By Greg Pence
The United States is under increasing pressure from the post-Cold War unipolar system which in turn has seriously challenged US’s capacity to confront China and Russia in the gray zones. This is while the United States once declared the unipolar system to be the end of history; that is, there will no longer be any opposition to the American Liberal International order. Varying governmental and non-governmental actors have brought almost every security-strategic aspect of the US-led order precariously close to collapse. Among these actors are the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, cyber threats, great powers competition, and ideological crises.
The rise of China as the main rival and Russia’s attempts to return to the influence and power of the lost Soviet-era have dramatically disrupted the US-led world order. Although US national security documents have sought to identify cyber, space, technological, and Chinese threats since 2017, no viable and effective strategy has been mapped out to stop the decline of the unipolar world order. This situation is tantamount to the United States struggling in great powers competition and the end of complete domination over the world without the slightest opposition.
This means that the United States must compete with the great powers in order to exercise its dominance and prevent its collapse. As can be deduced from the US National Security document, it is a long-standing illusion that traditional strategies can be used to counter the emergence of a new order while ignoring the fact that the global security environment can no longer be dominated by traditional means.
The US National Security document introduced two new strategic alternatives in a four-pronged category namely diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic power. These powers will be utilized to counter the rise of China and a new world order. For example, the Indo-Pacific strategy of strong regional alliances, free trade agreements, and the increase of air and naval capabilities, has been proposed and implemented to some extent with the aim of US strategic advantage over China. But the problem is that these issues on paper are different from what is actually being done in Washington. Although the United States seeks confrontation with China to restore its preferred global order, there is a deep gap between the desire for power and the possibility of achieving it.
No matter how we define the strategy, and with any interpretation of it, the current United States does not have an action strategy. It is now an actor who seeks to involve others at any cost to take advantage of the situation. If we call national strategy the “art of exercising power to achieve goals within the constraints of existing politics” that links macro-political goals with its tools, then politics is a tool for achieving strategic goals. But there is a second definition, and that is “a process that requires constant adaptation to changing conditions in a world dominated by ambiguity.” In other words, many international conditions have changed and this requires a change of definitions. Any strategy that wants to be implemented must take these conditions into account. In the current situation, the United States is more like a country that has lost its compass, zigzagging in its politics, desperate to find a way out of the current crisis which can be called absence strategy rather than a presence one.
H.R. McMaster, a former US National Security Adviser, described China’s strategy as “participation, coercion, and secrecy” to export its authoritarian model abroad. The 2017 US National Security Strategy document, in turn, admitted principled realism to reverse decades of US strategic satisfaction and re-emphasize its competitive advantage in order to protect US national interests and restore the global balance of power based on the sovereignty of government and adherence to international norms. This is while some are proposing a return to a comprehensive containment strategy, unaware that it is no longer possible for Americans to advance this strategy.
The problem is that financial costs and long-term political feasibility generally deactivate the containment strategy as an alternative strategy. As in the Cold War, the United States does not have the economic power to advance global containment. The containment strategy requires huge US investment that is unlikely to gain cross-party approval in the United States, as it did in the Cold War. On the other hand, the United States has been struggling with partisan foreign policy and changes in its approach to its allies, international organizations and regimes, and even its enemies. This is while any change in the White House can change the policy of this country at the international level. Therefore, this policy of change and change in US policy towards the world is directly related to domestic developments, regardless of the international system and its situation, which has prevented the US from taking practical and effective steps.
Getting around France through the AUKUS security pact, encouraging Russia to invade Ukraine, cooperation with the Taliban and handing Afghanistan’s future over to them, the growing threat of Chinese and Russian influence in the Middle East, and the US’s declining credibility all signal the end of American myth as a superpower. A superpower that is drinking poisoned wine every day for a new reality. Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and pushing it towards a nuclear bomb, encouraging Russia to attack Ukraine, giving grounds to Salafi-jihadist Islam in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and the inability to end regional wars in Yemen, Syria, or Afghanistan, all point to one thing: the United States is trying to create widespread regional and global war and insecurity to repeat the policy of emerging from the aftermath of the great wars after turning the world into a heap of ashes.
*Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco.