Uploaded by Adam Smith

220216 Jensen Shadow Risk

What Crisis Simulations Reveal about the Dangers of Deferring
U.S. Responses to China’s Gray Zone Campaign against Taiwan
By Benjamin Jensen, Bonny Lin, and Carolina G. Ramos
▪ This brief explores escalation dynamics in China’s gray zone campaign targeting Taiwan based on the results of 20
crisis simulations.
▪ CSIS finds that U.S. policymakers face shadow risk in gray zone confrontations: the desire to avoid short-term
escalation triggers an increased appetite for risk in future disputes. In other words, deferring U.S. responses to Chinese
aggression may inadvertently make future confrontations more dangerous and intractable.
▪ The analysis suggests a need to stress test emerging approaches to great power competition like integrated deterrence
through additional wargames, develop new planning and analytical frameworks optimized for gray zone campaigns,
and expand crisis communication channels.
The risk of a conflict over Taiwan is increasing. Testifying
before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Phil
Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM)
Commander, predicted the Chinese could challenge Taiwan
within six years.2 During the fall and winter of 2021, China
increased its air intrusions into Taiwan, sending waves of
strike and intelligence aircraft to demonstrate its ability
to compel the island with military force and deter foreign
intervention.3 This provocation occurred despite the
presence of two U.S. military aircraft carrier strike groups
and partner forces from the United Kingdom, Netherlands,
Canada, Japan, and New Zealand conducting naval drills
in the region.4 The next crisis could test the limits of the
Biden administration’s strategy of cooperate and compete
as well as the defense posture of integrated deterrence.5
China’s military pressure complements a larger gray zone
campaign designed to subvert an independent Taiwan
and signal its ability to isolate the island across multiple
domains.6 China utilizes a mix of coercive measures. For
years, China has conducted a systematic cyber and cognitive
warfare campaign including espionage, misinformation, and
subversive efforts to signal its ability to digitally sabotage
Taiwan during a crisis.7 In 2020 alone, cyberattacks targeting
the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs increased by
40 times the level seen in 2018 and averaged over 2,000
intrusions a day.8 These activities reinforce long-standing
efforts to economically coerce and diplomatically isolate
what Beijing perceives as a rogue province.9
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait raise a critical national
security question: under what conditions do gray zone
campaigns escalate? The utility of these subversive
efforts—what George Kennan called political warfare and
Herman Kahn labeled sub-crisis maneuvering—lies in
compelling a target state short of armed conflict.10 Through
the manipulation of risk, gray zone campaigns pressure
an adversary while simultaneously avoiding an escalating
Shadow Risk
series of clashes between great powers. They are designed
to prepare the environment for future operations while
indirectly demonstrating resolve—what previous studies
have referred to as weak and ambiguous signals.11
For this reason, modern great power competition flourishes
in the gray zone. From the Chinese concept of war control to
Russia’s approach to coercive campaigns combining military
threats and psychological warfare, there is a transnational
race to develop strategies optimized for a new competition
continuum.12,13,14 To date, most research into gray zones
focuses more on defining tactics to gain an advantage than
evaluating escalation dynamics.15 Escalation risk is treated
as an asymmetric source of coercive leverage rather than a
complex interaction potentially prone to miscalculation. In
theory, gray zone activities should limit escalation risks. Yet,
does that logic hold for what Beijing views as vital national
interests like the status of Taiwan?
Through the manipulation of risk,
gray zone campaigns pressure an
adversary while simultaneously
avoiding an escalating series of clashes
between great powers. They are
designed to prepare the environment
for future operations while indirectly
demonstrating resolve.
This brief examines the potential for escalation in Taiwan
as a result of China’s gray zone campaigns. Through
20 crisis simulations conducted in Fall 2021, CSIS
mapped how and when gray zone scenarios escalate
and the implications for the U.S. strategy. The research
complements earlier efforts to war game crises over
Taiwan but takes a new approach by applying social
science methods and statistical analysis to identify unique
decisionmaking pathologies at play in gray zones.16 Overall,
the simulations hosted by CSIS indicate unique temporal
dynamics associated with gray zone escalation with
important policy implications.
