Conflict
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Co-sponsored with Stanford University Libraries

About the Event: Join us for an engaging conversation with the Ambassador of Estonia to the U.S. Kristjan Prikk, Rose Gottemoeller, and Steven Pifer, who will discuss Russia's war in Ukraine - what's at stake and what we should do about it.
Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine has brought about the most serious reassessment of the European security realities since the end of the Cold War. The epic clash of political wills, the magnitude of military operations, and the scale of atrocities against the Ukrainian people are beyond anything Europe has seen since World War II. The past nine months have forced many to reassess what is possible and impossible in international security A.D. 2022. What is this war about, after all? What's at stake in this – to paraphrase former British PM Chamberlain – "quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom most Americans know nothing?" What should be the lessons for U.S. strategists and policymakers? What are the wider implications for U.S. national security interests, particularly those related to the Indo-Pacific? How has the Alliance supported Ukraine since the war started? What should the end of this war look like and how to get there?

All these questions are relevant and should be carefully weighed with current information from the war as well as historic perspective and regional knowledge in mind.

About the Speakers: 

Estonia's Ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Kristjan Prikk started his mission in Washington, D.C. in May 2021. He is a graduate of the USA Army War College and has served as the National Security Coordinator to the Prime Minister. Prior to arriving in D.C., he was the Permanent Secretary of the Estonian Ministry of Defense. Among his previous assignments are two other tours in Washington as an Estonian diplomat and work on NATO-Russia and NATO-Ukraine topics at a time when these relationships were considerably less charged than today.

Rose Gottemoeller is the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation. Before joining Stanford, Gottemoeller was the Deputy Secretary General of NATO from 2016 to 2019, where she helped to drive forward NATO's adaptation to new security challenges in Europe and in the fight against terrorism.  Prior to NATO, she served for nearly five years as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. Department of State, advising the Secretary of State on arms control, nonproliferation and political-military affairs. 

Steven Pifer is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation as well as a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. He was a William J. Perry Fellow at the center from 2018-2022 and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin from January-May 2021. Pifer's research focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, Russia, and European security. A retired Foreign Service officer, Pifer's more than 25 years with the State Department focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe, as well as arms control and security issues, and included service as the third US ambassador to Ukraine.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.

Green Library, East Wing 

Kristjan Prikk
Rose Gottemoeller
Steven Pifer
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In October 2022, the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping for a third term as general secretary, setting Xi on a path to be the longest-serving leader since Mao Zedong’s rule ended in 1976.

The extension of Xi’s rule carries significant implications not only for China, but for the broader Indo-Pacific region and global geopolitical order. No country is more aware of this than Taiwan, which has carefully walked the line between its own autonomy and Beijing’s desire for reunification since the 1940s.

After a summer of rising tensions, many experts believe that Beijing’s timeline for an attempt at reunification is much shorter than conventional thinking has assumed. On the World Class podcast, Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, discusses the prognosis for Taiwan with Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on the Chinese military and security, and Larry Diamond, a scholar of China’s sharp power and the role of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.

Listen to the full episode and read highlights from their conversation below.

Click the link for a full transcript of “What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Taiwan.“

The Likelihood of Invasion


In stark terms, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes there’s a 100% chance China will use some sort of force against Taiwan in the next five years. For the last twenty years, China has been making concerted efforts to modernize its military and increase its capabilities not only to assert force against Taiwan, but to deter intervention from the United States.

In the majority of scenarios, the United States wins in a conflict with China over Taiwan. But the United States also carries a distinct geographic disadvantage. The distance across the Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China is approximately 100 miles, which is roughly the distance between Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. If China moves quickly, PRC forces could take Taiwan before U.S. forces have time to move into position.

When considering possible outcomes in Taiwan, it is equally important to consider the motivations driving Beijing’s ambitions. The leadership on the mainland has been planning and thinking about how to retake Taiwan since 1949. With the modernized capabilities coming online, the balance of power has shifted in China’s military favor, and the cost-benefit calculus favors Beijing’s ambitions. The long-term planning stage is now reaching its end, and the prospects of direct action are increasing.

