expediting the conclusion of a Reciprocal Defense Procurement memorandum of understanding. Leaders can also provide modest additional defense funding for R&D and public-private partnerships in Japan and the United States to incentivize cooperation and contributions from industry, academia, and other government bodies.

Meanwhile, industry in both countries should move quickly with small-scale cooperative projects to help establish administrative precedents while the architects of Japan’s new policies are in their current positions. Now is the time to invest—even if modestly—in order to clarify regulatory parameters and deepen personal networks in these fields. Focusing on defensive systems like missile defense, sensors, and reconnaissance early on will make it easier to win public and diplomatic support.

Change is coming to U.S.-Japan defense technology cooperation, but the extent to which this change contributes to peace and stability in East Asia depends on how effectively the two governments can harness this potential. They must organize for success and draw on all of the talent at their disposal—public, private, military, and civilian—while balancing long-term ambition with practical problem solving and the efficient use of resources.

It is okay to start slowly but important to start now, building in time to review performance and make improvements along the way. A strong technology edge for the allies will serve them and the region well in the future, just as it has before.


1 Robert Martinage, Toward a New Offset Strategy: Exploiting U.S. Long-Term Advantages to Restore U.S. Global Power Projection Capability, (Washington: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014), http://csbaonline.org/publications/2014/10/toward-a-new-offset-strategy-exploiting-u-s-long-term-advantages-to-restore-u-s-global-power-projection-capability/.

2 See The Role of Maritime and Air Power in DoD’s Third Offset Strategy, 113th Cong. (2014) (statement of David Ochmanek, senior defense analyst with Rand Corporation); or A Case for Reform: Improving DOD’s Ability to Respond to the Pace of Technological Change, 114th Cong. (2015) (statement of Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics).

3 Kendall, 2015.

4 Claudette Roulo, “Offset Strategy Puts Advantage in Hands of U.S., Allies,” DoD News, January 28, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=128064.

5 Compiled by the author using the World Bank for U.S. GDP data, U.S. Office of Management and Budget for U.S. defense data, UN statistics for Soviet Union GDP data, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “Comparison of Soviet and U.S. Defense Activities from 1973-1987,” (published July 1988) for Soviet Union defense data.


Beyond American Predominance in the Western Pacific: The Need for a Stable U.S.-China Balance of Power

Michael D. Swaine

April 20, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/04/20/beyond-american-predominance-in-western-pacific-need-for-stable-u.s.-china-balance-of-power/ijn1

Policymakers in the United States, China, and other Asian powers must choose whether to deal forthrightly and sensibly with the changing regional power distribution or avoid the hard decisions that China’s rise poses until the situation grows ever more polarized and dangerous.

A shorter version of this essay entitled “The Real Challenge in the Pacific: A Response to ‘How to Deter China’” appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs.

In 2011, I argued in a book entitled America’s Challenge: Engaging a Rising China in the Twenty-First Century, that, while Washington and Beijing are by no means fated to enter into a hot or even a cold war, the competing assumptions they hold regarding the necessary conditions for long-term stability and prosperity in Asia, if not moderated through a process of mutual accommodation, would likely result in steady movement toward a zero-sum, adversarial mind-set. I wrote that this dynamic could eventually polarize the region and undermine the goals of continued peace and prosperity toward which all sides strive. Unfortunately, in the past three years, this type of mind-set has deepened, in and out of both governments and across much of Asia. Indeed, the international media, along with a coterie of regional and international relations specialists, increasingly seem to interpret every action taken by one government, no matter how small, as being by necessity designed to diminish the position of the other.

Even more worrisome, this deepening mind-set is driving policy statements and recommendations in Beijing and Washington that serve to reinforce and strengthen, rather than moderate, the differences between the two sides. While China’s leader, Xi Jinping, speaks of the need to develop an “Asia for Asians” and to create a new regional security architecture as an alternative to the “Cold War era” U.S.-led bilateral alliance structure, American policymakers and analysts criticize Beijing for establishing an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea of the sort long possessed by Washington and Tokyo and encourage other Asian states to resist joining Chinese-initiated economic institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Clashing Assumptions on the Foundations of the Asian Order

The core assumptions underlying this negative dynamic juxtapose, on the one side, the post–World War II American notion that long-term order and prosperity depend on the unique leadership role and dominant military power of the United States as a security guarantor, dispute arbiter, deterrent force, supporter of international law, and provider of public goods for states located in critical regions of the world, including the maritime Asia-Pacific. Indeed, for virtually all U.S. officials and many Asian leaders, American military predominance, meaning the clear ability to defeat any potential military challenge to U.S. and allied interests anywhere along the Asian littoral and across the Western Pacific, from the continental United States to the Indian Ocean, has provided the foundation for a seventy-year-long period of relative peace and economic growth throughout most of the region. In this view, U.S. maritime primacy has forestalled arms races and armed disputes over long-standing rivalries and permitted a sustained focus on peaceful economic development.

On the other side, the Chinese espouse the belief that order and prosperity, especially in an increasingly multipolar and interdependent world, should rely on a largely benign and roughly equal balance of power between the major nations, rooted in the need to cooperate to manage an arguably increasing number of common challenges and mediated, whenever possible, through international institutions such as the United Nations. In this more broadly dispersed yet hierarchical power structure, stronger powers have a duty both to guide and shape smaller powers in mutually beneficial directions, not to dominate and manipulate them. In this world, no single power should have the ability or the intention to keep other powers in a condition of military or political subservience, and no power should seriously infringe on the sovereignty of another power without the endorsement of the international community.

To some extent, these U.S. and Chinese views are self-serving. While taking on many burdens across the globe in defending public goods such as sea lines of communication and enduring persistent trade deficits in order to stimulate global development, Washington nonetheless benefits enormously from a U.S.-led international order in which its views and preferences are given special consideration. Its military power and economic clout ensure a privileged position in major finance, trade, and security-oriented regimes, meaning that the makeup, purpose, and rules of those regimes largely reflect its power and interests, operate in ways that affirm U.S. views on the most critical issues, and cannot be changed in major ways without Washington’s approval. Conversely, the Chinese seem to believe that a genuine balance-of-power system and a strengthened process of rules-based, international decisionmaking—meaning that no single power has the clear unilateral ability to compel others to accept its rules and procedures—will benefit China by giving it a greater voice among nations and serving to restrain a supposedly arrogant, unilateralist, and at times threatening the United States.

Aside from such obvious self-interest, however, policy communities in both nations genuinely believe that their preferred international distribution of power best reflects the current and future reality of the international system: For most Americans, despite the forces of globalization, which are creating ever more dispersed and interdependent levels of economic, political, social, and military power among nations, peace and stability only results from the unique ability of a single, relatively benign superpower to shape, lead, and deter major threats to global peace and prosperity. For the Chinese, all major industrialized powers seek to control the international order in ways that can and at times do weaken or threaten lesser (and especially developing) powers and to varying degrees diminish the overall stability and prosperity of the system. However, in light of the steady diffusion of power occurring across the international system, many Chinese also believe that even the most powerful states will need to overcome their drive for dominance and cooperate in unprecedented ways.

