In August’s episode of the YCW Podcast, Sam speaks with Oriana Skylar Mastro, Assistant Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University and an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Oriana’s new book “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime” explores case studies of conflicts in Asia, laying out a framework to explain why states do not engage diplomatically with their adversaries.

9781501732201People sometimes assume that states are in frequent contact while in conflict. Oriana argues that this is not the case. She points out that in the majority of conflicts since the Second World War, at least one of the states refused to talk to the other throughout the entire conflict.“The point of the book is to delve into this and lay out the reasons that influence the decision to not talk to the enemy,” she tells YCW.

Throughout this episode, Oriana and Sam talk about these reasons and their application—including escalation, inducements to negotiation, and the danger of perceived weakness—in the context of the U.S. and China. She offers a “third theory” of mediation that might be applicable in future U.S.-China disputes to provide a level of plausible deniability of weakness for both states.


Her advice to China-watchers is twofold:

  1. Remember that we are in the business of creating knowledge by piecing together information, which means focusing on facts in our scholarship.
  2. It is important to work hard to understand the part of “the China puzzle” you’re focused on, but also have some other hobbies to stay balanced and interested.

Oriana reads fiction in her downtime, so her reading recommendations begin with a novel and continue to China resources:


picture-210-1526659998Oriana Skylar Mastro is an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. Dr. Mastro is also a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where she is working on a book about China’s challenge to U.S. primacy. Mastro continues to serve in the United States Air Force Reserve for which she works as a Senior China Analyst at the Pentagon. For her contributions to U.S. strategy in Asia, she won the Individual Reservist of the Year Award in 2016. She has published widely, including in Foreign Affairs, International Security, International Studies Review, Journal of Strategic Studies, The Washington Quarterly, The National Interest, Survival, and Asian Security, and is the author of “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime,” (Cornell University Press, 2019). She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. 



The YCW Podcast is a monthly podcast series by Young China Watchers. We’re a global community of young professionals, providing a platform to discuss the most pressing issues emerging from China today. We organize events with China experts in our 10 chapters across Asia, Europe and the U.S., fostering the next generation of China thought leaders.

Download and follow our podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music and your usual platforms for podcasting.

Produced by Sam Colombie, with support from Johanna Costigan. Music: ‘We Build With Rubber Bands’, ‘Dirty Wallpaper’ by Blue Dot Sessions.

For any suggestions, recommendations or other notes, please email us at [email protected].

YCW Podcast – Oriana Skylar Mastro: Author, “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime”
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