战略学 (2020版)第七章 军事危机的预防与处置 
Return to the Library

Science of Military Strategy (2020 Ed.) Chapter 7: Prevention and Handling of Military Crises 

战略学 (2020版)第七章 军事危机的预防与处置 

A chapter from the revised textbook by the PLA’s National Defense University (NDU) serves as an authoritative study reference for senior PLA officers on military doctrine and strategy. This chapter offers insights into the evolution of PLA roles, missions, and thinking about military crisis.

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link
Original text
English text
See an error? Drop us a line at
View the translated and original text side-by-side

With changes in the development of the international strategic situation and China’s security environment, the dangers, instabilities and unknown factors China faces have significantly increased, and crises have gradually become the normal state of national security. Furthermore, among different types of crises, military crises are showing a trend of almost daily increases. Military crises are the crossroads between war and peace, and if they cannot be effectively prevented and dealt with, they may spiral out of control and escalate into war, severely affecting or disrupting China’s peaceful development, and possibly even destroying the hard-won achievements of reform and opening up. Therefore, we should carefully study and explore the characteristic patterns of military crises, actively prevent crises, strive to control crises, properly deal with crises, and control the effects and impacts of military crises to within a certain range to create a strategic environment of peace and stability for national development.


I. Connotations and Characteristics of Military Crises

第一节 军事危机的内涵与特征

International military crises have frequently occurred after the Cold War ended. Antecedents are complicated and numerous, and prominently present as aggravation of disputes over geopolitics or economic interests, intensification of ethnic religious contradictions, and national unifications and sovereignty disputes. Researching the connotations of contemporary military crises, exploring the characteristics and patterns of occurrence and the development and transformations of military crises, summarizing the experiences of crises prevention and management, and improving China’s capabilities to prevent and manage military crises have an important and tangible meaning to preventing war, defending national interests, and maintaining regional stability and world peace.


1. Basic Connotations

In international relations, military crises are a unique phenomenon and form of struggle. In the 2011 edition of “Military Language,” military crises was defined as: dangerous states of affairs between nations or political groups that may lead to armed conflict or war. American scholars Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld believe that military crises are “a situation that arises from changes in domestic or international environments, and this situation is a kind of threat to the basic values of the nation as viewed by its decision makers, the time that decision makers have to respond to crises is limited, and will likely cause the nation to become entangled in a military struggle.” It is generally thought that military crises are formed by three factors: the first is threats to the major strategic interests of a relevant party to the crisis; the second is large uncertainties as to the development of events and urgency in decision making, response and communication times; and the third is the existence of a relatively large risk of the crisis spiraling out of control and escalating into war.

军事危机是国际关系中的一种特殊现象和斗争形式。2011年版《军语》对军事危机的定义是:国家或政治集团之间可能导致武装冲突或战争的危险状态。美国学者布雷彻(Michael Brecher)和威尔肯菲尔德(Jonathan Wilkenfeld)认为,军事危机是 “一种因国内外环境变化而引起的形势,这种形势在该国的决策者们看来是对基本价值的一种威胁,而决策者对此作出反应的时间有限,并有可能使国家卷人军事对抗”。一般认为,军事危机由三个因素构成:一是危机相关方的重大战略利益受到威胁;二是事态发展不确定性大,决策,反应和沟通时间紧迫;三是存在危机失控升级为战争的较大风险。

2. Main Categories

The categories of military crises can be alternatively divided up according to different perspectives, levels, and scopes. According to the connotation of the crisis, they can be divided into conventional military crises and non-conventional military crises. Conventional military crises refer to conflicts starting over territory and seas, resource disputes, ethnic and religious contradictions, geopolitical struggles and other traditional factors that may lead to military confrontations. Non-conventional military crises refers to military crises caused by international terrorism, acts of piracy, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other non-conventional security factors faced in the contemporary world.


