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The Military Lens

Doctrinal Difference and Deterrence Failure in Sino-American Relations

Christopher P. Twomey

Publication Year: 2010

In The Military Lens, Christopher P. Twomey shows how differing military doctrines have led to misperceptions between the United States and China over foreign policy-and the potential dangers these might pose in future relations. Because of their different strategic situations, histories, and military cultures, nations may have radically disparate definitions of effective military doctrine, strategy, and capabilities. Twomey argues that when such doctrines-or "theories of victory"-differ across states, misperceptions about a rival's capabilities and intentions and false optimism about one's own are more likely to occur. In turn, these can impede international diplomacy and statecraft by making it more difficult to communicate and agree on assessments of the balance of power.

When states engage in strategic coercion-either to deter or to compel action-such problems can lead to escalation and war. Twomey assesses a wide array of sources in both the United States and China on military doctrine, strategic culture, misperception, and deterrence theory to build case studies of attempts at strategic coercion during Sino-American conflicts in Korea and the Taiwan Strait in the early years of the Cold War, as well as an examination of similar issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After demonstrating how these factors have contributed to past conflicts, Twomey amply documents the persistence of hazardous miscommunication in contemporary Sino-American relations. His unique analytic perspective on military capability suggests that policymakers need to carefully consider the military doctrine of the nations they are trying to influence.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book grows out of a broader desire to grapple with the tension between the dangers of deterrence failure and spirals in international affairs. This dichotomy of sources of inadvertent escalation cries out for policy-relevant scholarship. Understanding when each of these two—often opposed—dangers is more prevalent would be highly valuable to national leaders. ...

I. The Dangers of Doctrinal Difference

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pp. 1-2

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1. The Military Language of Diplomacy

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pp. 3-17

The deaths of millions in the Korean War might have been avoided if China and the United States had read each other’s military signals correctly. Similarly, the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 might have been averted if the antagonists had evaluated threats and the overall balance more accurately; if so, the Middle East might look very different now. ...

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2. Doctrinal Differences and Misperception

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pp. 18-48

Doctrinal-difference theory states that when nations have different doctrines and hold different beliefs about what kinds of military strategies and capabilities may be effective, diplomacy and signaling will be more difficult, and this can cause escalation or conflict. In this chapter, the two stages of this process are expressed as a pair of hypotheses: ...

Part II. Chinese and American Puzzles

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pp. 49-50

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3. Comparing Theories of Victory: Facing Off over Korea

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pp. 51-86

The central pair of cases in this book examines crucial turning points in the Korean War: the U.S. decision to cross the 38th parallel into North Korea (chapter 4) and Mao Zedong’s decision to cross the Yalu River to meet the American forces (chapter 5). Both cases involve a similar assessment of the two sides’ military capabilities. ...

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4. The United States Crosses the 38th Parallel

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pp. 87-133

After the North Korean attack across the 38th parallel of June 25, 1950, the United States rushed to aid the collapsing South Korean forces. Through the summer of 1950, the ground war went poorly for the South Korean and U.S. forces, which were pushed back in a long retreat to the Pusan Perimeter. ...

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5. China Crosses the Yalu

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pp. 134-168

Once the United States crossed the 38th parallel, the next key escalation in the war was the Chinese decision to move south across the Yalu River into North Korea, countering the American military might that moved rapidly northward. The evidence available during the early Cold War appeared to support the argument that war might have been avoided ...

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6. China Postpones the Invasion of Taiwan

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pp. 169-196

In 1950, the United States deterred China from invading Taiwan as China sought to conclude its civil war. Doctrinal-difference theory predicts that when two adversaries practice similar doctrines, deterrence is facilitated because signals are more likely to be clearly understood and assessments of the balance of power are more likely to be consistent. ...

Part III. Extending the Story

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pp. 197-198

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7. The Emergence of Doctrinal Differences in the Middle East, 1956 to 1973

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pp. 199-230

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has always faced adversaries on its borders, at times implacable and numerous. However, the intensity of militarized conflict between Israel and its neighbors has varied. In this chapter, doctrinal-difference theory explains, in part, that variation: ...

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8. Implications for Theory and Dangers in the Taiwan Strait Today

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pp. 231-252

This study shows how adversaries’ doctrinal differences can cause misperception and the failure of attempts at coercion or deterrence, leading to conflict, escalation, and war. In case after case—China, Israel, Egypt, and the United States—we see a country looking at the world through its own military lens ...


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pp. 253-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460036
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449147

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
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OCLC Number: 732957115
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Military Lens

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Military doctrine -- China.
  • Military doctrine -- United States.
  • Deterrence (Strategy) -- China.
  • Deterrence (Strategy) -- United States.
  • China -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- China.
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