Despite such stark differences, these views coexisted more or less peacefully for many decades after World War II, primarily because Beijing had neither the capacity nor the desire to alter the U.S.-dominated order, both globally and in maritime Asia. From the 1950s through the late 1970s, China was wracked by economically and socially destructive Maoist ideological campaigns and internecine political struggles, and it was threatened by the Soviet Union, its huge, better-armed continental neighbor to the north. Such problems not only distracted China’s leaders for decades but also eventually compelled them to embark on an unprecedented overture to the West, both to counter the Soviet Union and to facilitate the kind of market-driven economic development strategy that was needed to reestablish China as a major regional and possibly global power. In fact, under such conditions, many Chinese viewed American predominance in maritime Asia and the U.S.-led alliance system that sustained it as on balance beneficial to China. It kept the Soviets largely out of the region, kept Japan nonmilitarized and oriented toward peace, and allowed Beijing’s Asian neighbors to concentrate on outward-oriented, beneficial economic growth instead of disruptive arms races or historical rivalries. Washington was only too happy to oblige Beijing in sustaining such an order.

All this is now changing, at least in Asia. China’s overseas trade- and investment-driven economic success, the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes, and the fear—intensified by the massive Tiananmen demonstrations and bloody crackdown of 1989 as well as the more recent color revolutions—that the Chinese regime could be the next to fall, have vastly increased China’s dependence on and influence over external economic, political, and social forces across Asia and beyond, while deepening its sense of vulnerability and suspicion toward the United States. Prior to the reform era, China’s wealth and power derived largely from domestic sources, many located far from its coastline, and its security relied, by necessity, on a largely peasant-based but massive army and only rudimentary air and naval forces. These factors, along with its acquisition of a small nuclear weapons arsenal in the 1960s, made it possible for Beijing to rely on a security strategy of nuclear deterrence through a modest second-strike capability and attrition through a protracted conventional defense centered on “luring the enemy in deep.”1

This strategy can no longer provide adequate security for China. Beijing must now defend against threats before they can reach the Chinese homeland and vital coastal economic centers. For the first time in its history, Beijing now has both the ability and the motivation to seek to diminish significantly if not eliminate the potential threat to its domestic and growing regional economic interests posed by America’s long-standing predominance in the Western Pacific. Indeed, its ongoing acquisition of military capabilities designed in large part to counter or complicate U.S. and allied air, naval, missile, space, and cyber operations along its maritime periphery, as well as its increasing economic and political-diplomatic initiatives across the Asian littoral and its call for a new, post–Cold War cooperative security architecture for the Asia-Pacific, partly serve such ends. Moreover, the desire to reduce America’s past maritime superiority and economic power has become more achievable and hence more compelling to many Chinese as a result not only of China’s continued economic success but also of the troubles now plaguing America and the West, from anemic economic growth and domestic political dysfunction to image concerns resulting from arguably unjust Middle East wars and apparent egregious human rights abuses.

This should not be surprising to anyone who understands modern Chinese history and great power transitions. Beijing has an ongoing and likely long-term and deep incentive to work with the United States and the West to sustain continued, mutually beneficial economic growth and to address a growing array of common global and regional concerns, from pandemics to climate change and terrorism. At the same time, it understandably wishes to reduce its vulnerability to potential future threats from the United States and other politically and militarily strong nations, while increasing its overall influence along its strategically important maritime periphery. As Beijing’s overseas power and influence grow, its foreign interests expand, and its domestic nationalist backers become more assertive, it will naturally become less willing to accept or acquiesce in international political and economic relationships, norms, and power structures that it believes disproportionately and unjustly favor Western powers; put China at a strategic, political, or economic disadvantage; or generally fail to reflect movement toward a more multipolar global and regional power structure. It will also likely become more fearful that a declining (in relative terms) Washington will regard an increasingly influential China as a threat to be countered through ever more forceful or deliberate measures. Indeed, this view is already widespread among many Chinese observers.

One does not need to cast Beijing as an evil or predatory entity to understand the forces driving such beliefs. They stem from national self-interest, historical insecurity (and nationalist pride), suspicion, fear, and uncertainty. To some degree, they also stem from a level of opportunism, driven in part by fear, but also in part by the understandable desire to take advantage of China’s growing regional and global influence and America’s apparent relative decline in order to strengthen Chinese leverage in possible future disputes.

At the same time, heightened Chinese nationalism, arising from a combination of impressive economic success and a much greater public awareness, through social media and other means, of China’s external policies and influence, has greatly accentuated a self-righteous assertiveness in Chinese foreign and defense policy. Many Chinese observers now believe that Beijing’s past weakness and its need to cooperate with the United States and the West in general had made it too accommodating or passive in dealing with many perceived challenges to China’s vital national interests, from U.S. support for Taiwan and Asian disputants over maritime claims, to close-in U.S. surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities along the Chinese coast. For these analysts, China’s growing capabilities and influence, along with its expanding interests, make it both possible and necessary for Beijing to defend such interests in a more deliberate and in some cases a more forceful manner. Moreover, the intensity of emotion and resolve that usually accompanies such views is often associated with deep resentment of the allegedly sanctimonious arrogance of a hegemonic America.

The more extreme variants of this ultranationalist viewpoint threaten to transform China’s long-standing peaceful development policy, keyed to the maintenance of amicable relations with the United States and other powers, into a much more hard-edged approach that is deliberately and perhaps openly calibrated to undermine U.S. influence in Asia. In fact, there have been indications of some possible first steps in this direction, reflected in the so-called bottom-line concept of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, which stresses the need for China to stand resolute in managing territorial and sovereignty issues, such as the disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and with Vietnam, the Philippines, and others over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Despite a continued stress on the search for “win-win” outcomes with all powers, such trends could eventually weaken existing Chinese support for a cooperative and peace-oriented foreign policy and for movement toward a genuine balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region, favoring instead a more Sino-centric Asian order.

On the U.S. side, for an arguably growing number of American and some foreign observers, Beijing’s de facto challenge to American predominance in the Western Pacific is a mere prelude to a larger effort to eject the United States from Asia and eventually replace it as the regional (and for some, global) superpower. Chinese support for a multipolar, balance-of-power system is thus seen as a mere tactical feint designed to undermine U.S. power while Beijing prepares to become the new hegemon. Indeed, for such observers, Beijing’s greater assertiveness regarding maritime territorial disputes as well as U.S. and Japanese intelligence and surveillance activities along its coastline constitute strategic gambits designed to “test” U.S. and allied resolve and ultimately to create “no-go” zones essential for the establishment of Chinese control over the Western Pacific. Such an outcome would directly threaten both U.S. and allied interests in an open, secure, and peaceful Asia-Pacific region. Given this supposedly unambiguous threat, for these observers, the only logical course of action for the United States is to decisively disabuse Beijing of its aspirations by enhancing American predominance and thereby increasing, rather than reducing, Chinese vulnerability in the Western Pacific.

This view is held not only by scholars and policy analysts outside Washington. It is also fairly common among U.S. government officials, both civilian and military. It offers a black-and-white, Manichean-type solution to a supposedly clear-cut threat, and one that is extremely appealing to those many U.S. policymakers and analysts convinced of the huge merits (and necessity) of continued American predominance in maritime Asia. In fact, even for those who reject the notion that Beijing is working to dislodge the United States from the region, predominance remains the best insurance against an uncertain future, for the reasons outlined above. While the type of U.S. predominance in Asia espoused by most U.S. observers can vary somewhat, depending in part on how one views China’s capabilities and intentions, the bottom line for virtually all such individuals is the need for a clear U.S. ability to prevail in any important military-political contingency involving China. Moreover, this view is reinforced, in their minds, by the notion that America’s allies and friends also supposedly desire and require continued U.S. maritime predominance.

