Department or Program

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Stacie Goddard

Additional Advisor(s)

Paul K. MacDonald


Scholars, policymakers and the public alike have debated the revisionist or status quo intentions of China and Russia using metrics such as territorial and economic expansionism. However, few have tried to explain why the two states’ arms policies may or may not signal intentions. This thesis project makes the point that structural factors, not intentions, drive offensive arms races. Using open-source databases and congressional hearing transcripts, I focus on Russia’s and China’s maritime push outwards through naval technological investments, as well as the structural factors, including offense-defense balance and near-peer competition, that surround these buildups. By showcasing the inherent military and strategic values of the contested maritime space, I argue that technological and geographical factors favor conquest and strategic offensives in territorial competition. This offense dominance compels states to pursue offensive naval buildups, regardless of intentions. Therefore, in an effort to avoid the rational offensive arms race, state leaders should seek to alter the offense-dominant environment at play, as opposed to feeding into the downward spiral that is otherwise known as security dilemma.