The Danger of Historical Analogies: The South China Sea and the Maginot Line


The Danger of Historical Analogies: The South China Sea and the Maginot Line

Mar 10th, 2016 1 min read
Dean Cheng

Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center

Dean brings knowledge of China's military and space capabilities as a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs.
Does China’s island building in the South China Sea resemble the Maginot Line? This is not a quirky and unimportant debate, but rather one that has profound strategic implications. A recent War on the Rocks article advances this argument. The authors, Robbie Gramer and Rachel Rizzo, write:

    "The Maginot Line became a ubiquitous symbol of failure in defense planning; an adversary that adapted its offensive strategy to bypass the line quickly rendered one of the strongest and most elaborate defense networks the world had yet seen irrelevant."

It then follows that if this comparison with China’s strategy in the South China Sea holds water, the People’s Liberation Army is engaged in an expensive, futile effort that leaves them destined to be out-flanked. But, what if this analogy is wrong, starting with their characterization of the Maginot Line? Like “Beam me up, Scotty,” or “Play it again, Sam,” (neither of which were actually said in Star Trek or Casablanca, respectively) popular references oftentimes diverge from reality. In this case, inaccurate recollections bring with it the potential for fatally flawed analogies.

 - Dean Cheng is the Senior Research Fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

 - This piece originally appeared in War on the Rocks and can be viewed in full at

Originally appeared in War on the Rocks