The problem with this outlook is that it is based on an inaccurate, increasingly unrealistic, and dangerous assessment of both the threat the United States confronts in Asia and the likely consequences of the remedy proposed. Beijing’s de facto attempts to limit or end U.S. predominance along its maritime periphery are motivated almost entirely by uncertainties, fears, insecurities, and a certain level of opportunism, not a grand strategic vision of Chinese predominance, despite the arguably growing expression of ultranationalist views within China. Those who view China as an aspiring hegemon seeking America’s subordination and ultimate ejection from Asia almost without exception base their argument on shaky theoretical postulates and faulty historical analogies or on the decidedly non-authoritative views of a few Chinese analysts, not current, hard evidence regarding either Chinese strategies and doctrines or Chinese behavior, past and present.

Such observers argue that all rising powers seek hard-power dominance in an anarchic interstate system and that China is a power that always sought to dominate its world. However, such absolutist beliefs run counter to the very mixed record of power grabbing and power balancing, aggression and restraint, deterrence and reassurance that has characterized great power relations historically. They also ignore the fact that, in the premodern era, Chinese predominance within its part of Asia most often consisted of pragmatic and mutually beneficial exchanges of ritualistic deference for material gains, not Chinese hard-power control. While implying a preference for symbolically hierarchical relationships with smaller neighbors, China’s premodern approach did not amount to a demand for clear-cut dominance and subordination. Moreover, the advent of modern, independent, and in most cases strong nation-states along China’s borders; the forces of economic globalization; and the existence of nuclear weapons have enormously reduced, if not eliminated, both the willingness and the ability of Chinese leaders today to dominate Asia and carve out an exclusionary sphere of influence, especially in hard-power terms. By necessity, their objective is to reduce their considerable vulnerability and increase their political, diplomatic, and economic leverage in their own backyard to a level where Chinese interests must be reflected in those major political, economic, and security actions undertaken by neighboring states. This is a much less ambitious and in many ways understandable goal for a continental great power. And it does not necessarily threaten vital U.S. or allied interests.

The Unsustainability of American Predominance and the Chinese Response

While continued American predominance cannot, at present, be justified on the basis of a Chinese drive for predominance, what of the widespread argument in U.S. policy circles that such predominance is necessary regardless of Chinese intentions, as the best possible means of ensuring regional (and global) order? While deeply rooted in both American exceptionalism and beliefs about the benefits of hegemonic power in the international order, the notion that unequivocal U.S. predominance in the Western Pacific constitutes the only basis for long-term stability and prosperity across the Asia-Pacific is a dangerous, increasingly obsolete concept, for several reasons.

First, it is inconceivable that Beijing would accept the unambiguously superior level of American predominance that the many proponents of this course of action believe is required to ensure long-term regional stability in the face of a rising China, involving total U.S. “freedom of action” and a clear “ability to prevail” militarily without excessive costs in any conceivable contingency occurring up to China’s mainland borders. The United States would never tolerate such predominance by any power along its borders, and why should an increasingly strong China? Given China’s expanding interests and capabilities, any effort to sustain an unambiguous, absolute level of American military superiority along Beijing’s maritime periphery will virtually guarantee an increasingly destabilizing and economically draining arms race, much greater levels of regional polarization and friction than at present, and reduced incentives on the part of both Washington and Beijing to work together to address a growing array of common global challenges.

U.S. efforts to sustain and enhance its military superiority in China’s backyard will further stoke Beijing’s worst fears and beliefs about American containment, sentiments inevitably reinforced by domestic nationalist pressures, ideologically informed beliefs about supposed U.S. imperialist motives, and China’s general commitment to the enhancement of a multipolar order. In fact, by locking in a clear level of long-term vulnerability and weakness for Beijing that prevents any assured defense of Chinese territory or any effective wielding of influence over regional-security-related issues (such as maritime territorial disputes, Taiwan, or the fate of the Korean Peninsula), absolute U.S. military superiority would virtually guarantee fierce and sustained domestic criticism of any Chinese leadership that accepted it. This will be especially true if, as expected, Chinese economic power continues to grow, bolstering Chinese self-confidence. Under such conditions, effectively resisting a U.S. effort to sustain predominance along China’s maritime periphery would become a matter of political survival for future Chinese leaders.

Second, and equally important, it is far from clear that American military predominance in the Asia-Pacific region can be sustained on a consistent basis, just as it is virtually impossible that China could establish its own predominance in the region. Two Carnegie reports on the long-term security environment in Asia, China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030 and Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region,2 concluded that, while the United States will remain the strongest military power on a global level indefinitely, Washington will almost certainly confront increasingly severe, economically induced defense spending limitations that will constrain efforts to decisively keep well ahead of a growing Chinese military and paramilitary presence within approximately 1,500 nautical miles of the Chinese coastline, that is, the area covered by the so-called first and second island chains. This will occur despite Washington’s repeated assertion that the rebalance to Asia will sustain America’s predominant position in the region. Moreover, such largely economic constraints will almost certainly be magnified by the persistence of tensions and conflicts in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Central Europe. These events are likely to complicate any U.S. effort to shift forces (and resources) to the Asia-Pacific.

Of course, a continuing U.S. capacity to shift military assets from other parts of the globe to Asia in a crisis or conflict could conceivably correct America’s relative military decline in the Western Pacific. But such a surge-based “solution” would require considerable time to implement, while any future threatening Chinese military action, for example, with regard to Taiwan or maritime disputes near its border, would almost certainly involve a very rapid strike aimed at establishing a fait accompli that could prove extremely difficult and costly to undo. Equally important, a growing day-to-day Chinese capability and presence along the Asian littoral and a perceived relative U.S. military decline in daily presence would inevitably affect the security calculations of other Asian states, especially American allies and friends, regardless of the overall ramp-up capacity of the U.S. military in any confrontation. In the current, increasingly competitive U.S.-China relationship, a clear relative shift in day-to-day regional power toward China would likely cause such states to hedge more deliberately against a U.S. failure to prevail in a crisis or conflict by developing stronger, more independent, and potentially destabilizing military capabilities and/or by accommodating Chinese interests, possibly at the expense of the United States, for example, by spurning past or future security arrangements with Washington.

The limits on U.S. maritime predominance do not mean that China will eventually grow into the position of Asia’s next military hegemon, however. The above-mentioned Carnegie reports also concluded that American military power in Asia will remain very strong under all but the most unlikely, worst-case scenarios involving a U.S. withdrawal from the region. While China’s regional military capabilities will continue to grow significantly in key areas such as submarines and surface warships, ballistic and cruise missiles, offensive aircraft, air defense, and joint warfare, they will not provide an unambiguous level of superiority over U.S. forces in the Western Pacific, and certainly not in any other region. Therefore, any eventual Chinese attempt to establish predominance in Asia would almost inevitably fail, and not only because of U.S. capabilities and resolve, but also because such an effort would drive regional states much closer to the United States. The result would be either a cold or a hot war in Asia, with intensifying polarization, arms races, and an increased likelihood of crises and conflicts.

