Post-cold war experience requires us to rethink our understandings about arms race phenomena. Existing scholarship is dominated by models that bear insufficient resemblance to contemporary circumstances to warrant their being applied as analytical tools to yield predictions or explanations of ongoing arms acquisition processes. These standard models assume bilateral competition under conditions of symmetry and have produced a body of findings based on analyses of aggregate defense expenditure time series. Contemporary international arms competitions such as the China-Taiwan conflict are quite different. They are characterized by significant asymmetries in actors’ strategic calculations and their geopolitical capabilities, by the direct or indirect engagement of more than two actors, and by combinations of defensive and offensive weapons systems. In this paper we undertake a case study of the China-Taiwan arms competition using both quantitative and qualitative methods. We demonstrate that this competition is a true arms race, heavily weighted toward the types of weapons that have the potential to destabilize the existing military balance between the two states. The implications of this finding are an increased probability of violent conflict between China and Taiwan, and a greater likelihood that arms competitions between China and other military powers involved in the region will intensify.