According to the subjective motivation of the crisis, crises may be divided into sporadic military crises and deliberate military crises. Sporadic military crises refer to where neither party intended to create the crisis, and the crisis was caused unexpectedly by a sudden incident or sporadic factors that were difficult to anticipate or control; the risk of this kind of crisis spiraling out of control is generally rather small. Intentional military crises refer to those caused intentionally; they can be further divided into war oriented and periphery control. War oriented crises refer to where the party creating the crisis actively ambushes and stirs up a crisis to achieve some political aim, the relevant nation or group has already decided to initiate a war before the crisis began and the crisis is only an excuse. Periphery control refers to a situation where the party causing the crisis is intentionally pushing the confrontation to move towards the edge of war, plotting to force the other side to make concessions, while they themselves do not wish or are even unwilling to have the crisis spiral out of control. The risks or uncertainties of these types of crises spiraling out of control are generally rather significant.


According to the level of confrontation of the crisis, military crises may be divided into low intensity, intermediate intensity and high intensity. A sudden event generally will fall under the categorization of a low intensity military crisis, and is also called a quasi-crisis; these will generally not bring about severe military confrontations and have relatively small effects on national relations. Tense confrontations are often intermediate intensity military crises, and are also a commonly seen military crisis; they often present as military confrontation actions that have been planned and premeditated, and have relatively large effects on national relations. Armed conflicts are high intensity crises, and are also called quasi-wars, they often are accompanied with combat operations of a certain intensity, and highlight the strategic will of the nation – here the risk of war is great, the impact on national relations large, and the effects are relatively far-reaching.


Beyond this, military crises can be distinguished into sudden military crises and gradual military crises according to how they erupt. Sudden military crises are mostly brought about by sudden intensification of contradictions or the use of extreme measures by one of the parties of the crisis to achieve a set aim; gradual crises are mostly brought about by escalation of a confrontation between the two parties of a crisis. From the roles involved, military crises can be distinguished into military crises between major powers of the world, military crises internal to political groups, military crises between large and small nations, military crises between traditionally hostile state and so on.


3. Main Characteristics

Military crises may pose a serious threat to the major interests or even to the core interests of a country, and can easily trigger armed conflicts or wars between countries. Military crises generally have the following major characteristics.


Chance and inevitability are interconnected. Military crises often appear as accidents, but inevitability is often hidden behind contingency. On one hand, the occurrence and development of military crises are often affected by a variety of uncertainties; these can manifest as a certain randomness or haphazardness in the events that trigger crises. On the other hand, the occurrence and development of military crises are also accompanied by more obvious symptoms, which are the inevitable results of the long-term intractability of conflicts of interest between countries and their intensification at a specific stage. For some countries, state actors or political groups that do not have fundamental contradictions, even if accidents occur between them, the two sides can effectively resolve the issue through timely communication as there is no fundamental conflict of interest, thereby avoiding military crises. Once an unexpected event occurs between state actors of political groups which have fundamental conflicts of interest, an escalation of hostilities is very likely due to the actors’ long-standing grievances or even open hostility. If one or both parties believe they should take the opportunity to change the status quo via unyielding measures, a military crisis becomes inevitable.


Graduality and abruptness are interconnected. The evolution of military crises has its own inherent logic. From the perspective of gradual development, some seemingly unwarranted crises are actually the accumulation of quantitative changes. Some extreme crises without any internal accumulation are not actually abrupt man-made incidents, and usually do not result in serious consequences or risks. Most military crises will undergo a process of gradual accumulation, and we must study and understand the progressive characteristic of crises. When a crisis is in a period of gradual change, the parties of a crisis are prone to paralysis – they may be blindly optimistic about crisis management due to the slow escalation of the crisis. However, once a crisis suddenly breaks out or escalates, this often results in extreme inaction in crisis management and crisis control in short order, and proactively capturing the major turning points in the crisis process becomes difficult. Therefore, the prevention and management of military crises should focus not only on discovering and making use of the patterns of graduality seen in crises, but also on responding to or hastily responding to the sudden occurrence of crises.


Confrontation and controllability are interconnected. Countries, state actors and political groups always try to resolve mutual interests and contradictions through political, diplomatic, and economic means. A range of both soft and hard approaches are employed. The ultimate bottom line of the game and the most effective trump card is often the military. In particular, the struggle for the interests of major powers is almost always a military game. Military crises are stronger and more directly antagonistic than other crises. But this does not mean that the military crisis itself is uncontrollable. Whether a military crisis is controllable is fundamentally determined by politics. All parties to the crisis can always find a balance of interests through bargaining to prevent the crisis from escalating to a final showdown, thereby realizing effective management and control of the military crisis. Of course, a crisis being controllable does not mean the ultimate resolution of the conflict of interest behind the crisis, and there is an element of repetitiveness of the confrontation and controllability that encircles the underlying conflict of interest.


