Alternative Futures Following a Great Power War
May 9, 2023
The Department of Defense has become increasingly focused on competition with China and Russia and the possibility of great power war. RAND researchers generated four plausible near-term war scenarios and assessed how they could shape the postwar strategic environment. These scenarios show the complex relationship between wartime and postwar goals, highlighting the importance of considering postwar outcomes in prewar planning.
Volume 1, Scenarios, Findings, and Recommendations
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The U.S. Department of Defense has been increasingly focused on competition with Russia and China and, in the extreme, the possibility of great power war. To inform thinking about what might follow such a war, RAND researchers generated four hypothetical near-term great power war scenarios and assessed how the postwar strategic environment would change in each scenario. These scenarios offer planners and decisionmakers plausible narratives about future great power wars with different features to help them examine assumptions and think about how wartime choices could affect postwar U.S. objectives.
The scenarios in this report illustrate the complex relationships between wartime and postwar goals. They show how a U.S. victory could provoke a stronger alignment between China and Russia or lead to greater determination and hostility in the recently defeated adversary. A U.S. defeat, meanwhile, could enhance U.S. efforts to recruit allies and partners, while also increasing the likelihood of nuclear proliferation among U.S. allies and partners. Indeterminate war outcomes could heighten the risk of a quick return to conflict while sapping alliance cohesion. The complexity and variability of these results highlight the importance for U.S. policymakers of considering postwar outcomes in prewar planning.
China Annexes Taiwan
United States Degrades China's Military Power After an East China Sea Conflict Expands
Unexpected War over Taiwan Ends in a Frozen Conflict
War Caused by Russian Misperception Ends in Restrictions on Military Forces in Northeastern Europe
The research reported here was commissioned by Headquarters Air Force, Directorate of Strategy, Posture, and Assessments and was conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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