The Chinese leaders understand this and hence might only seek some form of predominance (as opposed to acting opportunistically and in a more limited manner) if American words and actions were to convince them that even the minimal level of security they seek were to require it. Such a belief could emerge if Washington insists on maintaining its own historical level of military superiority in Asia by attempting to neutralize entirely Chinese military capabilities right up to China’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters and airspace or to develop a force capable of blockading China from a distance. Variants of operational concepts currently under consideration in U.S. policy circles, such as Air-Sea Battle or Offshore Control (the former designed to defeat Beijing through preemptive, precision strikes deep into Chinese territory, and the latter to throttle China via a blockade along the first island chain bordering the eastern and southern Chinese mainland), contain such features. Indeed, any effort to sustain U.S. predominance in the face of a growing relative decline in U.S. capabilities alongside steady increases in Chinese power and influence will almost certainly intensify the U.S.-China security competition, deepen tensions between the two powers, and greatly unsettle U.S. allies and friends.

Fortunately, this zero-sum dynamic has yet to emerge, but growing suspicions and beliefs in both capitals—founded on the above clashing assumptions held by each side regarding the necessary conditions for long-term order and prosperity in Asia—are certainly moving events in this direction.

Of course, a fundamental shift in the Asian power balance and its likely consequences will become moot if China’s economy collapses or declines to such a level that it is unable to meaningfully challenge American maritime predominance. Indeed, for some analysts of the Asian security scene, such a possibility is real enough to justify a rejection of any consideration of alternatives to such predominance. But the above-mentioned reports, China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030 and Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region, found that such an adverse outcome for China is highly unlikely in any foreseeable time frame. Equally important, a major delay in adjusting to current and likely future realities due to a misplaced belief in China’s ultimate decline will make it far more difficult to undertake adjustments years hence, given both the long lead time required to implement them and the likelihood that mutual suspicions will have by then deepened to the point where neither side is willing to make the required accommodations.

The Need to Transition to a Stable Balance of Power

Thus, for both the United States and China, the primary future strategic challenge is to develop a mutually beneficial means of transitioning away from U.S. maritime predominance toward a stable, genuine balance of power in the Western Pacific in which neither nation has the clear capacity to prevail in an armed conflict. This will be difficult to achieve and potentially dangerous, but nonetheless necessary, given the existing and future trends shaping the region.

In general, true balance-of-power environments can at least potentially increase both risk taking and miscalculation, especially if one or both sides conclude that they must confirm or consolidate a perceived increase—or compensate for a perceived decline—in leverage by acting more aggressively to test the resolve of the other side, advance specific interests, or manage a serious political-military crisis. Avoiding or effectively controlling such situations will require not only a variety of crisis management mechanisms and confidence-building mechanisms (CBMs) beyond what have been developed thus far in Asia, but also high levels of mutual strategic reassurance and restraint, involving substantive and verifiable limits on each side’s freedom of action or ability to prevail militarily along China’s sensitive maritime periphery, as well as the maintenance of deterrent and shaping capabilities in those areas that count most.

Many knowledgeable observers have offered a variety of recommendations designed to reduce mistrust and enhance cooperation between Washington and Beijing, involving everything from caps on U.S. and Chinese defense spending to mutual, limited concessions or understandings regarding Taiwan and maritime disputes, and clearer, more calibrated bottom-line statements on alliance commitments and core interests.3 While many of these initiatives make eminent sense, they generally fail to address both the underlying problem of clashing assumptions and beliefs about the requirements for continued order and prosperity in Asia and the basic threat perceptions generated by inaccurate historical analogies about China’s past and domestic nationalist views and pressures. Moreover, almost no observers offer recommendations designed to significantly alter the power structure in volatile areas along China’s maritime periphery, such as on the Korean Peninsula and in and around Taiwan, in ways that could significantly defuse those areas as sources of conflict over the long term.

In order to minimize the potential instabilities inherent in a roughly equal balance-of-power environment, specific actions must be taken to reduce the volatility of the most likely sources of future U.S.-China crises and the propensity to test each side’s resolve, and to enhance the opportunities for meaningful cooperation over the long term. In particular, Washington and Beijing will need to reach reliable understandings regarding the future long-term status of the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, the management of maritime territorial disputes, and the scope and function of U.S. (and other foreign) military activities within the first island chain—or at the very least within both China’s and Japan’s exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Such understandings should almost certainly involve some credible form of neutralization of these areas as locations from which to project U.S. or Chinese power, or the creation of a stable U.S.-China balance of power within them, thereby creating a de facto buffer zone along China’s maritime periphery.

In the case of Korea, this implies the emergence of a unified, nonaligned (or loosely aligned) peninsula free from foreign military forces. This would require prior credible security assurances by both the United States and China that a unified Korea would remain free from coercion and always open to close economic and political relations with both countries. Such assurances might involve a continuation in some form of a greatly reduced security relationship with Washington, at least in the short to medium term. This process might also require Japan to provide security assurances to a unified Korea, at least to the extent of agreeing to not acquire nuclear weapons or some types of conventional weapons that Korea might find threatening, such as precision ballistic and cruise missile strike capabilities. Of course, none of this could happen as long as the Korean Peninsula remains divided, with South Korea under threat of attack from North Korea. Thus, ideally, the development of a stable balance of power in the Western Pacific will require Korean unification sooner rather than later. Failing that, a clear, credible understanding must be reached as soon as possible among the powers concerned regarding the eventual disposition of the Korea problem.

In the case of Taiwan, any credible neutralization of the cross-strait issue as a threat to either side’s interests would require, as a first step, a U.S.-China understanding regarding restrictions on U.S. arms sales in return for certain types of verifiable limits on Chinese military production and deployments relevant to the island, such as ballistic missiles and strike aircraft. Beijing would also likely need to provide credible assurances that it would not use force against Taiwan in any conceivable contingency short of an outright Taiwanese declaration of de jure independence or the U.S. placement of forces on the island. In the past, Beijing has resisted providing assurances regarding any non-use of force toward the island, viewing such an assurance as a limit on Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. However, as in the case of Korea, Beijing would likely view such a conditional limitation on its right to employ force as acceptable if viewed as a requirement for the creation of an overall stable balance of power in the Western Pacific; Chinese leaders might also regard it as a step toward the eventual unification of the island with the mainland. In addition, Beijing would also likely need to accept: a) explicitly that such unification could only occur on the basis of a peaceful process involving the willing consent of the people of Taiwan, and b) tacitly that eventual unification would likely not occur, if at all, for many decades. For its part, the United States would likely need to provide assurances to China that it would neither place forces on the island nor provide any new level of defense assistance to Taipei, as long as Beijing abides by its own assurances. And both countries would need to consult closely with Taiwan and Japan at each step of this process and provide clear and credible assurances regarding the understanding reached between them.

Regarding territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the United States needs to make clear that it has little if any direct interest in the interactions occurring between the disputants, beyond clear security threats leveled against the two U.S. allies involved: Japan and the Philippines. While supporting, in an even-handed manner, a binding code of conduct and established legal procedures for resolving clashes and arbitrating claims, Washington should avoid staking its credibility on ensuring that a noncoercive process is followed in every instance. That said, it should also make clear that it will oppose, forcefully if necessary, any attempt to establish an exclusion zone or de facto territorial waters beyond accepted 12-nautical-mile limits. For its part, Beijing must clearly affirm, through its words and actions, that there is no military solution to these disputes and that it will never seek to dislodge rivals forcefully from occupied areas. It must also credibly and convincingly state, privately if not publicly, that those waters in the South China Sea located within its so-called nine-dashed line and outside the territorial waters and EEZs of specified land features constitute open ocean. Although doubtless difficult to achieve, such understandings will likely become more possible in the larger context of a neutralized first island chain as U.S.-China suspicions abate.