The clock is ticking. The problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. But we need to move faster than we're moving.
Larry Diamond
Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI

The View from Taipei


Political leaders in Taiwan recognize the growing danger they face across the Strait. In Larry Diamond’s assessment, the end of Hong Kong's autonomy and the suppression of the “one country, two systems” model, the rising military incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and coastal waters, and the whole rising pace of Chinese military intimidation has sobered Taiwan and visibly impacted Taiwanese public opinion.

Concerningly though, while the political elite recognize the real and present danger of the situation, polling of the general Taiwan public suggests that the vast majority of citizens still feel like an attack or an invasion by China is unlikely. Similar majorities suggest that they would be willing to fight in Taiwan’s defense, but volunteering for military service remains at a minimum.

To maximize safety, Taiwan needs to find ways to strengthen itself in its ability to defend, resist, and deter China, while still avoiding any appearance of moving toward permanent independence or any other action that could be deemed by Beijing as a provocation, says Diamond.

There are things that can completely change Beijing's calculus, but it takes a lot of work, and I just don't see us doing the work yet.
Oriana Skylar Mastro
FSI Center Fellow

What the United States Can Do


When it comes to the defense of Taiwan, the strategic crutch hobbling the United States is geography. Most of the U.S. Pacific forces are not in Asia. The majority are in Hawaii and California, as well as a few bases and airfields in Japan. To be able to effectively deter China, the U.S. needs far greater forward deployed military capability in order to be able to either stop or stall the movement of Chinese troops into Taiwan, says Mastro.

Taiwan needs greater onshore military deterrence capabilities as well. One such strategy is the “porcupine approach,” which increases the number of smaller mobile lethal weapons. By Larry Diamond’s assessment, increased citizen participation in military training is also crucial, with an emphasis on weapons training and urban defense tactics. The U.S. could support these aims by overhauling the current system for weapons procurement to speed up the production and delivery of weapons systems not just for Taiwan, but to the benefit of U.S. defense and other contingencies as well. Working with leadership to create strategic stockpiles of food, and energy should also be a priority, says Diamond.

The U.S. also needs to put much more effort into its diplomatic efforts on behalf of Taiwan. Many U.S. allies and partners are reluctant to ostracize China because of economic ties and concerns over sparking their own conflict with China in the future. A key ally in all of this is Japan. If Japan fights with the United States on behalf of Taiwan, it is a guaranteed win and enough to effectively deter China. But much more needs to be done much more quickly in order to secure those guarantees and present them in a convincing way to Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Larry Diamond says. “And the problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. “Taiwan is moving in the right direction. But we need to move faster than we're moving.”

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Larry Diamond and Oriana Skylar Mastro join Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast to discuss China’s ambitions against Taiwan, and how the U.S. and its allies can deter Beijing.

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Livestream event on March 1, 2022 at 6:30pm PST: "What's Next for Ukraine and Russia?"

This panel discussion will analyze the most recent developments in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and what may lay ahead.

It will be moderated by Francis Fukuyama, director of Stanford’s Ford Dorsey Masters of International Policy Program and Olivier & Nomellini Senior Fellow in International Studies at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), with panelists Rose Gottemoeller, the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and deputy secretary general of NATO from 2016 to 2019, and Steve Pifer, the William J Perry Fellow at FSI and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

 

PANELISTS:

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Rose Gottemoeller

Steven C. Házy Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
Full Profile
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Steven Pifer

WIlliam J. Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
Full Profile

 

MODERATOR:

Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Full Profile
Francis Fukuyama

Join via YouTube livesteam

Center for International Security and Cooperation
Encina Hall
616 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6165

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Steven C. Házy Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution
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Rose Gottemoeller is the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Before joining Stanford Gottemoeller was the Deputy Secretary General of NATO from 2016 to 2019, where she helped to drive forward NATO’s adaptation to new security challenges in Europe and in the fight against terrorism.  Prior to NATO, she served for nearly five years as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. Department of State, advising the Secretary of State on arms control, nonproliferation and political-military affairs. While Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance in 2009 and 2010, she was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation.

