This resolution asks the question of whether the US strategy of “Great Power Competition (GPC)” produces more benefits than harms.
Conceptually, it’s a great topic, as it opens the question of central to our national security strategy. As Joseph Nye notes:
“Since 2017, our national security strategy has focused on great power competition with China and Russia. In the months prior to the war, the two countries pledged life-long friendship as an axis of authoritarians and Xi Jinping proclaimed that the East Wind was prevailing over the West.”
Vile Sinkkonnen explains in more detail:
Competing on Two Fronts
In the process of upending the European security architecture, the Ukraine crisis has thrown the U.S. into the center of a “two-front great-power competition”. At the start of the Biden presidency, there were few areas of bipartisan consensus in Washington D.C., but the imperative of engaging China in great-power competition came close. The incoming administration recognized China as a priority over other security challenges, including Russia. In fact, there was little discernible change beyond rhetorical nuance from the Trump administration when it came to China policy. The Biden team kept Trump-era tariffs in place, and despite a joint U.S.-China pledge made at the COP26 summit, competition has been the order of the day. Joe Biden’s recent statements indicating U.S. willingness to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack – which would be a departure from decades of “strategic ambiguity” – underline how the U.S.’ China policy’s tides have shifted in the span of two presidential administrations.
When it came to Russia, the initial intention of the administration was to manage the relationship so that the U.S. could finally reorient towards the Indo-Pacific – although there was no expectation of an actual “reset” with Moscow. Although the June meeting between Biden and Putin in Geneva appeared to pave the way for more predictable relations initially, Russia’s decision to pursue regional revanchism in Ukraine has laid any such plans to rest. The success of Ukraine in withstanding the Russian onslaught, with the help of Western weapons deliveries, has also enabled the U.S. to reframe its approach towards the Kremlin. In the words of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the U.S. “want[s] to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things it has done in invading Ukraine”. This shift towards degrading Russia’s capacity is reflected in the investments the U.S. is willing to make to support Ukraine’s cause. These assets have broad bipartisan support, as manifested in the recent $40 billion bill that passed with comprehensive bipartisan support in both houses.  further complicate matters, just weeks before Russia embarked on its military adventure, Xi Jinping met Vladimir Putin at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and the two states released a statement asserting their friendship had “no limits”. While China has refrained from directly supporting Russia with military equipment, it has not condemned the invasion or gone along with Western sanctions, instead looking to benefit from cheaper Russian energy. While the Russia-China relationship is hardly a happy marriage, Beijing’s reaction proves it does not want to lose a partner who shares its distaste for American hegemony. China is therefore unlikely to forsake Moscow, at least for the foreseeable future. The key question going forward is how the United States intends to maintain such a two-theatre posture in the great game of the 21st century.
Basically, this resolution asks whether the US should continue this Great Power Competition (GPC) strategy, with China and Russia being the two “great powers” that competition is directed at.
Given current international events, this has the potential to be a great topic, but there are two considerations you need to keep in mind when voting.
First, while “Great Power Competition” is an important concept, it is not entirely clear what the Pro needs to advocate. Yes, it generally means advocating in favor of competing with China and Russia, but does that include:
Does it include eforts to come out on top or just to compete?
Should Russia and China be allowed to establish respective spheres of influence under GPC or not?
Does it include economic competition, including in artificial intelligence and biologics?
Does it include All military means — alliances, modern weapons (drones), alliances, etc?
Second, as is a common problem with these type of resolutions, compared to what? What would US national security strategy be if it was not focused on great power competition. Is the Con really saying let China and Russia do whatever they want (Does the Con have to argue for ceding the Ukraine to Russia and Taiwan to China?). If GPC produces more harm than good, should we have a complete inward turn, offshore balancing, a commitment to greater multilateral action or a focus on something entirely different (climate change, terrorism, etc). These all have different advantages and advantages relative to GPC and I don’t see how one could assess the desirability of GPC without a suggested alternative. For example, if someone said, “PF debate is produces more benefits than harms,” it would be hard to determine the viability of that advice without knowing if you were going to spend your time on a different format of debate, on homework, or just on more time playing video games.
As just suggested, scholars such as Nye, argue for replacing it with goals that have nothing to do with GPC. He writes,
A second problem with a strategy that focuses solely on great power rivalry is insufficient attention to a new type of threat to our national interest that arises from ecological globalization. Global climate change will cost trillions of dollars and can cause damage on the scale of war. The COVID-19 pandemic has already killed a million Americans—more than all our wars combined since the Civil War.”
Nye even hints at a goal of protecting the liberal world order
THE STRATEGIC choices we will face after the war in Ukraine ends will depend on when it ends and how it ends. Nonetheless, we can estimate the major challenges to American interests and values and how they have been affected by this war. We will have at least three vital interests: great power relations with China and Russia, transnational threats such as climate change and pandemics, and the maintenance of a rules-based order favorable to our values.
And then there is the “War on Terror” alternative: “Discourse about U.S. grand strategy increasingly has revolved around the theme of great power competition. That is preferable to the earlier theme of a “Global War on Terror,” which has underlain actions with deleterious consequences outweighing the threat such actions supposedly were designed to meet.”
Joseph Nye explains the evolution:
During the four decades of the Cold War, the United States had a grand strategy focused on containing the power of the Soviet Union. Yet by the 1990s, following the Soviet Union’s collapse, America had been deprived of that pole star. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, US President George W. Bush’s administration tried to fill the void with a strategy that it called a “global war on terror.” But that approach provided nebulous guidance and led to long US-led wars in marginal places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2017, the US has returned to “great-power competition,” this time with China. As a grand US strategy, great-power competition has the advantage of focusing on major threats to America’s security, economy, and values.
Russia/China threaten US hegemony, US hegemony good (need to challenge China and Russia to sustain it)
Note: The topic is more specific to confronting China and Russia, but if the ascendance of either threatens to unwind overall US hegemony, the entire hegemony good/bad debate becomes relevant
China threat; China dominance bad; great power transition wars
Russia threat; Russia dominance bad
Alternatives are bad: Multipolarity and mulitlateralism are bad; offshore balancing is bad; focusing on climate is bad
GPC triggers conflict with China
Need strong relations with China to solve climate change and disease
GPC triggers conflict with Russia
Need to improve relations with Russia to prevent famine, manage outer space, moderate energy prices
GPC strategy causes economic and military overstretch
GPC leads to anti-Asian rhetoric and violence
GPC trades-off with resources needed for domestic social programs
GPC competition results in an authoritarian backlash
Better to focus on alternatives: climate change; disease; protecting the liberal order
Better to adopt alternate strategies: focus on poverty at home; America 1st, Offshore balancing; multilateralism
A realist outlook supports the need to de-escalate conflict
A FLEETING GLIMPSE OF HEGEMONY? THE WAR IN UKRAINE AND THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP OF THE UNITED STATES. This article provides a great overview of the strategy of GPC and the difficulties of maintaining it.
America’s Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition (July 5, 2022 Book). This July 5, 2022 book is entirely focused on arguing against Great Power Competition as a focus of US foreign policy.
How Great Power Competition Leads to Costly Entanglements. This is article about the previously referenced book.
Great Power Competition isn’t a Foreign Policy. Three decades after the Cold War’s conclusion, Russia’s irredentism and China’s resurgence would seem to furnish the strategic clarity for which the United States has been searching: two formidable nation-state competitors challenge the values that it promulgates and the order that it underpins. But it would be unwise for Washington to embark on a poorly defined, continuously expanding struggle, not only because it would be unlikely to find widespread support for such an undertaking—either at home or abroad—but also because the realities of interdependence will not permit it to advance its national interests in isolation from Moscow and Beijing. America’s core challenge—and opportunity—is to formulate a foreign policy that can endure no matter what steps they take. Here are ten questions that US officials might ask to that end: 1. Over what—and for what—is the United States competing? 2. If one were to reject the proposition that the United States should contest Russia and China ubiquitously, and instead argue that it should adopt a “zero-based” approach to strategic competition, to which geographic and functional competitions would one recommend that it accord top priority? 3. Given the difficulty of conceptualizing what “victories” over Russia and China would entail, how should the United States gauge whether it is registering competitive success? 4. Recognizing both the inevitability of intensifying competition and the imperative of durable cohabitation with Russia and China, how can the United States preserve a baseline of cooperative space with both countries? In what domains would limited cooperation be most feasible? 5. What activities, arrangements, and understandings would be necessary to sustain stable US relationships with Russia and China? Great-Power Competition Isn’t a Foreign Policy THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY ▪ 2022 19 6. Beyond the mitigation of strategic frictions with Russia and China, what tasks should define America’s engagement with its core allies and partners? 7. How should the United States engage with countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, which largely share the determination to ensure that great-power competition neither erodes their strategic agency nor defines their national interests? 8. What steps can the United States take to minimize the impact of greatpower competition on the management of transnational challenges? 9. How fully can the United States articulate its vision for a more resilient postwar order without invoking Russia and China? What should the pillars of that vision be? 10. If one believes that domestic renewal is a precondition for external competitiveness, how can the United States address its socioeconomic difficulties more effectively and enhance its resilience against transnational challenges amid growing ideological tribalism and political dysfunction?
