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Adjustments in the United States’ Conventional Deterrence Strategy Against China


Zuo Xiying, one of China’s top experts on international security, examines evolving U.S. deterrence strategies in light of rising strategic competition with China. He argues that the gap in conventional deterrence capabilities between China and the U.S. is rapidly narrowing owing to China’s technological and military advances and what he sees as the decline of the U.S. industrial base. As a “stress reaction” to this perceived decline, Zuo argues U.S. policymakers have begun to discuss declining American conventional deterrence capabilities vis-a-vis China more frequently. Zuo warns that Beijing should approach shifts in relative capabilities cautiously, and recognize that the U.S. is expanding its “toolbox” of mechanisms that can be leveraged flexibly to deter China, particularly in the case of heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

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After the end of the Cold War, the United States became the only superpower. At global and regional levels, the United States has long put maintaining its hegemonic position at the center of its foreign policy, deterring its adversaries by threatening to use overwhelming military power to punish them or convince them that they cannot win a war. This is seen as one of the cornerstones of the U.S. national security strategy. In terms of strategic orientation, the United States has shifted its strategic focus from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region, and has deployed a strong military presence in the Western Pacific. Especially after being tested by the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996, the United States has been considered to have the ability to win wars and the dominating power to control escalating conflicts in the Western Pacific, and to possess a strong deterrence capability against China. 1 However, in the face of U.S. hegemony, emerging countries represented by China have resisted U.S. power through a variety of strategies.2 It was also after the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis that China accelerated its defense modernization and committed itself to building a modern military. After more than two decades of efforts, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has significantly narrowed the gap with the United States in most areas in terms of technology and skill levels, and the power match-up between the Chinese and U.S. militaries has become increasingly balanced. 3


In terms of connotation, deterrence means dissuading an adversary from taking unwanted actions by issuing threats of force. Generally speaking, deterrence is influenced by two main factors: military power and strategic resolve. This means that deterrence is not only a process of calculating military power, but also a process of perceiving the strategic motives and military doctrines of both sides. The view of the U.S. strategic community is that the erosion of absolute U.S. dominance in conventional military forces in recent years has led to serious challenges to the credibility of its conventional deterrence. The significant decline in the utility of U.S. conventional deterrence against China is bound to bring about a series of significant changes, including changes in its deterrence doctrine and strategy, and to push the United States to adjust its established force-building and deployment of forces. What changes are currently taking place in the United States’ conventional deterrence doctrine? How is the United States making the relevant strategic adjustments? This paper will explore these questions, analyzing the changes in U.S. conventional deterrence doctrine and strategy in order to improve our understanding of the pattern of U.S.-China strategic interaction.


I. How the U.S. strategic community perceives China’s enhancement of its conventional deterrence capability


The fundamental reason for the adjustment of the U.S. conventional deterrence strategy toward China lies in the relative changes in the conventional deterrence capabilities of China and the United States. After the Cold War, the United States occupied a dominant position militarily. It could project power into the Western Pacific with comparative ease, and therefore more easily deter China. However, as China’s ability to deter the United States militarily has increased, U.S. access to the Western Pacific has become more difficult, and its effectiveness in deterring China has diminished. Against this backdrop, the U.S. strategic community has shown subtle changes in its perception of U.S. and Chinese conventional deterrence capabilities, and has even become skeptical of the credibility of U.S. conventional deterrence.


i. The rapid rise in China’s conventional deterrence capabilities

The dynamic shift in the balance of conventional deterrence forces between China and the United States can be theoretically examined through the relative changes in the military power of the two countries. Although both China and the United States are committed to improving their conventional deterrence capabilities, China has made more progress in this contest and is rapidly closing the power gap with the United States. China has not only focused on developing its “anti-access and area denial” capabilities and strengthening its conventional deterrence capabilities in the Western Pacific, but has also actively developed its conventional forces to achieve regional and global security objectives, undermining U.S. dominance and strategic superiority in relative terms.


First, China has worked adamantly to strengthen the foundations, make up shortcomings, and master distinctive skills in conventional military fields, thereby significantly narrowing quantitative and technological gaps with the United States and making significant achievements in military modernization. First, China has increased its investment and made many breakthroughs in core technologies. For example, with the launch of the Liaoning, Shandong, and Fujian aircraft carriers, the Type 055 destroyer, and the Type 075 amphibious assault ship, maritime combat capabilities have been greatly enhanced; and with the introduction in rapid succession of the J-20, Y-20 and Z-20 aircraft, there has been a rapid catching up with the United States in terms of technology. These advanced weapons and equipment and combat platforms have become a strong basis for China’s defense of its national interests and deterrence of the United States. Second, “Assassin’s mace” weapons are being developed to form local superiority over the United States. China has made significant breakthroughs in the fields of anti-satellite weapons, anti-missile weapons, and anti-ship weapons. In terms of anti-satellite weapons, China conducted its first anti-satellite test on January 11, 2007, and has conducted several more tests. This shows that China has the ability to strike communication satellites in outer space. 4 In terms of anti-missile weapons, China conducted a test of land-based, mid-course anti-missile interception technology on June 19, 2022.5 This followed previous tests conducted on January 11, 2010, January 27, 2013, July 23, 2014, February 6, 2018, and February 4, 2021. Anti-ship weapons, represented by the DF-21D, DF-26, and YJ-21 ballistic missiles, have become an “assassin’s mace” for deterring U.S. maritime power.


Second, China is rationalizing its systems and mechanisms, and seeking breakthroughs in new areas and directions, in order to catch up with the United States in technological innovation. China not only established the Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force in the new round of military reform, but has also gradually focused its weaponry development on advanced weapons and equipment such as stealth aircraft, hypersonic weapons, railguns, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Taking hypersonic weapons as an example, China displayed its first hypersonic weapon, the DF-17 ballistic missile, at a military parade on Oct. 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “With the successful development of the DF-17 ballistic missile, China is at the forefront of hypersonic weapons.”6 In August 2021, China conducted a test of an Earth-orbiting spacecraft, which was used to verify spacecraft reusability technology. The Financial Times even claimed that it was a hypersonic glide vehicle which could carry a nuclear warhead, and that the U.S. missile defense system would be unable to intercept it.7 Since the key to hypersonic weapons is not the speed of flight, but the ability to control the flight path and altitude, their high speed and maneuverability make them difficult to track, target, and shoot down. As a result, this has become a key area of competition between China and the United States. China’s superiority in this area has no doubt enhanced China’s conventional deterrence capability against the United States.


To summarize the above discussion, a significant shift is taking place in the conventional deterrence dynamics between China and the United States. China’s building of deterrence capability against the United States is characterized by a focus on system conflict, and it is shifting from a paradigm dominated by “assassin’s mace” weapons development to one of catching up across the board. In the period following the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, the core question in China’s military equipment development was how to prevent external forces from interfering in the Taiwan issue, and the United States’ so-called “anti-access and area denial” strategy was developed on this basis. China has been investing relatively ample resources in recent years, and its military spending and equipment development are at a critical inflection point. China is gradually narrowing the gap with the United States in several areas of military technology, and the path to deterring the United States is shifting toward “integrated deterrence.”8 The United States believes that China’s rising conventional deterrence capabilities will inevitably erode U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities and adversely affect the credibility of U.S. conventional deterrence. China’s goal of building a world-class military will make conventional deterrence capabilities between the United States and China more symmetrical. This will inevitably lead to changes in the perceptions of the United States and its allies toward China.


ii. Perceptions of the U.S. strategic community

On February 10, 2021, President Biden stated that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) would establish a new “China Task Force” led by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and headed by Ely Ratner, a DoD Senior Advisor on China affairs. Biden asked the task force to study high-priority topics such as strategy, operational concepts, technology and force structure, force posture, force management, and intelligence, and to establish priorities for responding to China’s strategy, and the processes and procedures for conducting its work.9 It is not hard to see that the U.S. government has always maintained a high level of vigilance toward the growth of Chinese power, and we can see the general shape of this in the various assessments that have emerged. U.S. perceptions of China include three main areas.

2021年2月10日,美国总统拜登表示,美国国防部将成立一个新的“中国工作组”,由国防部长劳埃德·奥斯汀(Lloyd Austin III)牵头,国防部中国事务首席顾问埃利·拉特纳(Ely Ratner)负责。拜登要求工作组研究战略、作战概念、技术和部队机构、部队态势、部队管理和情报等高度优先的议题,确立应对中国战略的优先顺序及其开展工作的进程和程序。不难看出,美国政府对中国实力的增长始终保持着高度的警惕,各种评估层出不穷,我们可以从中看出端倪。美国对华认知主要包括三个方面。

First, China is rapidly eroding U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities. The United States believes that its own conventional deterrence capabilities are being eroded in three main ways: (1) The competitiveness of the U.S. defense industrial base is declining. A DoD report released in October 2018 concluded that the U.S. defense industrial base faces unprecedented challenges that threaten the ability of the United States to respond to competition from other powers. 10 The China Strategy Group (headed by Eric Schmidt, former president of Google and director of the Defense Innovation Board at the DoD, and Jared Cohen, founder of the Google Ideas think tank) authored a report which recommended that the United States carry out asymmetric competition against China in the science and technology (S&T) sector, and called on the United States to formulate urgent policy solutions to reshape technological competitiveness and consolidate key S&T advantages. 11 (2) China’s military modernization has surged in recent years, with a large number of iconic weapons and combat platforms emerging out of the blue to challenge U.S. military superiority. In November 2017, Joseph F. Dunford, then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said in a speech at Tufts University that U.S. military superiority was being eroded by competitors, and that continued U.S. investment was necessary to ensure that it will possess deterrence ability. 12 The 2017 National Security Strategy report was blunt: “China and Russia are developing advanced weapons and capabilities that could threaten our critical infrastructure and command and control systems.”13 (3) Its operational doctrine is under attack from China. The 2018 Summary of the National Defense Strategy suggested that the United States will face a more lethal and destructive battlefield, and that competitors and enemies are optimizing targets against U.S. operational networks and concepts, while making full use of means other than open warfare to compete with the United States. These trends are challenging the United States’ ability to deter aggression.14 It is clear that the U.S. government already attaches great importance to the reality of declining conventional deterrence capabilities. This is because that reality is challenging the long-held U.S. belief that weakness will invite war, and therefore the relative decline in U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities may encourage China to make reckless moves. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Michèle A. Flournoy has said that a diminished U.S. deterrence capability increases the risk of Chinese miscalculation, and could lead to direct conflict between the two nuclear powers.15