In the larger conventional military realm, U.S. military primacy within at least the first island chain will need to be replaced by a genuinely balanced force posture and accompanying military doctrine. This should likely be centered on what is termed a “mutual denial” operational concept in which both China and the United States along with its allies possess sufficient levels of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD)–type air, naval, missile, and space capabilities to make the risks and dangers of attempting to achieve a sustained advantage through military means over potentially volatile areas or zones clearly prohibitive. In such an environment, neither side would have the clear capacity to prevail in a conflict, but both sides would possess adequate defensive capacities to deter or severely complicate an attack, for example, on Taiwan, on the Chinese mainland, and against U.S./allied territory, or any effort to close or control key strategic lines of communication (SLOCs) in the Asia-Pacific. This will likely require agreed-upon restraints on the production and/or deployment of certain types of weapon systems operating in the Western Pacific, such as deep-strike stealth aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, and deployed surface and subsurface warships.

On the nuclear level, a stable balance-of-power environment in the Western Pacific requires a clear set of mutual assurances designed to strengthen the deterrence capacity of each side’s nuclear arsenal and thereby reduce significantly the dangers of escalation from a conventional crisis or conflict into a nuclear confrontation. To attain this goal, American and allied defense analysts need to discard the dangerous notion that U.S. primacy must extend to the nuclear realm, via the establishment of a clear ability to neutralize China’s nuclear arsenal. Instead, Washington should authoritatively indicate that it accepts and will not threaten China’s retaliatory nuclear strike capability. In other words, it must unambiguously affirm the validity of a U.S.-China nuclear balance based on a concept of mutual deterrence, something it has never done. Moreover, to make this credible, Washington must abandon consideration of a long-range, precision global strike system, or any other new type of system capable of destroying China’s nuclear arsenal through both nuclear and conventional means, and provide greater assurances that its ballistic missile defense capabilities cannot eliminate a Chinese second strike. For its part, Beijing must be willing to accept such U.S. assurances and eschew any attempt to transition beyond its existing modest minimal deterrent, second-strike nuclear capability to a much larger force.

Obviously, these sorts of changes will present major implications for U.S. allies and friends in the region. Japan in particular would play a major role in any effort to create a stable U.S.-China balance of power in the Western Pacific. In order for Tokyo to provide Seoul with the kind of assurances identified above, and to accept the above adjustments in the U.S. force posture and stance toward Taiwan, certain clear understandings with Washington and Beijing would be necessary. In general, the creation of a de facto buffer zone or a neutral/balanced area within the first island chain would almost certainly require that Japan significantly strengthen its defense capabilities, either autonomously or, more preferably from the U.S. perspective, within the context of a more robust yet still limited U.S.-Japan security alliance. In the latter case, Tokyo would become a critical partner in the creation of the sort of defensive, mutual denial operational concept. This would entail the creation of a more fully integrated U.S.-Japan C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) infrastructure, stronger passive defenses against possible Chinese ballistic and cruise missile threats to U.S. and Japanese military assets, and enhanced Japanese logistics and support facilities, alongside improvements in specific defensive-oriented Japanese military capabilities, such as ASW (antisubmarine warfare) and interceptor aircraft. However, this would not require Japan to become a fully normalized security partner alongside the United States, undertaking alliance-based security activities across the Western Pacific and beyond.

For China, acceptance of a strengthened but still limited U.S.-Japan alliance, a unified, largely nonaligned Korean Peninsula, verifiable limits on Chinese capabilities vis-à-vis Taiwan, and the other elements of the stable balance-of-power structure mentioned above would require a clear willingness to forgo those more ambitious security objectives toward which some Chinese might aspire, either now or in the future. These include, most notably, the clear ability to establish control over the waters and airspace along China’s maritime periphery and a Sino-centric Asian economic and political order that largely excludes the United States. This will likely require, in turn, that Beijing make concerted, public efforts to reject and invalidate among the Chinese citizenry those more extreme interpretations of Chinese nationalism that call for China to dominate Asia and to employ aggressive or violent means to resolve various sovereignty and other disputes with its neighbors. Although not mainstream at present, such notions nonetheless could become more popular and influential as China’s power grows (and if Washington responds to such growth by seeking to sustain its past predominance), and would in turn represent a clear threat to regional stability. The benefits for China of these accommodations would be an enhanced level of security via a reduced U.S. threat to vital Chinese interests and the avoidance of a costly and likely increasingly dangerous security competition. These new circumstances would also allow China to concentrate even more than at present on establishing a stable and prosperous domestic environment.

Obstacles to Establishing a Stable Balance in Asia

Several obstacles stand in the way of Washington and Beijing undertaking such a substantial change in perceptions and practices, force deployments, and power relations in the Western Pacific.

On the U.S. side, first and foremost is the general refusal of most if not all U.S. decisionmakers and officials to contemplate an alternative to U.S. military predominance in this vital region. Such maritime predominance has arguably served Washington and most of the region well for many decades, and it accords with the deep-seated notion of American exceptionalism, which prescribes a dominant U.S. leadership role throughout the world. In addition, the short-term perspective, natural inertia, and risk avoidance of bureaucrats and policy communities in Washington (and elsewhere) militate against major shifts in policy and approach, especially in the absence of an urgent and palpable need for change. Indeed, it is extremely difficult for any major power, much less a superpower, to begin a fundamental strategic shift in anticipation of diminished relative capabilities before that diminishment fully reveals itself.

In the Western Pacific in particular, with regard to both U.S. ISR activities along the Chinese coast and the larger U.S. military presence within the first island chain, the United States Navy and many U.S. decisionmakers are wedded to the notion that American power (and in particular naval power) must brook no limitation in areas beyond a nation’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters and airspace. This derives in part from the belief that any constraints on U.S. naval operations will lead to a cascade of coastal states challenging the principle of U.S. maritime freedom of action and to possible reductions in the level of resources and the scope of operations available to support U.S. naval power. Moreover, the specific U.S. desire to maintain a strong naval presence along China’s maritime periphery reflects a perceived need to acquire more accurate intelligence regarding Beijing’s growing offshore air and naval capabilities. Such a presence is also viewed as essential to sustaining U.S. credibility with Asian allies such as Japan and the Philippines, and to the maintenance of deterrent capabilities against a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. This combination of service interests, intelligence needs, and perceived security requirements reinforces the general U.S. bias in favor of continued maritime predominance. However, an inevitable Chinese refusal to accept that predominance over the long term will be expressed first and foremost in opposition to the past level of U.S. naval activities along the Chinese coastline, that is, within China’s EEZ at the very least, and possibly within the entire first island chain.

Second, and closely related to the prior point, U.S. decisionmakers are extremely loath to contemplate significant adjustments in the current status of the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. From the U.S. perspective, any movement toward a reduction in or even a significant modification of the U.S. security commitment to these two actors (a U.S military ally and a de facto U.S. protectorate, respectively) could result in either moving to acquire nuclear arms, and/or threats or attacks from North Korea or China. In addition, Japan might react to such movement by questioning Washington’s basic security commitment to Tokyo, which could result in a break in the U.S.-Japan alliance and/or Japanese acquisition of nuclear arms. These concerns are real, if no doubt exaggerated by some in Tokyo or Taipei in order to justify maintenance of the existing U.S. relationship, and in some cases to avoid undertaking costly defense improvements of their own.

