The error of the competition of the great powers


Interestingly, the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have pursued remarkably similar foreign policies based on great power competition with Russia and primarily China, which is now, according to the Pentagon, “the threat of stimulation.” . Obama decided in 2011 to “pivot” towards Asia, then to soften to “rebalancing”. And he hardened his military strategy to read “deter and defeat in war” these competitors with North Korea, Iran and violent extremism.

Trump’s national defense strategy expanded Obama’s directive to the Defense Ministry to “contain, deter and defeat” China and Russia as main dangers and to increase competition by imposing tariffs on China , which led to a tariff war. The Biden team has yet to release its national security and defense strategy. However, it is clear that the same general guidelines will be followed with perhaps more emphasis on the “deterrent” criterion than on the “defeat” criterion.

This column criticized the competitive strategies of the great powers for a number of reasons. First, nowhere have the requirements to “contain, deter and overcome” been defined in very precise terms. What are our adversaries contained? How and what are they dissuaded from? And how to defeat the armed thermonuclear enemies in time of war?

Second, where is the exit ramp to reduce these tensions and move towards more stable and peaceful relations? In the past, with the USSR and for a time with the Russian Federation, arms control was a mechanism. But the United States does not seem willing to tackle arms control without the participation of China, which refuses even a discussion. Maybe a new deal will be made with Moscow. However, this is not certain.

A greater emphasis on allies and engagement with partners and potential adversaries is essential to prevent an unfortunate event from escalating into war.

Finally, no one remembers the story? In August 1914, great power competition between Russia, Wilhelmina Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and lesser states erupted into world war with the assassination of an archduke. Could such a small spark spark a major war today?

The Trump administration has concocted two unlikely fait accompli scenarios as the basis of its strategy: a Russian takeover of the three Baltic states and a Chinese invasion and occupation of Taiwan. However, both are far-fetched at best. NATO Article 5 that an attack on one is an attack on all protects the three Baltic member states. And as President Xi Jinping said last weekend, China will pursue peaceful unification. While many do not trust Xi’s word, China lacks the military capacity for the foreseeable future to launch a successful invasion of Taiwan.

Competition from the great powers also helped provoke World War II. Nazi Germany was determined to dominate Europe and much of the world as a great power. Likewise, fascist Japan had great aspirations for power when it decided to establish its Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere in the late 1930s. Of course, given the horrors of WWI. world and understandable pressure not to start another war, democracies have been complacent and appeased these powers and junior partner Italy until it was too late.

2021 is very different. NATO collectively spends around $ 1 trillion on defense. Germany and Japan are on the side of democracies. And Russia and China don’t have real allies.

The Biden administration has two options. If he pursues the Obama-Trump line of great power competition, he must define, certainly for himself, what are the criteria to contain, deter and defeat both. Without this understanding, no strategy can succeed without luck.

The second option is to reject the Great Power Competition foundation by first lifting the tariffs. The role of the Department of Defense, as stated in Title X of the American Code, is sufficient: “to be ready to conduct rapid sustained operations in the event of a combat incident”, adding generally, and without naming specific enemies . Greater emphasis on allies and engagement with partners and potential adversaries is essential to prevent an untoward or accidental event from escalating into war. And there needs to be a lot more emphasis on defeating what Lenin called “active measures” or interactions below using force, but those which can be politically destabilizing and more dangerous through operations. influence on cybers and social media.

Given the political turmoil in Europe-Germany without Angela Merkel; UK and EU deadlock over Northern Islands trade protocol; Polish court rejecting EU law; Czechoslovakia in political crisis; France furious at the cancellation of the agreement on Australian submarines; Romania again without a government; and an energy crisis enveloping the continent – a new strategy is vital.

Great Power Competition isn’t it. But will the Biden administration recognize this need and remember what happened in 1914? Probably not.

The writer is a senior advisor to the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC and a published author

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