首先,美国的常规威慑能力正在被中国快速侵蚀。美国认为,自身的常规威慑能力被削弱主要表现在三个方面:第一,美国国防工业基础的竞争力在下降。美国国防部2018年10月公布的报告认为,美国国防工业基地面临前所未有的挑战,威胁到美国应对大国竞争的能力。谷歌公司前总裁、美国国防部国防创新委员会主任埃里克·施密特(Eric Schmidt)和谷歌智库创始人贾里德·科恩(Jared Cohen)共同领导的“中国战略组”撰写了一份报告,其中建议美国在科技领域对中国展开不对称竞争,呼吁美国制定紧急的政策解决方案,重塑科技竞争力,巩固关键科技优势。第二,中国军事现代化近年来突飞猛进,一大批具有标志性意义的武器和作战平台横空出世,美国的军事优势受到挑战。2017年11月,时任美军参谋长联席会议主席约瑟夫·邓福德(Joseph F. Dunford)在塔夫茨大学发表演讲时表示,美国的军事优势正在被竞争对手侵蚀,美国有必要持续投入,以保证拥有威慑的能力。2017年的美国《国家安全战略》报告直言不讳:“中国和俄罗斯正在发展先进的武器和能力,这些武器和能力可能威胁到我们的关键基础设施和指挥控制体系。”第三,作战理论受到中国的冲击。美国2018年《国防战略概要》提出,美国将面临一个更具有杀伤力和破坏性的战场,竞争对手和敌人正在针对美国的作战网络和作战概念而优化目标,同时充分利用公开战争以外的手段与美国竞争,这些趋势正在挑战美国威慑侵略的能力。可见,美国政府已经高度重视常规威慑能力下降的现实。这是因为,此现实正在挑战美国长期以来坚守的一个信念,即软弱将招致战争。因此,美国常规威慑能力的相对下降有可能鼓励中国铤而走险。美国前国防部副部长米歇尔·弗卢努瓦(Michèle A. Flournoy)曾指出,美国威慑能力被削弱增加了中国误判的风险,并可能导致中美两个核大国之间的直接冲突。

Second, the United States also sees itself as being overly apprehensive. Over the past decade or so, China has increased its conventional deterrence capabilities at an unprecedented rate, and this is the cause of the United States’ strategic anxiety. The U.S. strategic community sees China as an unprecedented adversary. Since Biden took office, his national security team has tried to signal that the United States should regain its self-confidence and avoid excessive anxiety due to focusing on China’s strengths, as such excessive anxiety could lead the United States to make poor strategic decisions and ultimately fall into a vicious cycle. On one hand, overestimating China causes strategic anxiety, and strategic anxiety distorts U.S. domestic politics. Some U.S. analysts maintain that amplifying the China threat is counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy and will distort its domestic politics, which is very detrimental to U.S. national security.16 On the other hand, excessive focus by the United States on China’s strengths would trigger an overreaction, and overreaction is inherently more dangerous than China itself. Ryan Hass criticized this tendency, saying, “Focusing on China’s strengths without considering its weaknesses creates anxiety, anxiety breeds insecurity, insecurity leads to overreaction, and overreaction leads to poor decisions that undermine America’s own competitiveness.”17

其次,美国也认为自身存在过度焦虑的情况。过去十余年,中国常规威慑能力提升的速度之快前所未有,这引起了美国的战略焦虑。美国战略界认为,中国是美国前所未有的对手。拜登执政以后,其国家安全团队试图释放一个信号,即美国应该重拾自信,避免因聚焦于中国的优势领域而过度焦虑,从而引起战略决策失误,并最终陷入恶性循环。一方面,过高估计中国会引起战略焦虑,战略焦虑将扭曲美国国内政治。美国的一些分析者认为,放大中国的威胁对美国外交政策产生了反作用,并会扭曲其国内政治,对其国家安全非常不利。另一方面,美国过于聚焦中国的优势领域将引发过度反应,过度反应本质上比中国本身更危险。瑞安·哈斯(Ryan Hass)对这一倾向批评道:“专注于中国的优势而不考虑其弱点会造成焦虑,焦虑滋生不安全感,不安全会导致过度反应,过度反应会导致糟糕的决策,损害美国自身的竞争力。”

What is more, the United States is not ready for war with China, and enhancing its conventional deterrence capabilities is in its interest. The United States has devoted the last 20 years to the war on terror. It has long neglected great power conflicts, and is therefore woefully unprepared for a great power war. There are two main ways to boost U.S. deterrence capabilities: One is to target China and devote more resources. Michael Beckley maintains that it is imperative for the United States to focus on the real threat, and that the Biden administration must clearly and repeatedly order the military to concentrate on deterring China, scale back other missions, and incorporate deterrence of China in the administration’s defense budget requests and defense strategy.18 The second is to unite its allies and strategic partners and strengthen security cooperation with them. Some U.S. analysts believe the United States relies too much on its own power projection, rather than on the “anti-access and area denial” abilities of its allies.19 By promoting a favorable distribution of power, it can deter adversaries from directly threatening the United States and its allies or controlling key regions, and prevent adversaries from denying the United States access to the global commons.20

再次,美国尚未做好与中国爆发战争的准备,提升常规威慑能力符合其利益。美国过去20年致力于反恐战争,长期忽视大国冲突,因此在大国战争准备上严重不足。提升美国的威慑能力,主要有两种方法:一是瞄准中国,投入更多资源。迈克尔·贝克利(Michael Beckley)认为,美国当务之急是聚焦于真正的威胁,拜登政府必须明确而反复地命令军队集中力量威慑中国,缩减其他任务,并将威慑中国的任务编入政府的国防预算要求和国防战略。二是联合盟友和战略伙伴,强化与它们之间的安全合作。美国有分析者认为,美国过于依赖自身的力量投射,而不是依靠盟友的“反介入与区域拒止”能力。通过促进有利的权力分布,慑止对手直接威胁美国及其盟友或控制关键地区,防止对手阻止美国进入全球公域。

To summarize the foregoing discussion, the rapid growth of Chinese military power is indeed reshaping the conventional deterrence situation between the United States and China. Given how large China is and how fast it is growing, the impact on the United States and its allies will be huge. The modes of interaction between the United States and China will be highly complex. Some of them will have precedents one can find in the history of international relations, while some will be entirely new. Therefore, it will be of great significance to examine U.S. concepts and strategies for dealing with China.


II. Changes in the U.S. concept of conventional deterrence against China


Great power strategic competition is profoundly affecting the U.S. concept of conventional deterrence. U.S.-China strategic competition and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have prompted U.S. leaders to seriously consider three closely related issues, namely, how to plan the concept and framework of U.S. deterrence strategy at the macro level, how to enhance conventional military capabilities to deter China, and how to advance its strategic layout on core regional security issues. Looking at the U.S. strategic community’s words and actions in recent years, the U.S. concept of conventional deterrence against China is gradually becoming clearer at three levels: conceptual innovation, capability building, and issue implementation.


i. Proposing the “integrated deterrence” concept

In testimony before the Senate on March 9, 2021, Philip S. Davidson, then commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), stressed that the greatest danger to the United States in the great power competition with China was the “erosion of conventional deterrence.”21 Davidson’s judgment was recently endorsed by a majority within the U.S. government. This is because conventional deterrence, with traditional military superiority at its core, remains the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for confronting China and the key to maintaining U.S. strategic credibility in the Indo-Pacific region. At a time when China’s military power is developing rapidly, the United States faces an urgent need to strengthen conventional deterrence and invest in future military superiority.22 To strengthen conventional deterrence, the United States has proposed a new deterrence concept. In April 2021, Defense Secretary Austin stated that the nature of warfare is changing. It spans unprecedented theaters of war, extending from the skies to cyberspace and reaching deep into the oceans. This requires new thinking and new actions within the DoD. As a result, Austin sees “integrated deterrence” as the cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy, and argues that the United States must rely on the seamless integration of technology, operational concepts and capabilities.23 In the new National Defense Strategy report to be released soon, “integrated deterrence” will be placed at the center of U.S. defense strategy.24 Judging from relevant statements of the U.S. government, “integrated deterrence” consists of three core elements.

2021年3月9日,时任美国印太司令部司令菲利普?戴维森(Philip S. Davidson)在参议院作证时强调,美国在与中国展开大国竞争时面临的最大危险是“常规威慑力的削弱”。戴维森的这一判断,近期在美国政府内部得到了多数人的赞同。这是因为,以传统军事优势为核心的常规威慑仍然是美国对抗中国的战略基石,也是美国维系在印太地区战略信誉的关键所在。在中国军事力量快速发展的当下,美国面临着加强常规威慑、投资军队未来优势的迫切需求。为了加强常规威慑,美国提出了新的威慑概念。2021年4月,美国国防部长奥斯汀称,战争的本质正在发生变化,它跨越了前所未有的战区,从天空延伸到网络空间,并深入到大洋深处,这需要国防部内部有新思维和新行动。因此,奥斯汀将“一体化威慑”视为美国国防战略的基石,认为它要靠技术、作战概念和能力的无缝融合。在即将公布的新版《国防战略》报告中,更是将“一体化威慑”置于美国国防战略的中心位置。从美国政府相关表述来看,“一体化威慑”主要包含三个核心内容:

First, “integrated deterrence” requires the United States to fully utilize its existing strengths while integrating technologies, operational concepts and abilities in different areas. In fact, this concept had been discussed in depth within the U.S. military before Austin proposed it. In February 2021, John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the JCS, recommended that the United States conduct a broader review of strategic deterrence. He suggested that “when you look at offense, defense, and all of these capabilities together, it’s really about strategic deterrence. It’s not just about nuclear posture…not about missile defense, not just about space… It’s about all those elements together that provide our overall strategic capability and our ability to strategically deter adversaries.”25 In Austin’s view, truly robust deterrence does not depend on any particular platform, but on the entire network that the U.S. military has established. However, the United States has some shortcomings in its overall network. Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, believes that the U.S. military has done well in conventional areas such as land, sea, and air, but space, cyberspace, and the information world are areas where competitors are pressuring the United States.26 Thus, boosting deterrence capabilities in space, cyberspace, and the information world has become an important task for the United States.

