On rogues and peers: Russian, Chinese challenges to U.S. national security

The key finding of a new report from RAND – James Dobbins’s Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue: Different Challenges, Different Responses – are:

China presents a greater geoeconomic challenge to the United States than Russia does

• China’s per capita GDP approaches Russia’s; its population is eight times Russia’s, and its growth rate three times.

• As of 2017, China’s economy was the second largest in the world, behind only that of the United States. Russia’s was 11th.

• Russia’s military expenditure is lower than China’s, and that gap is likely to grow.

• Russia is far smaller, has poorer economic prospects, and is less likely to dramatically increase its military power in the long term.

Russia is a more immediate and more proximate military threat to U.S. national security than China is but can be countered

• Russia will probably remain militarily superior to all its immediate neighbors other than China.

• Russia is vulnerable to a range of nonmilitary deterrents, such as sanctions on the Russian economy and limiting Russian income from exports of fossil fuels; multilateral efforts would be more effective than U.S.-only operations, however.

China presents a regional military challenge and a global economic one

• Militarily, China can be contained for a while longer; economically, it has already broken free of regional constraints.

• Russia backs far-right and far-left political movements with a view to disrupting the politics of adversarial societies and, if possible, installing friendlier regimes. China, in contrast, seems basically indifferent to the types of government of the states with which it interacts, increasing its attractiveness as an economic partner.


• In the security sphere, the United States should continue to hold the line in east and southeast Asia, accepting the larger costs and risks involved in counterbalancing growing Chinese military capabilities. Meanwhile, Washington should help its regional allies and partners to field their own antiaccess and area denial systems. Finally, the United States should take advantage of any opportunities to resolve issues and remove points of Sino-American tension, recognizing that its bargaining position will gradually deteriorate over time.

• In the economic realm, the United States needs to compete more effectively in foreign markets, persevere and strengthen international norms for trade and investment, and incentivize China to operate within those norms. Given China’s efforts to take technological leadership in the long term and the potential advantages that such leadership brings, the United States also needs to improve its innovation environment. Measures could include greater funding for research, retention of U.S.-educated foreign scientists and technologists, and regulatory reforms that ease the introduction of product and process improvements into businesses and the market.

• In responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the United States should move to secure its own preferential access to the world’s largest markets, the industrialized countries of Europe and Asia; assist nations in increasing connectivity with the world economy; work with partners to ensure more transparency in China’s Belt and Road projects; and increase support to U.S. exporters and investors.

• In all these challenges, the United States will be more successful coordinating action with allies and trading partners.

— Read more in James Dobbins et al., Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue: Different Challenges, Different Responses (RAND, 2019)