Maximizing leverage : explaining China's strategic force postures in limited wars
Author(s)Cunningham, Fiona S.(Fiona Stephanie)
Explaining China's strategic force postures in limited wars
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Political Science.
M. Taylor Fravel.
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How do nuclear-armed states maximize strategic leverage to coerce their adversaries in limited wars? Although the existing literature has examined how states have used their nuclear weapons as sources of strategic leverage, it has not fully explored the challenges states face in using these extremely destructive weapons in limited wars. China's approach to maximizing strategic leverage offers one possible solution to these challenges. It has pledged not to use nuclear weapons unless it first suffers a nuclear attack from an adversary. Instead it threatens to use space, cyber and conventional missile weapons to maximize strategic leverage against an adversary in a limited war. I develop a theory of strategic substitution to explain why states might substitute space, cyber, and conventional missile weapons for nuclear weapons as sources of strategic leverage in limited wars and how they select force postures for each of these weapons.First, I develop a typology of force postures for these non-nuclear strategic weapons based on how much they increase the risk of the state using its most destructive space, cyber or conventional missile weapons. Second, I outline two variables that determine whether a state pursues a non-nuclear strategic weapons capability and, if so, which force posture it selects. States pursue a coercive capability if they have a need for strategic leverage because they cannot respond to changes for the worse in their threat environment with credible threats to use nuclear weapons or their conventional military forces. States select postures by estimating the expected cost of an adversary's retaliation if they have to carry out a threat to use a non-strategic nuclear weapon. To demonstrate the explanatory power of the theory, I conduct comparative case studies of all seven Chinese decisions about its space, cyber and conventional missile postures since 1988.Using original Chinese-language sources, I provide the most comprehensive account of China's post-Cold War strategic force posture choices in the existing literature. I show how China's nuclear posture, conventional military power, and its force postures for new military technologies are related, although they are often examined independently of one another in the existing literature.
Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science, 2018Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 420-444).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Political Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology