Great Power Competition China Contention (Con)

US doesn’t have the resources to win a great power competition; focusing on competition, crushes US-China cooperation

Michael D. Swaine Jake Werner, 10-16, 22, Michael D. Swaine is director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia program; Jake Werner is a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute, How Biden’s New National Security Strategy Gets China Wrong,

The Biden administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) attempts to explain how the United States can win a global struggle for democracy over authoritarianism. In doing so, the document reveals a wide gulf between Washington’s ambitions and its capabilities—a gulf which threatens to drive America into years of dangerous, likely-futile attempts to decisively “shape” the global order and “win” the coming era of great power competition.

The Biden administration argues that America and the world are engaged in a critical struggle with “powers that layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy.” The NSS states that Russia and China (“the largest autocracies”) threaten the interests of even non-democratic states by “…waging or preparing for wars of aggression, actively undermining the democratic political processes of other countries, leveraging technology and supply chains for coercion and repression, and exporting an illiberal model of international order.” The NSS suggests the adversarial elements of U.S. security policy are primarily aimed at only two powers; in other words, the core dynamic driving Washington’s grand strategy today is really great power competition, not ideology per se.

For the Biden administration, it appears the only relevant difference between Russia and China lies in their level of power, or ability to seriously threaten the United States, the West, and the world order. Both nations apparently pose dire threats, but China is “…the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.”

Despite the Biden administration’s avowed belief in a genuine and critical need to cooperate with China on common threats such as climate change, pandemics, and nonproliferation, the NSS reaffirms the Trump administration’s basic assessment that China and Russia have

…concluded that the success of a free and open rules-based international order posed a threat to their regimes and stifled their ambitions. In their own ways, they now seek to remake the international order to create a world conducive to their highly personalized and repressive type of autocracy.

It is hard to see how such a zero-sum characterization of the presumably dire threat that China (and Russia) poses to the world can be squared with the document’s assertion of a need to constructively engage with China in combating what it correctly calls the “existential” threat posed by climate change. China is unlikely to join U.S. efforts while Washington is working hard to limit Chinese development, as reflected in Commerce Department’s recent restrictions on Chinese companies’ access to advanced semiconductors and other cutting-edge technology. There is a tension between these aims that the NSS does not confront.

The document brings a polemical edge to defining Chinese interests. For example, it states that China seeks only to undermine “…the autonomy and rights of less powerful states…” while the United States seeks only to “…support every country, regardless of size or strength, in exercising the freedom to make choices that serve their interests.” In reality, neither nation is without fault in defending the autonomy and rights of smaller powers and upholding the rules of international regimes. But rather than acknowledging this fact and stating a commitment to work with China to reach mutually acceptable norms and rules, the NSS approaches the problem as a Manichean struggle over freedom in which China’s goals are virtually unmovable and threatening while the United States is the arbiter of what constitutes a just and free order. Such a zero-sum framing of the Sino-U.S. competition excludes the possibility that in many areas there might actually be room for U.S.-China agreement on needed reforms or, failing that, for genuine compromise.

The NSS also makes broad claims about how third countries view the great power contest, asserting that,

Across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, countries are clear-eyed about the nature of the challenges that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] poses. Governments want sustainable public finances. Workers want to be treated with dignity and respect. Innovators want to be rewarded for their ingenuity, risk-taking, and persistent efforts. And enterprising businesses want open and free waters through which their products can be traded.

There are certainly important shortcomings and abuses in China’s record of overseas engagement, but the NSS ignores a similar history of U.S. shortcomings and abuses. More importantly, the one-sided characterization of China’s record as malicious in intent—rather than admitting the far more complex reality of contending interests that shape Chinese behavior—undermines the possibility of working with China to improve its practices. It also tends to offend the leaders of the many countries that maintain productive economic relationships with both China and the United States.

