Biden Imagines Cooperation Is Possible With America’s Chief Global Competitors

The White House believes not only that it can cooperate and compete with these regimes simultaneously, but that Presidents Xi and Putin see it the same way.

Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP, file
Presidents Putin and Xi at Beijing, February 4, 2022. Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP, file

The Biden Administration’s recently-released, long-overdue National Security Strategy places a greater emphasis on cooperating on what it calls “shared challenges” with Beijing and Moscow than it does on “out-competing China and constraining Russia.” 

From labeling the “climate crisis” as the “existential challenge of our time” to preparing for the next pandemic to “building sustained food security,” the White House believes not only that it can cooperate and compete with these regimes simultaneously, but that Presidents Xi and Putin see it the same way. 

If the White House believes these challenges are greater threats than those emanating from Beijing or Moscow, then it would understand that these threats and crises are not random, universal, or nebulous. Rather, they are the result of decisions taken by sovereign governments — many of which are hostile to the United States — and that the responsibility and ability to address them lies with those same governments.

Take the “climate crisis.” The new security strategy argues that the human way of life, and American national security, are in grave danger “without immediate global action to reduce emissions.” Only by transitioning to a clean energy future at home, it says, and encouraging one abroad can the world step back from the precipice.

Yet, there is little evidence that the Chinese Communist Party shares that view. Instead of acknowledging that Beijing is, and will be, the greatest driver of this “existential” climate crisis, the Administration is rushing into a series of policies that will only reward rather than hold Beijing accountable. 

China is, by far, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, producing more annual carbon emissions than America, India, and the European Union combined. Its per capita emissions are higher than those of the OECD, even though its per capita GDP is less than one-third of OECD average. Whereas China’s emissions have nearly doubled, American carbon emissions peaked in 2007, have declined nearly 20 percent, and are at their lowest level in 35 years. 

Global health provides another example. The security strategy document calls for a “cooperative approach toward global health security,” which includes recommitting to the World Health Organization, and engaging with Beijing “because pandemics know no borders.” 

Rather than documenting and holding Beijing accountable for discounting early reports about Covid from Wuhan, hiding evidence of human transmission, silencing doctors who tried to blow the whistle, obscuring the origins of the virus, and hoarding personal protective equipment to the detriment of the rest of the world, the Administration acts as if the Communist Chinese regime shares its vision for both the nature of and response to global public health. Three years after the first reports about a new virus, Beijing rejects and continues to harass any international inquiry into the origins of the virus.

Similarly, when it comes to food security, the security strategy does not actually set Russian defeat, and a restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty, as the prerequisite goal for addressing the crisis. 

Russia’s unprovoked attack against Ukraine has throttled global food supply, especially of bread. Russia and Ukraine export nearly one third of the world’s wheat and barley, over 70 percent of sunflower oil (52 percent from Ukraine alone), and large quantities of corn. 

Nearly all, 90 percent, of Ukrainian exports typically pass through the Black Sea, but the Russian blockade means that much of these goods must be rerouted by land. As a result, Ukrainian export of grain is at one-quarter of pre-war levels. A real strategy to address the food crisis would address the cause, not the symptoms, and lead to greater and faster support for Russian defeat.  

Likewise, the security strategy treats China and Russia as partners in arms control and non-proliferation. Nevermind that Putin has actually used biological weapons, is a military partner of both Syria and Iran, who have respectively used chemical weapons and seeking nuclear weapons, and has made repeated nuclear threats against Ukraine, NATO, and the United States. 

Meanwhile, China is expanding its own nuclear arsenal—at a time the United States is cutting its own and reducing its role in defense strategy—and has sheltered both North Korea and Iran from any serious repercussions for their own nuclear weapons programs. 

If these regimes truly believe the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a shared challenge, they have an awfully creative way of demonstrating it.

The security strategy makes clear that China and Russia are rivals, but stumbles by arguing that competition and cooperation have a symbiotic relationship: the former cannot succeed without the latter. 

Any clear-eyed strategy would recognize that these threats are not shared ones, but instead one’s adversaries are imposing upon us. These regimes are the arsonists, not the firefighters, when it comes to the global community.


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