The gradual squeezing of Russia and China out of the common spaces of a world that has become global is probably an inevitable consequence of the American strategy to retain leadership in the world system, since the key condition for the growth of the influence of both China and Russia has been the global economy and market-based exchange of goods, writes Andrey Sushentsov, the Valdai Club Programme Director.
In March 2021, the Biden administration released an unusual document — the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. This is a short doctrine, which for the time being is intended to serve as a replacement for the version of the National Security Strategy developed under Donald Trump. At the same time, the document has all the characteristics of a grand strategy: it contains an analysis of key trends in international affairs and an inventory of American resources; the main external challenges are named, and so — in the form of a hierarchy — American strategic priorities are outlined.
The document, like any American strategy, contains conceptual innovations; these, however, will not necessarily have long-term consequences. The main goal is the restoration of the internal resources of power of the United States, the establishment of a comfortable global balance of power, and the maintenance of an open international system.
The document opens with an enumeration of the key resources of American power. Given that any enumeration is presented hierarchically according to key priority, this list is rather curious. Diversity is listed first. Then comes the economy, followed by a vibrant civil society, an innovative technological base, democratic values, a network of alliances, and finally the military.
One of the key international trends is the state of siege in which democratic governments around the world have found themselves. Moreover, they could be under siege not only from the outside, but also from the inside.
The next trend is the emergence of threats associated with a change in the global balance of power. In first place is China, which, according to the United States, is becoming more and more self-confident. Only China is recognised for its ability to represent a cumulative challenge to the power of the United States and its leadership in the world. Russia is in second place, and is described as a country that seeks to increase its global influence and play a disorganising role. Iran, North Korea, and “fragile” countries in different regions of the world, which are threatened by internal collapse, terrorism and extremism, are then listed in the nominative order as threats.
American alliances, institutions and agreements are referred to as the nodal American asset, which is currently also undergoing a stress test. Despite the changes in the international system and internal squabbles between the allies, the document states that the new situation creates an opportunity to reform the network of alliances, which should now unite like-minded states to form a new consensus.
Finally, it states that the technology revolution offers both new opportunities and new challenges. Key technologies include artificial intelligence, quantum calculus, green energy, biotechnology, and 5G communications infrastructure.
Regarding proper American strategic priorities, there is a thesis that the Biden administration apparently inherited from Trump. It is the notion that the American strategy will be successful only if American interests are grounded in the support of American households, and not corporate profits or the general gross national product. The basic goal in this context is to defend democratic values and the American way of life.
In summary, the document contains three general national priorities for the United States. First, it must protect and strengthen the sources of American power. Second, it is the creation of a favourable balance of power in the world in order to prevent rivals from attempting to threaten US interests. The third key interest is to lead and maintain the stability and openness of the international system.
The last point is especially interesting, since a number of energetic steps by the new administration were aimed at reducing access to the global system for Russia and China. The gradual squeezing of Russia and China out of the common spaces of a world that has become global is probably an inevitable consequence of the American strategy to retain leadership in the world system, since the key condition for the growth of the influence of both China and Russia has been the global economy and market-based exchange of goods. China and Russia — each in their own respective niches — have a strategic advantage that is in demand in the global market. The goal of the United States, if it seeks to prevent a decline of its influence in the world, will be to oust two key rivals from a global environment that is favourable for its economic and strategic growth.
However, a step-by-step roadmap is not included in this document. It leaves the impression of an old-fashioned and rather pretentious written text, excessively sentimental. The foreword emphasises that the United States does not look to the past, but only to the future. Considering that this was repeated several times, and in different ways, the opposite impression is created. Much has been said about the return of the former greatness of the United States — America is back, diplomacy is back, alliances are back — how all good things for the United States are to be found in the past. A vision of how to arrange an inclusive international system with the participation of Russia and China, which would simultaneously take into account their key interests and create conditions that allow them to play a constructive role in the international system, is not mentioned in this document. Perhaps the United States does not have such answers now, and this is related to the feeling of uncertainty that this document generates.
The strategy rightly points to the imbalances within the United States that have led to a relative decline in its international influence, and the text follows previous strategies in how external challenges to American dominance are described. This version of the strategy is more attentive to changes in the world than other American doctrinal documents from the past twenty years, but this attentiveness is one-sided. While the intention to establish the right strategic goal is commendable, the United States is still hampered by a deep self-absorption.
The new administration’s proposal to “rebuild” alliances is undisclosed — it remains unclear in what specific way this is supposed to be done. It is unlikely that it will be sufficient to simply stop putting pressure on the allies, especially since we see that in many cases, this pressure is intensifying. The thesis of the need to move away from impulsiveness also hangs in the air, given the intense skirmish between Russia and the United States, and between China and the United States in recent weeks. The document is especially naïve, when it invites China to engage in sectoral cooperation with the United States in areas of mutual interest. Exactly 10 years ago, the previous version of this strategic document proposed sectoral cooperation with Russia. This dead-end policy has led to the deepest-ever crisis in Russian-American relations, and there is little chance that this approach to China will produce a good result. Unfortunately, if you have a hammer in your hand, then all problems seem to be nails.