When responding to a notional China gray zone campaign,
teams playing the United States all opted to defer risk into
the future. That is, they preferred to take long-term actions
like increasing foreign military sales and altering military
force posture rather than responding to the immediate
crisis at hand. At the same time, these teams were
statistically more likely to escalate in subsequent rounds,
implying an inversion of the classic commitment trap in
international relations.17 The adage that Germany started
the First World War in 1914 over concerns about the
shifting balance of power by 1917 is reversed in gray zone
campaigns.18 Players seeking to avoid taking risky moves
in the short term increase escalation risks in the long term
when crises prove intractable. This finding also reinforces
earlier literature on great power rivalry, which sees
increasing threat spirals in each subsequent crisis between
states like China and the United States—especially when
they are subject to interest asymmetries, shifting power
balances, and territorial concerns.19 Crises are not discrete,
independent events. They tend to be continuous, leading to
unique temporal dynamics as each side gauges what they
expect the other to do in the future.20
Following previous CSIS research, gray zones are defined
as “the contested arena that lies between routine statecraft
and open warfare.”21 The utility of force resides in threats
(i.e., signaling) and manipulating risk to achieve a position
of advantage short of risking open war. States seek to “work
around [adversary] red lines, taking gains by fait accompli
and imposing pressure where it is possible to do so without
quite crossing the line of unambiguously using force.”22
Crises are not discrete, independent
events. They tend to be continuous,
leading to unique temporal dynamics
as each side gauges what they expect
the other to do in the future.
Seen in this light, China’s gray zone campaign targeting
Taiwan serves two purposes. First, consistent with the
Chinese concept of war control, it ensures China seizes
the initiative by setting the conditions for future military
action and defining the tempo.23 Second, gray zone
measures message Taiwanese leaders and citizens, as well
as the broader international community and key military
powers like the United States, that there are tangible risks
to getting involved. Washington should think about how
much risk China will assume over time to achieve its policy
goal of unification.
These characteristics produce a distinct operational art
in gray zone campaigns. In the gray zone, actors apply
persistent actions to deter, dissuade, or mitigate a rival’s
competitive advantage.24 As seen in Russian and Chinese
campaigns, these actions range from salami slicing and
cabbage strategies that incrementally increase pressure to
long-term efforts to undermine an adversary from within
through subversion campaigns built around misinformation,
diplomatic isolation, and economic coercion.
Washington should think about how
much risk China will assume over time
to achieve its policy goal of unif ication.
Gray zone campaigns are a method of containing the
escalation risk that emerges in long-term competition. By
using measures short of armed conflict, they allow states to
signal, even if weak and ambiguous, key thresholds while
shaping the environment. When states like China seek
to challenge the status quo, they opt for these subversive
measures as a low-cost, low-risk alternative to the costly
gamble of war. In other words, gray zones are a choice for
revisionist states, and the alternative is war.
Yet, this logic may not apply to China and Taiwan. Crises
between Beijing and Taipei could be particularly acute
and escalation prone, especially when they draw in thirdparty actors like the United States. Geography plays a role.
Taiwan, including smaller islands like Kinmen, is close
to mainland China and the issue of Taiwan’s territorial
status is a core interest for the Chinese Communist Party.
The past sets a precedent. The status of Taiwan has led to
multiple crises over the last 70 years, producing a tendency
toward escalation consistent with literature on enduring
rivalries.25 Last, China’s power is growing, creating a
window of vulnerability due to long-term power cycles and
power transitions.26
The central question then is whether gray zone campaigns
can sufficiently contain the inherent escalation risks in a
future crisis over Taiwan. Based on previous studies, three
attributes of escalation help answer this question.
First, escalation is a bargaining process. Modern discussions
about competition, much like their Cold War predecessors,
see gray zone campaigns and the crises they generate as
bargaining processes.27 States seek to alter adversary behavior
short of war and use escalation—from shows of force to cyber
operations—as a means of determining their rival’s level of
resolve.28 This interactive process is subject to larger social,
psychological, and institutional effects that can create selfreinforcing feedback loops and, in the right combination, a
runaway train to war.29 As a result, most scholarly treatments
on escalation focus on the conditions likely to produce
Air Incursions
Cyber Operations
Political Subversion
Electronic Warfare
Economic Coercion
Maritime Coercion
Vertical Escalation
two sides compete for advantage
increase threats to signal risk
costs can be in different domains
Horizontal Escalation
Inadvertent Escalation
Accidental Escalation
make threats to shift the
competition geographically
threats can be misinterpreted
accidents can trigger escalation
Diplomatic Isolation
Source: CSIS creation.
dangerous threat spirals, inadvertent escalation, or chain
reactions that change the character of a foreign policy crisis
and lead states down a dangerous path to war.30
Second, escalation involves threats that help states forecast
the costs and risks at stake in a crisis. In early game theory
work, escalation was often treated as variants of a threat
game.31 Players, whether individuals or great powers,
select between a set of finite choices given imperfect
information about what the adversary will do and calibrate
their actions accordingly. These moves can stabilize
interactions putting a cap on escalation.32 That is, rational
actors seek an equilibrium balancing threats with the
risk of initiating costly conflicts. Actors tend to base their
decision on estimates of the other parties’ cost tolerance,
how much pain they will endure, or advantages they will
lose to achieve a demand. Consistent with literature on
issue salience, this cost tolerance is what determines
escalation dynamics.33 High escalation cost tolerant states
will assume risk and absorb pain to force an adversary to
back down during crisis bargaining. The challenge is that
cost tolerance is private information, making it difficult
to gauge the optimal response during a crisis. States may
be bluffing, or they may be willing to assume high costs
associated with retaliation.
