Sankaran is an Assistant Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. He works on problems that lie at the intersection of science & technology and international security. The current focus of Sankaran’s research is Asia-Pacific. Sankaran studies the growing military and nuclear weapons capabilities of China and the counter military balancing undertaken by the United States, Japan, India, and other states. Sankaran has also worked on U.S.-Russia strategic stability and nuclear arms control. Sankaran has held fellowships at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University and at RAND Corporation. Sankaran has published in International Security, Contemporary Security Policy, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and other outlets. His research has also been published by the RAND Corporation and the Stimson Center.
The project I propose to undertake focuses on preventing a nuclear and conventional arms race in Northeast Asia. I aim to provide answers to two questions that have important national security policy implications for Japan and the U.S. First, how should the Japan-U.S. alliance respond to growing Chinese military power and any regional threat that it might reasonably pose? Second, how to do that without triggering a countervailing nuclear and conventional arms race with China? The motivation in exploring these question emerge from contemporary Japanese (and U.S.) security concerns about China. Japan's 2014 Annual Defense Report, for example, lists China as one of the countries contributing to the regions "increasingly severe" security environment. The report refers to Beijing's recent actions such as locking radar on a Japanese destroyer-class ship, flying close of Japanese fighters, and declaring a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) as events that could cause unintended consequences. More importantly, however, current tension between Japan and China over the control of Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea is viewed as a source of conflict in the near future. The U.S.-Japan alliance, however, in responding to this perceived security concern needs to be cautious. Any new joint U.S.-Japan military deployments needed to demonstrate a military capability sufficient to deny a rapid victory to China over the Senkaku Islands should not be seen as posing a threat to completely challenge and defeat China. The empirical model I propose to develop as part of my project would help policy makers and analysts in making that differentiation. The unique value of such a method would be in providing analytical vigor to what has been predominantly a theoretical debate. For example, growing Chinese naval and air power are constantly characterized as a potential threat. But the debate does not demonstrate how so. Why should it matter that China's has a new aircraft carrier? What details are known (or can be reasonably assumed) that makes the development of the carrier a current or a future threat to the Japanese or the U.S.? A discussion centered only on peacetime inputs such as inventories of ships, planes, etc. does not help in formulating policy responses. In order to develop policies that address legitimate threats without provoking an arms race requires means to translate peacetime inputs (such as ships, planes, tactics) into wartime outputs such as the occupation of certain territory or the destruction of particular adversary assets. My model is accomplish that. While the political science literature has an abundance of material explaining the interaction of nation states on matter of security and warfare from a theoretical perspective, there is a dearth of material that tries to use an analytical framework to compare the potential of militaries and then use that to buttress theory and generate policy recommendations. My project will attempt to do that by developing a comprehensive empirical model that explains and predicts military victory or defeat, thereby making a valuable contribution to the political science literature.