Risk and opportunity are interconnected. Military crises are the product of highly intensified contradictions and are high risk by their very nature. While armed conflict may not have to be resorted to, there is always the possibility of the crisis transforming into war at any time. This high-risk nature makes it possible for the parties to use the special opportunity of the military crisis to show their bottom line, feel out their opponent’s cards, and ultimately reach a compromise. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Suez Canal Crisis, and multiple crises across the Taiwan Strait have ultimately achieved new strategic balances under such high-risk conditions.


II. Prevention of Military Crises

第二节 军事危机的预防

The prevention of military crises refers to targeted preparations taken in advance to prevent the occurrence of military crises, including advanced assessments, advanced planning, advanced deployments, and advanced actions. The key is to ensure that opportunities are seized, and strategic initiative taken.


1. Basic Requirements

Wise crisis management does not lie in the ability to intervene after the crisis has taken shape and erupted, but in whether the occurrence of disadvantageous crises can be avoided. Former UN Secretary-General De Cuellar once pointed out: ‘’One ounce of prevention is worth one pound of treatment.” To effectively prevent the occurrence of military crises, we should focus on the following basic requirements.


Planning for the overall situation. The key to prevention of military crises is to move the focus forward, remove oneself from the crisis to better see the crisis, and plan for the prevention of crises from an overall perspective. Always focus on the core interests of national sovereignty, security and development; shape good relations with major powers and create a secure peripheral environment through active military exchanges and cooperation with foreign countries; broaden strategic fields of vision and strategic channels, strengthen strategic deployments and strategic pre-settings, increase strategic bargaining chips and make preparations for possible military crises in political, economic, diplomatic, military, cultural, and public opinion areas through seeking and expanding common interests.


Following and studying the crisis. Attention should be paid to monitoring the development and changes of potential crises from the overall situation of national security to prevent potential crises from approaching or reaching points of the ignition. The diversification of the sources of national security threats and their interlinkages should be paid attention to, not only points of ignition from land, sea, air, space, the internet, and polar regions, but also ignition points in the economic, information, and social fields. Understanding sufficient, comprehensive, timely, and accurate intelligence is necessary, as is effectively organizing and processing it. A mature and complete assessment system should be established to quickly predict and pre-manage the direction of crises as their center of gravity shifts. It is necessary to maintain a high degree of sensitivity to crises, be adept at catching potential or emerging crises, issue warnings in a timely manner, and make careful and effective preparations.


Tangibly implement targeted deployments. Enhance the flexibility and pertinence of response plans, and continuously improve contingency plans. Establish simple and efficient crisis communication and control channels that are internally and externally integrated. Set up a comprehensive decision-making and consulting mechanism to respond to emergencies, focus on coordination and cooperation at the national level, effectively integrate international and domestic resources, and strive to eliminate hidden dangers that threaten military security. When a military crisis occurs or is about to occur, make further preparations for rapid response, rapid communication, and rapid control; establish advanced objectives, and make ample preparations.


2. Main Measures

Preventive measures for military crises primarily include the three levels of strategic measures, institutional measures, and implementation measures.


Strategic measures. Strategic measures refer to medium and long-term strategic countermeasures formulated to prevent crises. These involve the political, economic, diplomatic, and military domains of a country, among others. Strategic measures mainly include: building frameworks for strategic balance and forming mutually beneficial, mutually advantageous interdependent security relationships between major powers; adhering to policies of good-neighborliness and amicability to continuously strengthen relations with the majority of countries while maintaining valid and intricate relations with actual and potential conflict countries; developing and maintaining common interests via building multi-level security relations in the region of interest through military aid and arms sales, joint training, joint counter-terrorism initiatives, regional security cooperation, arms control and disarmament cooperation and other methods.


