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.
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.
Photo by Paul VanDerWerf/Flickr (CC by 2.0)
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.
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:
- The high stakes in the United States' most important competition
- The central roles of economics, diplomacy, and technology
- The fact that the United States has the upper hand in comprehensive national power, but China is narrowing the gap
- The perilous erosion of the U.S. security position in Asia as a result of PLA advances
- The growing uncertainty, but still low risk, of a catastrophic U.S.-China war
- The potential key statecraft challenge of managing alliances and partnerships
- The intensifying struggle through measures other than war
RAND China Research
From The RAND Blog
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:
- The U.S.-Russia strategic competition is likely to endure and could escalate, although conventional war between the U.S. and Russia remains unlikely
- 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.
- 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
- Russia's success in strategic competition has been limited to date, and the U.S. retains competitive advantages
- Engagement with Russia remains possible, and perhaps even desirable .
RAND Russia Research
From The RAND Blog
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:
- The growing role of information and disinformation in strategic competition
- The role for deterrence and coercion in strategic competition between rival states
- Rising technological competition in space, cyber, and artificial intelligence
- U.S. grand strategy in a multipolar world
- Leverage economic and diplomatic statecraft to gain advantage in competition