China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment

Michael D. Swaine, Mike M. Mochizuki, Michael L. Brown, Paul S. Giarra, Douglas H. Paal, Rachel Esplin Odell, Raymond Lu, Oliver Palmer, Xu Ren Report May 3, 2013
The first and only unclassified strategic net assessment of the future impact of China’s growing military power on Japan and the United States.

The emergence of the People’s Republic of China as an increasingly significant military power in the Western Pacific presents major implications for Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and regional security. But a comprehensive assessment of the current and possible future impact of China’s military capabilities and foreign security policies on Tokyo and the alliance, along with a detailed examination of the capacity and willingness of both the United States and Japan to respond to this challenge, is missing from the current debate. Such an analysis is essential for Washington and Tokyo to better evaluate the best approaches for maintaining deterrence credibility and regional stability over the long term.

Key Findings

  • The most likely potential challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance over the next fifteen to twenty years does not involve full-scale military conflict between China and Japan or the United States—for example, one originating from Chinese efforts to expel Washington from the region.

  • ƒƒ The likeliest challenge instead stems from Beijing’s growing coercive power—increasing Chinese military capabilities could enable Beijing to influence or attempt to resolve disputes with Tokyo in its favor short of military attack.

  • ƒƒ An increase in the People’s Liberation Army’s presence in airspace and waters near Japan and disputed territories could also heighten the risk of destabilizing political-military crises.

  • ƒƒ Significant absolute and possibly relative shifts in the military balance between China and the alliance in Japan’s vicinity are likely.

  • ƒƒ In the most probable future scenarios facing these three actors, the U.S.-Japan alliance will either only narrowly retain military superiority in the airspace and waters near Japan or the balance will become uncertain at best.

  • ƒƒ A significant drop in the potential threat posed by China is also possible if the Chinese economy falters and Beijing redirects its attention and resources toward maintaining internal stability.

  • ƒƒ More dramatic shifts in the strategic landscape are unlikely in the fifteen- to twenty-year time frame. Such shifts include an Asian cold war pitting a normalized U.S.-Japan alliance against a belligerent China and a major withdrawal of U.S. presence that heralds either the dawning of a Sino-centric Asia or the emergence of intense Sino-Japanese rivalry with Japanese nuclearization.

U.S. and Japanese Policy Responses

There are no “silver bullets.” No regional or alliance response can single-handedly deliver a stable military or political balance at minimal cost to all parties involved. Each of the major conceivable responses to these future challenges in the regional security environment will likely require painful trade-offs and, in some cases, the adoption of radically new ways of thinking about the roles and missions of both the U.S. and Japanese militaries.

Three general political-military responses offer viable ways to advance allied interests over the long term.

  • Robust Forward Presence: This deterrence-centered response is designed to retain unambiguous allied regional primacy through either highly ambitious and forward-deployment-based military concepts, such as Air-Sea Battle, or approaches more oriented toward long-range blockades, such as Offshore Control.

  • Conditional Offense/Defense: This primacy-oriented response nonetheless avoids both preemptive, deep strikes against the Chinese mainland or obvious containment-type blockades and stresses both deterrence and reassurance in a more equal manner.

  • Defensive Balancing: This response emphasizes mutual area denial, places a greater reliance on lower visibility and rear-deployed forces, and aims to establish a more genuinely balanced and cooperative power relationship with China in the Western Pacific.

These responses could be complicated by a number of factors.

  • Limits on the ability of Japan or other nations in the Asia-Pacific region to advance substantive security cooperation or embark on major security enhancements

  • ƒƒ Unwillingness in the U.S. military to alter doctrinal assumptions in operating in the Western Pacific ƒƒ China’s own suspicions of alliance efforts that might constrain the use of its growing capabilities

  • Low tolerance among stakeholders for uncertainty and even failure during political or diplomatic negotiations over vital security interests

The status quo is likely to prove unsustainable. Despite the potential complications, Washington and Tokyo must seriously evaluate these possible responses. Current economic and military trends in China, Japan, and the United States suggest that existing policies and strategies might fail to ensure a stable security environment conducive to U.S. and Japanese interests over the long term.