Third, escalation is driven more by perception than the
balance of military power. In studying escalation as part of
crisis bargaining, scholars tend to differentiate between
structural and decision-theoretic factors that shape how
actors respond to perceived threats as well as between
accounts that focus on current crisis decisionmaking or
prevailing reputations.34 The decision to escalate is either
a question of underlying structural conditions like the
balance of power or related to iterated decisionmaking
under imperfect information linked to reputations and
what states assume the other side will do.35
Most literature sees decision-centric processes—how
state leaders and their advisers perceive the situation and
make decisions—as the dominant attribute shaping how
a crisis unfolds and its overall escalation potential.36 In
particular, there are also unique cognitive dynamics that
can skew how foreign policy decisionmakers calculate
escalation risks.37 First, deferring decisions is common
when confronted with multiple response options.38 Second,
high-stakes decisions, such as whether or not to confront a
nuclear-armed state, are prone to deferral.39 These decision
deferral dynamics imply that leaders may respond to
gray zone campaigns with options that help them push
escalation risks into the future. This deferral can cause
unchecked adversaries to become more hostile and amplify
inadvertent and accidental escalation risks.40
To analyze gray zone escalation dynamics around Taiwan,
the researchers adapted a tabletop exercise (TTX) format to
conduct a conjoint experiment over the course of 20 crisis
simulations during the Fall of 2021.41 In 10 treatments,
U.S. players had access to long-term crisis options using
military power. In 10 treatments, U.S. players only had
access to more immediate military response options. The
underlying scenario, summarized below, was held constant
across the events and involved a standoff over the Kinmen
Islands in 2027. The scenario posited that Chinese military,
economic, and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan increased
after the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. By 2026,
there are weekly major Chinese incursions into the island’s
air defense identification zone, including fighters, nuclearcapable bombers, and antisubmarine warfare platforms.
In the last three months, these activities have intensified
through the operation of naval surface action groups and
simulated military operations off the eastern coast of
Taiwan. China has increased pressure on the Taiwanese
Kinmen (10 km off the coast of mainland China) which
Beijing seeks to claim jurisdiction over. Kinmen leaps into
international news when in 2027 a gas pipeline explosion
damages a nearby Chinese fishing vessel. Chinese media
claims that the explosion resulted from an attack by
Taiwanese separatists and uses it as an opportunity to
expand its East China Sea air identification zone to cover
the entirety of Kinmen. Simultaneously, China conducts
large military exercises firing missiles into the East China
Sea and simulating attack runs to the north and south
of Taiwan while entering the Japanese airspace. As Japan
deploys naval vessels in response, multiple countries
warn the Kinmen crisis could spark a wider military
confrontation with China. World stock markets drop 10
percent as funds shift to U.S. bonds and gold prices surge.
Taiwan requests assistance, and the U.S. president is
under increasing pressure to respond to this economic and
military challenge.
As seen in Figure 1, in situations where U.S. players had
military response options to check gray zone activity that
only factored the short term (i.e., less than 30 days), they
tended to select more escalatory options. These options
ranged from deploying intelligence assets and conducting
a freedom of navigation operation to authorizing a
Response Option (1 low, 6 high)
Figure 1: RecommendedFigure
U.S. Military
Response Options
1: Recommended
U.S. Military Response Options
Crisis Simulations
Treatment A: Short-Term Options Escalation Risk
Treatment B: Long-Term Options Escalation Risk
Source: CSIS analysis.
security program
Source: CSIS analysis.
Esclation Risk (1 low, 6 high)
Figure 2: U.S. Player Escalation
U.S. Player Escalation Risk Perception
Crisis Simulations
Treatment A: Short-Term Option Escalation Risk
Treatment B: Long-Term Options Escalation Risk
Source: CSIS analysis.
Source: CSIS analysis.
“blinding strike” consistent with older AirSea Battle and
Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global
Commons in which, through a mix of cyber and electronic
warfare, the U.S. military blinded the People’s Liberation
Army’s command and control to support a limited,
conventional strike.42 When players had only shortterm response options (red bar in Figure 1), 50 percent
recommend announcing the United States would escort
air and maritime commercial vessels to Kinmen. The
most common response when players had comparable
long-term options (blue bar in Figure 1) was to defer
a response into the future, with 33 percent opting to
announce an increase in INDOPACOM force posture over
the long term. Comparing the two treatments shows that
security program
when long-term response options were introduced, they
were associated with less escalatory responses by U.S.
players. Players chose to defer the decision to escalate
into the future or simply ignore the near-term threat due
to the lack of viable options for confronting gray zone
activity without triggering a broader crisis.