Prior to her government service, she was a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, with joint appointments to the Nonproliferation and Russia programs. She served as the Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center from 2006 to 2008, and is currently a nonresident fellow in Carnegie's Nuclear Policy Program. She is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

At Stanford, Gottemoeller teaches and mentors students in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program and the CISAC Honors program; contributes to policy research and outreach activities; and convenes workshops, seminars and other events relating to her areas of expertise, including nuclear security, Russian relations, the NATO alliance, EU cooperation and non-proliferation. 

Rose Gottemoeller Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC
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Steven Pifer is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation as well as a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.  He was a William J. Perry Fellow at the center from 2018-2022 and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin from January-May 2021.

Pifer’s research focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, Russia and European security. He has offered commentary on these issues on National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, CNN and BBC, and his articles have been published in a wide variety of outlets.  He is the author of The Eagle and the Trident: U.S.-Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times (Brookings Institution Press, 2017), and co-author of The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms (Brookings Institution Press, 2012).

A retired Foreign Service officer, Pifer’s more than 25 years with the State Department focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe, as well as arms control and security issues.  He served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for Russia and Ukraine, ambassador to Ukraine, and special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council.  In addition to Ukraine, he served at the U.S. embassies in Warsaw, Moscow and London as well as with the U.S. delegation to the negotiation on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Geneva.  From 2000 to 2001, he was a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Institute for International Studies, and he was a resident scholar at the Brookings Institution from 2008 to 2017.

Pifer is a 1976 graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor’s in economics.

 

Affiliate, CISAC
Affiliate, The Europe Center
Steven Pifer WIlliam J. Perry Fellow at CISAC
Panel Discussions
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Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Why is Ukraine strategically important to Russia and the West? What are the broader global implications of this attack? Join Stanford scholars from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies for a discussion of the military invasion of Ukraine and the policy choices facing the United States, NATO, and their allies.

Panelists include Kathryn Stoner, the Mosbacher Director of the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), Steve Pifer, the William J. Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Rose Gottemoeller, the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC and a former deputy secretary-general of NATO, and Andriy Kohut, Director of the Sectoral State Archive of the Security Service of Ukraine and visiting scholar at the Stanford Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Scott Sagan, co-director of CISAC, senior fellow at FSI, and the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science will moderate.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

Scott D. Sagan


In-person attendance is limited to Stanford affiliates only.
Attendance by Zoom is open to the public.

Oksenberg Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

FSI
Stanford University
Encina Hall C140
Stanford, CA 94305-6055

(650) 736-1820 (650) 724-2996
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Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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MA, PhD

Kathryn Stoner is the Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and a Senior Fellow at CDDRL and the Center on International Security and Cooperation at FSI. From 2017 to 2021, she served as FSI's Deputy Director. She is Professor of Political Science (by courtesy) at Stanford and she teaches in the Department of Political Science, and in the Program on International Relations, as well as in the Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Program. She is also a Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Hoover Institution.

Prior to coming to Stanford in 2004, she was on the faculty at Princeton University for nine years, jointly appointed to the Department of Politics and the Princeton School for International and Public Affairs (formerly the Woodrow Wilson School). At Princeton she received the Ralph O. Glendinning Preceptorship awarded to outstanding junior faculty. She also served as a Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at McGill University. She has held fellowships at Harvard University as well as the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. 

In addition to many articles and book chapters on contemporary Russia, she is the author or co-editor of six books: "Transitions to Democracy: A Comparative Perspective," written and edited with Michael A. McFaul (Johns Hopkins 2013);  "Autocracy and Democracy in the Post-Communist World," co-edited with Valerie Bunce and Michael A. McFaul (Cambridge, 2010);  "Resisting the State: Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia" (Cambridge, 2006); "After the Collapse of Communism: Comparative Lessons of Transitions" (Cambridge, 2004), coedited with Michael McFaul; and "Local Heroes: The Political Economy of Russian Regional" Governance (Princeton, 1997); and "Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order" (Oxford University Press, 2021).

She received a BA (1988) and MA (1989) in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in Government from Harvard University (1995). In 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Iliad State University, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. 