Advance Praise

“The Asia century is well under way, and with it the emerging challenges of a region in transition…. Any sound future policy will require a thorough assessment of China’s evolving military and foreign security capabilities and of the capacity and willingness of Tokyo and Washington to sustain their historic cooperation. There are no guarantees that the future will resemble the recent past, and the best approaches for continued deterrence credibility and regional stability will require careful consideration and thoughtful analysis.

To this end, the Carnegie Endowment has offered up an extraordinary contribution: China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment. The future security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region may very well be defined by the content of this assessment. But one thing is certain: the United States and Japan must recognize that in the future, status quo thinking is unlikely to guarantee a stable security environment that serves the long-term interests of the bilateral relationship or the region.”

—Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., former ambassador to China and former governor of Utah

“Michael Swaine and his co-authors have done an admirable job of thinking through the complex interactions of the U.S.-Japan-China relationship in the future. Using scenarios and trend projections, they go beyond simple predictions to examine the complex interactions of different developments and reactions among the three countries and different groups within them. While I do not agree with specific military and policy judgments in all the scenarios, I strongly endorse the effort to examine potential developments along with likely and possible reactions and counterreactions. The triangular interactive relations among these great Asian powers will determine both the overall future of the region and much of the futures of each of the individual countries.”

—Admiral Dennis Blair (U.S. Navy, retired), former director of national intelligence and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command

“The U.S.-Japan alliance has long been crucial to the military balance in the Western Pacific. The balance of power in the region is now shifting toward China, and tensions between Asian states are rising concomitantly. Current trends suggest that the United States and Japan will not find it easy to sustain immunity from coercion as they seek to preserve stability, secure their national interests, and manage crises in the region over the coming years. This study is a remarkably timely, thoughtful, and meticulous examination of the drivers and choices the allies will face through 2030. It illuminates probable shifts in the strategic landscape of northeast Asia, their consequences, and the policy and resource allocation choices they pose. In this strategic net assessment, the scholars Carnegie assembled have given decisionmakers in Tokyo and Washington a uniquely insightful and thought-provoking policy-planning tool.”

—Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. (U.S. Foreign Service, retired), former assistant secretary of defense

“There is nothing out there like this—a very important piece of work…. This is an elegantly framed study that systematically assesses the postures of China, Japan, and the United States and treats the dynamics between them. Obviously, this is tough to execute, but the authors have done an outstanding job. The report addresses a critical subject and offers empirically based suggestions…. There is nothing like it in terms of looking at the interactions between states to produce a set of possible future regional dynamics.”

—Eric Heginbotham, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation

The authors would like to thank the Japan Ground Self Defense Forces Research and Development Command NAT Project for translating the executive summary into Japanese.

Read Full Text
End of document

About the Asia Program

The Carnegie Asia Program in Beijing and Washington provides clear and precise analysis to policy makers on the complex economic, security, and political developments in the Asia-Pacific region.


Comments (25)