This finding held when looking at player assessments of
the underlying escalation risk. Teams were asked to assess
how escalatory they thought their recommended crisis
option was. When players only had long-term response
options (blue line in Figure 2) they tended to assume
there was less risk of the crisis escalating compared to
treatments with short-term response options (red line in
Figure 2).
Gray zone competition appears to reduce escalation risks
by delaying decisions about whether to confront the
antagonist. China can wear down Taiwan over time and
even use repeated crises beneath the threshold of armed
conflict to test U.S. resolve without triggering a dangerous
threshold response. As long as the United States can defer
a decision to respond into the future, it can signal without
incurring immediate escalation risks. This bargaining
process involves each side trying to gain an advantage
without triggering a war. The larger question is whether
deferring costly decisions to check aggression into the future
may destabilize the U.S.-China relationship. Is the cost of
stability in the present instability in the future?
term response options (red bar in Figure 3), most opted
for a lower-level response in the second round. In these
responses, 60 percent opted to deploy air superiority assets
and enablers to existing bases in the area (i.e., Alaska, Japan)
to provide response options and signal capability as well
resolve without a direct confrontation.43
Long-term response treatments were also associated
with nonproportional escalation jumps. Because the U.S.
player and Chinese player moved simultaneously, they
did not know in advance whether or not the other party
would escalate. In the second round, this meant the U.S.
player could calibrate their response to what the Chinese
player did in round one, using previous movement
as a predictor of future activity. When comparing the
difference between the Chinese player response in round
one and the U.S. player response in round two, the U.S.
players could opt for a proportional response or even an
incremental, instrumental escalatory move in round two.
As seen in Figure 4, the difference between the U.S. player
response to the crisis and the Chinese player response
was consistently higher in the treatments involving longterm options (blue line in Figure 4). That is, deferring
escalation did not work when the adversary kept pressing
in the gray zone and led to a spike in escalation. Applied
to future standoffs with China over Taiwan, this dynamic
indicates inadvertent escalation risks associated with
the psychology of decisionmaking under uncertainty.
Deferring risk in the present could lead to more risk in
the future. What may appear prudent in the present may
prove dangerous in the future.
There appears to be shadow risk associated with deferring
escalation decisions. When players were confronted with
a second round of the Kinmen crisis, escalation dynamics
shifted. Whereas long-term crisis response options tended
to be associated with lower threshold response options
and escalation risks assessments at the start of the crisis as
outlined above, the opposite occurred in subsequent rounds.
As seen in the chart below, long-term response option
treatments (blue bar in Figure 3) were associated with
larger degrees of escalation based on comparing U.S. player
response options in round one and their response option
in round two. Overall, 70 percent of the crisis simulations
saw higher magnitude responses. Specifically, where players
preferred announcing long-term force posture changes to
signal China in round one, they opted to challenge China in
round two and deploy naval assets in the vicinity of Kinmen.
Inversely, in the treatments where players had only short-
Difference between U.S. Responses
(Round 1–2)
Figure 3: Deferred Escalation
Figure 3: Deferred Escalation
Crisis Simulations
Treatment A: Short-Term Options Escalation Risk
Treatment B: Long-Term Options Escalation Risk
Source: CSIS analysis.
Source: CSIS analysis.
security program
Difference between U.S. Rresponse
Round 2-China Response Round 1
Figure4: Deferred Escalation
Escalation Was Not Proportional
Crisis Simulations
Treatment A: Short-Term Options Escalation Risk
Treatment B: Long-Term Options Escalation Risk
Source: CSIS analysis.
Source: CSIS analysis.
China is more likely to continue its gray zone campaign
against Taiwan than it is to launch a fait accompli, shortnotice invasion. How other countries, especially the United
States, respond will shape the character of great power
competition in the Indo-Pacific. As shown in the crisis
simulations reviewed in this brief, there are unique escalation
dynamics associated with gray zone campaigns that challenge
conventional wisdom and necessitate new thinking on
deterrence, crisis management, and intelligence.
First, the crisis simulations underscored the need for
U.S. policymakers to address the danger that avoiding or
deferring escalation against China in immediate crises may
lead to more dangerous future crises. The analysis suggests
that an initial desire to avoid directly responding to gray
zone operations could trigger future escalation. In other
words, engaging in more limited, immediate U.S. responses
to Chinese gray zone coercion could prevent the need to
embrace more forceful responses in the future. The United
States needs to align ways and means to this end and
develop a range of calibrated crisis response options.