Institutional measures. Institutional measures refer to a series of institutional arrangements that are constructed to prevent major crises during relative peace. Establish an efficient, flexible, and comprehensive prevention mechanism for the military grounds and within the military, integrate the operation of key elements among the spread out decision-making, executive and intelligence departments and think tanks, clarify working principles, methods, scopes and requirements, and ensure quick and effective management of the crisis. Strengthen the establishment of institutions, clarify the authority of each unit within crisis management agencies to delineate responsibilities and powers. Discuss the establishment of necessary crisis prevention mechanisms with countries with which there are potential or actual conflicts of interest, such as hotlines, emergency contacts and consultations, exchanging special envoys, track two dialogue and so on. Strengthen the professionalism and comprehensiveness of joint handling of bilateral emergencies, to ensure that crises are prevented and controlled immediately and locally while forestalling crises from causing a full-scope impact on bilateral relations.


Action measures [sic, from prior content in this section, one would think this should be ‘implementation measures’]. Action measures refer to targeted preventive measures in response to different types of military crises. These are usually adjusted or modified according to practical needs and changes in the situation. There are primarily three levels: the first level is to reduce the abruptness or unexpectedness of crises through effective crisis prediction and early warning so that decision makers are enabled to stop the crisis while it is still in its key early development phase, allowing crisis management to take the initiative. Crisis prediction is generally wide ranging and of relatively long duration, and has high demands in terms of situational tracking and information accumulation, requiring frequent research and analysis. Early warning of crises is founded on predictions – employing various methods to constantly acquire relevant intelligence information, implement real-time tracking and monitoring, and using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct scientific analysis and eliminate relatively weak or isolated risk signals in the development of security events, transforming the unexpected into the expected. The key to early warning is to understand the various factors and every aspect that can restrict the eruption or escalation of a crisis, and make determinations concerning the objectives, strengths and policy trends of potential opponents and their likelihood of provoking a crisis, as well as the specific strategies, tactics, and measures adopted by potential opponents. Once it is confirmed that a crisis may occur, an early warning should be issued at once and an analysis report submitted up the command chain. The second level is to formulate multiple contingency plans for a flexible response. Anticipate the possible ways a crisis could erupt and its scale through prediction and analysis of the state of the crisis, and prepare multiple emergency response plans. Once a crisis occurs, a policy can be selected according to the actual situation, thereby shortening the decision-making process, increasing response speed, and avoiding being helpless or taking improper actions once the crisis occurs. Emergency response plans should be prepared according to worst-case scenarios, with no blind spots left unconsidered. Although there are often discrepancies or even large discrepancies between contingency planning and the actual situation of a crisis, when a crisis breaks out, even a rough plan can greatly reduce the tension and inaction brought by having no plan. Nixon once pointed out: “When preparing for battle, I often find that planning is useless, but it is essential to draw up a plan.” Because, “Being confident in a crisis is mostly dependent on preparing enough when making preparations is possible.” The third level is to hold actual combat drills. Actual combat drills are a key part of crisis prevention. To conduct actual combat drills as planned, various methods such as computer simulations, sand table simulations, war games, role-playing simulations, and scenario response training can be used to put personnel at all levels in a crisis simulation environment and continuously improve organizational command and cross-departmental collaboration as well as strengthen key capabilities such as coordination, comprehensive and psychological support.


III. Management of Military Crises

第三节 军事危机的处置

The handling of military crises refers to activities carried out by countries, state actors or political groups to protect their interests by comprehensively using various means to control and guide the development of military crises in beneficial directions. The handling of military crises must be based on safeguarding the fundamental interests of the country, mobilizing resources at home and abroad – both inside and outside the military – to minimize the development and escalation of unfavorable crises, and ensure that national security is not excessively affected or disrupted. However, on this foundation, the handling of military crises simultaneously strives to transform crises into opportunities, enlarging established objectives as appropriate, and expanding national interests.


1. Basic Requirements
1. 基本要求

The handling of military crises must follow the concept of active management, advocating proactive and flexible handling while paying attention to both the negative and positive aspects of the crisis, striving to seek advantages while avoiding disadvantages, seeking opportunities in danger, and always grasping the strategic initiative. The basic requirements are:


First response time. The first response time is the shortest time from the occurrence of the crisis to a response. Military crises are abrupt and come with great risks and unpredictable consequences. The crisis must be handled quickly and effectively. The first thing is to make decisions quickly. To a large extent, once a crisis occurs, whether the response is timely and accurate determines the success or failure of crisis management. In view of the nature and characteristics of the crisis, in accordance with the needs of political and diplomatic struggles and the situation of the opponents, a correct decision should be made as early as possible, and without hesitation. The second thing is to act quickly. Use institutional measures established in peace times to strengthen communication and contacts with relevant parties, and rapidly display or adjust military power as needed. Actively coordinate political and diplomatic engagement. The third thing is to rapidly prepare for changes. Military crises usually have complex causes and backgrounds, and it is generally difficult to achieve results through a single operation. After a decision is made and necessary actions taken, contingencies must be quickly and effectively prepared for, emphasizing the combined use of varied methods, comprehensive influence and control, and prevention of a recurrence or escalation of the crisis.


