US Foreign Policy

Short of War: Military Coercion and Chinese Foreign Policy

How and why China uses coercive force to advance its strategic objectives.
Project Info

Over the past 20 years, China’s international status as a “great power” has become undeniable. China’s “peaceful rise” has included substantial investments in military modernization and an increasingly assertive regional posture. While China has not waged war, it has frequently resorted to what the US State Department has referred to as “gangster tactics” – threats, intimidation, and armed confrontation – to advance its strategic aims. China’s regional ambitions are evident from the ways in which it has asserted itself militarily, especially within the maritime “nine-dash line.” Its efforts to project power miles from its shores are not only intended to intimidate its smaller neighbors, but also deter US military presence and freedom of action in the region.

Stimson’s Defense Strategy and Planning program (DSP) has embarked on a yearlong study to illuminate the ways in which China has employed military and paramilitary tools to coerce its competitors, and examine the motivations and specific foreign policy objectives it has pursued using force short of war. Building on the approaches taken in Force Without War (1978) and Military Coercion and US Foreign Policy (2020), and in collaboration with Stimson’s China program, DSP is developing a new dataset on coercive actions undertaken by China’s security forces, taking into account the political objectives pursued and the environmental contexts in which these operations occurred. This study will once again contribute to a more historically informed, empirically based understanding of great power competition.

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