Conceptualizing Strategic Competition—Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

May 2019 No Comments

Conceptualizing Strategic Competition—Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

Speaker: Mazarr, M. (RAND)

Date: 14 May 2019

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted speaker session presented by Mr. Michael Mazarr (RAND) as a part of its Future of Global Competition & Conflict Speaker Series. To begin, Mr. Mazarr stated that competition is not clearly defined in the international relations literature, and thus offered the following definition: Competition is “the mutual and interactive pursuit of power, influence, prosperity, and status in a changing international context.” Mr. Mazarr also identified several elements of true competition. He then explained how the Cold War and 19th century great power competition models do not necessarily fit today’s competitive environment. He argued that current great power competition is not truly multipolar; there are only a handful of challengers and a largely status-quo core group involved. These nations are competing for eight things (based on theory and history), according to Mr. Mazarr: 1) security of state/regime, 2) economic power/health, 3) regional influence, 4) status, 5) shaping rules, 6) territorial claims, 7) resources, and 8) values/ideology. Unlike any other country, China is competing across all of these categories and thus presents the most competition to US dominance. Mr. Mazarr also highlighted that this strategic competition centers around shaping global norms and values; military power is a supportive aspect in this rivalry. He then discussed how great powers have historically fought in the past (during the great power rivalry of the 19th century and the Cold War) and compared this to how actors compete in this emerging 21st century structure. He also spoke about revisionism and its role in great power competition, as well as the four basic areas of competition that typically arise: 1) direct clashes with regional ambitions of other major powers, 2) regional rivalries focused on other states but with US interests engaged, 3) global competition for economic and ideological influence and status, and 4) contestation over rules, norms, and governance of international institutions. To conclude, Mr. Mazarr emphasized the importance of thinking about great power competition as a system and stated that the US is not going to win immediately; it is going to have to compete for a long time.

Speaker Session Audio File

Download Mr. Mazarr’s Biography and Slides


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