Mind Games: Why Signaling Supersedes Strategy in America’s 21st Century China Policy

By Theo FitzGerald

Abstract: The main argument about the “rebalance to Asia” policy is not as much about the policy itself as it is about the concept that unites (or fails to unite) the multi-part policy. Criticisms of the rebalancing revolve around whether the policy makes sense conceptually more than whether it makes sense strategically. This paper analyzes what the policy is trying to do conceptually, then considers a family of separate, but related criticisms. These criticisms attack the strategic coherence of the rebalance strategy by suggesting that it based on a contradiction, that it will have the opposite effect vis-a-vis China than it intends, and that it is a strategy based on a bluff. The paper concludes by arguing that the conceptual challenge to the rebalance is not fatal, but that the framing of the policy is its most severe problem and must be remedied by developing a clear, consistent, and compelling purpose.

About the Author: Theo FitzGerald is an MA candidate at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a specialization in United States foreign policy. He studied Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego. After graduating, he spent a year in Argentina traveling and teaching English. Theo earned a third bachelor's degree in International Relations from the University of London International Programme with honors in 2014. He is the founder or co-owner of three small businesses, Adelante Tutoring (established 2005), San Francisco Pedicab LLC (co-owner, 2009), and Peregrino's Paradise LLC (a vacation rental company, 2013).

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