March 11, 2015

Preserving the Rules: Countering Coercion in Maritime Asia

Over nearly the past year, the Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific Security Program has conducted a broad-based research effort on how to preserve and build Asian maritime security. Through video interviews, blog posts, and especially eight commissioned papers from leading thinkers (six of which have been individually released with two to follow), the Maritime Strategy Project has solicited diverse views on how the United States, its allies and partners can promote good behavior and push back on coercion within these critical waterways. Those eight papers will be released as a compendium in the coming weeks, which is meant to contribute to thinking about how to preserve a peaceful, rules-based system in the Indo-Pacific maritime.

This capstone essay by Dr. Patrick Cronin and Alexander Sullivan both summarizes the other essays and puts them into the broader context of tremendous pressure being exerted on existing rules of the road and rule-making processes in Asian waters. Cronin and Sullivan describe a pattern of tailored coercion that has unfolded over the last seven years and classify its major components. They further argue that in view of this pattern, engagement of a rising China must be paired with concrete actions to push back on destabilizing behavior where necessary. As they write, “It is not enough to recognize the breaking of rules through coercion or intimidation; the preservation of a rules-based system requires doing something about such behavior.” The authors offer up a framework comprising – in addition to engagement – cost imposition, denial, and offset strategies. They describe the basic tools available for Washington and its allies and partners to implement those strategies, and close with some more concrete recommendations for policymakers.

In addition to this synoptic essay, look for the entire series here, including the final two papers and the edited volume to be posted in the coming weeks.

Papers in the Maritime Strategy Series


  • Alexander Sullivan

    Adjunct Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Alexander Sullivan is an Adjunct Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program, where he focuses on US-China relations, maritime security, regional military modernization and U....

  • Patrick M. Cronin

    Former Senior Advisor and Senior Director, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Patrick M. Cronin is a former Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Previously, he was the ...

    • Commentary
    • World Politics Review
    • February 8, 2019
    How China and the U.S. Are Competing for Young Minds in Southeast Asia

    Business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month warned that China has overtaken the United States in the development of artificial intelligence and other emer...

    By Kristine Lee

    • Commentary
    • War on the Rocks
    • September 21, 2016
    China's Artificial Islands Are Bigger (And a Bigger Deal) Than You Think

    Surely you have heard the news — China has been dredging up coral reefs and creating artificial islands in the South China Sea with the purpose of enforcing their claims...

    By CDR Thomas Shugart, USN

    • Commentary
    • The National Interest
    • August 10, 2016
    Beijing's Go Big or Go Home Moment in the South China Sea

    China is preparing for its go or go home moment in the South China Sea and it appears they have chosen the right time to make a play for regional and, ultimately, global domin...

    By Jerry Hendrix

    • Commentary
    • Foreign Affairs
    • July 22, 2016
    Parting the South China Sea

    July 12, 2016, marked a turning point in the long-standing disputes over the South China Sea. After more than three years of proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration,...

    By Mira Rapp-Hooper

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia