From the Director’s Chair

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From the Director’s Chair
By: Kathleen Hicks

Almost every day, we see an article or hear a discussion on U.S. security policy toward China. Some of what we hear is alarmist, and some is overly optimistic. Although I have many thoughts on this topic, I want to share the top three touchstones to which I continually return when sorting through the morass of incoming information and analysis.

First, U.S. security strategy and policy toward China need to be much better interwoven horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, the trade, diplomacy, and military tracks need to move together with greater evenness and harmony. Vertically, within the military track, concepts, capabilities, and posture need to be tied better to the stated policy of assuring our allies and deterring aggression in the Pacific. More pointedly, those in the defense sphere who want to wish away the potential for conflict between the United States and China are wrong to do so. I suspect they are motivated in part by the seeming inconceivability of such a great power conflict but also by the cost-saving incentive to avoid countering the most difficult aspects of Chinese military capability growth. We must overcome the cost-imposition problem, not assume away our alliance commitments.

Second, war between the United States and China is not inevitable. Even to this realist-trained political scientist, there is no a priori reason to think that the Chinese believe it to be in their self-interest to upend the existing international system and replace it with an alternative model. The U.S.- built system provides value to the Chinese, from America’s policing of the Persian Gulf, which protects Chinese energy supplies, to its promotion of global trade. We should remind them of that.

This relates directly to my third and most important touchstone: being effective at foreign policy matters. This is not about being liked; this is about being persuasive. The United States may be experiencing a hollowing out of its unipolar power, but nowhere in the world are its traditional strengths more valuable than in the Pacific. Clear and credible demonstrations of U.S. interest will generally be more helpful than empty admonitions. If we fail to shape East Asia’s understanding of our interests, then small incident by small incident, our credibility and power will erode.

Kathleen Hicks is senior vice president, Henry A. Kissinger Chair, and director of the International Security Program at CSIS. Other posts by .


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