首先,“一体化威慑”需要美国充分利用既有优势,在各个领域将技术、作战概念和能力进行整合。事实上,在奥斯汀提出这一概念之前,美军内部就针对这一问题进行了深入讨论。2021年2月,美军参谋长联席会议副主席约翰·海顿(John Hyten)建议美国对战略威慑进行更广泛的审查。他提出,“当你把进攻、防守和所有这些能力放在一起看的时候,实际上就是关于战略威慑。这不仅关乎核态势……也不仅关乎导弹防御,也不仅关乎太空……所有这些因素共同提供了我们的总体战略能力和战略上威慑对手的能力”。在奥斯汀看来,真正强大的威慑不依赖于任何特定的平台,而是依赖于美军建立的整个网络。不过,美国在整个网络中也存在一些短板。美国负责政策的国防部副部长科林·卡尔(Colin Kahl)认为,美军在陆、海、空等常规领域已经做得很好,但是在太空、网络空间和信息世界,则是竞争对手向美国施压的领域。因此,提升在太空、网络空间和信息世界的威慑能力,成为美国的重要任务。

Second, “integrated deterrence” needs to be put into action. In assessing and analyzing the deficiencies for countering China, the DoD’s China Task Force found that there was a “talk-do” gap between the U.S. military’s goal of confronting China and its efforts to achieve that goal.27 In response, the U.S. military has strengthened action in three areas. The first is strengthening intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities against China.28 According to incomplete statistics, the U.S. military conducted close to 1,000 aerial reconnaissance sorties in the South China Sea in 2020. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, just between January 1 and July 12, 2021, “the U.S. side conducted nearly 2,000 missions of air and naval close reconnaissance of China.”29 The second is boosting U.S. deterrence capabilities through new technologies. In a speech to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence on July 13, 2021, Defense Secretary Austin said that “integrated deterrence,” as a new vision for the 21st century, relies on innovation and investment,30 and in particular on the military application of important technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, big data, and 5G. The third is countering the coercive behavior of adversaries. Operations are the foundation of “integrated deterrence.” The United States must strengthen forward deployments and preemptively deploy military forces to places where adversaries intend to deploy them. JCS Vice Chairman Hyten argues that “integrated deterrence” is not only about the U.S. military’s cyber, space, or nuclear capabilities. Its goal is also to use these capabilities to create problems for an adversary, so that the adversary will decide not to intervene in a conflict.31

其次,“一体化威慑”需要落实到行动上。美国国防部“中国工作组”在评估和分析反击中国的不足时发现,在与中国的对抗中,美军设定打击目标与实现这一目标的努力之间存在“说—做”的差距。为此,美军加强了三个方面的行动。一是强化对中国的情报、监视和侦察活动。据不完全统计,美军2020年对南海开展空中抵近侦察近千架次。根据中国外交部的统计,仅仅在2021年1月1日至7月12日期间,“美方对华海空抵近侦察近2 000次”。二是通过新技术提升美国的威慑能力。2021年7月13日,奥斯汀在美国人工智能国家安全委员会发表演讲时表示,“一体化威慑”作为21世纪的新愿景,有赖于创新和投资,尤其是将人工智能、量子计算、大数据和5G等重要技术应用于军事领域。三是反击对手的强制行为。行动是“一体化威慑”的基础,美国要强化前沿部署,抢先将军事力量部署到对手有意部署的地方。美军参谋长联席会议副主席海顿认为,“一体化威慑”不仅事关美军的网络、空间或核能力,其目标还在于美军运用这些能力给对手制造麻烦,让对手决定不介入冲突。

Moreover, “integrated deterrence” also requires the participation of allies. In a speech in Singapore on July 27, 2021, Austin further elaborated on the meaning of “integrated deterrence,” namely that it is “using existing capabilities, and building new ones, and deploying them all in new and networked ways—all tailored to a region’s security landscape, and growing in partnership with our friends.”32 This means that U.S. allies play an irreplaceable role in this concept. For the United States, fully utilizing the global alliance system increases its own deterrence capabilities, and makes it unmatchable by any competitor. This is a unique advantage.


ii. Emphasizing deterrence by denial against China

In theoretical studies, deterrence is generally divided into deterrence by punishment and deterrence by denial.33 According to John Mearshemer, the former aims to deter an adversary by threatening to destroy its population and industry, while the latter aims to convince an adversary that it will not achieve its objectives on the battlefield.34 In terms of connotation, the targets of deterrence by punishment may be broader, not necessarily limited to an adversary’s population and industry, but also including retaliation against other social dimensions and the defeat of an adversary’s military forces. That is to say, any threat of punishing an adversary through military force can be considered a form of deterrence by punishment. Deterrence by denial, on the other hand, is where a state hopes to have a level of power that would convince an adversary that the state can expand or prolong a war, and thereby make the adversary unable to achieve its strategic objectives. Thus, the core logic of how deterrence by denial works lies in increasing the cost of an adversary’s actions through a strategy of attrition, thwarting its hopes of achieving a quick victory at a low cost. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. conventional military forces have dominated the world, and both deterrence by punishment and deterrence by denial have been important components of the U.S. deterrence strategy. However, as China’s conventional deterrence capabilities have risen, the basis for U.S. deterrence by punishment against China has eroded. As a result, the importance of deterrence by denial has been emphasized more, dissuading China from risking military action on the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea issues by convincing China that it cannot win a war. The U.S. strategic community has discussed this in some depth, and it mainly includes three core ideas:

在理论研究中,一般把威慑划分为惩罚性威慑(deterrence by punishment)和拒止性威慑(deterrence by denial)两种类型。约翰·米尔斯海默(John Mearshemer)认为,前者旨在通过扬言摧毁对手的人口和工业来阻止对手的行动,后者旨在使对手信服不会在战场上达成目标。就内涵而言,惩罚性威慑的对象可能更加广泛,并非一定局限于对手的人口和工业,同样包括针对其他社会层面的报复和击败对手的军事力量。也就是说,只要扬言通过军事力量惩罚对手便可视为一种惩罚性威慑。拒止性威慑则是一国希望拥有一定实力,使对手相信它可以通过扩大或延长战争,从而使对手无法实现战略目标。因此,拒止性威慑起作用的核心逻辑在于,通过消耗战略增加对手采取行动的成本,使其以低成本达成速胜的希望破灭。冷战结束以后,美国的常规军事力量在全球居于主导地位,惩罚性威慑和拒止性威慑都是美国威慑战略的重要组成部分。然而随着中国常规威慑能力的上升,美国对中国进行惩罚性威慑的基础受到侵蚀,因此更加强调拒止性威慑的重要性,通过让中国相信无法赢得战争来劝阻中国在台海问题和南海问题上的军事冒险行为。为此美国战略界进行了比较深入的讨论,主要包含三个核心观点:

First, U.S. deterrence mechanisms have undergone significant changes since the end of the Cold War, and the established deterrence strategy is ill-equipped to meet U.S. needs. For deterrence to play its proper role, it must be put into practice at the doctrinal level, that is, through specific military strategies that send clear signals to adversaries. However, the U.S. deterrence strategy often seems to fail. Richard Betts argues that the logic of deterrence broke down after the Cold War, and that the defense policy the United States relied on to win the Cold War has performed very poorly.35 Not coincidentally, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. also suggests that as a result of technological and geopolitical developments, the unprecedented military dominance that followed the Cold War has ended, and using deterrence to contain aggression is becoming increasingly difficult.36 In fact, while deterrence can certainly lose its effectiveness, most of the reasons for this are not problems with deterrence itself, but rather problems with the policymakers who formulate deterrence strategies, having ignored the need to shift deterrence paradigms according to specific scenarios.

第一,冷战结束以后,美国威慑的机制已经发生重大变化,既有的威慑战略难以满足美国的需要。威慑要发挥其应有作用,就必须从理论层面落到实处,即通过具体的军事战略将信号清晰地传递给对手。不过,美国的威慑战略似乎经常失灵。理查德·贝茨(Richard Betts)认为,威慑的逻辑在冷战后失灵了,美国赖以赢得冷战的防务政策表现得非常糟糕。无独有偶,安德鲁·克雷皮内维奇(Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.)也提出,随着技术和地缘政治的发展,美国冷战后在军事上无可比拟的主导地位已经终结,通过威慑来遏止侵略变得愈加困难。事实上,威慑当然有可能会失效,但其原因大多并不在于威慑自身的问题,而是制定威慑战略的决策者出现了问题,忽视了威慑需要根据具体情景变换模式。

Second, the effectiveness of U.S. deterrence by punishment against China has declined significantly. Eric Heginbotham and Jacob L. Heim maintain that deterrence by the United States has long been conducted mainly on the premise that it occupied a dominant position.37 Now, that dominance no longer exists. Former Assistant Secretary of State A. Wess Mitchell has also suggested that, at present, the United States’ external environment is undergoing significant changes that pose major challenges to the U.S. model of punishment-based deterrence: The number of adversaries the United States needs to deter is large; and U.S. competitors are better armed and are developing tactics to circumvent deterrence by punishment.38 Some analysts also note that the geographical location of the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea limits U.S. options for deterrence by punishment. The United States faces a number of dilemmas in implementing deterrence by punishment: Changes in U.S. and Chinese power have led to shifts in the risk-benefit calculations of the two countries, and many of China’s policy objectives are below the U.S. threshold for punishment-based deterrence. Even if the United States were to wage a war to inflict punishment, it is unclear whether China would consider the punishment to be a deterrent; and, as with all limited wars in the nuclear age, once conflict breaks out, it may be difficult to keep the situation from escalating.39

第二,美国通过惩罚来威慑中国的效力已经大幅下降。何理凯(Eric Heginbotham)和雅各布·海姆(Jacob L. Heim)认为,美国以往的威慑多是在其占据主导优势的前提下进行的,现在这种主导优势已经不复存在了。美国前助理国务卿韦斯·米切尔(A. Wess Mitchell)也指出,当前美国的外部环境正在发生重大变化,已经对美国基于惩罚的威慑模式构成了重大挑战:美国需要威慑的对手数量众多;美国的竞争对手得到了更好的武装,并在制定规避惩罚性威慑的战术。也有分析者提出,台湾海峡和东海的地理位置限制了美国惩罚威慑的选择。美国实施惩罚性威慑面临着一些困境:中美实力变化导致了两国的风险—收益盘算发生转变,中国的许多政策目标都低于美国基于惩罚的威慑门槛;即使美国发动战争进行惩罚,中国是否认为惩罚具有威慑作用也不清楚;跟核时代所有的有限战争一样,冲突一旦爆发,可能难以控制局势升级。

Third, in order to respond to China, the United States needs to implement deterrence by denial more. In recent years, the United States has adjusted its concept of conventional deterrence against China in an attempt to make China recognize the difficulty of resolving disputes through war. U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) has called for a shift in the U.S. military’s approach to deterrence. It should make greater use of deterrence by denial, denying an adversary’s attack in the first place, rather than committing to carry out deterrence by punishment after an adversary’s aggression, and in this way respond to China’s ever-growing “threat.”40 Rush Doshi recommends that the United States adopt an asymmetric strategy at the military level: Borrow from China’s book by developing asymmetric weapons and deterrence to counter the impact of China’s anti-access and area denial strategy; help allies and partners develop anti-access and area denial capabilities; and undermine China’s costly efforts to build overseas bases.41 Elbridge A. Colby suggests that U.S. national defense must change. In order to counter China’s growing power and ambition, it should deter and deny the outbreak of war by preparing for war.42

第三,为应对中国,美国需要更多地实施拒止性威慑。近年来,美国调整对华常规威慑理念,试图让中国认识到难以通过战争方式解决争端。美国国会众议员迈克·加拉格尔(Mike Gallagher)呼吁,美军应该转变威慑方式,更多地采取拒止性威慑方式,最开始就拒止对手发动进攻,而非承诺在对手侵略后通过惩罚来进行威慑,以此来应对中国日益增长的“威胁”。杜如松(Rush Doshi)建议,美国应该在军事层面采取不对称战略:借鉴中国的做法,发展不对称武器,采取拒止性威慑,抵消中国“反介入与区域拒止”战略的影响力;帮助盟友和伙伴发展“反介入与区域拒止”能力;破坏中国通过高昂代价建立海外基地的努力。埃尔布里奇·科尔比(Elbridge A. Colby)提出,美国的国防必须改变,以应对中国不断增长的实力和野心,通过准备战争来遏制战争,拒止战争的爆发。

When discussing the issue in this context, most analysts believe that U.S. deterrence strategy is shifting from deterrence by punishment to deterrence by denial.43 The reason is that they believe that deterrence based on denial, rather than on punishment, is best suited to addressing the United States’ current strategic challenges. This is also consistent with a principle that the U.S. national security strategy has always adhered to, i.e., “The goal is to deter conflict, and if deterrence fails, the war must be won.”44 However, deterrence by denial is not more likely to succeed than deterrence by punishment, and both the strategic choices of the deterring party and the strategic responses of the adversary will affect the ultimate effectiveness of deterrence by denial.45 In particular, after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States punished Russia severely through economic and financial sanctions, which are essentially a typical kind of deterrence by punishment, and the United States likewise saw that it created a strong deterrent effect on the international community. Therefore, the United States will flexibly choose or combine deterrence by punishment and deterrence by denial, rather than stick to one strategy or the other.


iii. Learning from deterrence experience in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

To take a specific topic, U.S. conventional deterrence against China mainly comes down to the Taiwan issue. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on February 24, 2022, the United States imposed a series of severe financial and economic sanctions on Russia and assisted Ukraine militarily on a large scale. This in fact formed a deterrent effect against China, and brought about some new changes in the strategic game between China and the United States on the Taiwan issue. The U.S. strategic community has drawn analogies between the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Taiwan issue, eagerly summarized the experience and lessons learned from U.S. deterrence actions in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and proposed appropriate directions for policy adjustments. Broadly speaking, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has influenced U.S. thinking on deterrence toward China in two ways.


