by Dr. Raymond Kuo
China is engaged in a widespread assertion of sovereignty in the South and East China Seas. It employs a “gray zone” strategy: using coercive but sub-conventional military power to drive off challengers and prevent escalation, while simultaneously seizing territory and asserting maritime control.
Contests of Initiative: Confronting China’s Gray Zone Strategy provides three courses of action for the US and its Asian security partners to preserve regional peace, uphold freedom of the seas, and deter conflict. Building on theories of escalation dominance, Dr. Kuo casts gray zone strategies as “contests of initiative.” States that direct the operational tempo and choice of engagements can exploit gaps in political commitment to seize objectives. Once lost, their opponents face much higher costs to reestablish control.
Using case analysis backed by statistical methods, the three courses of action reach different balances between American leadership, allied costs, and Chinese responses. Ultimately, the book recommends the U.S. employ an “extended deterrence” approach. Washington should foster a regional sovereignty settlement, establish a political-military coordinating institution, and attain dominance in sub-conventional capabilities using unmanned ISR and strike platforms to contest and break Beijing’s control.
The study will be of great value to those in the national security community with responsibility for US policies in East Asia, but it also provides important insights for strategic planners and analysts who will be grappling with the larger strategic dimensions of US-China relations, certain to be the paramount issue in global politics for the foreseeable future.
Dr. Raymond Kuo is an independent political scientist focused on international security and East Asia. In addition to this book, he authored Following the Leader: International Order, Alliance Strategies, and Emulation (Stanford University Press, forthcoming 2021), explaining how military alliance strategies generate international order. Dr. Kuo’s other research has appeared in International Security, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, The National Interest, and The Diplomat, among others.
He previously served in the United Nations, the National Democratic Institute, and the Democratic Progressive Party (Taiwan). Dr. Kuo holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Princeton University, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and a B.A. from Wesleyan University.