Many of these countries have signaled loudly to Washington that they dread the possibility of being forced to choose between the two powers, and the NSS reflects the fact that the administration is listening to these concerns. As the document states, “We also want to avoid a world in which competition escalates into a world of rigid blocs.” This, together with the NSS’s renunciation of military force to remake other societies, marks a significant and welcome break with the Trump administration’s dangerous intimation that the United States intends to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party.

Yet the NSS’s characterization of Chinese motivations as malign and its unvarying criticism of Chinese behavior across the full range of statecraft both indicate clearly to Beijing that Washington regards Chinese success as unwelcome. The United States certainly should apply pressure and criticism—many Chinese practices are objectionable, and some are unacceptable. But if the pushback is not accompanied with an equally robust path for mutual adjustment, cooperation, and shared achievement, it will be very difficult to avoid the disastrous great power conflict that the NSS professes to eschew.

International cooperation needed to solve disease, climate change and nuclear proliferation and leads to efforts to develop bioweapons

Goddard, May/June 22, STACIE E. GODDARD is Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Political Science and Paula Phillips Bernstein ’58 Faculty Director of the Albright Institute at Wellesley College, Foreign Affairs, The Outsiders How the International System Can Still Check China and Russia,

The growing alarm about China’s and Russia’s revisionism has amplified calls for the United States to abandon its institutionalist strategy and instead embrace traditional realpolitik. The goal is no longer integration; it is deterrence: the United States must ensure that its military and alliances are strong enough to dissuade China and Russia from using force to achieve their aims. This was the stated approach of the Trump administration. Its 2017 National Security Strategy argued that while the United States would still “seek areas of cooperation with competitors,” its primary aim would be to “deter and if necessary, defeat aggression against U.S. interests and increase the likelihood of managing competitions without violent conflict.”

The United States needs to embrace a strategy of institutional realpolitik.
Instead of abandoning institutional integration in favor of saber rattling, Washington needs to make better use of institutions to exert its influence and limit that of its rivals. Even the most hardened proponents of realpolitik concede that institutional cooperation is necessary to deal with existential threats such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and pandemic disease. Ensuring that all the great powers remain firmly integrated in institutions that address these collective dangers—such as the Paris climate accord and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—should be the goal.

Beyond this, the United States needs to embrace a strategy of institutional realpolitik. To begin with, it should abandon the idea that the purpose of international institutions is to eliminate revisionism or expand liberal global governance. Rather, international institutions are a tool to manage power politics. The most straightforward and significant aim should be to channel revisionist ambitions toward institutional forums and away from more violent and destructive behavior. International institutions could be designed not to stop competition through power politics but to direct it and make it more predictable by providing channels of communication, forums for negotiation, and clear rules about what counts as appropriate behavior.

In Ukraine, this may seem like too little, too late. But at some point, the war will be over, and it is important to consider what will come next. This is not to advocate another “reset” or a substantive partnership with Russia, which must not be permitted to subjugate its neighbors. The goal, instead, should be to redirect a hostile relationship back into more predictable forums—of the kind that stabilized U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War. Some might decry this as tantamount to appeasement. To be clear, the United States and its allies should make such cooperation contingent on Russian acceptance of existing territorial boundaries, including those of Ukraine. The United States should support similar institutions to modify China’s actions in the South China Sea. At a minimum, Washington should ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to give it more legitimacy in pushing back against illegal Chinese behavior.

The United States should also try to outflank its rivals by thinking strategically about where revisionists could mobilize support for an alternative and more illiberal international order in the future. This is particularly important in the coming long contest with China, in which Washington, so far, seems to be largely on the defensive. AUKUS, the trilateral security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom; the G-7; and the Five Eyes partnership with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom are all designed to shore up the United States’ security relationships. But Washington remains strangely reluctant to engage in offensive institution building. Biden has yet to reverse his predecessor’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose successor institution, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, established a free-trade zone stretching from Vietnam to Australia and encompassing around 40 percent of global GDP. The United States is also excluded from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a regional free-trade pact that is likely to build stronger ties between China and Southeast Asian countries. Finding a way to interact with these new institutions is critical if Washington wishes to bind itself to its allies and partners in meaningful, credible, and durable ways.