 

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
Professor of Political Science (by courtesy) at Stanford
Senior Fellow (by courtesy), Hoover Institution
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steven_pifer.jpg

Steven Pifer is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation as well as a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.  He was a William J. Perry Fellow at the center from 2018-2022 and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin from January-May 2021.

Pifer’s research focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, Russia and European security. He has offered commentary on these issues on National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, CNN and BBC, and his articles have been published in a wide variety of outlets.  He is the author of The Eagle and the Trident: U.S.-Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times (Brookings Institution Press, 2017), and co-author of The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms (Brookings Institution Press, 2012).

A retired Foreign Service officer, Pifer’s more than 25 years with the State Department focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe, as well as arms control and security issues.  He served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for Russia and Ukraine, ambassador to Ukraine, and special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council.  In addition to Ukraine, he served at the U.S. embassies in Warsaw, Moscow and London as well as with the U.S. delegation to the negotiation on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Geneva.  From 2000 to 2001, he was a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Institute for International Studies, and he was a resident scholar at the Brookings Institution from 2008 to 2017.

Pifer is a 1976 graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor’s in economics.

 

Affiliate, CISAC
Affiliate, The Europe Center

Center for International Security and Cooperation
Encina Hall
616 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6165

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Steven C. Házy Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution
dsg_gottemoeller.jpg

Rose Gottemoeller is the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Before joining Stanford Gottemoeller was the Deputy Secretary General of NATO from 2016 to 2019, where she helped to drive forward NATO’s adaptation to new security challenges in Europe and in the fight against terrorism.  Prior to NATO, she served for nearly five years as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. Department of State, advising the Secretary of State on arms control, nonproliferation and political-military affairs. While Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance in 2009 and 2010, she was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation.

Prior to her government service, she was a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, with joint appointments to the Nonproliferation and Russia programs. She served as the Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center from 2006 to 2008, and is currently a nonresident fellow in Carnegie's Nuclear Policy Program. She is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

At Stanford, Gottemoeller teaches and mentors students in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program and the CISAC Honors program; contributes to policy research and outreach activities; and convenes workshops, seminars and other events relating to her areas of expertise, including nuclear security, Russian relations, the NATO alliance, EU cooperation and non-proliferation. 

Andriy Kohut
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Taiwan. Hypersonic missiles. The South China Sea. In the last few months, China’s activities have grabbed headlines and fueled speculation about its intentions. But how much of this action is posturing, and how much should U.S. policymakers and strategists take seriously?

To help explain what’s going on with our biggest competitor, FSI Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro, a specialist on China’s military and an active member of the United States Air Force Reserves, joins Michael McFaul on World Class to debunk some of the myths that persist about China’s capabilities and reframe how the U.S. needs to think about strategic competition with Beijing. Listen to their full episode and read highlights from the conversation below.

Click here for a transcript of “We Need To Rethink Our Assumptions about China’s Strategic Goals”

Where China Was in the 1990s


Twenty years ago, the Chinese-Taiwan invasion plan was to take a couple of fishing vessels and paddle their way across the strait. In the 1990s, China had very limited, and often no ability to fly over water, or at night, or in weather, and their ships had no defenses.

For many, many years we knew that China was willing to fight if Taiwan declared independence. Fighting a war in any country that is big and resolved is problematic. But it was never the case that the United States was going to lose that war; it was always a matter of, “How many days?” How many days is it going to take us to win?

Where China Is Now


In the intervening years, China's military has changed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Now they have the largest navy in the world, and those ships are some of the most advanced surface ships that can be comparable to those of the United States. Same with their fighters; they have fifth generation airplanes and the largest airforce in the region. They’ve put all these capabilities online, and at the same time, they [have also] started developing capabilities to reach out and touch the United States with.

They developed the capability to hit moving ships at sea, which is something the United States doesn’t have the capability to do. They have a huge cruise and ballistic missile program that basically can take out a U.S. base like Kadena  in the region in a matter of hours, should they ever be willing to make a direct hit on the U.S.