Maintain effective communication between all parties. Military crisis management is a game of strategy, and the true intentions of all parties to the crisis play a decisive role in its development. Maintaining effective communication and promoting mutual understanding of each other’s intentions is an important prerequisite to prevent a crisis from escalating or spiraling out of control. The first thing is to maintain multi-channel, multi-level, and multi-method contacts to deliver information to the other party in a timely and accurate manner, while at the same time accurately understanding the information sent by the other party to prevent misreading or misjudgments. Attention should be paid to the diversification of communication channels. Both officials and citizens can be used, institutional channels and temporary channels can be used concurrently, and even third parties can assist with this. Unless extreme circumstances occur, communication channels should generally not be cut off; the more dangerous the moment, the more important it is to maintain effective communication. The second thing is to understand the art of communication and skillfully handle the relationship between concealed intentions and communication of information. There must both be transparency regarding certain necessary information while avoiding careless disclosure of all information. The methods, channels, timing and degree of information releases should be carefully planned.


Strive for domestic and international support. Striving for broad support and mobilizing favorable factors both internally and externally for our use is an important safeguard in dealing with military crises. National support is a basic component in the handling of military crises. It is necessary to promptly convey useful information to the public through various methods such as press spokespersons, media interviews, and personal statements to gain public understanding, to support rational responses, to resolve rumors as soon as possible, and to inspire a fighting spirit. The understanding and support of the international community is also an important part of military crisis management. Hotline reporting, emergency meetings, dispatching special envoys, and international media interviews can all be used to take the initiative in explaining and publicizing the righteousness of one’s own position, thereby seizing the commanding heights of international morality, winning international public opinion to the extent possible, and isolating and striking down opponents. In modern society, dealing with the media has become a threshold that must be crossed in dealing with military crises. A communication philosophy of ‘others explaining it is worse than explaining it myself, laymen explaining it is worse than insiders explaining it, and explaining it passively is worse than explaining it actively’ should be established, while also being adept at channeling, using and relying on domestic and foreign media. Do not give hostile forces and people with ulterior motives room for hype or misinformation.


Seek the legitimacy of action. In modern society, behavior in accordance with the law has become a norm generally accepted by the international community. Military crises are highly sensitive and involve more and more legal issues. To ensure that crisis management does not leave behind future troubles, the best way to deal with crises is in accordance with the law and within a legal framework to prevent granting others any future legal cause of action. The relationship between domestic law and international law should be handled properly. Follow national laws, and focus on finding the basis for military actions in relevant national laws and regulations. When international law conflicts with national interests, insist that national interests are above all else. Be adept at respecting and using international laws and regulations to find a legal basis in accordance with one’s own interests in handling the military crises, thereby achieving the aim of supporting oneself and restraining opponents. International regulations are usually a “double-edged sword.” When properly used they will have a positive effect; if not, things may fall into a passive state. Additionally, the laws of other countries should be properly respected and used to create conditions for follow-up crises management.


Appropriate use of military power. In the final analysis, military crisis handling is a contest between strength and psychology. The ideal method is to achieve the objective of crisis handling through peaceful political and diplomatic means. However, in actual struggles, without the effective cooperation of military forces, it is actually very difficult for diplomacy to make substantive achievements. The handling of military crises should attach great importance to the use of military deterrence, and demonstrate strength, determination and will appropriately. Where deterrence cannot bend an enemy, moderate methods of actual combat should be adopted to further deter the enemy, so as to stop a war or prevent the escalation of the crisis with a small battle. It needs to be pointed out that the military cannot sing a one-man show in dealing with military crises, nor can military means be divorced from political struggles, the military must always obey and serve political needs.


