Between punishment and denial: Uncertainty, flexibility, and U.S. military strategy toward China

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Abstract

Most debates on U.S. military strategy in the Western Pacific revolve around the question of how to deter China. Advocates of deterrence by punishment believe that the Chinese threat is serious but not critical, because the United States can leverage its global military-technological advantages to preserve a position of regional military primacy. Those in favor of deterrence by denial point to China’s potential and “home advantages,” and argue that the United States should settle for more modest objectives such as preventing Chinese regional military dominance. I argue that the high level of uncertainty around Chinese capabilities and the evolving Sino-American regional military balance have led the United States to adopt a flexible strategy, and embrace distinct–even contradictory–operational concepts to deter Beijing: The United States itself mostly focuses primarily on deterrence by punishment, while actively encouraging and enabling its regional allies to develop deterrence by denial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-384
Number of pages24
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • U.S. military strategy
  • deterrence
  • uncertainty
  • strategic competition
  • U.S.-China rivalry
  • U.S. defense policy

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