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Research Questions

  1. What is the appropriate framework for assessing a major-power competition?
  2. What factors are most commonly associated with success in a major-power competition?
  3. What is the global context for U.S. competition with China and Russia, and what interests does each party bring to that dynamic?
  4. What is the current U.S. competitive position relative to China and Russia, and what steps should the United States take to ensure its competitive advantage?

The U.S. strategic focus has increasingly turned to major-power competition, but there is currently no framework for understanding U.S. competition with near-peer rivals China and Russia. Drawing on extensive research on the economic, military, and geopolitical dimensions of U.S. strategic competition with these countries, RAND researchers assembled high-level findings and recommendations to support immediate policy decisions to ensure the U.S. competitive advantage. In the process, they developed a framework for assessing a competition between major powers in four dimensions: (1) overall context for the competition, (2) national power and competitiveness, (3) international position and influence, and (4) shape and standing of bilateral contests. This guide to understanding and succeeding in the new era of strategic competition brings together historical lessons and the latest data on global alliances, economic interdependencies, technological and military advantages, national interests, and more, highlighting broad sets of priorities for U.S. policy and investment.

Key Findings

U.S. success in strategic competition hinges on preserving its economic and technological strength

  • Maintaining the U.S. competitive position requires economic strength, leadership in major industries, and positioning itself at the forefront of technological innovation.
  • Militarily, the greatest threats the United States faces in competition with China and Russia are technological innovations that threaten U.S. ways of waging war and the security of the networks and systems on which its forces depend.

Current major-power competition is fundamentally about the character of the international system

  • U.S. competition with China and Russia involves multiple intersecting military, economic, and geopolitical interests and has significant implications for the international order.
  • China, in particular, is working to reshape dominant international rules, norms, and institutions in addition to growing its military capability.
  • The United States remains in a strong competitive position. However, its long-term success depends on maintaining a strong economic posture and willingness to engage economically on an international scale; the alignment of key allies and partners; ideological influence over international rules, norms, and institutions; and a strong global military posture relative to competing powers.


  • U.S. policy priorities should include maintaining economic and financial strength and flexibility, sustaining a lead or share of the lead in emerging technologies and industries, protecting the information environment, developing tools and techniques to support ongoing competition, and preserving current levels of U.S. influence in global institutions.
  • U.S. defense investments should prioritize the rapid adoption of emerging technologies for military use, protecting innovative military systems from intellectual property theft or attack, developing capabilities to engage adversaries below the threshold of war, sustaining and deepening alliances, and developing joint concepts and capabilities to achieve short- and long-term military objectives.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development and Strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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