Through a careful synthesis of current and historical data on relevant factors, anticipated trends, and research-grounded speculation, the authors analyze several scenarios of systemic U.S.-China conflict under hypothetical conditions in which China has neared the point of global primacy. Drawing on academic and research findings regarding the potential trajectory of international security and warfare in coming years, China’s approach to future warfare, relevant experiences of preceding great powers, and patterns in interstate wars, the authors explore the possibility of a U.S.-China war of power transition.
The authors develop two scenarios of systemic U.S.-China conflict. The first scenario features a low-intensity conflict that unfolds across much of the world, across many domains, and over many years. The second features a high-intensity war that evolves out of the low-intensity war. The high-intensity war scenario envisions aggressive actions by both countries to destroy the warfighting capability of the adversary and carries an extremely high risk of escalation to the most destructive levels. Both scenarios occur within the context of a deeply fragmented international situation in which the U.S. and Chinese militaries experience immense strain from sustaining the war effort while grappling with an array of nontraditional threats and responding to demands for aid from embattled partners. Although their analysis concerns a hypothetical conflict situation in which China has neared global primacy, the authors’ findings could inform defense planning for potential contingencies even today.
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