RAND Strategic Competition Initiative

For the first time since contending with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States faces the prospect of a long-term competition with major strategic rivals, namely the People’s Republic of China and Russia.

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During the Cold War, RAND researchers played essential roles researching and advising decisionmakers on various aspects of competition with the Soviet Union—ranging from nuclear deterrence, U.S. force posture abroad, the space race, and low-intensity conflict.

Today, RAND researchers have carried this rich legacy forward to help policymakers and the public alike better understand rising strategic competition. This research has focused in three main areas: strategic competition with the People's Republic of China, strategic competition with Russia, and research into the theory and practice of strategic competition itself.

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Strategic Competition with the People's Republic of China

The rapid unraveling of the U.S.-China relationship—which had been widely viewed as stable and mutually profitable despite long-standing disputes—has unsettled global politics. Although both capitals appear committed to peacefully resolving their differences, the intensifying acrimony and distrust have raised fears among many observers that the two countries could be headed toward confrontation.

RAND Corporation research over the past few years sheds light on many aspects of the complex and evolving relationship. Using various methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives, RAND research has identified seven broad themes that have come to dominate this competition:

  1. The high stakes in the United States' most important competition
  2. The central roles of economics, diplomacy, and technology
  3. The fact that the United States has the upper hand in comprehensive national power, but China is narrowing the gap
  4. The perilous erosion of the U.S. security position in Asia as a result of PLA advances
  5. The growing uncertainty, but still low risk, of a catastrophic U.S.-China war
  6. The potential key statecraft challenge of managing alliances and partnerships
  7. The intensifying struggle through measures other than war

RAND China Research

  • A journalist sits next to a screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping delivering a speech via video for the opening ceremony of the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), at a media centre in Beijing, China September 4, 2020, photo by Tingshu Wang/Reuters

    U.S. Strategic Competition with China: A RAND Research Primer

    A rapid unraveling of the U.S.-China relationship has unsettled global politics. This research primer reviews past RAND Corporation studies on relevant topics surrounding this relationship, primarily from the past five years and extending to the middle of 2020.

  • Earth partially covered by Chinese Yuan, image by Stephen Finn/Adobe Stock

    China's Drive for Power and Influence Around the World

    An analysis of China's ability to use various mechanisms of influence to shape the policies and behavior of 20 countries finds that China's economic power is the foundation for its influence. This analysis offers lessons for the United States that can inform its response.

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From The RAND Blog

  • Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visits army reservist troops during training in Nanshipu, Taiwan, March 12, 2022, photo by Ann Wang/Reuters

    Ukraine War Is Motivating Taiwan to Better Secure Its Own Future

    May 13, 2022

    Russia's invasion of Ukraine is probably motivating Taiwan to better secure its own future versus China. But many of the challenges currently facing Taiwan, such as shortcomings in reservist training or lingering confusion over its military strategy, are difficult to fix, assuming they are even fixable.

  • Bongbong Marcos during a campaign rally in Manila, Philippines, May 7, 2022, photo by Latin America News Agency/Reuters

    New Philippine President Marcos Jr. Likely Won't Repeat Duterte's Foreign Policy Mistakes

    May 10, 2022

    Monday's all-but-official election of Bongbong Marcos as the next president of the Philippines will hold significant implications for Manila's foreign policy. He is likely to be influenced by the policies of both his father, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, yielding a new government interested in engaging China while keeping the United States close by.

U.S. Strategic Competition with Russia

Despite periodic hopes for a "reset" in U.S. relations with Russia over the past decade, Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 laid bare the need for the United States to compete and deter Russian aggression in its near abroad, and on the world stage. Since then, U.S. strategy towards Moscow has embraced the need to challenge Russian destabilizing efforts and preserve U.S. interests in key regions.

RAND research over the last several years has focused on the nature of Russia's strategy and priorities, the tools it uses to compete with the U.S., and how these activities affect U.S. and NATO interests. Similarly, significant research has focused on Russia's approach to "gray zone" and information-focused competition, and how successful U.S. competition with Russia is likely to differ from competition with China.

Several key themes emerge from this body of work:

  1. The U.S.-Russia strategic competition is likely to endure and could escalate, although conventional war between the U.S. and Russia remains unlikely
  2. States on Russia's periphery and within NATO are at the forefront of this competition, and play key roles themselves in helping to secure shared interests with the U.S.
  3. Russian efforts to compete short of armed conflict are persistent, but the U.S. can take concrete steps to support allies and partners subject to gray zone coercion
  4. Russia's success in strategic competition has been limited to date, and the U.S. retains competitive advantages
  5. Engagement with Russia remains possible, and perhaps even desirable .

RAND Russia Research

  • U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021, photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    U.S. Strategic Competition with Russia Is Here to Stay

    Jan 31, 2022

    Competition between the United States and Russia occurs at many levels, from the military arena to the economic, political, and social realms. A review of 58 RAND reports on this topic highlights major findings and explores key aspects of the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship.

  • Russian President Putin addresses the audience during Moscow City Day celebrations in Moscow, Russia, September 5, 2020, photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

    Confronting a More Globally Active Russia

    Jun 15, 2021

    For the last 25 years, Russia has been focused on regaining the ability to influence actions beyond its own region. Recognizing Russia's global interests could help the United States implement its own global strategy.

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From The RAND Blog

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    May 13, 2022

    This weekly recap focuses on tackling Truth Decay, how civilian tech experts view the military's use of artificial intelligence, a new approach to regulating outer space, and more.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on arming Ukraine, after touring a Lockheed Martin weapons factory in Troy, Alabama, May 3, 2022, photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    The Escalation Fixation

    May 6, 2022

    Fears of global nuclear annihilation should have produced a concerted effort by all sides to keep the Ukraine conflict limited. But the focus on escalation—rather than ensuring Russia's defeat—has instead made the international security picture more precarious.

Other Competition-Related Research

Beyond investigating the major tenets of strategic competition with China and Russia, RAND researchers have also focused on the theory and norms governing modern competition between states, and research focused on the specific tools, methods, and domains in which this competition is most likely to occur. Frequent themes from this research include:

  1. The growing role of information and disinformation in strategic competition
  2. The role for deterrence and coercion in strategic competition between rival states
  3. Rising technological competition in space, cyber, and artificial intelligence
  4. U.S. grand strategy in a multipolar world
  5. Leverage economic and diplomatic statecraft to gain advantage in competition

RAND Research on Global Security and Competition

  • Staff members of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency promote social distancing at the Ikorodu Community School in Lagos, Nigeria, photo by Adeyinka Yusuf/Getty Images

    The Pandemic's Effects on Strategic Competition in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Jul 20, 2021

    What have been the public health, political, and economic ramifications of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa? And has the pandemic allowed China and Russia to gain more influence on the continent?

  • Topographic map showing Russia and the Arctic region, image by FrankRamspott/Getty Images

    Exploring Gaps in Arctic Governance

    Jul 27, 2021

    Conditions in the Arctic region are evolving, driven by such factors as climate change, economics, and geopolitics. What are the risks that come with these changes—and how could governance in the Arctic adapt to mitigate them?

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Much of this work is conducted within RAND's National Security Research Division (NSRD). Laura Baldwin is the acting director.

For more about RAND's security competition initiative, email strategic-competition@rand.org