Saturday, December 21, 2019

A New Era of Great Power Competition

It’s a thoroughly serious piece of foreign policy analysis. Written for the thoroughly serious journal, Foreign Affairs, by two senior foreign policy analysts, named Elbridge Colby and A. Wess Mitchell, it must pass as very serious thinking. (via Maggie’s Farm) Since we have never heard of either author, the article must be very, very serious. 

The ostensible subject is great power competition. Apparently, President Trump is refashioning America’s foreign policy, the better to meet the challenges presented by an ascendant China and a vengeful Russia. While we were preoccupying ourselves with the Middle East, these great powers were gaining strength and influence. Now, we need to figure out what to do about them.

As you might guess, I am going to take some small exception to their analysis. For two reasons, the West, that being America and Western Europe does not seem to be up to any challenge today. Western nations, in Europe and even including America, are divided against themselves, and have descended into internecine warfare.

On the one side, they are trying to integrate radically different cultures, which we will call Northern and Southern. Europe is not only divided between East and West, it is also divided between North and South. But, that means, it is divided between rich and poor. As Margaret Thatcher noted several years ago, this division in and of itself will make it impossible for Europe to prosper or to compete. (via Maggie’s Farm)

The United States has a similar problem with the influx of migrants from south of the border. A nation that has always excelled in assimilating migrants is having difficulty with the large numbers of refugees from Mexico and Central America. Thus, our nation has become culturally unstable, and has been tearing itself apart from within.

And then there is the problem of Islam. In Western Europe and in many parts of Asia Muslims have refused to assimilate. They see themselves as conquering heroes, not migrants seeking charity. One notes, with some chagrin, that Asia has been facing a similar problem, and that Asian nations, beginning with but not limited to China, have been addressing it through more repressive means. Western Europe has  been trying tolerance, and has been paying for it with domestic terrorism, no-go zones, crime waves and rape culture. In China they had a different idea.

I will merely point out here that in the era of a great power realignment, our ability to conduct foreign policy and to compete in the world will depend in some part on how cohesive our Western societies are. If migrants from different cultures assimilate, well and good. If they do not, we are in serious trouble.

As for Colby and Mitchell, they explain why we need to realign our foreign policy:

But by now, the nature of the challenge, as an empirical fact, should be clear: the United States today faces rivals stronger and far more ambitious than at any time in recent history. China—seeking hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region first and global preeminence thereafter—is likely to become the most powerful rival that the United States has ever faced in its history. Russia may fall short of being a peer competitor but has proved capable of projecting power in ways few anticipated at the close of the Cold War. Today, it is intent on resurrecting its ascendancy in parts of eastern Europe that once fell within its sphere of influence and hopes to speed up the end of Western preeminence in the world at large. Its disruptive potential lies in part in its ability, through self-interested moves, to bring about systemic crises that will benefit Chinese power in the long term.

They continue:

As China became pivotal to global commerce, it did not so much change its discriminatory economic practices—forced technology transfers, mandatory joint ventures, and outright intellectual property theft—as cement them. It complemented this with a military buildup of historic scale, aimed specifically at dominating Asia and, in the long run, at projecting power throughout the world, and with a massive effort to expand its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative and related projects. Russia, meanwhile, rebuilt its military, invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea, initiated a festering insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and began a systematic campaign to resurrect its military, economic, and diplomatic influence in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Before the advent of the Trump administration, American foreign policy was trying conciliation and engagement, with both Russia and China:

And yet most people in Washington long refused to acknowledge the new reality. Instead, American leaders continued to herald an “era of engagement” with Moscow and talked up Beijing’s potential as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. The former found expression in the “reset” with Russia in 2009, just months after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, and the latter took the form of repeated efforts to deepen relations with Beijing and even an aspiration among some to establish a U.S.-Chinese “G-2” to lead the international community. But China’s brazen militarization of islets in the South China Sea and its increasing assertiveness beyond eventually forced Washington to reevaluate its assumptions about Beijing, and Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 put to rest what was left of the so-called reset. By the end of the Obama administration, it was clear that the United States’ course was seriously off.

The authors understand that a weakened America, an America divided against itself, will not be able to compete against rising great powers:

But faced with a rising and enormously powerful China and an opportunistically vengeful Russia, the United States will realize this vision of a free and open world only if it ensures its own strength and economic vitality, maintains an edge in regional balances of power, and communicates its interests and redlines clearly.

The United States must prepare for competition against large, capable, and determined rivals….

The Trump administration has been doing so.

Until a few years ago, U.S. officials regularly argued that the United States could not afford turbulence in the U.S.-Chinese economic relationship. Stability with Beijing, it seemed, was too valuable to jeopardize by demanding that U.S. companies be treated fairly. Today, the Trump administration—acting with considerable bipartisan support—is levying tariffs on Chinese imports to induce Beijing to cease its market-distorting trade practices or, failing that, to at least have the prices of those imports reflect the costs of those unfair practices for U.S. companies and workers. Some have rightly pointed out that these penalties are causing the United States’ middle and working classes pain. But so, too, have China’s unfair trade practices, and further inaction would have only made things worse. U.S. economic pressure, by contrast, has helped put urgently needed trade policy adjustments on the agenda.

And the Trump administration has been prodding Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense. Considering how weak-kneed and divided Europe is, it feels like an exercise in futility. And yet, having America assume responsibility for the defense of deadbeats who prefer welfare spending to military spending makes very little sense:

A similar process has played out in Europe. The United States long hesitated to confront the European Union about its one-sided tariff and nontariff barriers against U.S. products, even as trade deficits mounted. Unwilling to accept that status quo, the Trump administration has tried to achieve by shock therapy what earlier successive administrations failed to obtain with finesse and gradualism. But the collateral damage of this aggressive approach has been significant, with potential spillover effects for the transatlantic relationship that risk undermining the common push against China.

But then, the authors recommend that we cease worrying about the Middle East or places like Venezuela:

After decades of a disproportionate focus on the Middle East, the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy came as long-overdue correctives. Asia and Europe are where the greatest threats to U.S. power today lie, the documents argue, and the United States’ central objective should be to keep large states in both regions from gaining so much influence as to shift the local balance of power in their favor. This is a welcome departure from every National Security Strategy since the end of the Cold War, each of which downplayed major-power competition in some way or another….

Engaging in a war with Iran, sustaining a large military presence in Afghanistan, or intervening in Venezuela, as some in the administration want to do, is antithetical to success in a world of great-power competition.

The reasoning is: let’s not waste our time with lesser powers when we need to focus on great powers. And yet, problems in one part of the world tend to spill over. Witness the migrant crisis in Europe, a large part of which was caused by wars in the Muslim world. Besides, we have already discovered that we are not immune to problems in other parts of the world just because we have decided to ignore them.

And dare we mention, Venezuela and the Middle East contains a large part of the world's energy supply. True enough, we have reached energy independence, but what will happen if the flow of oil and gas from these "irrelevant" nations is shut off?


Freddo said...

One of the most poignant quotes of the Iraq war remains "The Marines are fighting the War, America is at the Mall". It can probably be updated to "Trump is fighting the great realignment, America is on Facebook", and in both cases Europe is sipping coffee while sneering at both America and its own civilians.

UbuMaccabee said...

We cannot produce certain types on men anymore. Neither our culture nor our institutions are up to the task. Even if we did produce another Henry Stimson, he would be an anathema to everything he encountered at both the university and in DC.

There is one guy who seems like the type of man the US once produced: General Michael Flynn.