2. Handling Procedures
2. 处置程序

Military crisis management is an unconventional procedure for decisionmaking, and comes with certain necessary universal procedures as well as certain necessary special requirements. Different military crises will have different handling procedures with different focuses. Generally speaking, military crisis management includes the following procedures.


Collection of data. Intelligence information is the prerequisite for handling military crises, and its collection and analysis should highlight two elements. The first is the crisis environment. This includes factors such as the international strategic environment, the surrounding security environment, and the domestic security environment. This also includes paying close attention to the concerns and basic positions of the populations of the major powers, related countries and potentially involved countries of the crisis, tracking the trends of public opinion at home and abroad, and keeping abreast of changes in factors influencing the crisis. The second is the dynamics of the crisis. Focus on understanding the conditions of the opponent’s nation, its society, its military, and its populace; track the development changes of its decision-making environment in real time and be adept at accurately capturing effective information from complex and evolving information and understanding the opponent’s strategic trends. The third is the characteristics of decision-makers. This includes capturing objective, rational, and straightforward information from the composition of the decision-making circle – the personal decision history, decision characteristics, decision intentions, decision track record, decision making habits, decision resolve, decision making environment and so on of the decision makers, as well as being adept at finding information to swiftly control the enemy while constantly improve crisis management plans.


Determining the nature. Determining the nature of a crisis is a key link in the handling of military crises. Whether a crisis is an accident or a deliberate plan, whether it is a technical or strategic issue, or whether it is a political or military issue and so all, this all directly affects the timing, methods, and intensity of the crisis response. While a crisis may already be occurring, and the strategic intentions and interest relationships of relevant parties will be gradually becoming clear, there are still myriad uncertainties and potential pitfalls. Characterizations of the nature of the crisis should be adept at removing the fog, seeing the overall situation. Attention should be paid to understanding the true intentions of the other party through careful logical reasoning and capturing of details to prevent subjective assumptions, and especially to avoid treating isolated incidents as deliberate plans


Determining the objective. The objective is the core element of military crisis management. Objectives are often closely related to risks. The higher the objective, the greater the risk; and on the contrary, the lower the objective, the lower the risk. Generally speaking, people tend to seek to achieve optimal objectives, but in the practice of military crisis management, the ideal state of complete victory is difficult to achieve. Military crisis management objectives should meet the following requirements. The first is that determination of the objective must be clear, it cannot be too general or too abstract, but must be as accurate, clear, direct, and as specific as possible in terms of time, sections, quantities, and quality to prevent ambiguity or misunderstandings among those executing the objectives. The second is to set appropriate objectives. Deliberately compressing objectives may result in objectives becoming abstracted, while excessively adding to objectives may cause the objectives to be overly complicated. When encountering multi-objective tasks, be careful to perform analysis to facilitate understanding among the different types of personnel executing the objectives. The third is to be cautious when changing the objective, being careful to understand the timing and method of changes to prevent leaving errors of cohesion which may be used by the other party as an opportunity. In the practice of crisis management, determination of objectives is difficult to achieve at once, and requires continuous adjustment and improvement of the management process. When a crisis situation develops smoothly, expanding or raising the objective may be considered in a timely manner; when the prospect of achieving the original objective is not clear, the objective should be stabilized or cautiously lowered; when the development of the situation is severely hindered, the decision-making objectives should be lowered decisively; when the situation sees severe deterioration and the original objective can no longer be achieved, the objective should be resolutely abandoned or changed.


Planning. The plan is the main vector for military crisis management. The process of formulating a plan is actually the process of formulating many plans and selecting the best plan from among them. The plan usually includes the following elements: The first is the objective of crisis management. This is the basis and prerequisite for the composition of the plan. The content of all plans must be consistent with the crisis management objectives, and the objectives must be expressed concisely, clearly, and accurately, avoiding ambiguity and vagueness. The second is resource allocation. Reasonably allocate military, political, economic, diplomatic, social, cultural, and public opinion resources and other related resources to ensure the formation of united forces. The third is the resolution mechanism. The focus is on the military-to-local coordination mechanism and the organization command mechanism for management actions. The organization command mechanism usually uses four methods: new construction, support, association, and transformation, and stipulates the corresponding responsibilities and powers. The fourth is management of follow-up matters. This may include maintaining the state of the crisis, restoring order to the crisis, supplementation and deployment of relevant resources, calming society, or the restoration and consolidation of resources. Attention should be paid to the proof of feasibility of the plan as well as evaluation of the plan in practice.


