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Great Power Competition in the Twenty-First Century

Great power competition has returned to the global center stage. The contours, dynamics, and characteristics of this new rivalry, primarily between the United States, China, and Russia, but also to a lesser extent with other emerging power centers, will be very different from what took place in the twentieth century.

While scholarship on this latest iteration of great power competition is emerging, much of the work is on military, diplomatic, and hard power aspects. Little attention has so far been paid to the technological, economic, and domestic dynamics.

The multi-year project brings together scholars from political science, international relations, security studies, political economy, and area studies from four UC campuses and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to look closely at the intersection of economics, strategy, security, technology, and politics in this dynamic scenario.

The project is funded by a grant from the University of California Office of the President Laboratory Fees Research Program.

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A Crucial Link: Using Intellectual Property to Inform Global Supply Chain Policy
Aug. 17, 2021 | IGCC Policy Brief | Great Power Series
The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with trade tensions and technological competition between the United States and China, have severely disrupted global supply chains. As businesses and policymakers grapple with “building back better” in a tense trade environment, they face the dilemma of balancing the traditional benefits of global production with the security demands of new geopolitical realities. In this policy brief, Philip C. Rogers, a PhD Candidate at the Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley, highlights the productive role that intellectual property (IP) can play in navigating supply chain disruptions resulting from great power competition in a post-pandemic world.

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Why Summit Optics May Help De-escalate Public Appetite for Conflict
Aug. 17, 2021 | IGCC Policy Brief | Great Power Series
As competition between democracies and autocracies intensifies, will citizens of democracies pressure their politicians to take a more confrontational stance? In this policy brief, Max Plithides, Marvin Hoffenberg Research Fellow at the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at UC Los Angeles, argues that bilateral summits with autocratic leaders may help to defuse public pressure and anger. Analyzing results from a large-scale survey experiment, Plithides makes a case for the potential value of bilateral summits to reduce tensions with autocratic adversaries.

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Understanding the New Great Power Competition
Aug. 3, 2020
Did you miss the Great Power Competition in the 21st Century virtual mini-series? You can listen to the lectures here. Tune in to hear experts weigh in on the evolving role of economic statecraft, security challenges, the Chinese techno-security state under Xi Jinping and what the future holds for Chinese-American competition.


Four inter-related research modules are led by principal investigators from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC San Diego with support from the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Module 1: Competition in Security, Technology, Innovation, and Strategy

Research Group Lead: Tai Ming Cheung, UC San Diego

The world’s great powers—namely the United States, China, and Russia—are vying for economic, technological, industrial, and innovation superiority. In sharp contrast to the U.S.–Soviet Cold War, the 21st century rivalry takes place against a backdrop of globalized interdependence, the blurring of military and civilian boundaries, and the growing prominence of geo-economic determinants.

In this module, IGCC researchers examine the intensifying and expanding race that has been underway since the late 2000s between the United States, China, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, other emerging major powers, in four broad focus areas: strategic visions and goals; the nature of competition; country-level approaches; specific technologies and sectors, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing, and advanced materials.

Module 2: Economic Strategic Rivalry

Research Group Lead: Vinod Aggarwal, UC Berkeley

In today’s global economy, the key distinction between the Cold War and the current rise of China as a peer competitor is critical. Whereas US trade and investment with the Soviet Union was negligible, the United States and China find themselves in a highly interdependent and contentious relationship. In this module, researchers focus on three highly interrelated elements of geo-economic competition that have critical implications for strategic rivalry: 1) the pursuit of industrial policy; 2) the creation of new trading arrangements; and 3) the changing landscape of investment.

Module 3: The Role of Value Chains in Great Power and Regional Competition and Cooperation

Research Group Lead: Etel Solingen, UC Irvine

The module examines the role of design and production networks (also called value chains) in competition and cooperation among East Asia’s regional powers and between them and the United States. East Asia is of particular interest because value chains have boomed in the shadow of enduring tensions, disputes, and rivalries that affect not only US–China relations but also China–Japan, China–Korea, Japan–Korea, and China–Taiwan relations. The project explores the extent to which value chains alter the relationship between economics and security in different ways than previous forms of economic exchange may have.

Module 4: International Dynamics and Domestic Politics

Research Group Lead: Kal Raustiala, School of Law, UCLA

The nature and intensity of great power rivalries depend on aspects of the international strategic context and on domestic political configurations within the powers. In this module, researchers study the domestic and international processes that produce conflict, specifically:

  1. the traits of leaders that influence decisions for war;
  2. the dynamics of public opinion that mitigate for and against international tension; and
  3. the conditions under which crises build upon each other to the point where one side chooses to employ force.