Dangerous Thresholds Managing Escalation in the 21st Century

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-07-20
  • Publisher: RAND Corporation
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"Escalation is a natural tendency in any form of human competition. When such competition entails military confrontation or war, the pressure to escalate can become intense due to the potential cost of losing contests of deadly force. Cold War-era thinking about escalation focused on the dynamics of bipolar, superpower confrontation and strategies to control it. Today's security environment, however, demands that the United States be prepared for a host of escalatory threats involving not only longstanding nuclear powers, but also new, lesser nuclear powers and irregular adversaries, such as insurgent groups and terrorists. This examination of escalation dynamics and approaches to escalation management draws on historical examples from World War I to the struggle against global jihad. It reveals that, to manage the risks of escalatory chain reactions in future conflicts, military and political leaders will need to understand and dampen the mechanisms of deliberate, accidental, and inadvertent escalation. Informing the analysis are the results of two modified Delphi exercises, which focused on a potential conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan and a potential conflict between states and nonstate actors in the event of a collapse of Pakistan's government."--BOOK JACKET.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. iii
Figuresp. ix
Summaryp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xxiii
Glossaryp. xxv
Introductionp. 1
Backgroundp. 1
Contemporary Challengesp. 3
Purpose of This Monographp. 4
Organization and Approachp. 5
The Nature of Escalationp. 7
Understanding Escalationp. 8
Thresholds and the Subjectivity of Escalationp. 11
Limited Warp. 14
Escalation Dominancep. 14
Dimensions of Escalation: Vertical, Horizontal, and Politicalp. 18
Escalation Mechanismsp. 19
Deliberate Escalationp. 20
Inadvertent Escalationp. 23
Accidental Escalationp. 26
Complexity in Escalationp. 28
Motives for Escalationp. 29
Instrumental Escalationp. 30
Suggestive Escalationp. 31
Other Motives for Escalationp. 33
Dynamics of Escalationp. 34
Constraints on Escalationp. 36
Escalation and Instability in the 21st Centuryp. 38
New Escalation Optionsp. 38
Perceived Political Fragilityp. 40
Windows of Opportunity and Vulnerabilityp. 40
Indifference to Escalation Risksp. 42
Anticipating and Managing Escalationp. 43
China's Thinking on Escalation: Evidence from Chinese Military Writingsp. 47
Introductionp. 47
Background and Conceptual Issuesp. 50
Understanding Chinese Views on Escalation and War Controlp. 51
The Conceptual Foundation of War Controlp. 52
Operationalizing War Control: Military Measures to Contain Warfarep. 54
Assessing Chinese Escalation Behavior Through the Lens of the Second Artillery Doctrinep. 58
Second Artillery Nuclear Operations and Escalationp. 61
Key Nuclear Doctrine Conceptsp. 63
Additional Questions About Second Artillery Nuclear Operationsp. 65
Second Artillery Conventional Missile Strike Campaignsp. 68
Implications for Chinese Escalation Behaviorp. 70
Chinese Views on Space Warfare and Escalationp. 71
Conclusionp. 76
Regional Nuclear Powersp. 83
Escalation Risks Inherent in Emergent Nuclear Capabilityp. 85
Sources of Regional Instabilityp. 88
Instability and Risks of Escalation in Northeast Asiap. 89
Instability and Escalation in South and Southwest Asiap. 95
Risks of Escalation in the Ongoing Conflict Between India and Pakistanp. 97
Risks of Escalation Due to Domestic Instability in Pakistanp. 106
The Risks of Escalation in a Conflict with Iranp. 109
Conclusionp. 113
Escalation in Irregular Warfarep. 117
Irregular Warfare's Many Paths of Escalationp. 118
Escalation in Stability Operations: Two Illustrative Casesp. 124
Multiple Actors in a Complex Strategic Environmentp. 126
Multiple Conflicts Exist Simultaneouslyp. 127
ROE and the Challenge of Complexityp. 129
Dramatic Asymmetries of Power, Interest, and Commitmentp. 131
Irregular Warfare Undermines Traditional Escalation-Management Approachesp. 132
Escalation in the Global Jihadp. 133
The Roots of Global Jihadp. 134
The Escalation Dynamics of Global Jihadp. 135
Escalation in Response to Global Jihadp. 141
Escalation Management in the Struggle Against Global Jihadp. 150
Strategies in the Global Jihadp. 153
Managing the Escalatory Effects of Global Jihadp. 154
Conclusionp. 157
Managing Escalation in a Complex Worldp. 159
The First Step in Managing Escalation Is Understanding Its Naturep. 160
Deterring Deliberate Escalationp. 160
Managing Inadvertent Escalation: A Matter of Clarifying Thresholdsp. 163
Managing Forces to Avoid Accidental Escalationp. 165
Dominance as a Means of Escalation Managementp. 165
The Role of Technology in Escalation and Escalation Managementp. 168
Managing Escalation Risks in Today's Worldp. 169
Escalation Management in a Limited Conflict with Chinap. 169
Managing Escalation in Confrontations with Other Regional Nuclear Powersp. 170
Escalation Management in Irregular Warfarep. 172
Recommendations for the U.S. Air Forcep. 174
China, Force, and Escalation: Continuities Between Historical Behavior and Contemporary Writingsp. 177
Case Studies of Escalation in Stability Operationsp. 197
Modified Method for Delphi Analysesp. 221
Bibliographyp. 225
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