Second, there is a need to stress test the Biden
administration’s concept of integrated deterrence against
Chinese gray zone operations. New defense thinking is
emerging around an old idea: deterrence. The secretary
of defense recently called for integrated deterrence that
is “the right mix of technology, operational concepts and
capabilities—all woven together and networked
in a way
that is so credible, flexible and so formidable that it will
give any adversary pause . . . [and] create[s] advantages
for us and dilemmas for them.”44 Since 2018, the Joint
Staff has published new doctrine on the competition
continuum.45 This posture calls for integrated campaigning:
the “skillful combination of cooperation, competition below
armed conflict, and, when appropriate, armed conflict in
conjunction with diplomatic, informational, military, and
economic efforts to achieve and sustain strategic objectives.”46
Applied to future standoffs with China
over Taiwan, this dynamic indicates
inadvertent escalation risks associated
with the psychology of decisionmaking
under uncertainty. Deferring risk in
the present could lead to more risk in
the future. What may appear prudent
in the present may prove dangerous in
the future.
All of these concepts, and integrated deterrence in
particular, need further studies and wargames evaluating
the feasibility of deterring Chinese gray zone activities as
well as the series of events likely to trip a firebreak and
trigger a large-scale conventional use of force. CSIS crisis
simulations show that unchecked Chinese gray zone
coercion raises the risk of a larger deferred crisis between
the United States and China.
Third, the simulations show a need to rethink the
architecture of crisis management. While the Department
of Defense (DoD) has extensively planned for large-scale
Chinese contingencies, there is currently no similar lead
agency or office—whether in DoD or elsewhere—that preplans potential U.S. responses to gray zone scenarios. This
gap emerges because gray zone scenarios tend to fall within
the seams of national security equities and bureaucratic
focus. Yet in the gray zone, U.S. responses are likely to
involve authorities, assets, and capabilities beyond just
those of any single agency or department. Nevertheless,
given the real risk of U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan—and
Taiwan being the top contingency that most U.S. experts
fear the United States and China may find themselves
at war over—the United States should develop at least a
small number of plans to address gray zone moves against
Taiwan short of a shooting war and look at different
interagency models for managing the crisis. Developing
this crisis management framework should also include
extensive wargaming not only within the U.S. government
but also with Taiwan. U.S. responses against China will
only be effective if it is well-coordinated with Taiwan’s
reactions, and this involves understanding what Taipei
might do and the complex international and domestic
political environment Taiwan leaders face. The same logic
holds for major allies in the region like Japan and Australia.
In addition to identifying an interagency lead for gray
zone planning and further refining plans through crisis
simulations and war games, the Biden administration
will need to revisit crisis communication channels and
the larger diplomatic architecture associated with realtime crisis management. Seeing great power competition
as a series of iterated bargaining crises where each side
signals the other puts a premium on communication.
Washington and Beijing need to expand the number of
channels, from formal Track One to informal, multilateral
diplomatic tracks, which are open and exercised to
ensure they can communicate clearly during a crisis.
These channels should be exercised prior to a future crisis
and require constant upkeep and even iterated crisis
simulation with partners and Beijing to identify red lines
and the risk of inadvertent escalation.
Fourth, there is a broader need to rethink the types of
intelligence collection and analytical capabilities required
to guide decisionmakers through a gray zone crisis. CSIS
has led the national security community in outlining
the unique intelligence challenge associated with gray
zone activity.47 Unlike traditional intelligence warning,
which focuses on sensitive collection assets, gray zone
crises require aggregating unclassified data and applying
data science techniques to find the signal in the noise.48
Decisionmakers and the intelligence community need
a series of studies, war games, and crisis simulations to
further define the warning challenge in gray zone crises
and identify key capability and capacity gaps. These
activities should be open and involve academics, think
tanks, journalists, businesses, and partners to avoid narrow
institutional perspectives
Benjamin Jensen is a senior fellow for future war, gaming, and
strategy in the International Security Program at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Bonny Lin is a senior fellow for Asian security and director of the
China Power Project at CSIS. Carolina G. Ramos is a research
associate with the International Security Program at CSIS.
For an overview of the methodology used in the tabletop
exercise, please see here.
Benjamin Jensen received support from Carnegie Corporation
of New York for part of this crisis simulation series prior to
joining CSIS.
This brief is made possible by general support to CSIS.
No direct sponsorship contributed to this brief.
CSIS BRIEFS are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution
focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific
policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to
be solely those of the author(s). © 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.
Cover Photo: Zerophoto/AdobeStock
Bonny Lin and David Sacks, “How to Prevent an Accidental War over
Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, October 19, 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/taiwan/2021-10-12/how-prevent-accidental-war-over-taiwan.
Mallory Shelbourne, “Davidson: China Could Try to Take Control of
Taiwan in 'Next Six Years,'” USNI News, March 9, 2021, https://news.