  • Micheal Shaw
    6 Recommends 8 Conversation Recommends
    In my view,2030 is really not a foreseenable future. Regional powers are emerging all over the world and few want to be dominated by other powers. That means they will compete at leat for regional primacy if the domination of the US collapse one day in the future. I don't think it is just a business between China and America. You see, When a hero is weak, he will be faced up with many foes.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
    • Patdog replies...
      2 Recommends
      Nuclear weapons talk, everyone else become slaves.
  • Tom
    3 Recommends 16 Conversation Recommends
    If China starts a war with J.U.S.T. Alliance the result will be disastrous for the Chinese people, far beyond what German people suffered post defeat of Hitler's Nazi Germany in WW2. For one thing post-construction for such a large country as China will be utterly impossible.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
    • thmak replies...
      5 Recommends
      You forget to mention that Japan will disappear from the face of the world and America will not be "beautiful from sea to shining sea"
    • Dean Dick replies...
      6 Recommends
      Doubtful, this time it will be the USA that goes the way of the Soviet Union, there is no way our overstretched military machine could win a war on China's doorstep given their insurmountable advantages in the region, and considering that anything they produce is at least a third of what we could produce including wages, we will fight ourselves to incapacity. A better alternative will be a cooperative relationship, we have already lost in Korea and Vietnam with overwhelming force projection, today it will be a laugh given the sophistication and size the Chinese military have become.
    • Jackson replies...
      2 Recommends
      I don't China is the villain in that she never threatens the US or Japan. The US and Japanese media should be more responsible to their readers because war will not only destroy China, but would cause irreparable damages to the US. Japan will be the land of the sinking sun in the event of a Sino-US/Japan alliance. Guess which country will be receiving most of China's nuclear bombs.
  • Lawrence Chin
    1 Recommend
    This report is already in Chinese news the same day it appeared: (from 13:00). Note that it is said in the report: "When American think tanks make a report, they make two versions: public version and government version. They submit the government version to the government, while only publicizing the public version. This report should not be an exception." What we have here is the "non-confidential version", so to speak.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Let'schangeourmindset
    3 Recommends
    The report emphasised too much of Japan-US Alliance's intention to maintain supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region by keeping China OUT of their co-operation.

    Has anyone in the experts panel explored/debated the idea of according China equal status with US and Japan in maintaining the security and peace in the Asia-Pacific ?

    We have to demolish the old stubborn mindset that Democracy cannot exists together with Chinese's One party system. It has been proven in trade and economics that both political systems can exist peacefully.

    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • thmak
    2 Recommends
    (continued) 5 Such shifts in the strategic landscape should include an Asian cold war pitting a military threatening US-Japan alliance against a pacifist China, the dawning of a harmonious Asian community with mutual respect and mutual trust instead of the antagonistic and divisive attitude fostered by Japan and America among the Asian members and the emergence of intense Japan’s drive to relive its pre-WWII eminence to future dominant super-power status with nuclear capability as condoned by USA.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
    • Yang YANG replies...
      looking forward to it
  • thmak
    6 Recommends
    To all those authors: Your key findings are prejudicial and dangerous for world peace and prosperity:
    1. The so-called “The likeliest challenge instead stems from Beijing’s growing coercive power” is false. It should be the likeliest challenge stems from Japan’s attempt, in collusion with USA, to instigate a military confrontation with China over the dispute islands as a pretense to crush the new China naval power knowing that the combined America-Japan naval power is far more superior, thus maintaining the denial of the entrance of China’s naval power into the Pacific and keeping the defacto America’s and Japan’s sole control of the Pacific Ocean.
    2. It is against “the rule of law” to say that “An increase in the People’s Liberation Army’s presence in airspace and waters near Japan and disputed territories could also heighten the risk of destabilizing political-military crises.”, while not to mention that an increase in the Japan’s and America’s presence in airspace and waters near Japan and disputed territories could also definitely heighten the risk of destabilizing political-military crises.”.
    3. It is against the rule of law to say that balance of power should be in favor of Japan and its alliance and not China.
    4. A significant drop in the potential threat posed by Japan and America is also possible if the Japan’s economy continues to falter or getting worse and America’s economy and its Middle East invasion sap up its resources and capability and both have to redirect its attention and resources toward maintaining internal stability (to be continued)
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • hrios38
    I think this is going to happen earlier than you expect, probably between 5-8 years because the China's military mighty is growing very fast and the industrial support is growing even faster !!!
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Dean Dick
    1 Recommend
    THis report seems to conveniently discount the overwhelming artillery, defense system, logistical, and production advantage should a war breakout in East Asia, the USA is already at a disadvantage with the range and accuracy of the latest Chinese missiles, whose accuracy has already surpassed anything the USA already possess in their inventory. The Chinese have a habit of not blustering, the Americans are the polar opposite, the first step to resolving weakness is not to underestimate what your opponent could do, the Chinese are not 20 years behind when fighting in their immediate vicinity, in fact they already possess the ability to make such a conventional war unwinnable, devastating, break backing costly, with options ranging from precision missile strikes, to cyber and space warfare. There is no way they are backing down now, which is why the renewed belligerence lately.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Tom
    3 Recommends 4 Conversation Recommends
    Here's an advice to the Chinese gov and people: Do not start or support a war that can never be won!! Don't go down the path that Hitler took in W2. Don't think you will fare better than the Nazi Germany. Post-W2 German people were salvaged by the Marshall Plan. No such Plan could possibly or would ever salvage the Chinese people from a scorched Earth.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
    • Lifei Long replies...
      1 Recommend
      China is not Nazi Germany...lets not mix apples and lemons.
  • Syed Gohar Altaf, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.
    Undoubtedly, the assessment is quite logical. In addition, it seems that the assessment has touched upon a rather pertinent and quite significant issue which might raise eyebrows around the world in the near future, if the matter, as discussed in the report, is not handled well.

