This paper presents some scenarios that, if they were to come to pass, could result in military conflict with China over the next thirty years. The authors begin by exploring different plausible sources of conflict — whether it be the collapse of North Korea, possible dwindling relations between Taiwan and China, or other contingencies involving Japan or India. They discuss the operational implications each might present the United States and then turn to the requirements for defense and deterrence. Although China's military capabilities lag far behind those of the United States, it has — or will gain — local superiority, first in and around Taiwan and then at greater distances. As a result, direct defense of contested assets in the region will become increasingly difficult and would likely escalate geographically or into the cyber and economic realms. Enabling capabilities and buttressing the resolve of China's neighbors is one means for improving U.S. prospects for direct defense while reducing the necessity for escalation. In parallel to that strategy, efforts to draw China into cooperative security endeavors should be proffered. The far-reaching specter of economic mayhem that would be a consequence of any Sino-American conflict, in effect a form of mutual assured economic destruction, also acts as a powerful mutual deterrent.
The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center
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