BBC, “Record Number of China Planes Enter Taiwan Air Defense
Zone,” BBC News, October 5, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/
world-asia-58794094; Chris Buckley and Amy Qin, “In a Surge of
Military Flights, China Tests and Warns Taiwan,” The New York Times,
October 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/03/world/asia/
Dzirhan Mahadzir, “U.S., U.K. Aircraft Carriers Drill with Japanese Big
Deck Warship in the Western Pacific,” USNI News, October 4, 2021,
Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk, “Biden Administration Singles
out China as 'Biggest Geopolitical Test' for U.S,” Reuters, March
3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-blinkenidUSKBN2AV28C; C. Todd Lopez, “Defense Secretary Says 'Integrated
Deterrence' Is Cornerstone of U.S. Defense,” U.S. Department of
Defense, April 30, 2021, https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/2592149/defense-secretary-says-integrated-deterrence-is-cornerstone-of-us-defense/.
Eric Chan, “Escalating Clarity without Fighting: Countering Gray
Zone Warfare against Taiwan (Part 2),” Global Taiwan Brief 6, no. 11
(June 2, 2021), https://globaltaiwan.org/2021/06/vol-6-issue-11/;
Yimou Lee, David Lague, and Ben Blanchard, “China Launches
'Gray-Zone' Warfare to Subdue Taiwan,” Reuters, December 10, 2020,
Yimou Lee, “Taiwan Says China behind Cyberattacks on Government
Agencies, Emails,” Reuters, August 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.
com/article/us-taiwan-cyber-china-idUSKCN25F0JK; Nick Aspinwall,
“Taiwan: The Frontline of the Disinformation Wars,” The Diplomat,
October 31, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/taiwan-the-frontline-of-the-disinformation-wars/; Brandon Valeriano, Benjamin M.
Jensen, and Ryan C. Maness, Cyber Strategy: The Evolving Character of
Power and Coercion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); and Libby
Lange and Doowan Lee, “Disinformation, Annexation, & Deterrence:
Why the CCP Is More Likely to Subvert Taiwan than Invade,” Lawfare,
June 22, 2021, https://www.lawfareblog.com/disinformation-annexation-deterrence-why-ccp-more-likely-subvert-taiwan-invade-0.
Matthew Strong, “Cyberattacks on Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs Increased 40-Fold in 2020,” Taiwan News, March 30, 2021,
Christina Lai, “More than Carrots and Sticks: Economic Statecraft
and Coercion in China–Taiwan Relations from 2000 to 2019,” Politics
(February 2021), https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395720962654; Mikail
Kalimuddin and David A. Anderson, “Soft Power in China’s Security
Strategy,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 12, no. 3 (2018): 114–41, http://
Benjamin Jensen, “The Cyber Character Of Political Warfare,” The
Brown Journal of World Affairs 24, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 2017): 159-71,
https://bjwa.brown.edu/24-1/benjamin-jensen-the-cyber-character-of-political-warfare/; Linda Robinson et al., Modern Political
Warfare: Current Practices and Possible Responses (Santa Monica, CA:
RAND, 2018), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1700/RR1772/RAND_RR1772.pdf.
Kathleen Hicks et al., By Other Means Part II: Adapting to Compete
in the Gray Zone (Washington, DC/Lanham, MD: CSIS/Rowman &
Littlefield, 2019), https://www.csis.org/analysis/other-means-partii-adapting-compete-gray-zone; Valeriano, Jensen, and Maness, Cyber
Strategy; Austin Carson and Keren Yarhi-Milo, “Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret,” Security
Studies 26, no. 1 (2016): 124-56, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/
Alison A. Kaufman and Daniel M. Hartnett, Managing Conflict:
Examining Recent PLA Writings on Escalation Control (Arlington,
VA: The Center for Naval Analyses, 2016), https://www.cna.org/
cna_files/pdf/DRM-2015-U-009963-Final3.pdf; Elizabeth G. Troeder,
“A Whole-of-Government Approach to Gray Zone Warfare,” USAWC,
May 2019, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/937/; and
Burgess Laird, War Control Chinese Writings on the Control of Escalation
in Crisis and Conflict (Washington, DC: CNAS, 2017), https://s3.useast-1.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNASReport-ChineseDescalation-Final.pdf?mtime=20170328141457&focal=none;
Forrest E. Morgan et al., Dangerous Thresholds: Managing Escalation in
the 21st Century (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2008), https://www.rand.
