Escalation Cause

How the Pentagon's New Strategy Could Trigger War with China

Published in: Foreign Policy, Aug. 2, 2013

Posted on RAND.org on August 01, 2013

by David C. Gompert, Terrence Kelly

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As the threat to forward-deployed U.S. forces grows, particularly in East Asia, the Pentagon has been pursuing a strategy known as Air-Sea Battle. The goal is to neutralize the ability of enemies to keep U.S. forces at bay with so-called anti-access and area-denial defenses. Air-Sea Battle proponents are right to highlight the growing vulnerability of forward-deployed U.S. forces and right to enhance inter-service collaboration. But civilian and military leaders alike need to understand that Air-Sea Battle suggests the United States would strike China before China strikes U.S. forces. That could precipitate a spiraling, costly, and destabilizing arms race and make a crisis more likely to lead to hostilities. The United States needs options to facilitate crisis management, deter aggression, and protect U.S. forces that do not require early attacks on Chinese territory. The authors suggest two: Shift toward a more survivable force posture in East Asia and improve the means to prevent China -- or any state -- from projecting force in an act of international aggression.

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