In a hypothetical war between the United States and China, a “Catch-22” exists in the Pacific. If the United States is dominant, its Pacific allies will be incentivized to honor their treaty commitments—i.e., bandwagon with the United States. Conversely, if China approaches military parity, U.S. allies will incur greater risks; they will be incentivized to fence-sit or defect. In short, the more reliant the United States is on its Pacific allies in a war against China, the less it can depend on them.
Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines are sovereign countries that look out for their own self-interests, as does the United States.1 In a fight between the United States and China, would they rush in, or would they wait to make sure the United States will win before committing? The risk to these allies is high. In a non-nuclear war, China does not pose an existential threat to the United States. To its neighbors, however, China’s conventional capability could prove devastating.