First, on the Taiwan issue, the United States needs to learn from the experience and lessons of Ukraine. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the U.S. strategic community realized that the experience and lessons from Ukraine could be transplanted to the Taiwan issue to bolster deterrence against China. On one hand, by demonstrating the setbacks Russia has suffered and the costs it has endured in Ukraine, the perceptions of Chinese leaders and the public will be changed, and China will be deterred from taking military action on Taiwan. [Former Assistant Secretary of State] A. Wess Mitchell asserted, “By helping the Ukrainians inflict high costs on the invaders, the United States and its allies can demonstrate the dangers that even a very large power faces of protracted conflict on hostile territory. The same can happen in Taiwan.”46 On the other hand, the U.S. government realizes that Ukraine’s experience in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is worth learning from and could be taken as a potential model for dealing with future conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. U.S. European Command commander Tod D. Wolters, and USINDOPACOM commander John Aquilino believe that the response of the United States and its allies to Russia’s attack on Ukraine could serve as a potential model for responding to an attack by mainland China on Taiwan.47 According to a Politico report, U.S. officials are urging Taiwan’s authorities to use Ukraine’s successful resistance to Russian forces as a “playbook” for countering an attack by mainland China.48

第一,美国在台湾问题上需要借鉴乌克兰的经验和教训。俄乌冲突爆发后,美国战略界意识到,可以将乌克兰的经验和教训移植到台湾问题上,强化对中国的威慑。一方面,通过展示俄罗斯在乌克兰遭遇的挫折和承受的成本,以改变中国领导人和民众的认知,吓阻中国在台湾问题上采取军事行动。韦斯·米切尔宣称:“通过帮助乌克兰人让侵略者付出高昂代价,美国及其盟友可以表明,即使是一个大国,在怀有敌意的领土上也会面临长期冲突的风险,同样的情况可能在台湾发生。”另一方面,美国政府意识到,乌克兰在俄乌冲突中的经验值得借鉴,可以将其作为应对未来台海冲突的潜在模式。美国欧洲司令部司令托德·沃尔特斯(Tod Wolters)与美国印太司令部司令约翰·阿奎利诺(John Aquilino)认为,美国及其盟友对俄罗斯进攻乌克兰的反应可作为应对中国大陆攻击台湾的潜在模式。根据美国政治新闻网的报道,美国官员正在敦促台湾当局将乌克兰成功抵抗俄罗斯军队作为反击中国大陆攻击的“剧本”。

Second, the United States believes that China is also studying U.S. deterrence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Biden administration has also been looking at the pattern of China’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and analyzing whether there has been a shift in China’s position on the Taiwan issue. There are probably three different readings within the U.S. government and strategic circles. The first reading suggests that China, influenced by the deterrent effect of economic and financial sanctions against Russia and massive military assistance to Ukraine by the United States and its allies, will learn from Russia’s lesson on the Ukraine issue and act more cautiously on the Taiwan issue. Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, and Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), argue that the setbacks of Russia’s military action in Ukraine and the West’s solidarity may prompt China to remain cautious on the Taiwan issue.49 The second reading suggests that the deterrent effect of U.S. sanctions against Russia will not affect China’s resolve on Taiwan, but may influence China’s strategic choices. Oriana Skylar Mastro argues that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has not changed anything, that Chinese leaders have not changed their view of U.S. power and resolve and the international community’s response, and that China does not want to draw analogies between the Taiwan issue and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.50 CIA Director William J. Burns argues that China’s leaders are carefully studying what lessons should be learned from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and that while this will not weaken China’s “determination to control Taiwan,” it will affect China’s “calculations of how and when to do so.”51 Some analysts agree with this point of view. They argue that, although the PLA will learn from the Russia-Ukraine conflict and adjust its military plans, there is no evidence that the conflict has changed China’s resolve to use force against Taiwan, nor has it amended its red lines or added additional ones.52 The third reading suggests that the deterrent effect of the United States’ strangulation of Russia will strengthen mainland China’s resolve to settle the Taiwan issue. Some analysts believe that Russia’s military action in Ukraine will accelerate China’s seizure of Taiwan.53 Evan Montgomery and Toshi Yoshihara also argue that the Russia-Ukraine conflict may cause China’s leaders to be more determined and redouble their efforts to crush Taiwan’s will to resist. They suggest that “Russia’s setbacks and Ukraine’s temporary successes could spur China to threaten and use force earlier, so as to reduce the likelihood of U.S. military intervention and increase the likelihood of Taiwan’s surrender.”54

第二,美国认为中国也在研究俄乌冲突中美国的威慑行为。俄乌冲突爆发后,拜登政府也在关注中国对俄乌冲突的反应模式,并分析中国在台湾问题上的立场是否发生转变。在美国政府内部和战略界中,大概存在三种不同的解读。第一种解读认为,中国受美国及其盟友对俄罗斯经济制裁和金融制裁、对乌克兰大规模军事援助产生的威慑效用所影响,会汲取俄罗斯在乌克兰问题上的教训,在台湾问题上更加谨慎行事。德国马歇尔基金会亚洲项目主任葛来仪(Bonnie S. Glaser)和战略与国际问题研究中心中国研究所主任白明(Jude Blanchette)认为,俄罗斯在乌克兰的军事行动受挫和西方的团结可能促使中国在台湾问题上保持谨慎。第二种解读认为,美国制裁俄罗斯产生威慑效用不会影响到中国在台湾问题上的决心,但是有可能影响到中国的策略选择。梅惠琳(Oriana Skylar Mastro)认为,俄乌冲突并未改变什么,中国领导人对美国的力量和决心以及国际社会的反应看法没有改变,中国不希望将台湾问题与俄乌冲突进行类比。美国中央情报局局长威廉·伯恩斯(William J. Burns)认为,中国领导人正在仔细研究应该从俄乌冲突中汲取什么教训,尽管这不会削弱中国“控制台湾的决心”,但是会影响中国“如何以及何时这样做的计算”。有分析者赞同这一观点,他们认为没有证据表明俄乌冲突改变了中国大陆对台湾使用武力的决心,也没有修正或增加额外的红线,但是解放军会从俄乌冲突中汲取教训,并调整军事计划。第三种解读认为美国绞杀俄罗斯的威慑效用将会坚定中国大陆解决台湾问题的决心。有分析者认为,俄罗斯在乌克兰的军事行动将会加快中国占领台湾的速度。伊万·蒙哥马利(Evan Montgomery)和吉原恒淑(Toshi Yoshihara)也认为,俄乌冲突可能会使中国领导人更加笃定,加倍努力粉碎台湾的抵抗意志。他们提出,“俄罗斯的挫折和乌克兰的暂时成功可能会刺激中国更早地发出威胁和使用武力,以减少美国军事干预的可能性,并增加台湾投降的可能性”。

Third, the United States must strengthen its military assistance to Taiwan and enhance its ability to deter China. Enveloped in the atmosphere of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the U.S. strategic community is building a narrative that China will take similar military action in the Taiwan Strait. Some U.S. politicians are advocating that Taiwan’s authorities cannot wait any longer, and that the United States and its allies must strengthen combat capabilities to be able to deter China and “defeat a Chinese invasion” if necessary. 55 Andrew Erickson and Gabriel Collins posit that in order to counter China’s “anti-access and area denial” on Taiwan, the U.S. and Taiwan authorities need to specifically target China’s military weaknesses, based on the experience of Ukraine, invest in the areas of anti-missile, air defense, maritime denial, coastal denial, mine warfare, information warfare, and civil defense systems, and critical infrastructure resilience, to make Taiwan more difficult to invade, conquer, occupy, and govern.56 Some analysts also believe that the biggest lesson from the Russia-Ukraine conflict is that economic sanctions cannot stop a war from breaking out, and that the threats issued under this deterrence model could only be enforced once Russia crossed the Ukrainian border.57 To deter China, the United States and its allies need to accelerate the sale of advanced weapons such as F-16s, missiles, and drones to Taiwan, which will turn it into a “porcupine.”58 Judging from the planning of the U.S. government and strategic community, they have probably reached a consensus that Taiwan must prepare for war, not only by improving its defensive capabilities, but also by increasing its will to fight. Only then can China be deterred.

第三,美国必须强化对台军事援助,提升对中国的威慑能力。在俄乌冲突气氛的笼罩下,美国战略界正在构建中国将在台湾海峡采取类似军事行动的叙事。部分美国政客鼓吹台湾当局已经不能再等待了,美国及其盟友必须强化作战力量以能够威慑中国,并在必要时“击败中国的入侵”。艾立信(Andrew Erickson)和加布里埃尔·科林斯(Gabriel Collins)提出,为了在台湾问题上反击中国的“反介入与区域拒止”,美国和台湾当局需要专门针对中国的军事弱点,根据乌克兰的经验,在反导、防空、海上拒止、海岸拒止、水雷战、信息战、民防系统和关键基础设施韧性等八个具体领域进行投资,以使台湾更难被入侵、征服、占领和治理。也有分析者认为,俄乌冲突最大的教训是经济制裁无法阻止战争爆发,这种威慑模式发出的威胁只有在俄罗斯越过乌克兰边境后才会执行。为了威慑中国,美国及其盟友需要向台湾地区加速出售F-16s、导弹和无人机等先进武器,将台湾打造成一个“豪猪”。从美国政府和战略界的运筹来看,它们大概形成了一个共识,即台湾必须为战争做好准备,不仅要提升防卫能力,还要增强战斗意志。唯有如此,才能吓阻中国。

To summarize, in terms of the conceptual innovation, capability building, and issue implementation of U.S. conventional deterrence against China, the arena of interaction between U.S. and Chinese conventional deterrence is mainly focused on the Western Pacific, and the core issue is Taiwan. In this arena and issue, the increasing strategic pressure on the United States has forced it to enhance its conventional military forces to deter China. This inevitably requires the United States to seek innovation in the deterrence concepts used to guide U.S. military strategy. The core intention of the United States is, by strengthening conventional military forces and integrating deterrence capabilities, to change China’s cost and benefit calculations in a future conflict so that it will eventually abandon the use of force to resolve related issues.


