How Threat Assessment Could Become Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Case of U.S.-China Relations

Muhamad Arif


This article tries to explain how misperception can trigger conflict between countries. The article would employ spiral model of conflict proposed by Robert Jervis as a theoretical framework to scrutinize contemporary US and Chinese contemporary competition. As a result, this paper shows how threat assessment could trigger a spiral of conflict through state’s tendency to overestimate threat level and its failure to perceive that defensive behavior can be interpreted as offensive by the belligerent. Based on this analysis, the probability of conflicts can be reduced as each country tries to comprehend motivations that drive other behavior, perceptions and reactions that might arise as a result of the strategic empathy.


United States;China;Spiral Model;Misperception;US-China Relations;Threat Assesment;Strategic Empathy

Full Text:



Clinton, H. R. (2011, October 11). America's Pacific Century. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from Foreign Policy:

Friedberg, A. L. (1993). Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in a Multipolar Asia. International Security, 18(3), 5-33.

Friedberg, A. L. (2005). The Future of U.S.-China Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable? International Security, 30(2), 7-45.

Gilpin, R. (1981). War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Han, W. C., Barnes, J. E., & Page, J. (2014, June 1). China Military Official Blasts U.S. 'Hegemony' at Shangri-La Conference. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal:

James, P. (1995). Structural Realism and the Causes of War. Mershon International Studies Review, 19(2), 181-208.

Jervis, R. (1976). Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jervis, R. (1978). Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma. World Politics, 30(2), 174.

Johnston, A. I. (1995). China's New “Old Thinking”: The Concept of Limited Deterrence. International Security, 20(3), 5-42.

Johnston, A. I. (1995). Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Johnston, A. I. (1995). Thinking about strategic culture. International Security, 19(4), 32-64.

Levy, J. S. (1983). Misperception and the causes of war: Theoretical linkages and analytical problems. World Politics, 36(1), 76-99.

Matthews, R. (2008). Defence and the Economy: An Introduction. In G. Till, E. Chew, & J. Ho, Globalisation and Defence in the Asia-Pacific: Arms Across Asia (pp. 133-147). New York: Routledge.

Mearsheimer, J. J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Mearsheimer, J. J. (2006). China’s Unpeaceful Rise. Current History, 105(690), 160-162.

Mearsheimer, J. J. (2010). The Gathering Storm: China's Challenge to Us Power in Asia. Chinese Journal of International Politics, 3(4).

Nathan, A. J., & Scobell, A. (2012). How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijing's Fears. Foreign Affairs, 91(5). Retrieved from Foreign Affairs.

Panneta, L. E., & Obama, B. (2012). Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense.

People's Republic of China. (2009, January 20). China's National Defense in 2008. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Information Office of the State Council of the

People's Republic of China:

People's Republic of China. (2011, March 31). China's National Defense in 2010. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Information Office of the State Council of the

People's Republic of China:

People's Republic of China. (2011, September 6). China's Peaceful Development. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Information Office of the State Council of the

People's Republic of China:

Pew Research Center. (2012, November 1). How Americans and Chinese View Each Other. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Pew Research Center:

Scobell, A. (1999). Soldiers, Statesmen, Strategic Culture and China's 1950 Intervention in Korea. Journal of Contemporary China, 8(22), 477-497.

Scobell, A. (2003). China's Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great Wall and the Long March. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scobell, A. (2014). China's Real Strategic Culture: A Great Wall of the Imagination. Contemporary Security Policy, 35(2), 211-226.

Stein, A. A. (1982). When Perception Matters. World Politics, 34(4), 505-526.

Tellis, A. (2005). Military Modernization in Asia, 2005). In A. Tellis, & M. Wills, Strategic Asia 2005-06: Military Modernization in an Era of Uncertainty. Washington, D.C.: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

U.S. Department of Defense. (2006). Quadrennial Defense Review Report. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense.

U.S. Department of Defense. (2014). Quadrennial Defense Review 2014. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense.

Walt, S. (1985). Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power. International Security, 9(4).

Walt, S. (1990). The Origins of Alliances, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Waltz, K. N. (2000). Structural Realism after the Cold War. International Security, 25(1), 5-41.

Wang, Y.-K. (2011). Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Muhamad Arif

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.