Active Defense: The Evolution of China's Military Strategy

As a host of analysts in the United States and Asia recognize, China is actively modernizing and improving its military.  The central issue is no longer whether China will accumulate military power, but how its growing capabilities might be used and for what ends.  Yet the metrics often employed to assess Chinese security policy – for instance, defense spending and weapons acquisitions – are too crude to illuminate China’s strategic intentions or how it might employ military force. 

This project, led by Professor Taylor Fravel, instead examines the evolution of Chinese military strategy – that is, how China plans and prepares to use force.  Understanding China’s military strategy carries important implications for the intensity of security competition in Eurasia; the net assessment of Chinese military power; the role of coercion in Chinese statecraft; and the potential for high levels of escalation should conflict erupt between China and U.S. allies. 

The analysis centers on four key changes in China’s military strategic guidelines since 1949: the development of new military strategies, core operational principles and changes in force structure in 1956, 1980, and 1993, along with the shift in naval strategy in the mid-1980s.  Combining English- and Chinese-language secondary sources with official documents from Chinese military archives and interviews with Chinese military and civilian officials, the project will ultimately produce a book and several articles.

Related Publications:

M. Taylor Fravel and Evan S. Medeiros, “Living with Vulnerability: Explaining the Evolution of China’s Nuclear Strategy,” International Security (forthcoming 2010).

M. Taylor Fravel, “Zhongguo junshi jueqi chutan [A Preliminary Analysis of China’s Military Rise], Zhongguo Guoji Zhanlue Pinglun, no. 2 (2009): 292-311.

M. Taylor Fravel, “China’s Search for Military Power,” The Washington Quarterly 33, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 125-141.

M. Taylor Fravel, “The Evolution of China's Military Strategy," in David Finkelstein and James C. Mulvenon, eds., China's Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs, (Alexandria: Center for Naval Analysis, 2005).

This project is managed by M. Taylor Fravel, Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science.