III. U.S. strategic initiatives to enhance conventional deterrence capabilities against China


In the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States report released in February 2022, the United States made strengthening deterrence an important element of the Indo-Pacific Action Plan.59 This also indicates that the United States is aware that China is rapidly eroding its conventional deterrence abilities, and it is attempting to seize the window of opportunity, adjust its course in a timely fashion, and take a series of measures to enhance its own conventional deterrence abilities. At the strategic level, the United States is mainly working on three aspects: strengthening defense S&T construction, improving deterrence by denial capability, and consolidating Asia-Pacific alliance relationships.


i. Strengthening defense S&T construction

First is increased investment in S&T innovation. As China’s position in global production chains rises, the United States has stepped up reviews and assessments of its own defense industrial base. Driven by these reviews and assessments, the U.S. Congress has passed a series of bills in an attempt to compete with China in science and technology and seize the high ground through institutional design, using national legislation to provide assurance for relevant investments. On April 20, 2021, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Endless Frontier Act of 2021, which aims to strengthen the leading position of the government’s Big Science system, promote S&T at the national level, and suppress China’s S&T competitiveness.60 On May 18 of that year, Schumer introduced the U.S. Competition and Innovation Act of 2021, which was passed by the Senate on June 8. Based on the Endless Frontier Act of 2021, the bill integrates chip and O-RAN (Open Radio Access Network) 5G emergency appropriations, the Strategic Competition Act, International Security and Governmental Affairs Committee provisions, and the “Meeting the China Challenge Act.” The bill requires the U.S. government to increase investment in technology research and development, the centerpiece of which is approximately $81 billion in new federal R&D funding through the National Science Foundation and an investment of $52.7 billion in semiconductor development to counter China’s growing influence.61

首先,加大科技创新的投入。随着中国在全球产业链中地位的上升,美国加大了对自身国防工业基础的审查和评估。在这些审查和评估的推动之下,美国国会通过了一系列法案,试图通过制度设计,以国家立法保障相关投资的方式,与中国展开科技竞争,抢占制高点。2021年4月20日,美国参议院多数党领袖查尔斯·舒默(Charles Schumer)和托德·扬(Todd Young)共同提出了《2021年无尽边疆法案》(Endless Frontier Act of 2021),旨在强化政府“大科学”体系的引导地位,在国家层面推动美国科技发展,压制中国的科技竞争力。同年5月18日,舒默在《2021年无尽边疆法案》的基础上,整合了芯片和开放式无线电接入网(O-RAN) 5G紧急拨款、《战略竞争法案》、国际安全与政府事务委员会的规定和《应对中国的挑战法案》,推出了《2021年美国竞争与创新法》,并于6月8日在参议院获得通过。该法案要求美国政府增加在技术研发方面的投资,其中最核心的部分是通过国家科学基金会提供约810亿美元新的联邦研发资金和投资527亿美元用于半导体发展,以对抗中国日益增长的影响力。

Second is increased military investment to consolidate traditional advantages. After a long period of decline, the Trump and Biden administrations have attempted to increase military investment. In the fiscal years from 2018 to 2023, the U.S. military budget was $699.9 billion, $716.3 billion, $738 billion, $740.5 billion, $753 billion, and $813.3 billion, respectively, providing ample funding for the development and acquisition of weapons and equipment and combat platforms. In terms of armaments, both the Trump and Biden administrations have supported new naval shipbuilding programs. The U.S. Navy has launched the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP) to upgrade the Navy’s four major shipyards over a 20-year period with $21 billion in investment.62 In addition, the United States has tilted national defense resources toward the Western Pacific region. In May 2017, the DoD proposed the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, which provides $7.5 billion to support U.S. military force-building in the Asia-Pacific region.63 On January 1, 2021, the United States passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. This bill proposed the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, with an appropriation of $2.2 billion, aimed at strengthening the U.S. military’s deterrence and defense posture in the Western Pacific.64 In the view of U.S. senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Pacific Deterrence Initiative will improve budget transparency and focus resources on key military capabilities for deterring China.65

其次,增加军事投入,巩固传统优势。在经历了较长时间的下降后,特朗普政府和拜登政府试图增加军事投入。在2018、2019、2020、2021、2022和2023财年,美国的军费预算分别是6 999亿美元、7 163亿美元、7 380亿美元、7 405亿美元、7 530亿美元和8 133亿美元,为武器装备和作战平台的研发与采办提供了充裕的资金支持。在军备建设上,特朗普政府和拜登政府都支持新的海军造船计划。美国海军已经启动了“造船厂基础设施优化计划”(SIOP),准备用20年时间、投入210亿美元对海军四大造船厂进行升级改造。此外,美国还将国防资源向西太平洋地区倾斜。2017年5月,美国国防部提出了“亚太稳定倡议”,提供75亿美元支持美国亚太地区的军事力量建设。2021年1月1日,美国通过了《2021财年国防授权法案》,该法案提出了“太平洋威慑倡议”,拨款22亿美元,旨在强化美军在西太平洋地区的威慑和防御态势。在吉姆·英霍夫(Jim Inhofe)和杰克·里德(Jack Reed)两位美国参议员看来,“太平洋威慑倡议”将提高预算透明度,并将资源集中在关键军事能力上,以威慑中国。

Third is emphasizing technological innovation and adjusting the direction of technology development. One idea for addressing the rapid growth of China’s military power involves relying on more advanced technology to enhance the ability to deter China. First, U.S. technological superiority is being used to offset China’s numerical superiority. In August 2014, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work called for the United States to implement a Third Offset Strategy.66 The core of this idea is for the United States to rely on its advanced military technology to offset China’s numerical superiority in weaponry. In the case of the Navy, for example, the U.S. military is attempting to gain a competitive advantage through more technologically advanced and better-equipped warships in the face of China’s speed advantage in shipbuilding.67 Second, the direction of technological development is being adjusted, as U.S. military technology development emerges from its post-Cold War detour. After the Cold War, the U.S. military was in an “uncontested top dog” situation for a long time. As a result, it had taken a detour in terms of the technical direction of some weapons and equipment and combat platforms. A representative example is the development of the littoral combat ships and DDG1000 destroyer projects, guided by the concept of “sea-to-land” operations. In the shipbuilding industry, which was once a source of pride for the United States, the U.S. Navy also lost the competition with China, and its former glory is no more.68 In response, the United States promptly stopped its losses and terminated the two projects, attempted to re-implement a maritime control strategy, and made comprehensive adjustments in the areas such as strategy and tactics, operational concepts, and equipment development.69

再次,重视技术创新,调整技术发展方向。美国应对中国军事力量快速增长的一个思路就是依靠更先进的技术,提升威慑中国的能力。一是以美国的技术优势来抵消中国的数量优势。2014年8月,时任国防部常务副部长罗伯特·沃克(Robert Work)呼吁美国实施“第三次抵消战略”。美国的核心理念是依仗其先进军事技术,抵消中国武器装备的数量优势。以海军为例,美国军方面对中国的造船速度优势,试图通过技术水平高、装备更精良的战舰来占据竞争优势。二是调整技术发展方向,从冷战后美国军事技术发展的弯路中走出来。冷战以后,美军长时间处于“独孤求败”的态势,因此在一些武器装备和作战平台的技术方向上走了弯路。具有代表性的是美国以“由海向陆”作战概念为指导,提出发展濒海战斗舰和DDG1000驱逐舰项目。在美国引以为傲的造船业上,美国海军也输掉了与中国的竞争,昔日辉煌不再。为此,美国及时止损,终止了两个项目,试图重新实施海洋控制战略,在战略战术、作战概念、装备研发等领域进行全面调整。

Finally, it is making up for the shortcomings in technology development and trying to catch up with China’s leading pace in some areas. Since the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, China has devoted itself to the development of “assassin’s mace” weapons platforms. After more than two decades of development, it has made significant breakthroughs in some areas. In response, the United States has increased its investment and R&D in these areas. Taking hypersonic weapons as an example, the DoD has been actively conducting research on the industrial infrastructure for hypersonic weapons, and in 2020 established an office of hypersonic weapons operations led by an Assistant Secretary of Defense and the director of the DoD’s research and engineering office.70 At the same time, the United States has increased its investment in the hypersonic weapons area, with the budget request reaching $3.8 billion in FY 2022 and climbing further to $4.7 billion in FY 2023.71 Driven by this, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are competing to develop multiple hypersonic weapons and have conducted multiple test launches. The United States is also actively developing hypersonic weapon defense systems, and DARPA plans to develop a hypersonic weapon defense system called Glide Breaker.

最后,补足技术发展的短板,试图在一些领域追赶中国领先的步伐。1996年台海危机以后,中国致力于发展“撒手锏”武器平台。经过二十多年的发展,在一些领域取得了重大突破。对此,美国加大了在这些领域的投入和研发。以高超音速武器为例,美国国防部积极开展高超音速武器工业基础建设研究,2020年成立了由助理国防部长和国防部研究与工程署主任领导的高超音速武器作战办公室。与此同时,美国加大了在高超音速武器领域的投入,2022财年的预算申请额达到38亿美元,2023财年的预算申请进一步攀升到47亿美元。在此推动下,美国陆海空三军和国防高级研究计划局(DARPA)竞相开发多个高超音速武器,并且已经进行了多次试射。美国还积极发展高超音速武器防御系统,国防高级研究计划局计划开发名为“滑行破坏者”(Glide Breaker)高超音速武器防御系统。

ii. Improving deterrence by denial capability

In recent years, the U.S. strategic community has carried out an in-depth discussion of the Taiwan issue, reflecting the core concerns and primary intention of U.S. deterrence strategy. According to Ely Ratner, the U.S. military needs to strengthen forward defense. He asserts that an operationally credible forward deployment is a necessary condition when it comes to the power of U.S. forces to implement deterrence.72 For the United States, strengthening deterrence by denial places greater demands on building defensive and offensive capabilities.


In terms of building defensive capabilities, the United States is improving its ability to survive a preemptive strike by China. To address China’s rapidly increasing deterrence capabilities, the United States is upgrading its capabilities in a number of areas. First, it is improving its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. In recent years, U.S. military reconnaissance capabilities within the “first island chain” have been severely weakened, threatening the construction of the U.S. military’s defensive capabilities. On one hand, Chinese intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems have been greatly enhanced;73 on the other hand, U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services are still not prepared to effectively support gray-zone operations or operations in highly competitive environments.74 To this end, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has proposed a “reconnaissance deterrence” concept of operations. They recommend that the U.S. military integrate key enabling technologies, such as U.S. and allied military drones and floating balloons, unmanned surface ships, maritime buoys and gliders, undersea research networks, and small space-based commercial satellite payloads, and employ sustained, effective, and low-risk reconnaissance and surveillance to maintain real-time, continuous situational awareness capabilities in key regions of the Western Pacific and Eastern Europe, thereby achieving the purpose of deterring regional powers.75


Second, it is implementing distributed deployment. As China’s deterrence strength has risen, the United States has shifted multiple batches of military forces from bases in Okinawa to Guam and Australia over the past dozen years, aiming to offset China’s deterrence strength through distributed deployment. This is in keeping with the U.S. Navy’s “Distributed Lethality” concept of warfare introduced in recent years. This concept is designed to enhance the attack capability of U.S. Navy surface ships by adjusting how naval combat forces are employed. The basic idea is to disperse the deployment of surface ships, then rely on one’s technological advantages to concentrate firepower against the opponent, and finally achieve control of the sea.

第二,实施分散部署。随着中国威慑实力上升,美国过去十余年多批次将军事力量从冲绳基地转移到关岛和澳大利亚,旨在通过分散部署来抵消中国的威慑实力。这也契合了美国海军近年来提出的“分布式杀伤”(Distributed Lethality)作战概念。这一概念旨在通过调整海军作战力量运用,增强美国海军水面舰艇的攻击能力。其基本设想是对水面舰艇进行分散部署,然后依靠其技术优势,集中火力打击对手,最终掌握制海权。

Third, it is reinforcing key infrastructure and enhancing logistics and maintenance capabilities. Some analysts have suggested that the Biden administration, in making decisions about how to invest in U.S. military capabilities in the future, should recognize the value of deterrence by denial and invest in capabilities that enhance defense, focusing on strengthening infrastructure, logistics, and partnering capabilities.76 The U.S. military has made significant efforts to enhance strike resilience, fortify critical infrastructure, strengthen bomb-proof bunker construction, and enhance protective measures for hangars, fuel depots, ammunition supply systems, and other critical facilities and equipment. It has also made significant efforts to enhance logistics and maintenance capabilities to improve counterattack capabilities and post-strike combat recovery levels.


Fourth, it is enhancing missile defense capabilities. Over the past decade or so, China has successively deployed a series of ballistic and cruise missiles, represented by the DF-26, which have Guam as a hypothetical target. The U.S. military has now clearly identified upgrading Guam’s missile defense system as a U.S. priority in the Western Pacific. The United States has gradually realized that relying only on the Army’s THAAD system and the Navy’s Aegis destroyers deployed to Guam is not sufficient to deal with the Chinese “threat,” so it has increased investment in missile defense system construction and deployed the land-based Aegis [ballistic missile defense] system in Guam to establish a durable, all-around missile defense capability in the “second island chain.”77


In terms of building offensive capability, the United States has been focusing efforts to enhance offensive capabilities against adversaries on three areas: First, it is accelerating the transformation of the Air Force and strengthening air power construction. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force built a towering reputation for strategic deterrence based on its outstanding performance in the Gulf War. However, the United States focused on the war on terror for 20 years. During this period, China aggressively developed its military forces, and the emergence of a set of new equipment, represented by the J-20, greatly weakened U.S. deterrence capability against China. Although its air power continues to dominate, the United States has perceived strategic pressure. In August 2020, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown, Jr. stated that China is attempting to use advanced weapons systems to directly counter and deny U.S. air power and challenge its air superiority and reconnaissance and strike capabilities, in order to deprive the United States of its global projection ability. In response, the U.S. Air Force must accelerate change and explore new operational concepts. When defining the Air Force’s mission and capabilities, it must target competitors’ operational doctrines, warfare approaches, and force development strategies; and it must change its platform-centric view to focus on building capabilities against adversaries, change in response to enemies, and outperform them in capability development and deployment.78

在进攻能力建设上,美国努力提升针对对手的攻击能力,主要集中在三个领域:第一,加快变革空军,加强空中力量建设。冷战结束以后,美国空军依仗在海湾战争中的出色表现,建立了极高的战略威慑信誉。然而美国专注于反恐战争长达20年,中国在此期间积极发展军事力量,以歼20为代表的一批新装备的出现,极大地削弱了美国对中国的威慑能力。尽管空中力量仍然占据优势,但美国已经感知到了战略压力。2020年8月,美国空军参谋长查尔斯·布朗(Charles Q. Brown, Jr.)称,中国试图使用先进武器系统直接对抗和拒止美国空军力量,挑战其空中优势、侦察和打击能力,以剥夺美国的全球投射能力。对此,美国空军必须加速变革,探索新的作战概念;在确定空军的任务和能力时,必须瞄准竞争对手的作战理论、战争方式和部队发展战略;改变以平台为中心的观点,将重点放在针对对手的能力建设上,因敌而变,在能力开发和部署方面战胜对手。

Second, it is leveraging asymmetric advantages and strengthening the counterattack role of submarines. Lyle Goldstein maintains that the PLA has now significantly diminished the decisive advantage of U.S. forces in underwater operations.79 Against this background, in addition to conventional means such as expanding the size of the navy in the Western Pacific, accelerating the development of new military technologies, and innovating operational concepts,80 the U.S. Navy is attempting to leverage asymmetric advantages, and could rely on a strong submarine force to counter China if a war were to break out. U.S. attack submarines and strategic nuclear submarines are both at world-leading levels. The Ohio-class strategic nuclear submarine, the Seawolf-class attack submarine, and the Virginia-class attack submarine all have powerful deterrence capabilities, and the Columbia-class strategic nuclear submarine currently under construction is even more technologically advanced. These forces could form a powerful deterrent against China. Although China’s submarine silencing technology has made huge progress, it is still difficult to fully penetrate the area search of U.S. and Japanese anti-submarine forces, thus allowing the United States to gain a tremendous asymmetric advantage and enhance its deterrence capability.

第二,发挥不对称优势,强化潜艇的反击作用。金莱尔(Lyle Goldstein)认为,解放军当前已经大大削弱了美军水下作战的决定性优势。在此背景下,除了在西太平洋地区扩大海军规模、加速新军事技术研发和创新作战概念等常规手段外,美国海军还试图发挥不对称优势,在战争爆发时可以依靠强大的潜艇力量反击中国。美国的攻击核潜艇和战略核潜艇在世界范围内都属于领先水平。“俄亥俄”级战略核潜艇、“海狼”级攻击核潜艇和“弗吉尼亚”级攻击核潜艇都具有强大的威慑能力,正在开工建造的“哥伦比亚”级战略核潜艇的技术水平更为先进,这些力量可以对中国形成强大的威慑。中国的潜艇静音技术尽管获得了巨大的进步,但是仍然难以完全突破美日两国反潜部队的区域搜索,从而让美国获得了极大的不对称优势,增强了其威慑能力。

And third, it is enhancing anti-landing operation capabilities. In a fundamental sense, the U.S. forward defense hinges on whether the United States can enter the battlefield successfully, and its key lies in solving the U.S. military’s troop deployment problem.81 When an adversary launches a landing operation, the United States must have the ability to enter the battlefield and prevent the adversary from occupying the area in question. In the view of some U.S. policy analysts, the United States should adopt a “porcupine” strategy on the Taiwan issue, arming the Taiwanese authorities to prevent mainland China from conducting an amphibious landing, and attempting to inflict heavy casualties on China to buy time for the U.S. to intervene in the Taiwan issue.82 Judging from U.S. arms sales to Taiwan for some time past, the U.S. goal is very clear: to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan and strengthen anti-landing operations so as to maximize the cost of a Chinese landing operation.


To summarize the above discussion, the U.S. seeks to increase its conventional deterrence capabilities against China at both the defensive and offensive levels in order to offset China’s geographical strategic advantage. While U.S. technology and capabilities remain dominant, the reality of the Western Pacific’s remoteness from the U.S. homeland poses numerous problems for U.S. forces. Therefore, to enhance its conventional deterrence capabilities, the United States must adjust its concepts and circumvent the challenges posed by geopolitical shortcomings.


iii. Consolidating Asia-Pacific alliance relationships

Allies and partners have long played a central role in the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategy. Many of Trump’s foreign policies greatly hurt the credibility of U.S. policy, however.83 Even the Trump administration was aware of this problem. On January 12, 2021, a declassified version of the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific was released on the U.S. White House website. The document states that one of the top U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific is to “enhance the credibility and effectiveness of our alliances.”84 After the Biden administration took office, it put repairing relations with allies at the forefront of its foreign policy. In a speech on May 26, 2022, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken used three key words—invest, align, and compete—to summarize the U.S. strategy toward China, which attempts to draw allies and partners into the competition with China.85 In fact, while the Trump administration’s foreign policies had a political impact on alliances, the defense relationships between the United States and its allies were minimally affected, and were even strengthened to a large extent.

长期以来,盟友和伙伴一直在美国亚太战略中扮演着核心角色。然而,特朗普的诸多外交政策极大地伤害了美国政策的可信度。不过,即使特朗普政府也已经意识到这一问题。2021年1月12日,美国白宫网站公布了解密版的《印太战略框架》。该文件指出,“提高美国联盟的可信度和有效性”是美国在印太地区的最高利益之一。拜登政府上台之后,更是将修复与盟友的关系摆在其外交政策的关键位置。2022年5月26日,美国国务卿安东尼·布林肯(Antony J. Blinken)发表讲话,阐述拜登政府的对华政策方针,将美国对华战略概括为“投资(invest)、结盟(align)和竞争(compete)”三个关键词,试图拉拢盟友和伙伴与中国竞争。事实上,尽管特朗普政府的外交政策在政治上冲击了联盟关系,但是美国与盟友的防务关系受到的影响非常有限,甚至在很大程度上有所强化。

In terms of defense, the main focus of both the Trump and Biden administrations has been on three conventional strategies. The first is enhancing U.S. defense relationships with these countries, increasing strategic commitments to Asia-Pacific allies, and strengthening their confidence. The second is strengthening the defense capabilities of Japan, South Korea, and Australia, encouraging allies to take on more responsibility, further unleashing the strategic potential of allies and partners, and implementing an active denial strategy against China.86 The third is focusing on multilateral defense cooperation. On one hand, it is focusing on the role of “quadrilateral” mechanisms. For example, the United States has actively upgraded the Malabar maritime military exercises into a joint U.S.-Japan-India-Australia military exercise. Based on these measures, the United States is attempting to strengthen defense cooperation with its allies and strategic partners to “show off its muscles” to China and demonstrate its deterrence capabilities and determination. On the other hand, it is strengthening its defense relations with the UK and Australia. On September 15, 2021, the United States, the UK, and Australia announced the establishment of a trilateral security partnership, further upgrading the security cooperation relationship between the three countries.