Moreover, China has significantly expanded its footprint in areas that the United States has treated as peripheral. Although originally Chinese officials portrayed the infrastructure projects of the BRI as a complement to the liberal economic order, Beijing has since begun to frame them as steps in building an alternative order, or a “community of common destiny.” Reforming international economic institutions to make them more attentive to the needs of aid-recipient countries could help outflank the BRI, which has experienced its own difficulties. For example, the United States could use its own existing institutions—the Millennium Challenge Corporation or the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation—to invest in infrastructure that would buttress the efforts of the new African Continental Free Trade Area and stymie China’s influence.


Such reforms would not represent a return to the order building of the 1990s. The United States has neither the power nor the will to go back to that approach. Indeed, institutional realpolitik should involve selective retrenchment. Washington should be willing to identify places where it overextended at the height of U.S. primacy. It may make sense to pull back from the globally oriented, hyper-legalized institutional structure of the WTO, which has benefited countries that are not playing by its rules, such as China. Washington should also be willing to let its regional allies and partners take the lead in institution building. Strong regional institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the EU, are critical to halting revisionist projects, even if they sometimes act against the United States’ interests.

The next era of great-power competition is already here, but this is not the time to be ramping up military confrontations and shutting down or pulling away from international institutions. U.S. policymakers should reject the false dichotomy that suggests that Washington must choose between realpolitik and institution building. Seeking to reinvigorate international alliances and institutions is not evidence of a lack of imagination or a naive faith in multilateralism. Rather, it is a tried-and-true way to play the game of great-power politics.
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Unfortunately, the resurgence of great-power competition casts doubt on the likelihood of these feats of global cooperation. Worse, geopolitical tensions could compel states to accept an increased level of risk to the world—and to themselves—if they perceive it as a gamble worth taking to further their security interests. (In the eight years during which the United States maintained bombers on continuous airborne alert, five aircraft crashed while carrying nuclear payloads.) And if even one state’s bioweapons program experimented with extinction-level pathogens—perhaps on a foolhardy quest to develop the ultimate deterrent—the next laboratory accident could precipitate a global pandemic much worse than that of COVID-19.

it may be just what the country needs as it faces the waning of American imperium

Failure to stop future pandemics and bioweapons development could kill us all

Dr. Matt Boyd 21, Research Director at Adapt Research Ltd, PhD in Philosophy of Evolution & Cognition from the Victoria University of Wellington, BA from Massey University, and Nick Wilson, Research Professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, “Optimizing Island Refuges Against global Catastrophic and Existential Biological Threats: Priorities and Preparations”, Risk Analysis: An International Journal, Wiley Online Library


Our world is vulnerable to global catastrophic risks (GCRs) or existential risks (Bostrom, 2019; Ord, 2020). GCRs are so disastrous because they affect one or more systems critical to humanity, and spread to affect the entire planet (Avin et al., 2018). Existential risks threaten to eliminate humanity or permanently curtail its potential (Ord, 2020). Some of these risks are natural, for example asteroid or comet impact, supervolcanic eruption, naturally occurring pandemic, or various cosmic events (Bostrom & Cirkovic, 2008; Ord, 2020). Many others are the result of human activities, for example nuclear war, anthropogenic climate change, nonaligned artificial intelligence, engineered biological threats, geoengineering, or inescapable totalitarianism (Bostrom & Cirkovic, 2008; Ord, 2020).

There are three phases to an existential catastrophe: origin, scale up, and reaching every last human (Cotton-Barratt, Daniel, & Sandberg, 2020). Following any near miss, there would be a period where recovery of humanity’s long-term potential may or may not be realized (Baum et al., 2019). Failure to anticipate or mitigate these threats risks undesirable trajectories for human civilization (Baum et al., 2019).

