The Next Cold War: Are the United States and China undergoing a power transition through proxy wars?
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The thesis reviews the implications of Sino-American conflicts in the context of contemporary international relations. Since the end of the Cold War, the threat of direct conflict between major powers has declined due to the logic of mutually assured destruction, leaving a gap in the study of power transition theories: How can transitions be violent if there is no direct conflict? This thesis proposes that a new mechanism of conflict has replaced the traditional means of violent transition: proxy wars. The question this thesis seeks to answer is: Has the heightened Sino-American rivalry increased the number of conflicts Beijing has intervened in? If so, which factors best explain the logic behind Chinese intervention? Balancing intervention or opportunism? This thesis implements a longitudinal design to explore the changes in interventions by both actors over time. The cases that involved both actors intervening in opposition (Iraq, Syria, and Fatah-Hamas) were then presented in case studies to determine whether the intervention was best explained by strategic balancing or opportunism. While the thesis ultimately determines that it is too early to define a direct relationship between the height of rivalry and intervention, it does offer insight into the potential trajectory and what a power transition through proxy wars might look like. This research aims to predict the trajectory of the Sino-American power transition in hopes of understanding where it will unfold as a series of proxy wars, within a greater violent power transition between the two powers.