In the Western Pacific, allies and partners are crucial factors for the United States to enhance its conventional deterrence capabilities. In terms of strategic credibility, the United States must also maintain a balance between allies and adversaries, one that can appease allies and deter adversaries, but must also control allies and stabilize adversaries. To this end, the United States has actively strengthened its reassurances to allies. On April 24, 2018, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Todd Young (R-IN) jointly launched the 2018 Asia Reassurance Initiative, which aims to enhance relations between the United States and its allies and partners.87 On December 31 of that year, Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018, reaffirming the strategic commitment to Asian countries, and thereby countering China.88 The Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which the United States proposed in June 2020, has the same purpose, being a prescription for the current U.S. dilemma, both militarily and politically. Militarily, former USINDOPACOM commander Davidson has called for the United States to invest more than $27 billion over the next five years to enhance its defensive capabilities and resilience, and to prepare for the defense of the first two island chains. 89The core issue is to strengthen U.S. forward deployments in the Western Pacific and enhance U.S. missile defense capabilities in the Pacific, thereby breaking through China’s “anti-access and area denial” capabilities, and ultimately achieving maritime suppression. Improving communication, interoperability, and information sharing with allies is therefore critical. Politically, the Pacific Deterrence Initiative has the deeper agenda of seeking to reaffirm commitments to allies in the Asia-Pacific region by focusing on four areas of work: (1) planning the defense budget around key priorities in the Indo-Pacific region, and increasing transparency and congressional oversight of the defense budget; (2) focusing resources on firmware capability gaps; (3) prioritizing cooperation with allies and partners; and (4) enhancing credible deterrence.90

在西太平洋地区,盟友和伙伴是美国提升常规威慑能力不可或缺的关键因素。在战略信誉上,美国也必须在盟友与对手之间保持一种平衡,既可以安抚盟友和威慑对手,又必须管控盟友和稳住对手。为此,美国积极强化对盟友的再保证。2018年4月24日,美国国会参议员科里·加德纳(Cory Gardner)联合参议员马科·鲁比奥(Marco Rubio)、爱德华·马基(Edward Markey)和托德·扬共同发起“2018年亚洲再保证倡议”,旨在提升美国与盟友及伙伴的关系。同年12月31日,特朗普签署《2018年亚洲再保证倡议法》,重申对亚洲国家的战略承诺,以此来对抗中国。美国2020年6月提出的“太平洋威慑倡议”有着同样的目的,它在军事上和政治上都是针对当下美国的困境提出的药方。在军事上,前美国印太司令部司令戴维森呼吁,美国在未来五年内投入270多亿美元,以增强防御能力和应变能力,并为保卫前两个岛链做好准备。其中的核心问题就是强化美军在西太平洋地区的前沿部署,提升美军在太平洋地区的导弹防御能力,进而突破中国的“反介入与区域拒止”能力,最终实现海上压制。因此,提升与盟友在互通、互操作性和信息共享方面的能力是非常关键的。在政治上,“太平洋威慑倡议”有着更深的谋划,试图确认对亚太地区盟友的承诺,聚焦四个方面的工作:一是围绕印太地区的关键优先事项筹划国防预算,提高国防预算的透明度,加强国会监督;二是将资源集中在固件能力缺口上;三是优先考虑与盟友和伙伴的合作;四是提升可信的威慑。

Taken together, the United States is attempting to use all the means at its disposal to enhance its deterrence capabilities against China by working on three fronts: strengthening defense S&T, enhancing denial deterrence capacity building, and improving relations with its Asia-Pacific allies. The United States has opted for a comprehensive program, with both enhancement of its own capabilities in some areas and reliance on allies in other areas, as well as a number of new ideas and approaches, showing the self-evolving trajectory of the United States over time in dealing with great power strategic competition.


IV. Impact of adjustments in U.S. conventional deterrence strategy against China


The power shift between China and the United States has now entered a critical period. Paul Kennedy, speaking about the rise of China, has argued that changes in global politics, military might, and economics mean that the United States has a new contender for global dominance.91 For China and the United States, the ebb and flow of conventional deterrence capabilities, and the shift in the offensive and defensive postures of conventional deterrence strategies, are bound to have a bearing on the overall dynamics of great power strategic competition, and are bound to have a significant impact on the world and regional security orders.

当前,中美权力转移已经进入关键时期。保罗·肯尼迪(Paul Kennedy)在谈及中国崛起时认为,全球政治、武装力量和经济的变化意味着美国有了一个全球主导权的新竞争者。对中美两国而言,常规威慑能力的此消彼长,以及常规威慑战略的攻守态势转换,必然关系到大国战略竞争的总体态势,也必然对世界和地区的安全秩序形成重大影响。

i. Accelerating the formation of a new strategic balance

The shift in the U.S. conventional deterrence concept and strategy has accelerated the mutual adjustment between China and the United States, and there are even hints that they are entering a security dilemma. For China and the United States, this is a turbulent period that is fundamentally characterized by rapid changes in the power of both countries. In the economic and technological fields, the United States is attempting to suppress and contain China’s further economic development through economic and trade wars and high technology wars. In the military field, the two countries have gradually come into tit-for-tat opposition in terms of force-building and operational concepts, and military competition has become increasingly evident. In particular, after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States has drawn historical analogies with the Taiwan issue, strengthened its determination to protect the Taiwan region militarily, and accelerated the pace of increases in military deployments. In this context, the accelerated formation of a new strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region is manifested in three main ways.


First, China and the United States are adjusting their strategic thinking, and significant shifts in their strategic perceptions of each other are taking place. The United States’ mindset toward China is relatively complex, exaggerating the Chinese “threat” while also believing that China underestimates U.S. strength. This reflects the multidimensional perspective of U.S. strategic assessments of China over the past few years, and demonstrates the difficulties major powers in strategic competition have in making accurate assessments. Of course, we must also note that at present the United States has completed its strategic assessment of China. The period of strategic anxiety has passed as well, to be followed by a relatively stable strategic competition track. China’s perception of the United States has also undergone a major transformation. Having experienced the U.S.-China trade war and high-tech war, and weathered U.S. economic sanctions and coercive diplomacy, China has turned the corner on its mentality of fearing the United States, and its strategic confidence is gradually rising. For both China and the United States, the relationship between coercive threats and “reassurances” in conventional strategic deterrence has gradually become unbalanced. According to Thomas C. Schelling, coercive threats in deterrence require corresponding “reassurances” in order to function better.92 At present, the “reassurances” on core issues between China and the United States have shrunk and coercive threats have risen,93 making the imbalance in deterrence a key cause of strategic instability between China and the United States.

一是中美两国的战略思想正在调整,彼此战略认知正在发生重大转变。美国对中国的心态比较复杂,既夸大中国的“威胁”,同时也认为中国低估了美国的实力,这体现了美国在过去几年对华战略评估的多维视角,也展示了大国在战略竞争中准确评估的困难之处。当然,我们也必须注意到,当前美国对中国的战略评估已经完成,战略焦虑期也已经过去,后面将进入相对稳定的战略竞争轨道。中国对美国的认知也完成了一次重大转变,经历中美贸易战和高科技战以后,中国抗住了美国的经济制裁和强制外交,恐美惧美的心态有了本质改观,战略自信逐渐上升。对中美两国而言,常规战略威慑中强制性威胁和“再保证”两者的关系逐渐失衡。根据托马斯·谢林(Thomas C. Schelling)的研究,威慑中的强制性威胁需要相应的“再保证”才能更好地发挥作用。当前中美两国在相关核心议题上的“再保证”缩水,强制性威胁上升,威慑失衡已经成为中美战略不稳定的关键原因所在。

Second, the strategic plans of China and the United States are also being adjusted, and there are signs that overall strategies are being replaced with local strategies. The Taiwan issue is at the center of capacity building and strategic planning for conventional deterrence in both China and the United States. Although there are still other important issues between the two countries in various political, economic, and security areas, such as high-tech competition, human rights issues, and the COVID-19 epidemic, the Taiwan issue is currently attracting the most attention, and the replacement of overall strategies with local strategies has become an important and dangerous trend in the strategic competition between China and the United States. On specific issues, the difficulties facing both countries are specific, obvious, and very much unresolved. As some scholars have pointed out, once a specific direction is involved, they face difficult issues such as how high a price can they afford to pay in the Taiwan Strait, and how their military objectives in the South China Sea should be defined.94 When the space for strategic options between China and the United States shrinks or policy options are reduced, such difficult choices will be the first questions considered before a crisis erupts. The situation facing the United States and China on Taiwan has worsened since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.


Third, major U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region are worried about the development of China’s conventional deterrence. They are not only trying to strengthen their own defense capabilities, but are also eager for stronger U.S. security commitments. To deter China, Japan has increased its defense spending. In December 2020, the Japanese Cabinet decided to strengthen deterrence by developing new cruise missiles to counter the so-called potential “threats” from China and North Korea.95 Former Japanese defense minister Gen Nakatani has said that Japan’s main concern is China’s growing military power, and that the Japan-U.S. alliance should strengthen vigilance, surveillance, and deterrence through joint U.S.-Japan operations. 96 The Suga Yoshihide administration has repeatedly voiced its concern about “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” South Korea is highly dependent on China economically, and it also looks to China for help on the North Korean nuclear issue. As a result, it expects good relations between China and the United States. As one South Korean official put it, “South Korea is an ally of the United States, but it also maintains a strategic partnership with China. It would be extremely difficult for Seoul to either adopt a pro-U.S. balancing strategy or follow China’s rise.”97 Yet the inauguration of Yoon Seok-yeol as South Korean president has changed this trend, as he is filled with worries about China and prefers to follow the United States. Australia has become a pawn and point-man of U.S. efforts to contain China, making irresponsible accusations against China on the South China Sea, human rights, and COVID-19 traceability issues. On security issues, the rapid quantitative and qualitative increase in Chinese military power has alarmed Australia and been a cause of pressure and fear for its policymakers.98 In May 2021, the Australian government announced that it would invest $212 billion in defense spending over the next decade to upgrade bases and purchase new weapons, so as to enhance Australia’s deterrence and combat capabilities.99