In addition to the present generation’s obvious self-interest in continuing to exist, the perspective of long-termism suggests that humanity ought to mitigate these risks due to the potential immense value of future human generations (Beckstead, 2013), a desire to see aspects of the human project continue across time and perhaps the universe (Bostrom, 2003; Scheffler, 2013), and the potential cosmic significance of preserving intelligent life on Earth (Ord, 2020). A number of philosophical defenses of long-termism have been published (Beckstead, 2013; Greaves & MacAskill, 2019). Importantly, these long-term outcomes are largely under human control because most of the risk is probably anthropogenic (Beard & Torres, 2020; Ord, 2020).

1.1 Mitigating Existential Threats

It is too simplistic to think of existential risks as mere causes that are followed by a sequence of effects. We should think of risks as the product of hazards, vulnerabilities, and exposures (Liu, Lauta, & Maas, 2018). Hazards are the precipitating cause of a catastrophe, vulnerabilities are the inability of critical systems to withstand hazards, and exposures are the features of human society that turn this system damage into harm to populations (Beard & Torres, 2020). Mitigation of existential threats involves preventing their emergence, responding if the threat spreads, and building resilience so the threat does not lead to the death of every last human or leave humanity with permanently curtailed prospects (Cotton-Barratt et al., 2020). After a threat has passed, there may also be a series of limiters that might prevent the reemergence of a flourishing humanity (Baum et al., 2019). One such limiting factor could be the loss of technological society and know-how.

In order to achieve immunity from existential threat, humanity will need a period where it preserves its potential and protects itself from risks (Ord, 2020). Various methods have been proposed to address vulnerabilities and hence shift the probability of existential risk. These suggestions include: improved international focus, governance, and cooperation such as through the United Nations (Boyd & Wilson, 2020), imitating existing frameworks such as the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction (Avin et al., 2018), achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Cernev & Fenner, 2020), or extreme surveillance for threats (Bostrom, 2019). Toby Ord lists 38 specific measures across eight existential threats, and an additional 12 avenues to explore that address risks in general terms (Ord, 2020).

1.2 Biological Threats

Pandemic viruses with high case fatality could potentially infect a majority of the population. Deliberate biological events (DBEs) have occurred before (Millet & Snyder-Beattie, 2017a), will likely occur again, and could pose a threat to humans as great as nuclear war (Kosal, 2020). New technologies such as artificial intelligence could amplify biothreats in a number of ways (O’Brien & Nelson, 2020). These risks are increased because the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) has no verification system (Dando, 2016), and has been violated in the past (Gronvall, 2018). It would only take one unanticipated or accidental event for a bioweapon (or laboratory accident) to become a catastrophic threat. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences specifically warns against synthetic biology and xenobiology (Gomez-Tatay & Hernandez-Andreu, 2019) and it is argued that a state-sponsored bioweapon attack is the greatest current threat (Sandberg & Nelson, 2020). See the Supporting Information for further details on biological threats. Global preparedness through the One Health approach, global health security projects, and the need to integrate health and the GCR field (Millet & Snyder-Beattie, 2017b) are important. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, there may be important overlooked aspects or misunderstood risks that could make any suite of general preparation inadequate. Therefore, last lines of defense may be required, such as refuges.