This doesn't mean that China is more powerful than the United States; China still can’t project power outside the Indo-Pacific region, and even there it’s mostly through space, cyber, and nuclear weapons. But most of the contingencies we're talking about are really close to China, so it doesn’t really matter that they can’t project power. So, on the conventional side, I’m very concerned.

Why Taiwan Matters


The whole goal of the Communist Party, since its founding in 1949, has been to resolve this Taiwan issue.

Now they have the ships, the aircraft, and they’ve reorganized their whole military so that they can do joint operations, so that the navy and the air force can do an invasion of Taiwan. And a lot of those efforts came to a successful conclusion at the end of 2020. And that's why people like myself, not because of  the capabilities, but because when I was in Beijing and talked to the Chinese military and government officials, they said, “We could do this now, and maybe we should think about it.”

We know from behavioral economics that countries and people are much more willing to take risks to not lose something that they think is theirs, versus when they are trying to get something which they don't think is theirs. In the Chinese mindset, Taiwan, the South China Sea, East China Sea, etc. is already theirs, and the United States is trying to take it from them. That makes the situation even more problematic. 

What the United States Should Do


The Biden administration is doing a lot of political maneuvering to show that the United States is willing to defend Taiwan. And I think it’s just upsetting Beijing, because they think we’re changing the political status quo. It also does nothing to enhance our deterrence, because it doesn't signal anything about our capability to defend Taiwan.

The Chinese basically assume the United States will intervene. Their big question is, can they still win? We need to show China that they cannot win, and that’s about showing out capabilities in the region. It’s about aggressively negotiating new host arrangements, more access for the U.S. military, and new international institutions and treaties that constrain the ways China leverages power.

I'm a military person, but I'm totally on board with leading with diplomacy. But I don't see those types of efforts coming out of the Biden administration. They seem to want to double down and do the same things, just with more allies and partners.  I'm supportive of it, but I just don't think it's enough.

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Oriana Skylar Mastro testifies to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Taiwan deterrence.
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Oriana Skylar Mastro Testifies on Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan to Congressional Review Commission

China may now be able to prevail in cross-strait contingencies even if the United States intervenes in Taiwan’s defense, Chinese security expert Oriana Skylar Mastro tells the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Changes must be made to U.S. military capabilities, not U.S. policy, she argues.
Oriana Skylar Mastro Testifies on Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan to Congressional Review Commission
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On the World Class podcast, Oriana Skylar Mastro argues that in order to set effective policy toward China, the United States needs to better understand how and why China is projecting power.

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President Biden has inherited America’s longest war—the war in Afghanistan—at a critical moment. Under the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban, the US government is supposed to withdraw forces from the country by May 2021. But the Taliban hasn’t taken the steps required in the deal against international terrorists, like Al Qaeda. Intra-Afghan power-sharing talks have not made much headway. And there are other challenges: the Taliban’s state supporters are goading it into hardline positions; the Afghan government remains riven by internal rivalries; and violence, including against civilians, remains common.

Read the rest at Political Violence at a Glance

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President Biden has inherited America’s longest war—the war in Afghanistan—at a critical moment. Under the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban, the US government is supposed to withdraw forces from the country by May 2021. But the Taliban hasn’t taken the steps required in the deal against international terrorists, like Al Qaeda.

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We are pleased to share that Oriana Skylar Mastro, FSI Center Fellow at APARC, has won the 2020 International Security Section of the American Political Science Association Best Book by an Untenured Faculty Member Award for her book The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime (Cornell University Press, 2019).

Each year, APSA recognizes excellence in the political science profession and its various subfields. Mastro has won the Association’s award for an untenured scholar who has published the highest quality book in Security Studies in the previous calendar year.

