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Great Power Competition

Great Power Competition

The US returns with a dangerous new edge

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security.” — US Defense Secretary James Mattis

After focusing on the fight against terrorism for more than a decade and a half, the United States military is shifting its priorities. A conclusive proof of this comes in the form of the new National Defense Strategy of the United States that puts countering China and Russia, the “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” at the centre. Ironically, on the one hand, the Trump administration seems hardening its resolve to address challenges from both countries while Trump is pushing for improved ties with Moscow and Beijing to rein in a nuclear North Korea, on the other.

The new National Defense Strategy (NDS) of the Trump administration is being termed a sea change in US foreign policy as it marks a shift from the “war on terrorism” to “great power competition.” The document calls China a strategic competitor because it uses “predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” whereas Russia has “violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of its neighbours.” To counter this growing threat, the NDS has three primary parts: building a more lethal force, strengthening alliances and attracting new partners, and a reformation of the Department of Defence for greater performance and affordability.

Is the shift a major course change? Probably not, because the US never took eyes off its competitors!

President Bill Clinton moved NATO eastwards in a sheer violation of a 1991 agreement with the Russians that called for not recruiting former members of the Warsaw Pact that is at the root of current tensions with Moscow. On the other hand, the US and NATO call Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “revanchism,” but wasn’t it NATO that set the precedent of altering borders when it dismembered Serbia to create Kosovo after the 1999 Yugoslav war?

President George Bush had designated China a “strategic competitor”. And, he made untiring efforts to lure India into an anti-Chinese alliance by allowing New Delhi to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Letting India purchase uranium on the international market, which it could not because of being a non-signatory to the NPT, Bush helped ignite the nuclear arms race in South Asia – with Pakistan.

Barack Obama further chilled relations with Russia by tacitly backing the 2014 coup in Ukraine. Moreover, it was his “Asia pivot” policy that led to heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

So is jettisoning “terrorism” as the enemy in favour of “great powers” just old wine, new bottle? Does this rhetoric reminisce the events in runup to the World War I. Not quite. For one thing the new emphasis has a decidedly more dangerous edge to it.

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