Category: strategy

China’s Military Strategy for a ‘New Era’

In the Journal of Strategic Studies, Joel Wuthnow and I examine the military strategic guidelines for China’s People’s Liberation Army adopted by the Central Military Commission in 2019.

This strategy was consistent with the previous one from 2014 but framed by Xi’s political consolidation, growing threats from the United States and Taiwan, and a new military structure. We document the strategy and then consider what would lead to a more fundamental change in the future.

Read the article here.

China’s “World-Class Military” Ambitions: Origins and Implications

An article based on my testimony last summer before the USCC has been published The Washington Quarterly.

I examine what the concept of building a “world-class military” as mentioned by Xi Jinping since 2016, especially in the 19th Part Congress Work Report.

I argue that the phrase “world-class military” should be viewed as a general, high-level, and
overarching concept for the development of the PLA. That is, it defines what it means to “achieve the goal of a strong army,” an objective that Xi introduced in early 2013 as part of his
“China dream.

At the same time, it does not outline a global military strategy or illuminate China’s global ambitions. Instead, a review of China’s current military strategy of “winning informatized local wars” best answers these questions.

Read the article here.

Dangerous Confidence?: Chinese Views on Nuclear Escalation

In a new article in International Security, Fiona Cunningham and I explore Chinese views of nuclear escalation.

Our review of original Chinese-language sources and interviews with members of China’s strategic community suggest that China is skeptical that nuclear escalation could be controlled once nuclear weapons are used and, thus, leaders would be restrained from pursuing even limited use. These views are reflected in China’s nuclear operational doctrine (which outlines plans for retaliatory strikes only and lacks any clear plans for limited nuclear use) and its force structure (which lacks tactical nuclear weapons).

The long-standing decoupling of Chinese nuclear and conventional strategy, organizational biases within China’s strategic community, and the availability of space, cyber, and conventional missile weapons as alternative sources of strategic leverage best explain Chinese views toward nuclear escalation.

China’s confidence that a U.S.-China conflict would not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons may hamper its ability to identify nuclear escalation risks in such a scenario. Meanwhile, U.S. scholars and policymakers emphasize the risk of inadvertent escalation in a conflict with China, but they are more confident than their Chinese counterparts that the use of nuclear weapons could remain limited. When combined, these contrasting views could create pressure for a U.S.-China conflict to escalate rapidly into an unlimited nuclear war.

Read the article here.

China as a “World-Class Military”

Yesterday, I testified before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was established to review developments in China.

The hearing examined the ambitions of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s as a “world-class military.”

My testimony reviewed the origins of the use “world-class military” to argue that it should be viewed as a force development concept, not one that outlined China’s global military ambitions. I also argued that, from the standpoint of strategy and warfighting, the PLA will remain focused on East Asia.

Read my testimony or watch the entire hearing.

Active Defense now available

My new book on China’s military strategy, Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy Since 1949, is now available, published by Princeton University Press.

The book offers the first systematic study of the military strategies adopted by the People’s Republic of China since 1949. Overall, the PLA has formulated nine military strategies, three of them which constituted major changes in strategy and sparked the transformation of the PLA’s doctrine, force structure, and training.

Read more about the book here.

Major Changes in China’s Military Strategy

I recently published an article in International Security on China’s military strategy, entitled “Shifts in Warfare and Party Unity: Explaining China’s Changes in Military Strategy.”

The article contains three main points:

  1. China has adopted nine military strategies since 1949, or what the PLA calls “strategic guidelines.”
  2. The strategies adopted in 1956, 1980 and 1993 represented major changes in the PLA’s approach military strategy, requiring significant organizational change.
  3. China has pursued major changes in its military strategy in response to shifts in warfare in the international system, but only when the CCP is united and delegated responsibility for military affairs to the PLA’s senior officers.

The article is a teaser for a much longer book on the subject, Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy Since 1949, which will be published in early 2019.

Read the article here.

China’s Changing Approach to Military Strategy

In a recently published edited volume, China’s Evolving Military Strategy, I examine how Chinese thinking about military strategy is changing by comparing the 2013 edition of The Science of Military Strategy to the 2001 edition.

I reach two general conclusions:

  1. The 2013 edition represents an evolution of China’s approach to thinking about military strategy. It does not contain a description of a revolutionary new approach to China’s military strategy.  Instead, it examines changes in China’s security environment through traditional concepts that have underpinned the PLA’s approach to strategy, such as “active defense,” by modifying or adjusting these ideas based on new circumstances.
  2. China’s new and expanding interests overseas, along with worldwide advances in military technology and the posture of potential adversaries, are expanding the battlespace in which the PLA will need to operate and increasing the importance of greater strategic depth.  Much of the book can be interpreted as examining how the PLA should respond to these new conditions based on its traditional approach to strategy.

A preprint is available here.