In the past decade, tensions in Asia have risen as Beijing has become more assertive in maritime disputes with its neighbors and the United States. Regional leaders have expressed concern that Chinese “gray zone” coercion threatens to destabilize the region by undermining the rules-based order and increasing the risk of conflict. Yet, despite the threat posed to regional security and prosperity, the United States and its allies and partners in East Asia have struggled to develop effective counters to maritime coercion. The inability of U.S. policymakers to deter coercive actions or to articulate a coherent gray zone strategy has raised questions about Washington’s ability to protect U.S. interests, to integrate China into the international order, and to maintain existing alliance commitments. As a result, experts in the United States and in East Asia are searching for new approaches to counter coercion in the East and South China Seas.

A new CSIS study, Countering Coercion in Maritime Asia: The Theory and Practice of Gray Zone Deterrence, reviews the academic literature on deterrence, examines recent incidents of gray zone coercion, and draws lessons for policymakers. The authors hope that this analysis will provide insights to current and future leaders in the United States and East Asia about how to strengthen regional security and international order in the years ahead.

Case Studies

In addition to the full report, summaries of the nine case studies will be rolled out on AMTI in the coming weeks. Links will appear below as the cases are posted online.

Case 1: Harassment of the USNS Impeccable (2009)

Case 2: Senkaku Islands Trawler Collision (2010)

Case 3: Scarborough Shoal Standoff (2012)

Case 4: Senkaku Islands Nationalization Crisis (2012)

Case 5: East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (2013)

Case 6: Second Thomas Shoal Incident (2014)

Case 7: China-Vietnam Oil Rig Standoff (2014)

Case 8: “Top Gun” Incident (2014)

Case 9: Spratly Islands Land Reclamation (2013–)

About Michael Green

Michael Jonathan Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at CSIS and an associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He served on the staff of the National Security Council (NSC) from 2001 through 2005, first as director for Asian affairs, and then as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asia.

About Kathleen Hicks

Kathleen Hicks is senior vice president, Henry A. Kissinger Chair, and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

About Zack Cooper

Zack Cooper is a senior fellow for Asian security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously served on staff at the National Security Council and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He received a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.P.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

About John Schaus

John Schaus is a fellow in the CSIS International Security Program, where he focuses on defense industry and Asia security challenges. His research areas include Asia-Pacific security issues and U.S. defense policy and industry. Prior to rejoining CSIS in July 2014, he worked in the Office of Asian and Pacific Security Affairs within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

About Jake Douglas

Jake Douglas is a research assistant with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.