Cover: Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition Through the Eyes of Others

Understanding the Emerging Era of International Competition Through the Eyes of Others

Country Perspectives

Published Mar 31, 2022

by Michael J. Mazarr, Jonah Blank, Samuel Charap, Benjamin N. Harris, Timothy R. Heath, Niklas Helwig, Jeffrey W. Hornung, Lyle J. Morris, Ashley L. Rhoades, Ariane M. Tabatabai, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. What does the emerging era of international competition look like?
  2. What is the basic character of each country as an actor in this international order?
  3. What are the essential goals or objectives of each country in the order?
  4. How does each country view the unfolding competition in the order?
  5. What is each country's strategy for success?

The U.S. National Security Strategy is built around the expectation of a new era of intensifying international competition that the United States is expected to confront. Yet there is little rigorous analysis of what such an era might look like or how it might unfold. This report is the second describing a study in which researchers evaluated the emerging strategic competition, focusing on the relevant views and policies of key countries around the world (China, India, Russia, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, France, United Kingdom, Iran, Australia, Mexico, Vietnam, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia). This report presents the findings from the second part of that overall study—an evaluation of how the competition looks through the eyes of other major powers, beginning with the primary challengers to the U.S.-led international order. The authors sought to deepen the thinking about the nature of the emerging strategic competition by focusing on the roles and perspectives of the states that will conduct it. This report describes four basic elements about each major actor. Four categories of countries are considered: challenger states; U.S. allies; global emerging democracies; and other key actors. The report examines the essential character of the actors; their goals, principles, and grand strategy; their views of Russia, China, and Iran; and their relations with the United States. It concludes with several general lessons from these perspectives. The primary research for this study was completed in 2019, with updates made in September 2020 to touch on the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, prior to the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Key Findings

Challenger nations (China, Russia, and Iran) are determined to claim greater international influence and reduce U.S. power—and, in China's case, become the preeminent power in Asia

  • All three are "aggrieved" powers dissatisfied with the current balance of power and influence in the international system.
  • Yet none of these states should be viewed as an unqualified, militaristic revisionist, or predator state.

The international system remains dominated by status quo powers

  • International politics remains characterized by a predominant group of states committed to integrated global trade, nonaggression, peaceful resolution of disputes, and collaboration in shared challenges.
  • Many other countries—including India, Brazil, Vietnam, and even France—believe that the postwar order has been excessively dominated by the United States and that the moment has arrived for a more-equal sharing of power.

There is a profound aversion to alliances among most of the emerging nations, including India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and Vietnam

  • All of them have principles of autonomy and independence embedded firmly in their identity and national security doctrine.

The best way to understand the emerging context is as a restrained competition

  • All major powers in the international system today want to preserve the postwar, rules-based order, which they perceive as being very much in their interests.
  • National security strategies and perspectives of many countries emphasize the importance of becoming key nodes or hubs of networks.
  • The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has not fundamentally altered any of these perceptions.


  • Security assistance and military-to-military engagement should remain priorities to the United States.
  • The U.S. Air Force would be well-served to deepen partnership arrangements with a handful of specific emerging regional powers.
  • The U.S. Air Force should prioritize the strengthening of its suite of tools for the gray zone.
  • U.S. Air Force engagement activities should be prioritized based on criteria beyond those associated with high-end conflict.
  • The U.S. Air Force's capacity for "over-the-horizon deterrence" is likely to be increasingly in demand.
  • The U.S. Air Force should work to strengthen military-to-military ties with Russia and China.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned and sponsored by the Director of Strategy, Concepts and Assessments, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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