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Analogies and China: U.S. Grand Strategy and the Pivot to Asia

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Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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American foreign policy elites are engaged in a national debate to define U.S. grand strategy specific to the Asia-Pacific region. This shift in U.S. focus has been referred to as a pivot or rebalance. The Asia-Pacific region is rife with potential challenges, the greatest of which comes from a rising China. In the nascent phase of strategy-crafting, decisionmakers are cognitively inclined to select analogies to help decipher complex problems. However, overemphasis on a single or incomplete analogy can lead to policy inefficiencies and at times, outright disaster. The use of analogies in foreign policy is irresistible and persistent. This paper analyzes the usefulness of the three prevalent historical analogies pervading thought in policy-making debate about China. These analogies posit China in the frameworks of Cold War containment, pre-WWI Wilhelmine Germany, and pre-WWII Munich. This paper proposes that the implications from each analogy is incomplete in framing the strategic environment and, if adopted by U.S. policy elites, will increase the potential for conflict. The conclusion is that the challenge modern China presents the U.S. is instead sui generis, defying previous foreign policy blueprints. Two analogies from Chinas own history are presented to offer broader frameworks for focusing the U.S. pivot.

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Technical Report

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DOI: 10.21236/AD1018809




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