CIAO DATE: 02/06
International Security, Fall 2005 (Volume 30 Issue 2)
What is likely to be the future character of the relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China? Will it be marked by convergence toward deepening cooperation, stability, and peace or by deterioration that leads to increasingly open competition and perhaps even war? The answers to these questions are of enormous importance. They are also, at this point, unknown. Most analysts who write on U.S.-China relations deploy arguments derived from the three main camps in contemporary international relations theorizing: realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Those whose basic analytical premises place them in one of these three schools, however, do not necessarily have similar views regarding the specific question of the future of U.S.-China relations. It is possible to identify realists who believe that the relationship will basically be stable and peaceful, liberals who expect confrontation and conflict, and constructivists who think that things could go either way. The six basic positions in this debate all rest on claims about the importance of particular causal mechanisms or sets of similarly aligned causal forces. In reality, one set of forces may turn out to be so powerful as to overwhelm the rest. But it is also conceivable that the future will be shaped by a confluence of different forces, some mutually reinforcing and others opposed.
Since the 1995–96 Taiwan Strait crisis, scholars and policymakers have become increasingly concerned about China’s territorial ambitions. Yet China has also used peaceful means to manage conflicts, settling seventeen of its twenty-three territorial disputes, often with substantial compromises. This article develops a counterintuitive argument about the effects of domestic conflict on foreign policy to explain China’s behavior. Contrary to the diversionary war hypothesis, this argument posits that state leaders are more likely to compromise in territorial disputes when confronting internal threats to regime security, including rebellions and legitimacy crises. Regime insecurity best explains China’s pattern of compromise and delay in its territorial disputes. China’s leaders have compromised when faced with internal threats to regime security, including the revolt in Tibet, the instability following the Great Leap Forward, the legitimacy crisis after the Tiananmen upheaval, and separatist violence in Xinjiang.
Current U.S. nuclear strategy identifies new nuclear counterforce missions as a means of impeding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The strategy appears to overvalue these counterforce missions. U.S. conventional weapons can destroy most targets that can be destroyed with nuclear weapons; only moderately deep and precisely located targets can be destroyed only by nuclear weapons. In addition, the benefits of nuclear counterforce—which could include deterrence, damage limitation, and the continued ability of the United States to pursue its foreign policy objectives—are relatively small, because the United States possesses large nuclear forces and highly effective conventional forces. Finally, nuclear counterforce would bring a variety of costs, including an increased probability of accidental war and unnecessary preemptive attacks in a severe crisis. Nevertheless, the case for nuclear counterforce is stronger than during the Cold War, when the enormous size and redundancy of U.S. and Soviet forces rendered counterforce useless. When facing a small nuclear force, the United States may decide to use counterforce to limit damage. Although complex trade-offs are involved, if there are critical targets that can be destroyed only with nuclear weapons, then under a narrow set of conditions the benefits of planning for damage limitation might exceed the dangers. The United States must not, however, rely on nuclear counterforce to support a more assertive foreign policy; doing so would unjustifiably increase the probability of nuclear war.
Scholars attribute conventional violence in a nuclear South Asia to a phenomenon known as the “stability/instability paradox.” According to this paradox, the risk of nuclear war makes it unlikely that conventional conflict will escalate to the nuclear level, thereby making conventional conflict more likely. Although this phenomenon encouraged U.S.-Soviet violence during the Cold War, it does not explain the dynamics of the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan. Recent violence has seen Pakistan or its proxies launching limited attacks on Indian territory, and India refusing to retaliate in kind. The stability/instability paradox would not predict such behavior. A low probability of conventional war escalating to the nuclear level would reduce the ability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to deter an Indian conventional attack. Because Pakistan is conventionally weaker than India, this would discourage Pakistani aggression and encourage robust Indian conventional retaliation against Pakistani provocations. Pakistani boldness and Indian restraint have actually resulted from instability in the strategic environment. A full-scale Indo-Pakistani conventional conflict would create a significant risk of nuclear escalation. This danger enables Pakistan to launch limited attacks on India while deterring all-out Indian conventional retaliation and attracting international attention to the two countries’ dispute over Kashmir. Unlike in Cold War Europe, in contemporary South Asia nuclear danger facilitates, rather than impedes, conventional conflict.
The nuclear nonproliferation regime has come under attack from proliferation determinists, who argue that resolute proliferants connected by decentralized networks can be stopped only through the use of aggressive export controls or regime change. Proliferation pragmatists counter that nuclear aspirants are neither as resolved nor as advanced as determinists claim. A technical review of recent proliferators’ progress reveals that Iran, North Korea, and Libya (before it renounced its nuclear program) have been unable to significantly cut development times; the evidence that these regimes are dead set on proliferating and cannot be persuaded to give up their nuclear programs is not compelling. Because these states lack tacit knowledge, the most effective way to dissolve the hub-and-spoke or star-shaped structures of their nuclear and ballistic missile networks is to target the hubs—that is, second-tier proliferators such as Pakistan that have assisted these states with their nuclear and missile programs. Past strategies aimed at dissuading proliferants have been most successful when they combine diplomatic, social, and economic benefits with credible threats and clear red lines. The United States should therefore use these strategies instead of regime change to target current and potential hub states to halt further proliferation.