Implementing and adjusting the plan. Plan implementation is the practical aspect of military crisis management. When implementing the management plan, we must always keep a cool head and neither be deterred by a menacing crisis situation, nor confounded by the rapidly-changing course of development of the crisis. We should focus on the plan’s objectives, and promptly respond to situations according to the actual development of the crisis. Necessary and appropriate amendments should be made to the original plan to constantly keep things in line with the reality of the crisis. During adjustments to plans, procedures should be simplified as much as possible. Generally speaking, the higher the intensity of the crisis and the greater the momentum, the greater the degree of simplification and omission in planning. Adjustment objectives need to change rapidly with the state of the crisis. Unforeseen or novel situations, new problems, and new opportunities may appear during the implementation stage. Inadequately considered secondary factors in the plan may rise to become the main factors, thereby requiring objectives to be appropriately amended. The content of the plan should be continuously enriched and improved, while content that does not adapt to new situations should be decisively eliminated. Alter content relating to erroneous conditions while filling in missing content and ensuring that the adjustment of content is consistent with management objectives.


What must be emphasized is that the ending of a military crisis is an important part of crisis management. Before it is confirmed that a crisis situation has completely subsided, the vigilance and preparations relating to the crisis must not be rashly lifted; the process and pacing of the closure should be handled carefully. Whether a military crisis has truly died down cannot be seen on the surface alone, more important is whether there is an undercurrent surging behind the surface calm. If the crisis ends without really calming down, it may have unpredictable adverse effects, and later responses may have to pay an even greater price. When it is really necessary to end the crisis, the pacing and intensity should be carefully handled to control both the process and extent to which the crisis ends according to the other party’s intentions and strategic situation, so that the pace the crisis is brought to an end is balanced with actual changes in the crisis, and no major relapses occur in the closing process. When ending the crisis, one must bargain and exchange benefits. Pay attention to understanding the scale of things and prevent acts of goodwill from being misjudged by the other party, and ensure that the crisis ends when it is best for you. The state of military crises change rapidly, and in practice, management procedures can be initiated either sequentially or simultaneously. As long as they are conducive to the rapid and effective response to military crises, procedures can be set up and used flexibly and adaptably.


3. Management Methods
3. 处置方式

The management of military crises is essentially the art of compromise. It is a process in which all parties concerned seek to find the best compromise through an intense game. Without compromise, there can be no management of military crises. However, it must also be emphasized that in handling military crises, attention must be paid to capturing opportunities from danger, making profits from harm, and striving to create more favorable national interests on the basis of compromise. Generally speaking, there are primarily the following four common methods for handling military crises.


Stopping the crisis. Containing a crisis refers to taking effective measures to prevent the crisis from expanding and escalating into war and striving to resolve the crisis via peaceful means. This mainly includes controlling the objective, domain, scope, means, intensity, and pacing of the crisis. The objective of control is to leave more room for maneuvering and more opportunities for crisis management, not to simply give in without principle. Domain control refers to isolating the state of the crisis to the extent possible, limiting it to its original domain, and avoiding or slowing down its spillover into other domains. Scope of control refers to containing the expansion of the geographical scope of the crisis and is necessary to limit the crisis to the countries involved and prevent the involvement of external forces. When one party attempts to internationalize a crisis, it must coordinate its position with the other party through diplomatic channels in a timely manner, and when necessary, issue warnings to the other party up to the point of adopting implementation of corresponding sanctions. At the same time, it is necessary to contact countries that are attempting to intervene in the crisis and prevent them from being involved in the crisis through various means. Methods of control refer mainly to resolving the crisis through peaceful means such as negotiation and consultations, while using – with caution – coercive measures such as arms embargoes, economic sanctions, military blockades, or ultimatums to avoid chain reactions or pushing opponents into a corner, which would not pay off. Intensity control, that is, the intensity of a reaction cannot be lower than the objective, nor can it exceed the objective. Pacing control refers to controlling the speed of crisis development and the ups and downs of the changes, and avoiding letting the crisis tilt near the edge of spiraling out of control.