[To receive the latest updates on our scholars' research sign up for APARC’s newsletters]

Mastro is an international security expert with a focus on Chinese military and security policy issues, Asia-Pacific security, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. Her research addresses critical questions at the intersection of interstate conflict, great power relations, and the challenge of rising powers. In The Costs of Conversation, she argues that states are primarily concerned with the strategic costs of conversation, and these costs need to be low before combatants are willing to engage in direct talks with their enemy. She examines two factors leaders look to when determining the strategic costs of demonstrating a willingness to talk: the likelihood the enemy will interpret openness to diplomacy as a sign of weakness, and how the enemy may change its strategy in response to such an interpretation. A state will be open to talking with the enemy only if it thinks it has demonstrated adequate strength and resiliency to avoid the inference of weakness and if it believes that its enemy has limited capacity to escalate or intensify the war.

Mastro uses four primary case studies — North Vietnamese diplomatic decisions during the Vietnam War, those of China in the Korean War and Sino-Indian War, and Indian diplomatic decision making in the latter conflict — to demonstrate that the costly conversations thesis best explains the timing and nature of countries' approach to wartime talks, and therefore when peace talks begin. Her findings have significant theoretical and practical implications for war duration and termination, as well as for military strategy, diplomacy, and mediation.

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[left: image] Oriana Skylar Mastro, [right: text] Congratulations, Oriana Skylar Mastro, Recipient of the 2020 America in the World Consortium Prize for 'Best Policy Article' from Duke University, Johns Hopkins SAIS, and Texas University at Austin
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Oriana Skylar Mastro Awarded America in the World Consortium Prize for Best Policy Article

Mastro, who begins her role as FSI Center Fellow on August 1, has won the AWC Best Policy Article on U.S. Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy award for her insights on how China leverages ambiguity to gain global influence and what the United States can do to counter the PRC’s ambitions.
Oriana Skylar Mastro Awarded America in the World Consortium Prize for Best Policy Article
Portrait of Oriana Mastro with text: "Q&A with Oriana Skylar Mastro"
Q&As

FSI’s Incoming Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro Discusses Chinese Ambitions, Deteriorating U.S.-China Relations

Mastro, whose appointment as a Center Fellow at Shorenstein APARC begins on August 1, considers the worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, analyzes Chinese maritime ambitions, and talks about her military career and new research projects.
FSI’s Incoming Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro Discusses Chinese Ambitions, Deteriorating U.S.-China Relations
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The American Political Science Association recognizes Oriana Skylar Mastro for her work on military strategy and mediation.

Shorenstein APARC
Stanford University
Encina Hall
Stanford,  CA  94305-6055

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Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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PhD

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a Center Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, nuclear dynamics, and coercive diplomacy. She is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and continues to serve in the United States Air Force Reserve, for which she works as a strategic planner at INDOPACOM.

She has received numerous awards for her military service and contributions to U.S. strategy in Asia, including the 2020 and 2018 Meritorious Service Medal, the 2017 Air Force recognition Ribbon, and the 2016 Individual Reservist of the Year Award. She has won a number of other prestigious awards, including the 2016-2017 Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship at the Council of Foreign Relations.

She has published widely, including in International Security, Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, International Studies Review, Journal of Strategic Studies, The Washington Quarterly, Survival, and Asian Security. Her book, The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime, (Cornell University Press, 2019), won the 2020 American Political Science Association International Security Section Best Book by an Untenured Faculty Member.

Prior to her appointment at Stanford in August 2020, Mastro was an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University.

Her publications and commentary can be found at orianaskylarmastro.com and on Twitter @osmastro.

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U.S.-China relations have been deteriorating at an alarming speed, and as distrust grows on both sides, it is unclear how to stop the downward spiral. What does China want and how can we best assess Chinese intentions?

This is a key question on the research agenda of East Asian security expert Oriana Skylar Mastro, FSI’s newest Center Fellow. Mastro, an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, will begin her appointment at FSI on August 1 and be based at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), where she will continue her research on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. She will also work with the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), and teach students in both the CISAC Honors program and the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program.

Here, Mastro discusses Chinese ambitions and the rapidly increasing tensions in U.S.-China relations; talks about her military career and new research projects; shares how she first became interested in East Asian security issues as a Stanford undergraduate student; and even reveals some things we don’t know about her.

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You have argued in your writings that although China does not want to usurp the United States’ position as the leader of the global order, its strategic goal in the Indo-Pacific region is nearly as consequential. Why is it so? What do you foresee for Chinese aims and the U.S.-China rivalry as we near the U.S. presidential election?

