As the eagle retreats, the dragon and the bear have gained ground across the geopolitical realm. President Donald J. Trump directing our nation’s grand strategy inwards is playing into the hands of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. Both nations seek to create and maintain a new world order—without the United States at the helm of global leadership—in order to undermine the progress made in bringing the world together instead of pushing us apart. This is a turn for the worse. Our country’s leadership needs to recalibrate its approach for the sake of ensuring stability, peace and prosperity for not only the United States of America, but also for the entire free world.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests are not aligned with our American interests. Each leader salivates at the prospect of the collapse of the post-World War II liberal international order that values free markets, the rule of law and democracy. Both world leaders see this as a positive development in world history because it would undermine the last remaining superpower: the United States. These western values embody themselves in the multilateral institutions created in the advent of the end of the second world war like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the European Union. These, and other global mechanisms of cooperation, are threatened from both exogenous and endogenous forces; particularly, the actions of both Russia and China.
On the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, President and Chairman Xi Jinping announced, “The world is on the verge of radical change. We see how the European Union is gradually collapsing, as is the United States economy—it is all over for the new world order. Our alliance with Russia will create a new world order within ten years.” China realizes it needs more than a unilateral effort to win the global game of chess being played. Militarizing the South China Sea has been clarified as a Chinese military ambition, as recent satellite imagery shows new placements for anti-aircraft weaponry on the Spratly Islands. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the Chinese for infringing on Japanese sovereignty during confirmation hearings. Efforts to seize control of the Japanese Senkaku islands in the East China Sea has led to a reaffirmation of Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America by Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Yet, our words alone have not deterred the dragon.
China sees itself as the rightful heir to global hegemony due to its rising power on the economic, military and political dimensions; however, it knows that it cannot do this alone. The Chinese leadership understands that it needs Russia, Iran and North Korea to foster China’s dangerous ambitions. Each nation shares a common disdain for the United States and sees an opening to restructure our world’s order. This past September, China’s Defense Ministry convened joint maritime military drills in the South China Sea with Russia. Only a few days ago, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proclaimed that, “The decline of the West and the end of capital monopoly have provided a historic opportunity for establishing a new world” at Moscow State University. This was just after meeting with President Vladimir Putin to sign oil production and arms trade agreements. These are not mere words. They are backed by empirical evidence of efforts to restrict American global influence at the expense of the Western order.
Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, will soon enjoy the financial advantages achieved through the Iranian Nuclear Deal. The nation has acquired access to new markets due to the reduction of economic sanctions imposed and increased productivity—and profitability—of oil. This will only make it easier for Iran to become a regional hegemonic power and engender a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. North Korea has tested the United States repeatedly, as the nation recently conducted a series of rocket engine tests that bring it closer to the final states of nuclear test preparations. North Korean indifference to America’s warnings, aided by Chinese complicity, is likely to emerge as a significant national security threat. President Donald J. Trump even suggested that President Barack Obama warned him that this was one of the more pressing matters at hand on the world stage.
Then, there is the bear. The Russian Federation has acted as a bulwark to world order through its annexation of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine, intervention in Georgia and involvement in Syria. President Vladimir Putin’s nation has funded far-right, nationalist European parties skeptical of membership in the European Union and in favor of renewed relations with the Kremlin. The American intelligence community has concluded, upon consensus across agencies, that Russia did indeed intervene in the previous presidential election to undermine Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Even President Donald J. Trump worryingly has called NATO “obsolete.”
All of this in tandem paints a dark future for the world as we know it. The security apparatus implemented by the United States is gradually eroding as a new world order takes shape. President Barack Obama rightfully said, “When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing, they don’t call Moscow. They call us. That’s the deal.” We need to preserve this because a world where America leads is far more desirable than one where it steps both inwards and backwards.
It would be wise to hearken to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s advice on triangular diplomatic relationships. In explaining the relationship between the United States, China and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century, Kissinger notes that he aimed to “do something with China that annoys Russia and for which we can bargain.” In essence, Kissinger describes our triangular relationship as “in itself a form of pressure on each of them, and we carefully maneuvered so we would try to be closer to each than they were to each other. One way we achieved that was by rather carefully informing each side what we were doing with the other, so that created its own pressures, but we added no threat.”
America must act. In order to prevent the rise of Sino-Russian relations that threaten global peace, the United States must move closer to China and Russia than the two nations are with each other. We are seemingly succeeding on the latter front, although to an extent that should be questioned—but this marks progress, nonetheless. We must also move towards engaging in diplomatic efforts with China to bring the nation closer to us than it is with Russia to bring about a true balance of power. The chaos that the unfolding new world order is bringing should not bring us to the abyss. As George R.R. Martin wrote, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” The United States should be ready to climb this ladder to ensure that it remains at the top—both metaphorically and geopolitically.
John Guarco is a Trinity senior. His column, "carthago delenda est.," usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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