Since Trump has left office, the world has not returned to a calm, balanced place. The Alaska conference featured aggressive verbal attacks from the Chinese lecturing the US on human rights. The same country that is putting a religious minority in locked camps is criticizing the United States for doing what exactly? China does not even believe its own accusations are true. This is as ridiculous as if Genghis Khan came back from the dead to teach us to respect the sovereignty of our neighboring countries. The U.S.-China relationship is at its lowest point since Mao Zedong. Neighboring North Korea is currently testing new long-range missiles. The Taliban announced that it plans to impose “Islamic rule” on Afghanistan when American forces leave.
Relations with our European allies also have not improved since Trump left office. The Biden administration threatened sanctions against European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project. While Biden cannot be blamed for poor relations with Russia and China, his current foreign policy goals will likely prove ineffective. Central to the Biden approach is the belief that the path to global stability involves reinvigoration of American leadership in the service of the “rules-based international order,” as discussed by Walter Russell Mead of the Wall Street Journal. The goal is to support international institutions, promoting human rights and pushing back against revisionist powers. While this looks good on paper, Putin and Xi Jinping are probably laughing at this foreign policy vision.
Putin states regularly how little respect he has for American values. Despite Russia’s economic problems, Mr. Putin has been gleefully and successfully defying Washington since his 2008 invasion of Georgia. China’s growing economy is reviving after its pandemic began more than a year ago. The NATO alliance is at its weakest point ever. Many European nations do not think it is necessary as shown by how little they are contributing to the collective military arrangement throughout the EU. To them, China is far away and Russia poses little direct threat to countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain. As the EU sinks into yet another round of economic stagnation and troubles from a struggling vaccine rollout, it will care less and less about America’s grand strategic vision.
The outlook is not all bad. China’s capacity for self-sabotage in foreign policy is unmatched except for Germany’s performance in both world wars. Russia’s economy is far worse than the EU, US and China. This is greatly limiting Putin’s foreign policy reach. Luckily, America still possesses an array of assets that no rival can match. The geographical position of the US and neighboring Canada is unprecedented in world history. The US has the largest and most technologically advanced military by a huge margin. While China is catching up to the US in terms of sheer GDP, the US is lightyears ahead in GDP per capita. Joe Biden’s goal of reviving and strengthening the foreign policy of the US is extremely difficult to achieve, but that doesn’t mean we should not try. Achieving it will require a mix of strategic insight, steely will and ideological flexibility that no president has brought to the table since the end of the Cold War.