三是美国亚太主要盟友对中国常规威慑力量发展充满了忧虑,不仅试图加强自身防务能力,还渴望美国强化安全承诺。为了威慑中国,日本加大了在防务上的投入。早在2020年12月,日本内阁就决定加强威慑力量,研发新巡航导弹,应对所谓的中国和朝鲜的潜在“威胁”。日本前防卫大臣中谷元(Gen Nakatani)称,日本最关心的是中国不断增长的军事实力,日美同盟应通过日美联合行动,加强警戒监视和威慑。菅义伟政府和岸田政府更是一再声明对“台湾海峡和平与稳定的重要性”的关切。韩国在经济上高度依赖中国,同时在朝鲜核问题上也有求于中国,因此期待中美保持良好关系。韩国有官员提出,“韩国是美国的盟友,但它也与中国保持着战略伙伴关系。无论是采取亲美的平衡战略,还是追随中国的崛起,对首尔来说都将是极其困难的”。然而尹锡悦就任韩国总统改变了这一趋势,他对中国充满了忧虑,更倾向于追随美国。澳大利亚已经成为美国遏制中国的马前卒和急先锋,在南海问题、人权问题和新冠肺炎疫情溯源问题上对中国横加指责。在安全问题上,中国军事力量在数量和质量上的快速提升引起了澳大利亚的警惕,并给其决策者带来了压力和恐惧。2021年5月,澳大利亚政府宣布,将在未来10年投入2 120亿美元用于国防开支,以更新基地和购买新武器,提升澳大利亚的威慑能力和战斗能力。

ii. Pushing China to adjust its nuclear strategy

Changes in U.S. and Chinese conventional deterrence capabilities have also pushed the United States to consider nuclear and conventional forces in an integrated manner.100 The main purpose of U.S. nuclear strategy adjustment is to deal with strategic competition among powers and possible future conflicts with them. Adjustments in the United States’ nuclear strategy have, in turn, pushed China to rethink its own nuclear forces and nuclear strategy. China has long maintained a minimal nuclear deterrent with smaller nuclear weapons. There have been some new developments, however. On May 8, 2020, on Weibo, Hu Xijin, who was then editor-in-chief of the Global Times, called for China to increase its nuclear weapons to 1,000. This sparked a debate about whether China should increase its nuclear weapons and where China’s nuclear strategy should go from here. Some scholars disagree with Hu Xijin’s views. Li Bin argues that “the number of nuclear weapons needed is a very significant issue concerning national security, and we should do this calculation with great caution.”101 Zhao Tong also suggests that “the kind and size of nuclear arsenal China should maintain requires a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the many capabilities of different types of nuclear weapons, such as their maneuverability, destruction resistance, type of reaction, and penetrating capability. At the same time, a comprehensive comparison must be made of potential adversaries’ technologies and deficiencies in various capabilities such as reconnaissance, strike, damage assessment, and defense.”102

中美常规威慑能力的变化还推动美国统筹考虑核力量和常规力量。美国调整核战略的主要目的,是应对大国战略竞争与未来可能出现的大国冲突。美国自身核战略的调整,反过来推动中国重新思考自身的核力量与核战略。长期以来,中国一直维持最低限度的核威慑,核武器规模较小。然而,现在有了一些新变化。2020年5月8日,时任《环球时报》总编辑胡锡进在微博上呼吁中国增加核武器到1 000枚,这引起了有关中国是否应该增加核武器以及中国核战略何去何从的讨论。有一些学者不赞同胡锡进的观点。李彬认为,“核武器的需求数量是一个非常重大的涉及国家安全的问题,我们应该战战兢兢地做好这个计算”。赵通也提出,“中国应该保持什么样和多大规模的核武库,需要对不同型号核武器的机动、抗毁、反应、突防等诸多能力进行系统综合的分析,同时也要对潜在对手的侦察、打击、损伤评估、防御等技术及各种能力缺陷进行全面对比”。

This policy debate is easy to understand when it is placed within the framework of U.S.-China strategic competition, especially when the focus is on the Taiwan issue. On the issue of China increasing its nuclear arsenal, proponents and opponents proceed from different starting points. Proponents are more likely to see strategic challenges for China in the future over the Taiwan issue. They see that China’s nuclear forces lag considerably behind those of the United States, and that there are shortcomings in terms of building deterrence against the United States. They believe that the U.S. deterrence strategy and suppressive measures against China have whittled away the basis of China’s policy of maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent. If China is to reunify Taiwan, increasing nuclear weapons is the inevitable choice. The Global Times has editorialized that it was the United States that triggered China’s sense of urgency on strengthening its nuclear deterrence, and argued that “China’s strength-building must convince Washington that, in the event of a war on China’s doorstep, they will never be able to win.”103 Thus, this line of thinking takes the resolution of the Taiwan issue as the starting point for thinking about nuclear strategy, and is based more on political logic. Opponents start more from the logic of professionalism, and advocate using professional measurements to determine the number of nuclear weapons. Their basic argument is that China does not need to over-elevate the Taiwan issue, and that maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent is a least-cost option that is also sufficient for safeguarding China’s current national security.


In terms of strategic planning, China is indeed also making strategic adjustments at its own pace. The Proposal of the CCP Central Committee on Formulating the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Visionary Goals for 2035 clearly states that it will “accelerate military organizational form modernization, deepen reform of the national defense and military forces, promote a revolution in military management, accelerate the transformation and construction of military and armed police forces, expand the strategic forces and new quality combat forces for new domains with a new character, build a high-level strategic deterrence and joint warfare system, and strengthen the joint training, joint support, and joint application of military forces.”104 Improving China’s conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities is in line with the requirement to persevere in our great struggle now that we face changes unseen in a century. Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated, “We must adhere to the organic unity of political security, people’s security, and the supremacy of national interests, dare to struggle as well as be good at it, and strengthen ourselves comprehensively, especially by enhancing the strength of deterrence.”105


In terms of practical policies, China is also making important strategic adjustments. On one hand, China is steadily increasing the number of nuclear weapons. According to the latest estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China had 350 nuclear warheads as of January 2021, an increase of 30 from 2020;106 on the other hand, China is also improving its combat systems and enhancing the survivability of its nuclear weapons. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, China may be building nearly 300 new nuclear missile silos. The increase in the number of nuclear missile silos means that China’s nuclear deterrence is moving from a minimum to a medium-level nuclear deterrent.107 China is also working on its combat readiness and operational concepts. It is improving the mobility and survivability of its delivery systems, and it has made strides in road-mobile ICBMs, solid-fuel ICBMs, strategic bombers, and ballistic missile submarines. A report from CSIS maintains that the DF-41 ICBM has a range of 15,000 km, can carry up to ten individually guided warheads, and can be deployed in three ways: road-mobile platforms, rail-mobile platforms, and hardened silos, greatly increasing China’s nuclear deterrence capability against the United States.108


iii. Development trends that affect the arms control system

The improvement in Chinese and U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities will affect the development of the global arms control system. The progress of China’s conventional forces, especially the improvement of missile technology and strength, and its rising “anti-access and regional denial” capabilities, have caused the distribution of conventional forces in the Western Pacific region to develop in a direction favorable to China. As a result, the United States is attempting to adjust its arms control strategy and release more strategic dividends to offset China’s progress. This will have long-term implications for the arms control system.


First, the global arms control system is accelerating toward disintegration. The Trump administration withdrew from the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, and since the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, that left only the New START Treaty signed between the United States and Russia in 2011. Despite the Biden administration’s renewal of the New START Treaty, “the era of triumphant advances on arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation issues is over, and all the Biden administration has done is at best to prolong the life of arms control mechanisms that are ‘obsolete’ in America’s mind.”109


Second, it provides a pretext for the United States to demand that China participate in new arms control negotiations. Requiring China to participate in arms control negotiations is a very good policy tool that the United States can use to suppress China, whether China participates or not. If China does not participate in arms control negotiations, the United States will put pressure on China. On June 8, 2020, Marshall Billinglsea, then the chief U.S. arms control negotiator, said that the United States and Russia had invited China to arms control negotiations as a way to pressure China.110 If China participates in arms control negotiations, the United States will constrain China through a new treaty, disrupting the pace of China’s military modernization and slowing the pace of China’s efforts to catch up with U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities.

第二,给美国要求中国参加新的军控谈判提供了口实。要求中国参与军控谈判是一个非常好的政策工具,不管中国是否参与,美国都可以此打压中国。如果中国不参与军控谈判,美国将会向中国施压。2020年6月8日,时任美国首席军控谈判代表马歇尔·比林斯利(Marshall Billinglsea)称,美俄已就开展军控谈判邀请了中国,借此向中国施压。如果中国参与军控谈判,美国将通过新条约限制中国,扰乱中国军事现代化的节奏,迟滞中国追赶美国常规威慑能力的建设步伐。

Third, it exacerbates nuclear proliferation risks. Australia, the UK, and the United States signed an agreement on September 15, 2021, announcing the establishment of a “Trilateral Security Partnership.” Australia unilaterally broke a $66 billion contract with France for conventional submarines and plans to build eight nuclear attack submarines with technical assistance from the UK and the United States. These submarines will have a longer range, be harder to detect, have a greater missile payload, a greater strike range, and be better able to gather intelligence and deploy special forces. This will greatly increase the power of Australia and the United States to deter China. Australia, the UK, and the United States have taken full advantage of loopholes in established international treaties, exacerbating nuclear proliferation risks. A potential proliferator could use a naval reactor program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. The reactors used in U.S. nuclear submarines require highly enriched uranium, and Australia’s mastery of this capability would accelerate the proliferation of nuclear infrastructure. Australia’s actions could spur Japan, South Korea, and others to attempt to possess nuclear submarines and even seek nuclear weapons. In order to enhance its own deterrence capabilities, the United States does not hesitate to license U.S. technology to its allies to produce nuclear-powered submarines and long-range missiles. This will no doubt open Pandora’s box, and the negative effects will be long-lasting.



Within the framework of U.S.-China strategic competition, the United States is making timely strategic adjustments to enhance its ability to deter China. This is a stress reaction to the shift in power. China should correctly view the dynamic changes in the conventional deterrence capabilities of both countries and should not exaggerate the decline in U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities. The topic of whether the United States is in decline is not new, and while there is a consensus that it is in relative decline, this kind of discussion is often misleading. For one thing, the sources of power are diverse, and making accurate assessments is a very difficult task. In power comparisons between China and the United States, there are multiple dimensions besides the economic dimension, including alliances and the military and technological dimensions, making it difficult to accurately assess the comparison at any given stage. U.S.-China competition may be in a state where the two alternate in rising and leading, and it is wrong to read too much into the decline in U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities. Second, the United States still maintains a significant advantage over China, and one should have a sober awareness of this. Looking back at the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War, the ebb and flow of strength and strategic offensive and defensive postures were often somewhere between real and imaginary, so it is important to clarify their underlying strategic intent. Looking solely at policies themselves often leads to excessive anxiety. The United States has recently claimed a decline in its conventional deterrence capabilities. The reasons behind this are very complex, but overall there are three main reasons: (1) to play up the “China threat” and intentionally depict China as a competitor; (2) to mobilize domestic forces in an attempt to build more of a social consensus; and (3) to obtain more military spending and win more resources for the military. This has happened many times in history, the classic example being the “missile gap” rhetoric that emerged in the United States after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Therefore, when such arguments appear in the U.S.-China strategic competition, one should not blithely get drawn in by them, but should rather focus on deeper factors. It is important to note that the U.S. containment of China is not a choice of tools, but a choice of a toolbox. The United States picks different toolboxes for different topics. In observing the U.S. choice of a toolbox, one should also focus on the continuity of its policies. In essence, there is little difference between the Biden administration’s and the Trump administration’s strategies for containing China. This also reflects the fact that the time factor plays a key role in the U.S. foreign policy framework: The United States is trying to seize the opportunity to contain China as early as possible. China should also realize that the strategic competition between the United States and China will be long-term, and only a steady course will take us far.


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Cite This Page

左希迎 (Zuo Xiying). "Adjustments in the United States' Conventional Deterrence Strategy Against China [美国对华常规威慑战略的调整]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Journal of International Security Studies [国际安全研究], September 16, 2022

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