China Could Potentially Defeat U.S. in Conflict Over Taiwan By Limiting Military Access, RAND Study Finds

For Release

March 29, 2007

China could potentially defeat the United States in a future military conflict over Taiwan by using strategies designed to limit U.S. military access to the area, according to a report issued today by the RAND Corporation.

The report examines scenarios in which China might employ what are known as “antiaccess” strategies – actions that would impede the deployment of U.S. forces into a combat zone, limit the locations from which American forces could operate, or compel the U.S. military to conduct operations farther from the conflict than it would prefer.

RAND researchers have identified a number of measures that U.S. forces can take in order to neutralize possible antiaccess strategies. These include: deploying air and missile defense systems near critical facilities; moving vulnerable ships out of port at the first sign of conflict; and reducing vulnerabilities in communications and computer systems.

Since China could also use political and diplomatic strategies aimed at jeopardizing access to forward bases in places such as Japan, researchers also recommend that U.S. strategists strengthen both the alliance relationships with such countries and their military and technological capabilities.

“The most likely conflict between the United States and China would be over Taiwan,” said lead study author Roger Cliff. “Although the United States currently has an overwhelming conventional military advantage, China could accomplish the objective of forcing Taiwan to surrender by employing an antiaccess strategy of preventing enough U.S. forces from getting to the region in time.”

Cliff and his fellow researchers noted that, since the end of the Cold War, U.S. strategists have become increasingly concerned that an adversary might adopt and attempt to employ strategies designed to interfere with the U.S. military's ability to deploy or operate in overseas conflicts.

Potential foreign adversaries like China are likely to use such strategies because it is improbable they could defeat the United States in a traditional military combat, the study says. Additionally, the absence of a single dominant adversary means the United States will have relatively few forward-deployed forces in the vicinity of a conflict before it erupts.

The study says potential Chinese antiaccess strategies include:

  • Pressuring American allies such as Japan to limit or deny the United States the use of bases on their territory in a conflict.
  • Striking or jamming information and computer systems to delay the deployment of U.S. military forces or to deny the United States access to information about enemy locations.
  • Disrupting U.S. logistics systems to prevent the timely delivery of supplies and delay the arrival of critical reinforcements.
  • Attacking air bases and ports to prevent or disrupt an influx of forces and supplies.
  • Attacking naval assets such as aircraft carriers to limit the U.S. ability to launch aircraft from the sea.

“The net result of these strategies is that China could actually defeat the United States in a conflict — not in the traditional sense of destroying the U.S. military, but in the sense of China accomplishing its military and political objectives while preventing America from achieving some or all of its objectives,” Cliff said.

“The Chinese People's Liberation Army is well aware of its own shortcomings and the United States' military superiority,” Cliff said. “Instead of engaging U.S. forces head-on, they would attempt to take advantage of what they perceive to be American weaknesses – including the need to deploy and operate forces thousands of miles from home.”

Researchers for RAND, a nonprofit research organization, examined Chinese military publications to determine what types of antiaccess strategies Chinese military analysts are considering employing. Most previous antiaccess studies relied on “mirror imaging” techniques, in which American analysts simply imagine what they would do if they were in China's position.

The research was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE, a federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis aimed at providing independent policy alternatives for the U.S. Air Force.

The report, “Entering the Dragon's Lair: Chinese Antiaccess Strategies and Their Implications for the United States,” is available at

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