Dmitry Adamsky, “From Moscow with Coercion: Russian Deterrence
Theory and Strategic Culture,” Strategic Studies 41, no.1-2 (July 24,
2017), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402390.201
Daniel J. O’Donohue, Joint Doctrine Note 1-19, Competition Continuum
(Washington DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2019), https://www.jcs.mil/
Lyle J. Morris et al., Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone,
(Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2019), https://www.rand.org/content/
pdf; Elisabeth Braw, Grayzone and Non-Kinetic Threats: A Primer,
(Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, October 23,
2020), https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Elisabeth-Braw-Grayzone-Non-Kinetic-Threats-Primer.pdf?x91208; Kathleen H. Hicks et al., By Other Means Part I: Campaigning in the Gray
Zone (Washington, DC/Lanham, MD: CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield,
2019), https://www.csis.org/analysis/other-means-part-i-campaigning-gray-zone.
Michael McDevitt, Testing U.S. Alliance Capacity to Handle Simultaneous Provocations in East Asia: Tabletop Exercise Pacific Trident
III (Suffolk, VA: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, 2020), https://
spfusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/TTXRpt_PacificTrident3-Final-27Apr2020.pdf; Seth Cropsey, Jun Isomura, and Stephen Bryen,
Table Top Exercise 2020: Security in Northeast Asia (Washington, DC:
Hudson Institute, 2020), https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.
org/Table%20Top%20Exercise%202020_Isomura%20v.2.pdf; and
Chris Doughtery, Jennie Matuschak, and Ripley Hunter, The Poison
Frog Strategy: Preventing a Chinese Fait Accompli Against Taiwanese
Islands (Washington, DC: Center for New American Security, 2021),
Robert Powell, “War as a Commitment Problem,” International
Organization 60, no. 1 (January 2006): 169-203, https://www.
James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International
Organization 49, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 379-414, https://www.jstor.
Paul F. Diehl and Gary Goertz, War and Peace in International Rivalry
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000).
Robert Axelrod, “More Effective Choice in the Prisoner’s Dilemma,”
The Journal of Conflict Resolution 24, no. 3 (September 1980): 379-403,
Hicks et al., By Other Means Part I; Hicks et al., By Other Means Part
II. Note the definition is also consistent with major RAND studies,
including Michael Mazarr et al., What Deters and Why: Applying a
Framework to Assess Deterrence of Gray Zone Aggression (Santa Monica,
CA: RAND Corporation, 2021).
Dan Altman, “Advancing without Attacking: The Strategic Game
around the Use of Force,” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (August 2017):
58-88, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09636412.201
Laird, War Control Chinese Writings on the Control of Escalation in Crisis
and Conflict; Edmund J. Edmund J. Burke et al., People’s Liberation
Army Operational Concepts (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation,
2020), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA394-1.html;
and Kaufman and Hartnett, Managing Conflict.
Morris et al., Gaining Competitive Advantage.
Paul Diehl, The Dynamics of Enduring Rivalries (Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1998).
Charles F. Doran, “Power Cycle Theory and the Ascendance of China:
Peaceful or Stormy?” SAIS Review of International Affairs 32, no. 1
(Winter/Spring 2012): 73-87, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/476114/
pdf; Woosang Kim and Scott Gates, “Power Transition Theory
and the Rise of China,” International Area Studies Review 18, no. 3
(August 20, 2015): 219-226, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/
Bernard Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1959); Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and
Scenarios (New York: Praeger, 1965); Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence: A
Conceptual Analysis (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1977); Thomas
C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1966); Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960); Glenn H. Snyder and Paul Diesing, Conflict Among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making and System Structure
in International Crises (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977);
Richard Smoke, War: Controlling Escalation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977); Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence and Defense: Toward
a Theory of National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1961); D. Marc Kilgour and Frank C. Zagare, “Credibility, Uncertainty,
and Deterrence,” American Journal of Political Science 35, no. 2 (May
1991): 305-34, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2111365; Frank C.
Zagare, “NATO, Rational Escalation and Flexible Response,” Journal of
Peace Research 29, no. 4 (November 1992): 435-54, https://www.jstor.
org/stable/425543; R. Harrison Wagner, “Deterrence and Bargaining,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 26, No. 2 (June 1982): 329-58,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/173905; James D. Morrow, “Capabilities,
Uncertainty, and Resolve: A Limited Information Model of Crisis
Bargaining,” American Journal of Political Science 33, no. 4 (November 1989): 941-72, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2111116; and Paul
Huth and Bruce Russett, “Deterrence Failure and Crisis Escalation,”
International Studies Quarterly 32, no. 1 (March 1988): 29–45, https://
Glenn Snyder and Paul Diesing, Conflict Among Nations: Bargaining,
Decision Making, and System Structure in International Crises (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). On escalation dynamics associated with cyber operations, see also Benjamin Jensen and Brandon
Valeriano, What Do We Know about Cyber Escalation? Observations from
Simulations and Surveys (Washington, DC: The Atlantic Council, November 2019), https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-researchreports/issue-brief/what-do-we-know-about-cyber-escalation-observations-from-simulations-and-surveys/.