Climate change could also kill us all, and even if it doesn’t kill everyone, lots will die

Ben Taub, 8-2, 22, Climate Change Could Eliminate Humanity And We’re Totally Unprepared, Scientists Argue,

The possibility that climate change could wipe us out has not been given enough attention and requires urgent consideration if we are to avoid a worst-case scenario, according to a new report. As a first step towards salvation, the authors urge the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to stop looking on the bright side and conduct a “special report on catastrophic climate change.” “Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction?” ask researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe.” Decapitated Egyptian Mummy Head Found In Attic Investigated By Scientists Building on this worrying sentiment, study author Dr Luke Kemp explained in a statement that “climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event. It has helped fell empires and shaped history. Even the modern world seems adapted to a particular climate niche.” In spite of these terrifying precedents, though, the researchers point out that “the IPCC has yet to give focused attention to catastrophic climate change. Fourteen special reports have been published. None covered extreme or catastrophic climate change.” This tendency to ignore our impending downfall, they say, may reflect “the culture of climate science to ‘err on the side of least drama,’ to not to be alarmists.” As a consequence, the fall-out from a global temperature rise exceeding 3°C (5.4°F) above pre-industrial levels remains largely underexamined, despite the fact that many climate change models predict such an increase. Bucking this trend, the researchers call for a “climate endgame” research agenda to examine what they call the “four horsemen” of climate change. These are listed as famine and undernutrition, extreme weather events, conflict, and vector-borne diseases. For instance, they explain that when a rise of more than 2°C (3.6°F) is considered, then the chances of significant decreases in maize production worldwide jump from 7 percent to 86 percent. The resulting “breadbasket failures” are likely to be exacerbated by what the authors call “warm wars”, as technologically enhanced superpowers squabble over dwindling carbon budgets and other climate impacts. “Paths to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events,” says Kemp. “Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflict, and new disease outbreaks could trigger other calamities, and impede recovery from potential disasters such as nuclear war.” To illustrate this point, the researchers reveal that current models suggest that within half a century, around 2 billion people could live in areas affected by “extreme temperatures”. “By 2070, these temperatures and the social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers, and seven maximum containment laboratories housing the most dangerous pathogens,” explained study author Chi Xu. “There is serious potential for disastrous knock-on effects.” Summing up, the researchers state that “further research funding of catastrophic and worst-case climate change is critical,” and that “facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naïve risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst.” “A special report on catastrophic climate change could help trigger further research,” they say, adding that such a project could “help bring into focus how much is at stake in a worst-case scenario.”

Each tenth of a degree means millions of lives

Aronoff & Denvir 21 [Kate, staff writer at the New Republic, writing fellow at In These Times, Daniel, visiting fellow in International and Public Affairs at Brown Univ, “Capitalism Can’t Fix the Climate Crisis,” Jacobin, 08/25/21,, accessed 08/26/21, JCR]

The text of the Paris Agreement says that warming should be constrained to well below two degrees Celsius. 1.5 degrees is an aspiration. It’s good to understand where that demand comes from; it has been a standing call from the folks in climate-vulnerable countries in the Global South, for whom the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is huge. The folks talking about 1.5 degrees have been marching through the halls of UN climate talks, chanting “1.5 to survive,” because for low-lying island states, warming of 1.5 degrees represents an existential threat. Currently we are on track for about 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming. That gives us a punishingly short window in which to meet even two degrees, which is a bit of a fabrication; there’s some debate about where the two-degree target came from. Some people credit that to the economist William Nordhaus, who is not the most reliable source on a lot of these things. But there’s something comforting about a target. There’s something comforting about saying that this thing that is happening is far-off, and that we can potentially avoid it. We have a bit of time, and two degrees gives us more time than 1.5 degrees. Reaching targets has been the popular goal. That’s what you see in the fossil fuel industry assessments. But the conversation about targets can sometimes obscure what’s actually happening. It’s not as if somebody who is living through a hurricane or a natural disaster will say, “Oh no, we’ve hit two degrees Celsius.” The climate crisis is playing out all around us. There’s not a point at which we cross the boundary toward a disastrous future. Every tenth of a degree of warming that we avoid makes an enormous amount of difference, saving on the order of tens of thousands of lives. If we cross 1.5 or even two degrees of warming, it’s not that we should all pack up, go home, and wait to die. There are still millions of lives that can be saved by preventing each additional tenth of a degree of warming.