Impeccable timing: the political efficiency of PRC-U.S. surveillance confrontations
Harbaugh, Jon D.
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This thesis investigates several potential drivers of surveillance confrontations involving United States’ assets on the People’s Republic of China’s maritime periphery, by exploring encounters such as the April 2001 EP-3 and the March 2009 USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) incidents. The evidence herein suggests that the 2001 and 2009 confrontations were most likely driven by issue elevation, in which the PRC’s maritime forces were given the charge to opportunistically challenge U.S. maritime surveillance operations during periods of enhanced political efficiency. These encounters were likely part of broad efforts to elevate maritime sovereignty and surveillance issues during periods in which U.S. surveillance norms were perceived to be most vulnerable to political challenge. Potential secondary drivers of the PRC’s behavior are also woven through this assessment. From this conclusion, future vulnerability periods may reappear, in which there is an increased probability that a similar broad pattern of surveillance confrontations will resurface. This work concludes by assessing current PRC-U.S. maritime trends and providing recommendations in support of a comprehensive plan that spans the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. This adaptive effort may mitigate future surveillance confrontations, their escalation, and conflict, to protect U.S. military, diplomatic, and national interests.
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