Speculation regarding interstate conflict is of great concern to many, if not, all people. As such, forecasting interstate conflict has been an interest to experts, scholars, government officials, and concerned citizens. Presently, there are two approaches to the problem of conflict forecasting with divergent results. The first tends to use a bird’s eye view with big data to forecast actions while missing the intimate details of the groups it is studying. The other opts for more grounded details of cultural meaning and interpretation, yet struggles in the realm of practical application for forecasting. While outlining issues with both approaches, an important question surfaced: are actions causing interpretations and/or are the interpretations driving actions? In response, the Theory of Narrative Conflict (TNC) is proposed to begin answering these questions. To properly address the complexity of forecasting and of culture, TNC draws from a number of different sources, including narrative theory, systems theory, nationalism, and the expression of these in strategic communication.
As a case study, this dissertation examines positions of both the U.S. and China in the South and East China Seas over five years. Methodologically, this dissertation demonstrates the benefit of content analysis to identify local narratives and both stabilizing and destabilizing events contained in thousands of news articles over a five-year period. Additionally, the use of time series and a Markov analysis both demonstrate usefulness in forecasting. Theoretically, TNC displays the usefulness of narrative theory to forecast both actions driven by narrative and common interpretations after events.
Practically, this dissertation demonstrates that current efforts in the U.S. and China have not resulted in an increased understanding of the other country. Neither media giant demonstrates the capacity to be critical of their own national identity and preferred interpretation of world affairs. In short, the battle for the hearts and minds of foreign persons should be challenged.