February 22, 2023

Avoiding the Brink: Escalation Management in a War to Defend Taiwan

Washington, February 22, 2023—Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, "Avoiding the Brink: Escalation Management in a War to Defend Taiwan," from authors Stacie Pettyjohn, senior fellow and director of the CNAS Defense Program, and Hannah Dennis, research assistant in the Defense Program.

The report examines potential triggers, thresholds, and targets for Chinese nuclear use as well as options for the United States and its allies and partners to avoid and manage escalation. It uses the results of two exploratory tabletop exercises (TTXs) focused on how China’s expanding nuclear arsenal could impact the risk of nuclear escalation in a conventional conflict over Taiwan.

The tabletop exercises are not predictive but rather, indicative. The authors developed an exploratory game to consider how China could use its growing nuclear arsenal to its advantage in a conflict over Taiwan, not how it will or currently plans to act.

The authors hold that the U.S. is entering an unprecedented multipolar nuclear era that is far more complex and challenging than that of the Cold War. To adapt to this new age, the authors assert that the U.S. must begin a research agenda for China as it did for Russia during the Cold War.

The report concludes with several key findings and recommendations for policymakers to respond appropriately to these changing dynamics. Read the full report for these findings and recommendations.


For more information or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Cameron Edinburgh at cedinburgh@cnas.org