The 2018 National Defense Strategy was the first time the Pentagon identified China as the organizing focus of U.S. defense policy. Elbridge Colby, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, was a key architect of that document.

In this seminar, based on Colby’s new book, The Strategy of Denial, fellows will explore how America’s defense strategy must change to counter China’s growing power and ambition.

Image Credit: Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (USAF), March 22, 2007

Elbridge Colby on the Sources of Chinese Conduct


Elbridge Colby

Elbridge Colby is co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. He is the author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict (Yale University Press, 2021). Previously, Colby was from 2018-2019 the Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, where he led the Center’s work on defense issues.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is grand strategy? How is it different from military or foreign policy? What are the factors that influence the grand strategy of a state? 
  2. How must U.S. grand strategy adapt to the new era of great-power competition? Can the U.S. restore its global military dominance and return to the “unipolar moment”? Why or why not? 
  3. Why should the U.S. seek to prevent Chinese hegemony in Asia? What would Chinese hegemony look like, and would it be a threat to “Americans’ security, freedom, and prosperity”? 
  4. What is a favorable balance of power, and can such a balance with China be achieved? Can the U.S. both challenge and coexist with China, or is a broader strategy aimed at democratizing China or weakening the current regime necessary? 



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why should the U.S. pursue a coalition defense? What shape might a potential “antihegemonic coalition” take?  
  2. What role should values versus interests play in building an “anti-hegemonic coalition”?  
  3. Why might the U.S. and China pursue a limited war? Could such a conflict be contained?  



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why would Taiwan be the most attractive initial target for the CCP? 
  2. Why is preserving Taiwan’s independence crucial to the U.S. meeting the China challenge? 
  3. What is a strategy of denial, and why should the U.S. pursue such a strategy if even an effective denial defense might lead to Chinese escalation and a “longer, broader war”?



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Pro & Con: Argue the case for U.S. “strategic clarity” toward Taiwan. Argue the case for U.S. “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan. 
  2. How should U.S. policymakers think about U.S.-China competition in the context of the broader strategic environment? Does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine change the calculus?  
  3. What is the endgame of Sino-American competition? What would a “decent peace” look like?  

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