A New Bargain
The rapid rise of China is inevitably forcing a major shift in the US-European relationship. It is time for both sides to root the transatlantic bond in shared interests, rather than often ill-defined values. Fortunately, such a basis exists.
The world has entered a period of great power competition. Above all, this is because of the rise of China. For the first time since the Cold War, there will be two superpowers in the world. And for the first time since the 19th century, the United States will not clearly be the globe’s largest economy (at least as measured in purchasing power parity, or PPP, terms).
This reality simply compels change in US foreign policy, and indeed in its domestic policy as well. For the generation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was by far the most powerful state in the international system. Needless to say, it could not always get its way on everything, but it was so powerful that its fundamental interests could not be seriously challenged.
This is no longer the case. China will be so powerful that it will be able to challenge the United States not only for global preeminence in some abstract sense, but in the ability to shape the world in which we live—the terms of trade, the distribution of economic power and wealth, the political systems that are lauded and disfavored, and so forth. The US will still need to address other problems, such as transnational terrorism and the threat of future pandemics, but its top focus must be dealing with the consequences of China’s rise. No other state or entity will be able to agglomerate so much power, and power remains the critical prerequisite for addressing all other problems.
This means that the US will need to prioritize. It will not be able to meet the challenge that China poses to its interests by marginal changes, let alone more of the same. To the contrary: Essentially everything it does will have to be shaped by this overriding priority of dealing with China.