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Grave New World: Why Biden’s job will be so much harder than his predecessors’

Author: Graham Allison

Affiliation: Harvard Kennedy School

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: January 15, 2021/ USA

Type of Literature: Essay

Word Count: 1960


Keywords: Joe Biden, China’s Rise, US Decline, Coming Challenges, and Grave New World


Allison opens his essay by emphasizing the difficulty of geopolitical analysts predicting the future for the US and the world. However, he points to a number of fundamental factors that are likely to shape the US’ major international moves in the upcoming decades, which will make the job of President Biden much more difficult than his predecessors’. Some of these factors are related to the US’ power decline today compared to what it was in 1945 or 1990, while others are related to the challenge coming from outside the borders, in particular the challenge of China’s rise, which the author sees as the decisive issue for Biden’s administration. The author identifies ten main factors and challenges. 1. The challenge of settling the deep internal division of the nation. The US has not witnessed such a division since its Civil War. Therefore, the first tasks of Biden are to reunify the nation, restore confidence in its democratic institutions, and return to the great American project. Without that, Washington will not be able to play its role in the world as a great power. 2. The decline of the US’ economic power, as its GDP represents one-seventh today after it was one-quarter of the world’s GDP in 1991, which will negatively affect its military and intelligence capabilities and make it unable to compete with China globally. 3. The conceptual arsenal on which a generation of US foreign-policy makers has relied is no longer fit for services, such as the illusion of promoting liberal democracy across the world that failed in Iraq and Libya. So, Biden should review these concepts. 4. China represents the most embarrassing challenge to the US in its history. It is much stronger than the Soviet Union. Here, the author warns against falling into the “Thucydides trap”, i.e, the US being drawn into a war against China, as has occurred in history when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling dominant power from the scene. 5. The challenge of striking a balance between economic power and military one. The author here calls on the US to abandon its “over militarization” in foreign policy and to learn from China how to use all tools of economic coercion to achieve geopolitical aims. 6. The challenge of defeating China in its region. China’s defense efforts concentrate on its borders and territorial waters, in contrast to the US, which has global commitments. Beijing’s defense budget is now nearly 6 times that of Tokyo and about 4 times that of New Delhi; and the war simulation games (18 games) conducted by the Pentagon have proven the US losing against China in the Taiwan Strait in all of them. 7. The challenge of technology impact on the economy and national security, especially after China has become a leading competitor in the field of artificial intelligence. Therefore, he calls the US to invest smartly in the immigrant minds to face this challenge. 8. The challenge of mutually assured destruction due to technology (nuclear weapons) or nature (climate change) that push both Washington and Beijing to coexistence or self-destruction. 9. Unless China’s economy crashes or its system cracks, it will at some point be able to fund defense and intelligence budgets larger than the United States’. So Washington should restrict Beijing’s behavior by attracting other heavyweight powers to its side. 10. Globalization will remain a tremendous force in reshaping international relations. It creates huge benefits for the US in all areas, but also makes global competition more turbulent between it and the rising powers, especially with China. All of these factors and challenges will bring the US to the verge of a grave new world in which Biden’s job will be much harder than his predecessors’.

By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate




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