Russell J. Leng, “Escalation: Competing Perspectives and Empirical
Evidence,” International Studies Review 6, no. 4 (December 2004): 5164, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3699725.
Kahn, On Escalation; Schelling, Arms and Influence; and Sarah Kreps
and Jacqueline Schneider, “Escalation Firebreaks in the Cyber,
Conventional, and Nuclear Domains: Moving beyond Effects-Based
Logics,” Journal of Cybersecurity 5, no. 1 (September 2019), https://
Steven J. Brams and D. Marc Kilgour, “Threat Escalation and Crisis
Stability: A Game-Theoretic Analysis,” American Political Science
Review 81, no. 3 (September 1987): 833-50, https://nyuscholars.
nyu.edu/en/publications/threat-escalation-and-crisis-stability-a-game-theoretic-analysis; T. Clifton Morgan, “A Spatial Model of
Crisis Bargaining,” International Studies Quarterly 28, no. 4 (December
1984): 408-14, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2600563.
For an empirical test of the threat game, see Patrick James and Frank
Harvey, “Threat Escalation and Crisis Stability: Superpower Cases,
1948–1979*,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 22, no. 3 (September 1989): 523-45, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/
Earlier treatments model this as a de-escalation game based on the
prisoners’ dilemma, see Steven J. Brams and D. Marc Kilgour, “Winding down If Preemption or Escalation Occurs: A Game-Theoretic
Analysis,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 31, no. 4 (1987): 547-72
On cost tolerance, see Lisa Carlson, “Crisis Escalation: An Empirical
Test in the Context of Extended Deterrence,” International Interactions 24, no. 3 (1998): 225-53, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/
abs/10.1080/03050629808434930. On issue salience, see Russell J.
Leng and J. David Singer, “Militarized Interstate Crises: The BCOW
Typology and Its Applications,” International Studies Quarterly 32, no.
2 (June 1988): 155-73, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2600625.
Frank Zagare, “Classical Deterrence Theory: A Critical Assessment,”
International Interactions 21, no. 4 (1996): 365-87, https://www.
Traditionally structural accounts examine the balance of capabilities
between actors, using power assessments to determine relative stability in a crisis dyad. Intervening factors can alter how states perceive the
balance of capabilities, such as geographic proximity, strategic weapons
(i.e., nuclear, ballistic missiles), issue salience, and regime type.
Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics New
Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017); Keren Yarhi-Milo, Knowing the Adversary Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of
Intentions in International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 2014).
Ben R. Newell and Arndt Bröder, “Cognitive processes, models and
metaphors in decision research,” Judgement and Decision Making 3,
(2008): 195-204, https://doaj.org/article/4a99b002b75e47db80cbf7068a8f3551.
Sudeep Bhatia and Timothy L. Mullett, “The dynamics of deferred
decision,” Cognitive Psychology 86 (2016): 112–51, https://doi.
Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir, “Choice under Conflict: The Dynamics of Deferred Decision,” Psychological Science 3, no. 6 (1992): 35861, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1992.
On inadvertent escalation, see Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go
Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 41, no. 4
(2017): 50–92, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274.
The design and statistics from the experiment are detailed in the
methods annex accompanying the brief.
Jan Van Tol et al., AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept (Washington, DC: CSBA, 2020), https://csbaonline.org/research/
publications/airsea-battle-concept; Michael E. Hutchens et al., Joint
Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons: A New Joint
Operational Concept (Washington, DC: NDU, 2017), https://ndupress.
Amy McCullough Hudson, “Rapid Raptor 2.0,” Air Force Magazine,
March 7, 2017, https://www.airforcemag.com/rapid-raptor-2-0/.
Secretary Lloyd Austin, quote from the U.S. Indo-Pacific change of
command April 30, 2021, as it appears in Lopez “Defense Secretary
Says Integrated Deterrence is Cornerstone of U.S. Defense.”
Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (Arlington, VA: Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2018); Joint Doctrine Note 1-19, Competition
Continuum (Arlington, VA: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Joint Doctrine Note 1-19, Competition Continuum, v.
Lindsey Shepard and Matthew Conklin “Warning for Gray Zone”
in Hicks et al., By Other Means Part II; Emily Harding and Matthew
Strohmeyer, “From Data to Insight: Making Sense Out of Data
Collected in the Gray Zone” CSIS, Commentary, October 20, 2021,
https://www.csis.org/analysis/data-insight-making-sense-out-datacollected-gray-zone; Jake Harrington and Riley McCabe, “Detect and
Understand: Modernizing Gray Zone Intelligence,” CSIS, CSIS Briefs,
December 7, 2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/detect-and-understand-modernizing-intelligence-gray-zone.
Charles Cleveland, Benjamin Jensen, Arnel David, and Susan Bryant,
Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity, and Competition (New York: Cambria Press, 2018).