On the Chinese side, perhaps the most significant obstacle to undertaking a transition toward a stable balance of power in Asia derives from the insecurities and weaknesses of the Chinese government, both domestically and abroad. China’s leaders rely, for their legitimacy and support, not only on continued economic success and rising living standards, but also on a form of nationalism that prizes the ability of the regime to correct past injustices meted out by “imperialist” powers during China’s so-called “century of humiliation” and to stand up to current slights, both real and imagined. Thus, their policies often capitalize on the resentments felt by many Chinese citizens toward the supposedly arrogant West and Japan.

This viewpoint makes the Chinese leadership hesitant to quell the more extreme forms of nationalism described above and deeply suspicious of the United States and its allies. It also makes it more receptive to the notion that a rising yet still underdeveloped and relatively weak China must continue to conceal its military capabilities while developing its overall capacities to the maximum extent possible. In other words, the Chinese regime is both excessively vulnerable to ultranationalist pressures and disinclined to contemplate self-imposed limitations on its sovereign rights (for example, with regard to Taiwan) and its political, economic, and military abilities, especially in Asia. While this does not translate into a drive for predominance, it does make Beijing less willing to accept the kind of mutual restraints necessary to achieve a stable balance of power in the Western Pacific.

No Grand Bargain, but a Clear Understanding and a Staged Process Are Required

These obstacles clearly indicate that Washington and Beijing are not about to undertake, much less reach, a formal grand-bargain-type of agreement to establish a new regional security environment anytime soon.4 Such a fundamental shift in policies and approaches can only occur gradually, in stages, and over an extended period of time. But it can only begin if elites in Washington, Beijing, and other Asian capitals seriously examine the enduring trends under way in Asia and accept the reality of the changing power distribution and the need for more than just marginal adjustments and assurances. Only then will they undertake a systematic examination of the requirements of a stable balance of power over the long term, involving a serious consideration of the more fundamental actions. Such an examination and acceptance must initially occur domestically, then among allies and protectorates, and finally via a bilateral U.S.-China strategic dialogue aimed at developing understandings about the process and actions required. Such understandings must provide for ample opportunities and means for both sides to assess and evaluate the credibility and veracity of the actions of the other side.

If such understandings can be reached regarding the overall need for strategic adjustment, then the specific concessions to minimize potential instabilities and arrangements for meaningful cooperation, involving Korea, Taiwan, and maritime issues within the first island chain, will become much more possible. In particular, a strategic understanding designed to achieve a peaceful and stable transition to a genuine balance of power in the Western Pacific could make Beijing more likely to pressure or entice North Korea to abandon or place strong limits on its nuclear weapons program and undertake the kind of opening up and reforms that would almost certainly result eventually in a unified peninsula. While difficult to envision at present, such a shift in Chinese policy is certainly possible, given the obvious incentives to do so. While South Korea might also resist movement toward a nonaligned status in a post-unification environment, the obvious benefits that would result from a stable balance of power, if presented properly, could very likely overcome such resistance. Regarding Taiwan, if both U.S. and Chinese leaders can convince Taipei of the benefits of the kind of mutual assurances and restraints necessary to neutralize the cross-strait issue, none of which require the U.S. abandonment of the island, these possible adverse outcomes of the proposed or ongoing shift, including any resort to nuclear weapons, would almost certainly be avoided.

As for Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance, in the past, many observers viewed a much-strengthened alliance and a stronger Japan as either a major provocation to Beijing not worth the cost or as a largely unfeasible option for Tokyo, given domestic political and economic constraints. However, as with the Taiwan and Korea cases, if viewed as a requirement for the creation of a buffer-like arrangement basic to a stable balance of power in the first island chain, and if limited in scope and purpose, such a calibrated strengthening would almost certainly prove acceptable to Beijing, and eventually necessary for Tokyo, particularly considering the unpalatable alternatives.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or technique that will guarantee or facilitate the transition to a new security environment based on a stable balance of power. It will require courageous and farsighted leadership in all relevant capitals, some significant risk taking (especially in the domestic political arena), and highly effective diplomacy. But the alternative, involving current attempts to sustain American predominance in the Western Pacific while muddling through by managing various frictions with Beijing in a piecemeal and incremental manner and cooperating where possible, will likely prove disastrous. And a much-delayed attempt to transition to a more stable balance, perhaps as a result of a clear failure of the existing strategy, will simply make the process more difficult.

Ultimately, the choice facing policymakers in the United States, China, and other Asian powers is whether to deal forthrightly and sensibly with the changing regional power distribution or avoid the hard decisions that China’s rise poses until the situation grows ever more polarized and dangerous. There are no other workable alternatives.

The author is deeply indebted to Mike M. Mochizuki, Avery Goldstein, Douglas H. Paal, Chas W. Freeman Jr., Charles L. Glaser, and Rachel E. Odell for their comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this essay.


1 Michael K. Metcalf, Imperialism With Chinese Characteristics? Reading and Re-reading China’s 2006 Defense White Paper (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2013) 29.

2 Michael D. Swaine et al., China’s Military & the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013) and Michael D. Swaine et al., Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Strategic Net Assessment (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015).

3 For a recent, excellent example, see James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon, Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

4 Those few analysts, such as Hugh White, who recognize the changing power distribution in Asia, incorrectly identify China as seeking its own form of regional predominance and/or call for highly unrealistic means of addressing the overall problem, such as via a formal U.S. presidential declaration of the abandonment of American primacy and the establishment of a formal Concert of Europe–type agreement between Beijing, Washington, and other major Asian powers. See Hugh White, The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). For an example of an argument in support of a bilateral grand bargain between Washington and Beijing, see Charles L. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand Bargain? The Hard Choice Between Military Competition and Accommodation,” International Security 39, no. 4 (forthcoming).

Obama the Carpenter

The President’s national security legacy

Michael O’Hanlon, May 2015

The Brookings Institution

Источник: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2015/05/obama-carpenter-national-security-legacy-ohanlon

By the standards he has set out for himself, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has fallen considerably short of expectations and aspirations. By the standards of his critics, of course, the performance has been even worse—with the American commander-in-chief now accused of fecklessness and irresoluteness as global crises multiply on his watch. Even two of his former secretaries of defense have written fairly harsh verdicts on what they saw while serving in his administration.

Gauged by more reasonable and normal standards, however, Mr. Obama has in fact done acceptably well. Both his critics and his defenders tend to use unrealistic benchmarks in grading his presidency. If we use the kinds of standards that are applied to most American leaders, things look quite different.

I do not mean to overstate. Obama’s presidency will not go down as a hugely positive watershed period in American foreign policy. He ran for election in 2007 and 2008 promising to mend the West’s breach with the Islamic world, repair the nation’s image abroad, reset relations with Russia, move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, avoid «stupid wars» while winning the «right war,» combat climate change, and do all of this with a post-partisan style of leadership that brought Americans themselves together in the process.[i] He ran for reelection in 2012 with the additional pledges of ending the nation’s wars and completing the decimation of al Qaeda. Six years into his presidency, almost none of these lofty aspirations has been achieved.[ii] There has not been, and likely will not be, any durable Obama doctrine of particular positive note. The recent progress toward a nuclear deal with Iran, while preferable to any alternative if it actually happens, is probably too limited in duration and overall effect to count as a historic breakthrough (even if Obama shares a second Nobel Prize as a result).

