Since we are now firmly committed, in defense policy at least, to China as the main rival and "pacing threat," maybe it's time to answer a fairly simple question: What does *success* in this rivalry / competition look like? Precisely + specifically, not abstractly?
No answer can use any of the following terms: Primacy, predominance, dominance, hegemony, overmatch, dilemmas, synergy, multi-domain, calibrated, or dynamic. No answer can recycle statements of vague aspirational outcomes ("preserving the commons," "advancing American values")
Responses must offer precise lists of outcomes that identify success, and those which indicate failure. Example: "China is unable to forcibly fracture any existing US alliance" could be an indicator of success; "China enforces ADIZ over SCS" may indicate failure
Some identified goals will likely speak to warding off China's externalized suppression of dissent--i.e., success means no US/friendly institutions (companies, universities) impose constraints on dialogue or public actions as a result of Chinese threats
China has (some) goals inimical to the US; its system is coercive + repressive; rivalry is real. But we're approaching this in such a generic, jargony, catch-phrase-y, aspirational way as to lock ourselves into an indiscriminate + universal opposition w/o clear goals
A thoughtful answer will admit that US success doesn't demand PRC "failure" in fundamental ways. The Cold War is misleading in this sense: The existence of a rivalry doesn't automatically mean that success is equivalent to the systemic collapse of a rival
Any such assessment should also avoid the trap of defining success mostly in terms of relative geopolitical power. That's one goal. A more fundamental way of understanding national "success" = protecting the safety, prosperity + freedom of citizens
One huge issue buried in the larger question is Taiwan. Is preventing forcible (or even peaceful) PRC takeover a necessary condition for US success in the overall rivalry? If so, why? What hard evidence exists for the rationales behind that assertion (eg, credibility dominoes)?
Precise definition of goals can help avoid an exaggerated + escalatory approach to the rivalry, focus national security (+ nat'l resilience) investments, and shape our diplomacy. Without knowing what success looks like, we risk stumbling around + getting into unnecessary wars
So, the question: What specific, identifiable and/or measurable outcomes should define what success and failure look like for the United States in the rivalry with China?

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Mike Mazarr

Mike Mazarr Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @MMazarr

6 May
The Taiwan debate is quickly reflecting a degree of emotionalism + moralism not likely to produce sound strategic decisions. To be clear, I am *not* in favor of "abandoning" Taiwan, "bargaining" away its security, or formally promising the US would not respond to an attack
However: There are powerful arguments for limits + caution in US commitments and actions on this issue. If it occurred, this war would likely be as devastating to the US military as WW2, and far more destructive to the US homeland
There are good arguments to be had about the degree of US interests involved (IMHO: big but not vital and nothing close to existential), the degree of China's regional ambitions that would be "unleashed" by a campaign, etc. Simple assertions on such things are likely to mislead
Read 6 tweets
6 Jul 20
It's becoming a common refrain among some China watchers: Engagement was always stupid; those now coming around to tougher position on China should have seen it before; China's harsh trajectory was always obvious. Several good sources refute that notion ...
Iain Johnston's superb essay in @TWQgw is the best one-source response: China isn't resolutely against all rules or orders; its behavior toward post-war order has been mixed, not wholly negative; criticisms use straw man versions of engagement…
We forget that the opening to China was a strategic gambit that had big geopolitical return. Phil Gordon's new essay in @WarOnTheRocks puts it brilliantly: "The benefits of not having [China] as an enemy have endured for so long they are now largely taken for granted"
Read 7 tweets
10 Feb 20
Evidence grows that we may need a new narrative on China soon, at least one among several. In the Cold War we had faith that character of US system was superior in long-run to autocratic / state-controlled. China differs from USSR, but elements of the same theory apply 1/6
Fascinating new essay on how China will have difficulty competing in long-run without democratic transition. Just because engagement didn't produce liberalization (yet) doesn't mean these dynamics aren't still at work 2/6… via @ForeignAffairs
Coronavirus--following on heels of Hong Kong debacle--is an example of ways in which autocratic system can face legitimacy crisis. This crisis might be gone in 6 months, but the ingredients of credibility challenge are there 3/6… via @financialtimes
Read 6 tweets
10 Jan 20
A very interesting take on China's militarized islands from the always-insightful @GregPoling at @WarOnTheRocks. The general point is well-taken: We need to be concerned. Some reactions:…
To be sure these are a significant military planning factor--especially because, as some have argued, in the weeks before a potential clash China could surge additional capabilities into them. On the other hand ...…
1. I am always wary of amateur, open-source military opt'l analysis--mine included. To know how hard it would be to disable these facilities we'd need to talk to planners working the issue. My sense from unclas sources is: Yes they add complexity, but they are pretty vulnerable
Read 14 tweets
9 Dec 19
A couple of thoughts on The Afghan Papers as someone who observed a tiny slice of the inside history:
1. Sort of amazed (but maybe not) this isn't getting more play. Would be a true shame if it passed w/o prompting a renewed soul-searching debate.…
2. I still think "lying" is the wrong frame; it misses the crushing complexity of decision making for these wars. They start with a mix of urgent need + enthusiasm, and a clever scheme to make it work. This entry point then fuels path dependence + political barriers to leaving.
3. What then emerges--motivated reasoning--is a huge problem, but a different one from outright lying. The result is the same: misleading about what's going on. But the commanders & officials truly and sincerely believe their own rhetoric about projecting strength and progress.
Read 5 tweets
4 Dec 19
Strongly agree with the spirit of the new @QuincyInst--to find a more discriminate and restrained US global approach. As advocates work out such an agenda, though, we'll have to take seriously at least three challenges: 1/6 via @politico
1. Distinguishing arguments for effective restraint from attacks on the malign goals of an American imperialist project. They are two different things. The more an agenda sounds like the latter, the less support it will gain from elected officials, the public and allies. 2/6
2. Developing well-defended alternative strategies to achieve US goals, rather than merely demanding "an end" to things. Example: No US administration will abandon global CT, so what does a more restrained but still effective approach look like? 3/6
Read 6 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!