Mastro: My claim is that China doesn't want to replace the United States but rather displace the United States. It’s an important distinction because it’s become popular to assume that China wants to have everything that we, the United States, have and that its view of power is the same as ours. But if you look throughout history, every time a country rises, it exercises its power differently. The United States, for example, didn't build colonies because Great Britain had had colonies. It is equally unlikely to assume that China is going to build a global military and engage in foreign military interventions.

We make assumptions about what China wants and how it will get there based on our own experiences, and those tend to be incorrect.
Oriana Skylar Mastro

Therefore, I argue that China doesn't want to dominate the world. This doesn’t mean that its ambitions are limited, but rather that it thinks that the U.S. in-depth global involvement is an ineffective and costly way of doing business. Outside of Asia, China relies mainly on political and economic influence to ensure that no one goes against its interests. It is only in Asia where China’s military goals are problematic for the United States and where it wants to dominate and see the U.S. military less active. Again, this isn't due to lack of ambition: from China’s viewpoint, whoever dominates Asia, the world’s most dynamic and economically important region, is a superpower, just like whoever dominated Europe during the Cold War would have been a superpower. In short, I think we make assumptions about what China wants and how it will get there based on our own experiences, and those tend to be incorrect.

As for what’s ahead for the U.S.-China relationship and the coming presidential election, I think it’s a misconception to interpret the frictions between the two countries as stemming from the Trump administration. There are aspects of Chinese behavior that both the Republican and Democratic parties find problematic and I believe we will see a tougher policy towards China, regardless of who wins the election. A Democratic president might be less willing to risk confrontation with the Chinese the way the Trump administration is, but either way, I see increased tensions between the two sides as the norm for the next several years.

In your recent testimony on China’s maritime ambitions before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, you distinguish between China's aims in its near seas and far seas. How do these intentions differ and why is it important to make the distinction between them?

Mastro: In the near seas — the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS) — China is concerned with sovereignty, which is absolute control of these waters, and with regional hegemony. In the far seas — the Indian Ocean and beyond — China aims to operate, but it doesn’t aspire to exclude others from doing so. In these waters, China's ambitions are driven primarily by the desire to protect its strategic lines of communication and its economic and political interests.

While China's objectives in the South China Sea and East China Sea are detrimental to U.S. interests, some aspects of its objectives in the Indian Ocean and beyond are legitimate and do not necessarily threaten U.S. interests, although they are not without risks.
Oriana Skylar Mastro

It’s important to make this distinction for strategy reasons, which goes right to my previous point. There’s a growing sense now that “whatever China does is bad and the United States needs to counter everything China does,” but that's not quite true. While China's objectives in the SCS and ECS are detrimental to U.S. interests, some aspects of its objectives in the Indian Ocean and beyond are legitimate and do not necessarily threaten U.S. interests, although they are not without risks.

U.S. policy needs to consider these differences in the degree of threat because prioritization is crucial for strategy. If we are to prioritize our strategies, then we should prioritize countering China’s ambitions in its near seas and try to shape its objectives in the far seas, perhaps through more cooperative policies. Perceiving everything that China does as bad isn’t the right approach to competing with it.

In addition to your academic career, you have an extensive military portfolio: for over ten years, you have served in the United States Air Force Reserve. You have just been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. Tell us more about this award, how your academic and military careers influence each other, and what it’s like to balance the two.

Mastro: I'm a special type of reservist called Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA), which means that I have a custom duty schedule and work with my active-duty supervisors to help meet mission requirements of whatever the priority is at the time. The award I just received, the Meritorious Service Medal, which is a recognition of commendable noncombatant service, is for my last role as a senior China analyst at the Pentagon. My main duties in that role were to prepare intel products and brief the senior leadership of Headquarters Air Force at the Pentagon.