But the harsh verdict of many of the president’s critics as well as his supporters goes too far. Most of today’s problems were not Obama’s creations. Others were mishandled, but generally in ways that could have been far worse. He also managed to avoid a second great recession.[iii]

Most of all, Obama has been judicious on most key crises of the day. His caution and care have been notable—and underrated. He has sometimes taken the notion of strategic restraint too far, as with a premature U.S. military departure from Iraq, excessive nervousness about any entanglement in Syria’s civil war, and ongoing plans for a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. But Obama’s discipline has often been quite wise and quite beneficial to the nation, especially in regard to Russia, China, and Iran. As his presidency begins to wind down, the country’s fundamentals of national power as measured by economic growth, high-technology, industrial entrepreneurship and productivity, fiscal and trade deficits, and military power are generally no worse and in some cases modestly better than when he entered the White House.

A more thorough assessment of Obama’s foreign policy legacy requires an issue-by-issue examination of the most important foreign policy matters of the day, a task to which I turn below.

Obama’s no-drama strategy

The lofty goals have proved elusive. Barack Obama may not be able to heal the planet, rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, or stop the oceans’ rise as his signature legacies.

But, in fact, there is a strategy, even if it is often implied more than accurately stated, and even if it falls short of the president’s own preferences of what writers and historians might say about his two terms in office. It is more mundane but nonetheless important. Obama is attempting to be strategic in the most literal and relevant senses of the word—defining priorities and holding to them, even when that makes him appear indifferent or indecisive in response to certain types of crises or challenges. Yet he has shown himself willing to employ significant amounts of force when persuaded that there is no alternative. Often, he has made mistakes along the way—not least in his non-intervention in Syria, his premature departure from Iraq, his plans to pull entirely out of Afghanistan, and his failure to help piece Libya back together after the 2011 NATO-catalyzed conflict that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi. But the basic effort to be patient and careful in the employment of American national power, especially military power, has been quite reasonable.

Consider especially the big issues, where by my count he is doing reasonably well on three of the top four:

The Asia-Pacific rebalance

The so-called pivot or rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, a centerpiece of President Obama’s first-term foreign policy in particular, has been generally very sound. Indeed, it enjoys a remarkable degree of bipartisan support. Obama’s theory of the case here is that a reaffirmation of America’s enduring commitment to Asia is strategically wise—especially in light of China’s rise, but also considering India’s dynamism, other countries’ economic progress, and North Korea’s dangerous ways. The fact that it is a long-term, patient policy designed to shape a key region rather than respond to a specific crisis means it often fails to make headlines. But that fact does not lessen its importance.[iv]

There is a «Where’s the beef?» question associated with the rebalance. It is modest in most of its characteristics. Thus, it does not deserve the other name occasionally given to it—the pivot. The military centerpiece of the rebalance is a plan for the U.S. Navy to devote 60 percent of its fleet to the broader region by 2020, rather than the historic norm of 50 percent. But that is 60 percent of what is now a smaller Navy than before. So the overall net increase in capacity for the region is quite modest (indeed, some of those ships may wind up deploying to the Persian Gulf rather than to the Asia-Pacific). The economic centerpiece of the rebalance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, is now being actively pursued by the Obama administration—but it may or may not prove achievable at home or abroad.

That said, the rebalance is a smart way to reassert U.S. interests in the region, reassure allies, recognize the importance of new players like India, and remind China and North Korea that Washington is paying attention to what is happening there. It is a signal of commitment without going so far as to be needlessly provocative. It provides a welcome antidote at least rhetorically and diplomatically to what had been a sustained American obsession with the Middle East for the previous decade. And while some of his cabinet secretaries may have lost a bit of focus on the region, Obama himself got there twice in 2014 and conducted a good summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in November of that year. China’s ongoing assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea, is concerning. But it does not threaten vital U.S. interests severely enough to warrant a forceful American military response; Obama’s approach of monitoring, working calmly with regional allies, and making Beijing know there could be some proportionate price to pay for excessive pushiness strikes the right balance.

Russia and UkraineIn 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. It then stoked and aided an insurgency in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia separatists that continues to this day. Putin’s goals are unclear. Is he trying to chop away gradually at Ukraine’s territory, challenge and embarrass NATO, ensure that Ukraine never joins NATO by creating a «frozen conflict» that he can always rekindle, or simply improvise in some silly game of geopolitics more evocative of the 19th century than the 21st?

Regardless, it’s hard to blame Obama for this behavior, any more than one should blame George Bush for Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008. Neither Georgia nor Ukraine is part of the NATO alliance, whose members the United States is sworn to defend. So the failure to deter the conflict is hard to lay at Obama’s doorstep. Obama’s approach to handling the Ukraine crisis—make Putin pay an economic price for what he has done, while signaling that the United States and its allies can increase the economic costs further if need be—strikes a good balance between indifference and risky escalation over a less-than-crucial national security matter.

Obama has resisted arming Ukraine to date, recognizing that Russia enjoys escalation dominance in the region. Thus, any American move could simply elicit a greater and stronger Russian counterplay. Obama is under increasing bipartisan pressure to do more as of this writing in the spring of 2015, and if the latest ceasefire collapses, odds seem fairly high that he may rethink his current approach. But so far, the strategy has had a solid logic.

Obama’s theory of the case has been to keep the crisis in perspective, work closely with European allies, employ significant but non-military instruments of national power in response to Russia’s aggressions, and provide off-ramps for Putin at every turn. This strategy is reasonable, even if it lacks a clear endgame, and even if it remains a work in progress.


On Iran, President Obama has sought to use various “smart sanctions” and patient diplomacy to induce Tehran to agree to a deal on its nuclear programs. As of Spring 2015, he appears to have a good chance of success. Obama’s theory of the case here also begins with an appreciation of the power of economic tools of statecraft, together with an awareness of the pitfalls of the use of military force to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The Iran effort represents the culmination of a decade of applying the economic screws against Tehran—first by George Bush and then by Barack Obama—through a creative international sanctions campaign. The approach has involved traditional measures applied via U.S. law or U.N. Security Council resolution, as well as new and “smarter” sanctions against certain individuals within Iran or certain special sectors of the economy.[v]

Obama has made two key mistakes on Iran. First, he failed to give the Bush administration and Republicans in general, enough credit for the overall approach. His predecessor was the one who first opted for trying to use economic rather than military power to address Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and if the Obama administration had framed the talks as a bipartisan accomplishment, domestic support for this policy might have increased.

Second, Obama did not try hard enough to make the deal of indefinite duration. He should have tried to keep the world’s other powers aboard an approach that would make all key elements of the nuclear deal of much longer duration as a condition for comprehensive sanctions relief. That might not have worked, but should have been attempted. So the prospective nuclear deal will be only a marginal accomplishment, if it sticks, but still will be preferable to the use of force or to the continued course of gradual nuclear buildup that Iran had previously been on.

ISIL and the broader Middle East beyond IranIn regard to the rest of the Middle East beyond Iran, unfortunately, Obama’s disciplined approach has often failed him, and his critics have a stronger case. Luckily, he has begun to make amends in regard to Iraq, and one hopes that there will be further headway in his remaining year and a half in office.

