What does it mean to be a Revisionist State?

I’ve always struggled to explain the term revisionist or revisionism until I came across this publication by RAND. It’s titled “Mastering the Gray Zone: Understanding a Changing Era of Conflict”.

I’m not going to discuss this publication as I’ve not yet had a chance to fully read it, however it summarises for me the term revisionist quite accurately and therefore I’d like to share this with you also.

The author starts off  explaining China’s gradual and revisionist approach towards dominating the regions near to them.

In the remote reaches of the South China Sea in the Spratly Island chain, China is creating land. In order to bolster its claims to the waters of the region, Beijing is pouring millions of metric tons of sand and concrete onto submerged reefs, creating artificial islands.1 Island-building is merely one of the most obvious of many actions, ranging from propaganda to economic coercion and swarming fleets of fishing vessels, that China has been taking to solidify its assertion of territorial and resource rights throughout the region. Step by forceful step, China is laying the groundwork for a new order in the region that recognizes Beijing’s unquestioned primacy, and for an international system whose norms and institutions reflect China’s interests and preferences.


“China is biding its time,” one report recently concluded, “slowly eroding American credibility in the region, changing facts on the ground where it believes it can and carefully calibrating the coercion of its rivals in the South China Sea.”

The example of China is fitting for a revisionist state extending its reach into places it really has no authority due to the hand of the superpower that has it’s fingers clenched into the soil across the entire globe.

Here the author explains revisionism

This series of actions is a powerful example of an approach being used by more and more states with partial, but still obvious, revisionist intent—that is to say, states dissatisfied with the status quo and determined to change important aspects of the global distribution of power and influence in their favor. Unwilling to risk major escalation with outright military adventurism, these actors are employing sequences of gradual steps to secure strategic leverage. The efforts remain below thresholds that would generate a powerful U.S. or international response, but nonetheless are forceful and deliberate, calculated to gain measurable traction over time. In one important sense, they are classic “salami-slicing” strategies, fortified with a range of emerging gray area or unconventional techniques—from cyberattacks to information campaigns to energy diplomacy. They maneuver in the ambiguous no-man’s-land between peace and war, reflecting the sort of aggressive, persistent, determined campaigns characteristic of warfare but without the overt use of military force.

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