Influencing crises. The influencing of a crisis refers to the entire process of the brewing, occurrence and calming down of a military crisis. Corresponding measures are taken to influence and control the state of the crisis and its process of development, minimizing unfavorable factors brought about by the crisis, and preventing the crisis from expanding, spreading, or escalating. Crisis influencing is usually divided into direct and indirect modes. Direct influence is the use of direct elements as a crisis intervention party to influence the development of the crisis; indirect influence is the use of relevant elements as an “outsider” to influence the development of the crisis. These two methods can be used simultaneously, and the proportion of the two can be adjusted according to changes in the environment of the crisis to maximize the impact. There are usually three prerequisites for influencing a crisis: the risk of non-intervention is significantly greater than the risk of intervention; it does not cause serious damage to the core interests of the related parties; and the uncertain consequences that may be brought about by intervention in the crisis can be borne. In order to avoid the vicious circle of military crisis management and prevent “the fruit of the last victory often becoming the root of the next conflict”, influencing of a crisis should pay close attention to the influencing and monitoring of the situation after a crisis subsides, so that the crisis is always in a controllable state.


Crisis guidance. Crisis guidance refers to seizing the opportunities and conditions created by the crisis situation, making good use of the situation, taking advantage of the situation, and solving problems that are difficult to solve or have breakthroughs with during normal circumstances. The core of crisis guidance is to turn crises into opportunities, turn harm into gains, and turn bad things into good things. There are three main types of guided crises: One is taking advantage of the crisis. Taking advantage of the chaotic situation brought about by the crisis to take action to achieve political aims and avoid the passivity and risks that may arise by acting under normal circumstances. The second is to take the opportunity to make a profit. With the help of favorable conditions and opportunities brought about by the crisis, military plans that have been formulated for a long time but have had no opportunity to be introduced can now be put into practice while avoiding opponents being overly alert or making strong reactions, thereby minimizing the negative effects. The United States quickly expanding its anti-terrorism efforts after the “9-11” incident by taking the opportunity to station troops in Central Asia and the Middle East is an example of this. The Chinese government’s decisive decision in December 2008 to send a fleet of remnant naval vessels to perform escort missions in the waters of Somalia is also a successful example of crisis guidance. The third is to shift pressure. With the help of the extraordinary situation brought about by the crisis, a new focus can be formed to redirect political pressure, buoy the morale of the domestic populace, and form a situation of unity and stability.


Shelving the crisis. Shelving a crisis refers to a problem in which it is difficult for the parties involved in the crisis to make substantial concessions in the short term, while an out-of-control situation will seriously jeopardize the core interests of all parties. A stable pattern or situation that is acceptable to each other can be formed through rational negotiation or the formulation of guidelines. Shelving is divided into “cold shelving” and “hot shelving”. “Cold shelving” means to freeze the factors that caused the military crisis for the long term and leave them to be resolved at some appropriate time in the future. Its premise is that all parties concerned can remain calm and not proactively provoke the incident, otherwise it will automatically fail. “Hot shelving” refers to maintaining the state of the crisis at a certain level so that the issue is always in a “controversial” state, so as to achieve the aim of cautioning the populace, regulating the other party and reminding the international community. The two modes of shelving can be interchanged. When one mode loses the preconditions for its existence, the other mode should be activated in a timely manner, or other methods should be adopted to manage the crisis.


The prevention and handling of military crises must vary from time to time, from event to event, from place to place, and from person to person. Intensified strategic competition among major powers is the main cause of frequent military crises. To deal with increasingly diversified, complex, and interconnected military crises, it is necessary to grasp the general trend of world development, find the balance of points of power, and use military crises as an influence on international politics and global governance, as an important way to regulate national interests, especially relations between major powers, and as a common weapon to actively improve the state of affairs. Military crises should be prevented and managed with new concepts, models and methods, to maximize the protection and expansion of national strategic interests, and to always maintain strategic initiative.


To top

Cite This Page

中国人民解放军国防大学 (National Defense University). "Science of Military Strategy (2020 Ed.) Chapter 7: Prevention and Handling of Military Crises  [战略学 (2020版)第七章 军事危机的预防与处置 ]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in National Defense University Press [中国人民解放军国防大学出版社], August 1, 2020

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link