Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Daniel S. Morey


Despite popular belief by scholars and policymakers that unipolarity was an aberration and the international system would revert to multipolarity as the natural state of systemic equilibrium, the “unipolar moment” has endured far longer than anticipated. Despite unipolarity’s endurance, how states pursue their national interests under the shadow of unipolarity is undertheorized when compared to bipolar and multipolar systemic structures. The concentration of material capabilities in the United States combined with its success in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, provided empirical validation that direct military confrontation with the unipole would result in disastrous outcomes for challenger states, yet such states still had national interests to pursue. Strategies for challenger states to pursue their national interests without provoking a military response from the unipole led to what this dissertation terms Specialized Multidimensional Influence (SMI) Forces. SMI Force is an umbrella term capturing the panoply of means available to a state that are used in novel, non-traditional ways to pursue incremental gains over time and exploiting asymmetries in the levels of intensity associated with a specific national interest or goal. Relative gains threaten the unipole’s systemic dominance and risks the unipole launching a pre-emptive war, especially against great powers.

By foregoing relative gains and instead pursuing incremental gains, great and middle powers acquire time. Time for those incremental gains to aggregate below a response threshold and time for the international system to undergo a structural transition more favorable to achieving their grand strategic vision. This dissertation defines SMI Forces, provides an overview of the concept, and addresses why SMI Forces are a puzzle that scholars missed since the end of the Cold War. Structural realism serves as the paradigm supporting analysis and the theory building process tracing effort connecting the structure of the international system as the independent variable of interest and SMI Forces as the dependent variable and leading to what this dissertation describes as Circumvention Theory. Circumvention Theory explains how states compete under a unipolar systemic structure. There are a limited number of cases involving SMI Forces as a means for states to pursue their national interests under the shadow of unipolarity; thus, this dissertation is a small-N study. The empirical chapter is a case study, and the substantive focus of this chapter is the People’s Republic of China and its SMI exemplar, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. This empirical chapter also explores how a rising contender to the unipole pursues its national interests under the shadow of unipolarity, where its ability to pursue its national interests is constrained by exogenous systemic pressures.

The final chapter identifies policy implications and recommendations for United States Government officials as they pursue what has been described by the Trump administration as Great Power Competition and the Biden administration as strategic competition with China. The relationship between the causal mechanism and the identified key components of Circumvention Theory are discussed. Finally, this chapter discusses future directions to take Circumvention Theory and SMI Forces within the context of a scholarly research agenda that is also policy relevant.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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