Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior

By Abram N. Shulsky | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
DETERRING CHINA IN THE FUTURE

The Difficulty Of Deterring Chinese Use Of Force

The historical record indicates that China's adversaries often misunderstand its motives and willingness to use force, which affects their ability to deter the Chinese use of force. In Korea, for example, U.S. misunderstanding of China's motives undermined its ability to deter Chinese intervention. U.S. assurances, e.g., that it would not harm the Yalu River hydroelectric plants, showed that it had failed to understand the extent to which the Chinese view of its international situation was tinged by a fearfulness that had a strong ideological component. Thus, Mao's acceptance of the notion of an inevitable (ideologically based) U.S. antagonism to a communist China changed his calculus of the gains and risks of intervening in Korea in a way not understood in Washington. As Christensen has noted,

it has become common in political science to label leaders in crises as either aggressive and insatiable or fearful and protective of the status quo. The distinction is often useful, but there is no reason to believe that leaders cannot be both aggressive and fearful. Mao was no lover of the status quo, as was proven by his material support to Kim Il-sung and the Vietnamese Communists even before the outbreak of the Korean War; but Mao was also almost paranoid in his feeling of insecurity about threats to his nation, as was demonstrated by his constant fear of foreign and domestic enemies. This type of leader is extremely difficult to deter. If one shows too little resolve, as the United States did by excluding South Korea from the defense perimeter in early 1950, the leader will promote aggression. … But if one shows too hostile a posture, as the United States did by intervening in the Taiwan Straits, the leader will become panicky,

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Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Summary vii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - The Role of Deterrence in U.S. China Policy 3
  • Chapter Three - The Historical Record 7
  • Chapter Four - Deterrence in the Context of Sino-U.S. Relations 17
  • Chapter Five - Deterrence and Its Discontents 23
  • Chapter Six - Deterring China in the Future 35
  • Appendix - Chinese “Deterrence” Attempts: Failures and Successes 55
  • Bibliography 81
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