Chapter 7 Military Strategy (Week 11-12)

7.1 Discussion questions

  • What have you learned from Fravel (2019)? What are the implications on China’s current and future military strategy and modernization progress? What are the implications for other countries such as the U.S.?

  • What have you learned from Meijer (2016)? What are the policy implications for U.S.-China relations and the future of U.S. primacy?

What Do Chinese People Think About Chinese-Americans? | ASIAN BOSS first 3 and 8-9:16

M. Taylor Fravel on China’s Modern Military Strategy in Historical Perspective start from 8:25

7.2 Military modernization

Fravel’s main argument can be summarized by a figure from his book.

Fravel argues that

“whether China pursues a major change in military strategy depends on whether it encounters a strong external incentive for change and whether politics within the party enables senior military officers to respond to these changes by formulating a new military strategy if necessary. The external stimulus—the shift in the conduct of warfare—is a necessary condition for major change to occur. Party unity is a sufficient condition that allows the military to respond to the external stimulus.” (p.24)

The guidelines in 1993 represents a clear shift from defending China against invasion to winning local wars over limited aims on its periphery (especially in territorial and sovereignty disputes). The chapter we are reading talks about China’s military strategies since 1993. Fravel argues that although China adjusted its military strategy twice (in 2004 and 2014), these are not major changes. Though shifting to highlight “informatization” and “integrated joint operation”, the two guidelines remained focus on local wars.

  • Informatization is an awkward translation of a Chinese term. Basically, it represents the transition to the information age to more systemmatically collect, distribute, and utilize information. A recent report from the Air Univeristy, for instance, talks about China’s progress in Chinese Airborne C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance).
  • “Integrated joint operation” represents a shift from highlighting coordination among different services to “unified operations under a single command-and-control network.”

7.3 Export control

One of the critical forces driving China’s military modernization is the imports of foreign technology. Export control of on strategic goods and technology cuts across the trade-off between economic interests and security concerns. Meijer’s book studies the variation (over time and across products) of U.S. export control policy toward China. There are two key findings:

  • The Hopelessness of Military/Technological Containment in the Post–Cold War Era. There are multiple factors, including the change of the international system, the weakening of export control regimes, the commercialization and globalization of technology, China’s indigenous capabilities, and the domestic interests in the U.S.
  • There is a new coalition of actors transcending the conventional pro-trade and control hawks divde that are gaining more influence since the 1990s. This new coalition (“Run Faster”) emphasizes streamlining the U.S. export control policy (“higher walls around fewer items”).

7.4 Discussion questions (Week 12)

  • Cunningham and Fravel (2019): What are Chinese views on nuclear escalation? What are the policy implications?

  • Logan (2020): What explains the trends in Chinese nuclear-conventional entanglement? What are the policy implications?

  • [*] What is the future of US-China nuclear relation?

Gravitas: Chinese intruder “tried to hack” India’s defence ministry

China appears to be building missile silos that could launch nuclear weapons

China reportedly tests a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile

China Is Building New Nuclear Weapon Silos. Should the U.S. Worry?, by James Acton

7.5 Nuclear strategy

Cunningham and Fravel (2019) studies the origins and consequences of Chinese confidence in nuclear crisis stability. They point out two unique factors that shape Chinese views. First, China has a much small number of nukes compared to the U.S. (and hence does not have ability to shield its nuclear forces if it chooses to stike the U.S. first). Second, China has been adhering to its no-first-use policy.

Against this backdrop (and the Cold War debates on limited nuclear escalation), China appears to be confident that the use of nuclear weapons can be avoided in a conflict. Chinese experts dismiss the idea of limited nuclear wars. Therefore, U.S. and Chinese national leaders would exercise great caution when deciding over the use of nuclear weapons. Relatedly, the U.S. would also avoid intevening in a conflict between a U.S. ally and China (if there is a risk of nuclear confrontation).

In the empirical section, they further analyze Chinese operational doctrines and force structure and find “there is no evidence that China envisages using nuclear weapons first to gain a military advantage by destroying U.S. conventional forces or to gain a coercive advantage by demonstrating its greater resolve in a conflict with the United States” (p.83). In particular, they highlight that rather than nuclear escalation, China would prefer prolonged conventional wars or simply to terminate and quit a conflict early. China also never deployed tactical nuclear weapons (since Chinese experts tend to dismiss their strategic utility). And the extent of commingling in China is also decreasing.

Logan (2020) focuses on inadvertent escalation and argues that entanglement in China’s missile forces results from bureaucratic dynamics rather than intentional manipulation of risks. He argues that along the three dimensions (geographic, operational, and technological entanglement), China’s entanglement is moderate/limited but likely to increase. Given the lack of comprehensive entanglement, Beijing most likely is “not reading Schelling” (p.35). As such, recent entanglement is more likely driven by operational incentives to reduce costs and improve operational synergies or political incentives to strengthen the Rocket Force.

Assuming this is the case, then the main problem is that “Chinese leaders are less cognizant of its potential risks and less well prepared to cope with them in the midst of a crisis or a conflict” and that crisis signaling could be “misperceived as preparations for an actual nuclear strike, exacerbating threat perceptions and escalatory pressures” (p.40). Therefore, perceptual factors would be the key.