Decisive or Distracted: the Effects of United States Constraint on Security Networks

The growing importance of China in global politics cannot be understated. What makes the country’s rise even more interesting is that in the last two the United States has been involved in a pair of wars in the Middle East. These actions required large commitments, not just of blood and treasure, but also of attention and resolve. We examine how third parties respond to the United State’s focus on conflicts in one region of the world, in terms of their cooperation in the economic and diplomatic spheres. To do so, we develop a novel measure of US distraction, as well as novel network based measures of economic and diplomatic cooperation or alignment. We seek to test the theory that when the US is more distracted, other states will be more likely to cooperate with the United States’ principal rival, China. We find that such cooperation is more likely in the diplomatic sphere than the economic one. However, when we look at how different types of states react to US distraction, we find that across both measures democracies generally respond by moving farther away from China, while non-democracies move closer to China.