Culture in Power Transitions: Sino-American Conflict in the 21st Century

Institute members Robert Jervis and Gregory Mitrovitch are conducting a multi-year, multi-disciplinary study combining historical examination, political science methodology, and computer aided text analysis to assess the role social and cultural norms—i.e, soft power—will play in advancing the national security interests of the United States and China in the 21st century. They seek to answer the question: In what ways has soft power aided the rise of hegemonic power in the past and how will soft power impact the emerging Sino-American hegemonic struggle for global leadership? Their test case—America’s rise to hegemony—will qualitatively and quantitatively examine the reactions and responses of the international system and the intended or unintended consequences arising from America’s use of soft power to promote the expansion of its global influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The test case will be juxtaposed against China’s existing efforts to employ soft power to expedite its rise to power. Their objective is to define the soft-power tools that paved the way for American hegemonic ascent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to the creation of the American Century decades before the global projection of American military power—as well as measure global responses to America’s rise. They will then apply the conclusions from their test case to China’s current hegemonic aspirations, likewise at a time when it possesses military power of very limited scope. Their goals are to better determine whether the 21st century is witnessing the birth of a new hegemonic order (as did late 19th century Europe), to anticipate the potential system effects this emerging conflict will create, and to develop credible policy options to engage Chinese soft power while reducing the potential for systemic instability.

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