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  • Author: Fiona S. Cunningham, M. Taylor Fravel
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Chinese views of nuclear escalation are key to assessing the potential for nuclear escalation in a crisis or armed conflict between the United States and China, but they have not been examined systematically. A 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.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, International Security, Nuclear Power, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia
  • Author: Elizabeth N. Saunders
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: When and how do domestic politics influence a state's nuclear choices? Recent scholarship on nuclear security develops many domestic-political explanations for different nuclear decisions. These explanations are partly the result of two welcome trends: first, scholars have expanded the nuclear timeline, examining state behavior before and after nuclear proliferation; and second, scholars have moved beyond blunt distinctions between democracies and autocracies to more fine-grained understandings of domestic constraints. But without linkages between them, new domestic-political findings could be dismissed as a laundry list of factors that do not explain significant variation in nuclear decisions. This review essay assesses recent research on domestic politics and nuclear security, and develops a framework that illuminates when and how domestic-political mechanisms are likely to affect nuclear choices. In contrast to most previous domestic arguments, many of the newer domestic-political mechanisms posited in the literature are in some way top-down; that is, they show leaders deliberately maintaining or loosening control over nuclear choices. Two dimensions govern the extent and nature of domestic-political influence on nuclear choices: the degree of threat uncertainty and the costs and benefits to leaders of expanding the circle of domestic actors involved in a nuclear decision. The framework developed in this review essay helps make sense of several cases explored in the recent nuclear security literature. It also has implications for understanding when and how domestic-political arguments might diverge from the predictions of security-based analyses.
  • Topic: Security, Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, International Security, Domestic politics, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Iran, North Korea
  • Author: Deborah Jordan Brooks, Stephen G. Brooks, Brian D. Greenhill, Mark L. Haas
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The world is experiencing a period of unprecedented demographic change. For the first time in human history, marked disparities in age structures exist across the globe. Around 40 percent of the world's population lives in countries with significant numbers of elderly citizens. In contrast, the majority of the world's people live in developing countries with very large numbers of young people as a proportion of the total population. Yet, demographically, most of the world's states with young populations are aging, and many are doing so quickly. This first-of-its kind systematic theoretical and empirical examination of how these demographic transitions influence the likelihood of interstate conflict shows that countries with a large number of young people as a proportion of the total population are the most prone to international conflict, whereas states with the oldest populations are the most peaceful. Although societal aging is likely to serve as a force for enhanced stability in most, and perhaps all, regions of the world over the long term, the road to a “demographic peace” is likely to be bumpy in many parts of the world in the short to medium term.
  • Topic: Demographics, War, International Security, Democracy, International Relations Theory
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Japan, China, Germany, Global Focus
  • Author: Charles L. Glaser
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Despite the intense focus on China's rise, the United States has yet to confront the most challenging question posed by this power shift: Should it pursue a strategy of limited geopolitical accommodation to avoid conflict? U.S. policy continues to focus almost entirely on preserving the geopolitical status quo in Northeast Asia. Given the shifting power balance in Asia, however, there are strong theoretical rationales for considering whether significant changes to the status quo could increase U.S. security. A possibility designed to provide the benefits of accommodation while reducing its risks is a grand bargain in which the United States ends its commitment to defend Taiwan and, in turn, China peacefully resolves its maritime disputes in the South China and East China Seas and officially accepts the United States' long-term military security role in East Asia. In broad terms, the United States has three other options—unilateral accommodation, a concert of Asian powers, and the current U.S. rebalance to Asia. Unilateral accommodation and the rebalance have advantages that make the choice a close call, but all things considered, a grand bargain is currently the United States' best bet.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, International Cooperation, International Security, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: United States, China