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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchRenewing the American Regime: U.S.–China Competition beyond Ukraine

Renewing the American Regime: U.S.–China Competition beyond Ukraine

Author: Ashley J. Tellis

Affiliation: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Organization/Publisher: Center for Strategic & International Studies

Date/Place: September 12, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Report

Number of Pages: 20

Link: https://www.csis.org/analysis/renewing-american-regime-us%E2%80%93china-competition-beyond-ukraine

 

Keywords: Capacity, Containment, Hegemony, Domestic Politics

 

Brief: 

 

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has disrupted the international order established after World War II. This order is reliant on American power and dominance, and the international system and its benefits rely on American hegemony due to a lack of alternatives. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise of China pose a direct threat to the American-led international order on both domestic and international levels. To protect itself and its allies, the US is maintaining its hegemony over the European and Asian rimland. The challenges to US hegemony require it to take a proactive stance in order to shape trends in its favor. The main goal is to maintain the US’ position as the most powerful country in the world by maintaining peak military capabilities, technological innovation, economic superiority, and serving as a model for other countries to emulate. No other country has achieved the level of power the US has, allowing it to maintain its hegemony. To retain this position, the US must pursue three tasks: preserving liberal democracy both at home and abroad by spreading its ideals and using minimal force to support its institutions; protecting the global economic system and free trade relations; and physically protecting its allies through military force and avoiding unnecessary wars.

 

Hegemonic stability is not self-sustaining and requires strong leadership and moderation in decision making based on a comprehensive perspective, which the US has been lacking in the post-Cold War era. The complex challenges posed by China, particularly in the areas of ideology, technology, and economy, can only be effectively addressed through a maximalist approach that puts adversaries on the defensive and creates an unfavorable balance of power. However, for this approach to be successful, the domestic scene must be maintained in good shape, as negative developments within the US can undermine its ability to project power abroad. It is crucial to address increasing polarization, declining domestic mobility, and to reaffirm the American ideal of pursuing the common good. The weakening of social groups that support hegemony makes it more difficult to face the challenges posed by China, especially when these challenges require a unified domestic base. Communicating the importance of these issues to the American public and building support for a maximalist approach requires meaningful communication between the leadership and the public. However, the presence of President Trump in power demonstrated how a president can use rising public disinterest in hegemonic power to limit US foreign policy and damage the country’s global standing. In addition, material support from the public, particularly constituencies that support an active foreign policy, is crucial for hegemonic foreign policy. Globalization has contributed to rising inequality and a lack of adequate social safety nets in the US, leading to reduced social mobility compared to other liberal order countries. Revitalizing the American regime at home also depends on rejuvenating its political life around the ideal of the common good, rather than focusing on the private benefit of certain constituencies.

 

In its current situation, the US needs to utilize all of its resources to protect its own interests and those of its allies. This involves engaging with the concerns of states within its sphere of influence, particularly in Europe, the Indo-Pacific region, and the Middle East. To address the challenges posed by China, the US should focus on two projects: encouraging greater European participation in their own defense and building an effective coalition in East Asia to balance China. Europe is too far away to effectively address the China challenge on its own, so they should prioritize improving their military and economic security to give the US more room to focus on countering China. The US should also transform its East Asian alliances into a more effective security network. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a useful diplomatic tool, but it lacks the agreements to become a strong military alliance. Japan and Australia also have significant shortfalls in their military power to fully contribute to the Quad. In terms of the US position in East Asia, there needs to be a reassessment of the current strategic ambiguity. The US should augment its support for Taiwan while maintaining the One China policy by reinforcing Taiwanese de facto independence before it is too late, and clearly stating that any attempt to annex the island by force will be met with American retaliation.

 

To strengthen American leadership, it is necessary to adopt an economic engagement strategy that is suitable for the growing power competition. China has benefited greatly from the open market, which led the Trump administration to withdraw from global economic leadership. The Biden administration has worked to reverse the anti-internationalist tendencies of Trump, but there are still concerns about China’s exploitation of global trade. Additionally, neither political party in the US is interested in expanding international trade, which has deprived the World Trade Organization (WTO) of much-needed reforms and has geopolitical implications for forming alliances. Another factor that hinders the US’ ability to recalibrate its trade policies is the domestic scene, as new agreements can lead to domestic discontent. Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was one of the most significant partial free trade agreements at the time. Domestic politics have also prevented the Biden administration from seriously considering returning to the TPP. Agreements like the TPP would have allowed for deeper economic integration among US allies, with higher standards that could have limited China’s advantages in global trade by creating economic networks that are closed off to China.

 

On the military aspect of containment, the US has the capability to project power in the Indo-Pacific region and significantly hinder Chinese influence, but there are not enough resources being directed towards increasing US presence in this way. The administration is hesitant to make radical changes to the budget allocation between different branches of the military and cannot simply increase the budget due to domestic constraints on military spending. The future consequences of this inability to increase military presence in the Indo-Pacific region are dangerous, as the threat of Chinese or Russian influence goes beyond regional undermining of the status quo in Europe or East Asia. The real danger is the potential inability of the American political system to understand that the current challenges are threatening the liberal international order as a whole, and that the defenses put up against this threat may be inadequate.   


By: Omar Fili, CIGA Research Assistant 

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