Speaker: Copeland, D. (University of Virginia)
Date: 17 May 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Dale Copeland (University of Virginia) as a part of its Future of Global Competition & Conflict Speaker Series. During his presentation, Dr. Copeland stated that he would move beyond the two schools of thought that dominate great power thinking (containment theory and engagement theory) by proposing an alternative, which he called stabilization theory. He stated that the models supported by containment and engagement theory are limited by their static nature. He then explained what the engagement and containment models predict will happen with respect to the economic competition between the US and China. Dr. Copeland also identified the problems associated both with the engagement model—1) It downplays the significance of relative loss, 2) It assumes that high trade dependence is always a good thing, and 3) It assumes that states will only take moderate actions if they have that economic dependence—and the containment model—1) It has a tendency to overstate China’s ability or potential for growth, 2) It doesn’t quite understand the importance of increasing dependence on oil, and 3) It ignores the potential problem of spiraling. Dr. Copeland then presented his stabilization model, which attempts to address and correct the flaws exhibited in both models. The stabilization model explains that China’s main reason for projecting power in the South China Sea is related to a sense of economic insecurity. The model also explains why China feels the need to project economic and political power. In summary, the stabilization model anticipates future trends related to power and reveals why China has reason to worry about the maintenance of its increasing economic, political, and military status. To conclude, Dr. Copeland outlined a series of recommendations for the US based on the principles of this model, including: 1) a mix of engagement and containment strategies, 2) reassurance from both the US and China that the other will continue to have relatively free access to raw materials in its sphere of influence, 3) a firm but not overreactive military stance, and 4) constant assessment of China’s interests and what it is really concerned about.