On Iraq, at least, Obama has had a relatively good last year. U.S. and coalition airstrikes have limited ISIL’s progress. Washington has successfully coaxed Iraqis to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a new leader, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Obama has overcome his allergy to Iraq and redeployed nearly 3,000 American military personnel to help rebuild and retrain the Iraqi army as it prepares a general counteroffensive.

But the ascendance of ISIL was partly a result of America’s complete military departure from Iraq in 2011—a decision that was largely Obama’s choosing, even if the Iraqis also had an important hand in the outcome.[vi]That exit deprived Washington of leverage over Maliki as he pursued an increasingly sectarian agenda. It further deprived the United States of intelligence on the state of Iraq’s military and on the preparations ISIL was making in 2013 and early 2014 to mount an attack in the country’s Sunni heartland. Moreover, for all the progress since June of 2014, the prognosis for Iraq is uncertain. ISIL’s days in control there are probably numbered, but the process of driving it out may rely so heavily on Iranian-sponsored Shia militias that the seeds will be planted for future worsening sectarian conflict.

As troubling as the situation is in Iraq, it is far worse in Syria. There, the theory of the case has failed utterly. The hands-off approach Obama chose in 2011–12, when he opted not to provide any significant military help to the opposition, has clearly fallen short. Contrary to initial expectations, Bashar al-Assad is still in power, with firm backing from Moscow, Tehran, and Lebanese Hezbollah—and Russia has shown no serious interest in helping push Assad out of office through its influence with Damascus. More than 200,000 Syrians are dead and an astronomical 12 million displaced from their homes. ISIL has become the strongest element of the anti-Assad movement. Moderate factions are largely displaced, fractured, or decimated. Or they have joined with the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, out of the simple desire to survive on the battlefield (ensuring that they will not receive U.S. weapons and thereby further continuing the downward spiral).

The United States needs a serious, sustained program to strengthen the moderate factions of the Syrian insurgency. It needs to get off the fence on providing arms to groups that may have some shady members and questionable connections because, this far into the war, there are few saints left in Syria. No-fly zones and limited numbers of U.S. special forces on the ground in certain relatively safe parts of the country may prove necessary as well, in what could be viewed as an «ink spot» strategy designed to defeat ISIL while limiting Assad’s control in many other parts of the country. But Obama seems to have little appetite for this or any other new approach.

Libya has been a major disappointment, as Obama himself has conceded, even if the stakes there are much lower. The real issue in regard to Libya is not Benghazi. Four Americans were tragically killed there, and it was no one’s finest hour. But charges that the Obama administration launched a major conspiracy to cover up what had really happened simply fail to hold water. Beyond the human tragedy, the strategic consequences for the United States of that terrible night in Libya in September of 2012 were modest. The real problem, rather, is not Benghazi but the anarchy that resulted from Gadhafi’s overthrow. The country is now in chaos; there is no effective central government; ISIL and affiliates are gaining influence and control. The United States and allies need to deal with this through a much more muscular NATO effort to train and equip new Libyan security forces—though that task is now harder than it would have been in 2011 or 2012. A similar morass now confronts the United States and international community in Yemen, even if the path to that crisis has been different, and less of Obama’s direct doing.

In Egypt, there are big problems as well, though of a different type. The United States has lurched from one policy to another. And at this point, Washington’s coddling of the new strongman, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has gone too far. In the same country where Obama gave a moving and inspiring speech in June 2009 about the need, among other things, for Arab political reform, Washington has fallen back on cynicism. The United States has gotten in bed with a new autocrat, failing to convey any sense of conditionality in its aid or security cooperation with Cairo. The poor turnout in the May 2014 Egyptian presidential elections should remind Americans that, even if Sisi is a necessary and lesser evil right now, the country still badly lacks a political system that reflects the aspirations and expectations of the Egyptian people.

What to do? It is hard to say at this point. But something closer to the old Turkish model, in which the military enforced reasonable limits on political discourse and otherwise tried to stay out of the fray as much as possible, would be preferable to what Sisi appears to be doing now. American influence and aid policies need to seek to promote a more inclusive Egyptian political system in the future, not simply fall back on old habits that predate Tahrir Square.

And finally, there is Afghanistan. Although it is far removed from the Arab world in most ways, Afghanistan is still important in the broader war on terror. Here, President Obama’s plan to pull out all U.S. combat forces by the end of 2016 makes little sense. It not only introduces huge anxiety into a fragile Afghan nation that has been at war for a generation and that has just navigated a difficult democratic transition of power. But it also deprives the United States of operational bases from which to carry out possible strikes against future al Qaeda, ISIL, and other extremist targets in South Asia. There is no viable alternative location from which to monitor and if necessary attack America’s enemies throughout the Afghan-Pakistani Pashtun belt.

To his credit, Obama has gone slow on Afghanistan overall, and avoided any precipitous plan for departure. He has shown considerable commitment. But now he risks losing his cool at a crucial juncture. Obama has confused the need to limit America’s overseas military engagements—a worthy goal—with his desire to end the Afghan war next year. That latter objective is unattainable, since the war as well as terrorism’s enduring threat in the region will continue whether the United States remains or not.

American foreign policy is not in systemic crisis

Barack Obama has had a serious, strategic approach to managing American foreign policy for most of his presidency. Despite raising hopes too high for a transformation of global affairs early in his tenure, despite the distractions of huge adoring crowds, a premature Nobel Peace Prize, and the occasional Hail Mary letter to an Iranian leader, Mr. Obama has maintained discipline in his conduct of U.S. foreign affairs, keeping a clear sense of priorities and avoiding the all-powerful temptation to “do something” whenever and wherever trouble brews abroad. Yet he has been far from a peacenik. He has employed force robustly at times. He has also managed to keep the U.S. military strong, at roughly the size and the readiness standards he inherited, despite being buffeted by fiscal crises at home to go with foreign policy crises abroad.

All that said, Obama’s strategy of restraint has often been mistakenly applied. He left Iraq too soon, ignored the requirements of stabilizing post-Gadhafi Libya, and encouraged the overthrow of Assad in Syria but then unwisely placed his hopes almost exclusively in the Arab Spring and a Geneva-based peace process to achieve the task. He failed to come up with any big, bold diplomatic ideas that might have helped solve a major crisis—such as a new security architecture for Europe that might help point a path toward an ultimate resolution of the Ukraine crisis, or a vision for a confederal Syria that might be more realistic than the current U.S. approach of insisting that Assad go while doing little to achieve that objective. Obama’s promise to get all operational U.S. military units out of Afghanistan before he leaves the White House puts his own pursuit of a historical legacy ahead of the nation’s security needs.

As the presidential race of 2016 heats up, there is ample room for debate about the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama. In the meantime, there is much that Mr. Obama himself should try to correct so as to leave the nation safer and to place his successor in a stronger position. But none of this should proceed from the premise that American foreign policy, because of the policies of Obama, is in systemic crisis. It is not.


[i] See Martin S. Indyk, Kenneth G. Lieberthal, and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2012).

[ii] For a good analysis of many of the players in what became, in the second term, most of the president’s inner circle, see James Mann, The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power(Viking, 2012).

[iii] See for example, Alan S. Blinder, After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (Penguin Press, 2013).

[iv] See for example, Jeffrey Bader, Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy(Brookings, 2012).

[v] See Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C. (April 21, 2015), available at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS20871.pdf.

[vi] Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (Pantheon Books, 2012), pp. 666-671.