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SECAF Reading List

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Department of the Air Force





"America is in the midst of a strategic competition that’s as great of a challenge as we have faced in decades. We are competing with a well-resourced, strategic, authoritarian power that challenges the security, prosperity, and freedom that generations before us fought so hard to build."

~ Frank Kendall
Secretary of the Air Force


Understanding Our Pacing Challenge


Airmen and Guardians,

As we enter a new era of great power competition, it is crucial that we improve our understanding of our pacing challenge – the People's Republic of China (PRC). To that end, I am publishing a reading list to provide suggested works intended to enhance our knowledge of China’s history, culture, society, strategy, and military modernization program – and their implications for the Air Force and Space Force.

From my own experience serving as an Army officer and member of the Senior Executive Service during the Cold War, I learned firsthand the importance of deepening one’s understanding of potential competitors. By closely studying the Soviet Union, we were able to better appreciate motivations, strategic intent, operational methods, and tactics. This, in turn, helped us better prepare for and prevent conflict. Our ability to anticipate and counter Soviet actions helped us to deter effectively and ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, we face a similar and, in some ways, greater challenge with China. The PRC's rapid modernization of its military and increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region poses a significant challenge to U.S. national interests, the security of the homeland, and regional stability. There is no time to lose in responding to this challenge. Studying and better understanding China is a prerequisite to making sound decisions about how to best deter, and, if necessary, defeat our pacing challenge.

I strongly encourage all Airmen and Guardians to invest time in reading from among the books on this list. By doing so, you can enhance your understanding of the challenges we face and become a stronger member of our One Team.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our nation. One Team, One Fight!

SECAF Signature
Frank Kendall
Secretary of the Air Force


Department of the Air Force


  • On China


    On China

    In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book length to a country he has known intimately for decades and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. On China illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and tight line modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, and Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing. With a new final chapter on the emerging superpower’s twenty-first-century role in global politics and economics, On China provides historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of our time.


  • The World According to China


    The World According to China

    The World According to China explores China's ambitious strategy, led by Xi Jinping, to reclaim past glory and reshape the geostrategic landscape. Xi envisions Chinese global centrality, with sovereignty over Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, expanded global reach through the Belt and Road Initiative, and influence over international norms and values. It is a world radically different from that of today. The international community must understand and respond to the risks and opportunities presented by a world reconstructed by China.


  • Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy since 1949


    Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy since 1949

    Active Defense provides a systematic analysis of China's military strategies since the 1949 Communist Revolution. Drawing from diverse Chinese-language sources, Fravel investigates the reasons behind the nine strategic guideline changes, focusing on the strategies adopted in 1956, 1980, and 1993. The study reveals that China pursued significant changes in response to shifts in international warfare and when the Communist Party was united. Active Defense offers a comprehensive examination of how and why states alter their defense policies, delving into China's security threats over the past seven decades.



  • The Long Game


    The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order

    In The Long Game, Rush Doshi explores China's grand strategy since the end of the Cold War, drawing from a wealth of Chinese primary sources. He uncovers Beijing's methodical plan to displace America's hegemony through three sequential "strategies of displacement," evolving from the 1980s to present day. Doshi then proposes a comprehensive, asymmetric plan for the US to counter China's ambitions and strengthen American order, borrowing tactics from Beijing's own strategic playbook to avoid direct competition.


  • Where Great Powers Meet: America & China in Southeast Asia


    Where Great Powers Meet: America & China in Southeast Asia

    In Where Great Powers Meet, renowned China scholar David Shambaugh explores the US-China competition for power, particularly in Southeast Asia. This critical sub-region could determine whether Asia remains under American influence or falls into a new Chinese sphere of influence. Shambaugh assesses the likelihood of a regional power transition, examining the assets each country brings to bear, and how ASEAN and its member states navigate between the two powers. The fate of Southeast Asia serves as a significant indicator of the ongoing global power shift between the US and China.


Department of the Air Force