    The assessment is worthy of attention and ought to be paid attention by the policymakers and defense planners in Washington and Pentagon respectively.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Javed Mir
    --Such shifts include an Asian cold war pitting a normalized U.S.-Japan alliance against a belligerent China--

    Till 2030 positions will definitely change but exact predictions are not easy to make but still efforts should be made to avoid war confrontatins in order to have substainable economic growth not only for the Asians but also for the Westerners. Because of the economic growth in Asia, winds have already started blowing towards Westward.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • ConcernedAsian
    1 Recommend
    This research does not take in account that Japan is shifting rapidly towards militarization under Abe. Abe wants to change the current Japanese Constitution which he claims were "foreced onto them by the Americans" ( so much to Japan -US alliance spirit). Abe's new constitution includes to make the Emperor the Ultimate Chief of Japan as was in pre-war and allow him to control all government affairs again. The US must realize that finally the truth is coming out of Japan which actually denies the US alliance and wants to be independant country militarily again. Abe said he will come up with an Abe Doctrine denying all previous doctrines like Murayama and Kono Doctrines. Very very dangerous scheme
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • DT
    3 Recommends
    If China keeps grabbing neighbors land, if awaits same fate as Nazi Germany. China stands no chance against combined military of US, Japan, Korea, India, Australia, Vietnam, Philippines, France and UK.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
    • OISIN replies...
      Your correct but China's human will power of millions can overwhelm most allies
      Like in the Korean War the North Koreans were pushed far back into the North but China came and summoned an army of 100,000's and pushed the allies straight back to the border. So i think if there is a war in Asia the communists will get involved i.e Cuba i think and N.Korea possibly Russia.
      The world will be blown to pieces by nukes and the death toll will be at least 200 million. I get your point China have not a lot of allies.
      Also China's economy will be able to produce thousands of military weapons a week knowing them
  • Javed Mir
    Unipolar world is much riskier. USA needs to accept other actors - emerging and likely to emerge even much before 2030. Russia seems to be reemerging and Iran is determined to have some recognition in the international affairs. The authors have done a good job in highlighting the probabilities of the future.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Mike China
    1 Recommend
    Tom,China won't start a war.Common sense dictates you don't fight hen you are weak.Rather the PLA will fight if backed into a corner by the US instigated by Japan.If the US were to use nw,rest assured the PLA will retaliate on the US and Japan.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Edward L
    The sooner a CJK (China Japan Korea) Free Trade Agreement is begun, the better. This will shift the emphasis towards continuously improving relations. Secondly the greater economic activity involved may overcome any discontent from the unequal distribution of economic growth between regions and lessen the growth of any internal security threats or separatist movements.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Ryan
    During the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for Daniel Russel, the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, there was talk of the possibility of setting up a Helsinki Commission type agency for promoting greater trust, security, and cooperation between Japan and South Korea to respond to North Korea. While it is just the kernel of an idea at this point, it is worth exploring how such a development would affect the greater security situation in East Asia beyond the Korean peninsula. Maybe in the next Carnegie report?

    Reply to this post

    Close Panel
  • Hardy Woo
    The Bible mentions the King of the East with its 200 million armies march through from the east to the west. Means the only Superpower left is just China. No others.
    Reply to this post

    Close Panel

Publication Resources

In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.