I think that the mix of my two careers makes me a better military officer and a better scholar. My experiences in the military inspire a lot of my research projects, oftentimes regarding questions that I don't have good answers for. As an officer, I need the power of argumentation on my side if I am to make a difference. After I engage in the good academic practice of spending a year or more researching something in-depth, I can then go back and provide inputs into the Department of Defense. There is a synergy between the two careers in terms of topics.

Moreover, my experiences in the military have taught me leadership and teamwork skills that we don’t necessarily learn from being professors. There’s a vast difference in leadership and teamwork dynamics between the military and academia. When I’m on active duty, I'm there as Major Mastro to provide my expertise but also be a strong part of a team with a chain of command.

Of course, managing both civilian and military careers demands considerable planning and balancing. I schedule my deployments around my teaching schedule, but sometimes there are urgent assignments given current world events. For example, last semester, I was on duty one day a week while teaching full time. So that requires planning and flexibility on the part of my family, as well as support from the people who employ me.

How did you first become interested in China and East Asian security issues, and what made you pursue a military career?

Mastro: This is a fun topic to talk about at Stanford because it's all thanks to my experiences as an undergraduate student on The Farm. As a freshman, I began learning Chinese, and in the following years, being humanities- and arts-focused, I mainly studied ancient China and Chinese literature. When I returned to campus after a year of intensive study in China, I was looking for a research opportunity and heard about the CISAC Honors Program in International Security Studies. So it was only in my senior year that I took my first course in political science and was exposed to international security studies. I discovered a passion for this topic like nothing else I had studied before. I wanted to learn more and got my first job, at the Carnegie Endowment, researching security issues, and then decided to continue with graduate studies.

During my Ph.D. at Princeton, I met a General in the Air Force who told me I should join the military. At that point, I'd never met anyone in the military. I thought, “I’m not very tough; what could I possibly contribute?” But I took up on his suggestion to do an internship with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and realized that my Chinese language skills and knowledge about China could be useful. I wanted to serve and planned to do my duty for four years and be done, yet here we are, nearly 11 years later. It’s been a blessing to make a whole career out of this and it’s truly all thanks to many memorable experiences at Stanford and the CISAC Honors Program. I’m thrilled to be back and looking forward to teaching and mentoring students in the Honors program and the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program.

What are some of your current research projects and what do you plan to work on at APARC and Stanford at large?

Mastro: My main project is researching a book about what China wants – a framework for understanding how to assess Chinese intentions. This is a policy-relevant book that engages with international relations theory and literature, where understanding state intentions plays a key role. The framework I’m developing assesses information to answer what China’s intentions are in several areas and regarding several cases. There will be chapters on China’s regional ambitions, global ambitions, approach to international institutions, and intentions towards the economic and technological order. As part of this project, you may see me currently publishing works on the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean.

China doesn't have any alliances, but that doesn't mean it isn’t aligned or working with other countries.
Oriana Skylar Mastro

Another project, in its beginning stages, focuses on the China-Russia relationship. Here the overarching framework is an attempt to understand state cooperation. This relates to alliances, though the notion of alliances is rather outdated. China doesn't have any alliances, but that doesn't mean it isn’t aligned or working with other countries. The question is what types of cooperation between China and Russia are problematic for the United States and what types are not. Again, we need to prioritize: is it so bad if China and Russia back each other in the UN, or is it worse that they exercise together? I don't know yet, but I think that international relations theory can shed some light on these questions.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

Mastro: It may seem that I constantly work because I have a military career in addition to being very involved in the policy and academic worlds, but many people don't realize that I'm a big fan of leisure. I spend plenty of time with my children and have multiple hobbies that I engage in daily: I read novels, do yoga and CrossFit, play the piano, and manage to sleep! I was a very serious pianist and still take Skype lessons with my old teacher back in Chicago. Now with the move to California, I’ll finally be able to enjoy the grand piano my parents bought me for my 16th birthday, which I never had room for. I'm a firm believer in work-life balance. It's just that my work, too, is a passion and a hobby of mine.

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Mastro, whose appointment as a Center Fellow at Shorenstein APARC begins on August 1, considers the worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, analyzes Chinese maritime ambitions, and talks about her military career and new research projects.

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Joseph Felter
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