As the United States increasingly focuses on fierce superpower competition with China, the United States can create a power vacuum in the Middle East or Europe.
During the Cold War, Europe was seen as a strategic priority for the United States. East Asia has received little attention from Washington, although the United States remains committed to ensuring the security of its allies in the region.
But in the fierce superpower competition between the US and China that many see as the “new Cold War”, Washington’s strategic priorities have been turned upside down. Currently, America’s security strategy is dominated by the threat from China, and East Asia has replaced Europe as the battleground for the world’s key geopolitical rivalry.
But as the United States focuses its resources on confrontation with China, the security consequences are becoming increasingly apparent, according to Minxin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna University and a member of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Adversaries are taking the opportunity to challenge America’s resolve. Iran has sought to cement its position in deadlocked negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal that the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018. Iran’s leaders appear to be seems to be betting that President Joe Biden will hesitate to use military force and get bogged down in a new Middle East war, when the US wants to focus on dealing with China.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current military threats to Ukraine appear to be based on such calculations, Pei said.
“Putin believes he has an opportunity to restore Russia’s influence in the region, because it is difficult for the United States to distract from its China-centric strategy,” Pei said.
The recent moves of Russia and Iran are testament to the US dilemma. To increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome in its competition with China, the United States must maintain strategic discipline and stay away from the risk of another conflict that could put its focus and resources on the line. dispersed. Pei said Biden’s sudden and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 shows his administration’s resolve on the issue.
How tensions between the US and Iran and Russia will play out may need more time to be verified, but Pei believes that Washington will sooner or later face the same problem in many other places.
“Some regional powers may be tempted to bully their weaker neighbors because they think that America’s pivot to East Asia means they are less likely to encounter Washington’s military intervention,” Pei said.
Observers believe that the US focus on China will affect other regions in different ways, with the security impact in Latin America and Africa will be much less than in the Middle East. In Latin America and Africa, US policy in the coming years is likely to focus on economic, technological, and diplomatic competition with China.
The biggest security impact as the US pivots to East Asia will be felt in the Middle East, a region whose security is heavily dependent on the US. Focusing on China will most likely significantly reduce America’s role as regional “police”. While the United States continues to provide weapons and aid to its most important allies and partners, the Middle East will face a future without security patronage from Washington.
“If the US maintains its strategic focus on China, it will inevitably risk losing significant geopolitical influence in other regions. When it loses the US financial support or security guarantees, , countries will feel less influenced by Washington,” Pei said.
However, the US expert said that Washington’s decline in global position could also bring significant benefits, both for this country and the rest of the world. For the United States, maintaining its priority on superpower competition with China will help it reduce the risk of getting bogged down in unnecessary wars.
The dark side of US unipolarity for much of the post-Cold War era was Washington’s tendency to abuse its military power in international affairs, according to Pei. In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, the United States has sent military forces abroad almost every year, according to the US Congressional Research Service. In particular, the US has suffered very heavy losses in life and property in two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Elsewhere, America’s new geopolitical priorities will force countries that depend on Washington to learn how to fend for themselves, experts say. Some Middle Eastern countries are looking to rebuild relations and promote peace to prepare for the “absence” scenario of the US. Relations between several Gulf states and Israel have improved significantly in recent years.
In Europe, “strategic autonomy” may be just the call of a few regional powers. But as the United States increasingly shows its European allies that the region is only a secondary priority for Washington, the countries of the old continent will have to turn their words into actions.
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once declared that the US is the “indispensable country” of the world. This observation is believed to hold true for most of the post-Cold War era. But in an era of fierce confrontation with China, the United States may just be the indispensable superpower for East Asia, but not for other regions.
“When this reality happens, the rest of the world will have no choice but to adapt. That can lead to more military conflict, but it can also lead to more peace.” Pei commented.
Thanh Tam (Follow Japan Times)