The United States sank into cold wars with Russia and China characterized by military struggle and economic competition.
To meet these challenges, President Joe Biden envisions a community of democracies and increased cooperation with Europe and the Quad (the United States, Japan, India and Australia.)
However, every member, especially India and Germany, faces challenges that sometimes conflict with US goals.
More Chamberlain, Less Churchill
Too often, the exercise looks more like the appeasement of Neville Chamberlain than the grand alliance of Winston Churchill.
Russia is a 20th century superpower, now diminished, living by 19th century rules. President Vladimir Putin is making up for a backward, oil-dependent economy by stoking anti-Western sentiment, building his army, and pushing the limits of his influence in places like Belarus and Ukraine.
Through inexpensive cyber-assault, he disrupts Western elections and compels Western companies to pay homage – exposing America’s, or at least Biden’s, dependence on it. ‘tribute.
Moscow’s provocations tax American and European resources that would be better spent on countering China’s massive military build-up. More painfully still, Germany is helping finance Russian adventurism by buying more of its natural gas, leaving Europe vulnerable to Russian threats to cut gas and its refusal to spend enough on common defense.
Here, American appeasement is disguised as alliance building.
Faced with German insistence to move forward with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Biden redefined the issue in terms of the transit fees Ukrainians would lose as German purchases pass through the new pipeline. roads and provide financial assistance to Kiev.
The Germans finance the Russian army
This will increase the German money Russia can pour into its military, the mischief in places like Syria, Libya and Central Asia, and the intimidation of the former Iron Curtain states. Biden and Merkel struck a deal, perhaps not as deadly but certainly as cynical as Chamberlain sacrificing the Sudetenland.
Biden failed to respond adequately to Russia’s cyber hacking and now Russia is once again massing troops along the Ukrainian border. In September, he assured President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States will counter hostility from Russia – we’ll see how Biden measures up this time around.
The Chinese threat is more systemic. It is a socialist market economy, although facing challenges, is likely resilient and funds a massive naval build-up that leaves the US fleet overexploited.
The stimulus from the RAND war game shows that the United States is having great difficulty repelling a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Presidents Donald Trump and Biden have managed to focus India, Japan, Australia and the UK on bolstering US military resources in the Pacific, but China has the advantage on the ground.
The US fleet is built around aircraft carriers and other large ships to provide US air dominance and support troops on the ground. China’s ground missiles make these and the nearest US bases vulnerable and ineffective in theaters near China.
Former Under-Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy has advocated a strategy based on smaller ships, drones and other agile forces, but the Navy is underfunded to implement this transition.
No credible strategy
Much of China’s economic success has been made possible by its accession to the WTO. Then bypassing the rules beyond recognition, extracting technology from Western companies seeking market access and stealing intellectual property, and knotting the dispute settlement mechanism. USTR Katherine Tai speaks harshly, but her review of China policy does not articulate a credible strategy to reform the WTO or pivot to a regional trade alliance in the Pacific.
It’s woefully unclear what Biden is offering his allies in the region to deal with Chinese mercantilism if he doesn’t offer access to the US market if our friends turn away from profiting from exports to China.
Biden demonstrated by his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that he was ready to harden his allies. Will America be there if our allies pledge to face Chinese aggression? Maybe not with Biden in charge.
As the United States asks its allies to spend more, the Biden budget plans to spend less in real terms on defense. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appears helpless and ill-placed to transform the navy and the US military at large to meet the Chinese challenge.
Biden is planning a summit for democracies, a Kumbaya moment that will bring together civil society, international organizations and world leaders. No doubt they will talk a lot about inequality, climate change and the responsibility of rich countries to help developing countries. But nothing great will be accomplished that has not already been achieved, for example, through COP26.
During this time. President Xi Jinping continues to build ships.
I look forward to hearing Biden proclaim “social justice in our time.”
Peter Morici is an economist and professor emeritus of commerce at the University of Maryland.