How Will the New Cold War With Russia End? This article argues that it isn’t practical for the US to engage in intensive, morally outrraged competition with China and Russia and that it needs to be pragmatic/realistic in its interactions with them.
U.S. China Policy Is Heading Towards Disaster. This article identifies 5 reasons the US should not attempt to contain China (still needs cut).
Getting China Wrong (b00k). The West’s strategy of engagement with China has failed. More than three decades of trade and investment with the advanced democracies have left that country far richer and stronger than it would otherwise have been. But growth and development have not caused China’s rulers to relax their grip on political power, abandon their mercantilist economic policies, or accept the rules and norms of the existing international system. To the contrary: China today is more repressive at home, more aggressive abroad, and more obviously intent on establishing itself as the world’s preponderant power than at any time since the death of Chairman Mao. What went wrong?Put simply, the democracies underestimated the resilience, resourcefulness, and ruthlessness of the Chinese Communist Party. For far too long, the United States and its allies failed to take seriously the Party’s unwavering determination to crush opposition, build national power, and fulfill its ideological and geopolitical ambitions. In this timely and powerfully argued study, Aaron Friedberg identifies the assumptions underpinning engagement, describes the counterstrategy that China’s Communist Party rulers devised in order to exploit the West’s openness while defeating its plans, and explains what the democracies must do now if they wish to preserve their prosperity, protect their security, and defend their common values.
The war in the Ukraine exposed the limits of Great Power Competition. The article argues that we need to work with China, not compete against China.
American Grand Strategy: Disguising Decline. This article argues the US doesn’t have the resources for GPC and should instead focus our efforts on defending Europe and North America.
“A second problem is that the concept of great-power rivalry provides an insufficient alert to a new type of threat we face. National security and the global political agenda have changed since 1914 and 1945, but US strategy currently underappreciates new threats from ecological globalization. Global climate change will cost trillions of dollars and can cause damage on the scale of war; the COVID-19 pandemic has already killed more Americans than all the country’s wars, combined, since 1945. Yet, the current US strategy results in a Pentagon budget that is more than 100 times that of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 25 times that of the National Institutes of Health. Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers and other economists recently called for the establishment of a $10 billion annual Global Health Threats Fund, which is “miniscule compared to the $10 trillion that governments have already incurred in the COVID-19 crisis….. Since America cannot tackle climate change or pandemics by itself, it has to realize that some forms of power must be exercised with others. Addressing these global problems will require the US to work with China at the same time that it competes with its navy to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. If China links the issues and refuses to cooperate, it will hurt itself.
Threat Inflation and the Chinese Military. Threat inflation is a major problem in evaluating China’s military capabilities and the military security-related intentions of China’s leadership. With some notable exceptions, U.S. authoritative assessments (and especially nonauthoritative ones) often employ inadequate, distorted, or incorrect evidence, use grossly hyperbolic language, display sloppy or illogical thinking, or rely on broad-brush assertions that seem to derive more from narrow political, ideological, or emotional impulses than from any objective search for truth.
Framing the military challenge Beijing poses in categorical and exceedingly alarmist, worst-case ways removes the need to determine the limits of Chinese threats. China becomes 10 feet tall, undeterred from wanting to destroy the United States except by a massive U.S. counterforce. Such threat inflation also undermines those voices within China that favor moderation, significantly raises the danger of Sino–American crises and military conflict, and diverts huge amounts of U.S. resources away from desperately needed nonmilitary uses at home and abroad.
Managed Strategic Competition. This article argues that competition between the US and China is inevitable but that it must be “managed” in a way that doesn’t trigger war. It’s not clear that this is an alternative to GPC but it might be.
Joseph Nye does argue it is an alternative to GPC: “As former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argues, the objective for great-power competition with China is not total victory over an existential threat, but rather “managed strategic competition.” That will require America and its allies to avoid demonizing China. They should instead see the relationship as a “cooperative rivalry” that requires equal attention to both sides of the description at the same time. On those terms, we can cope successfully, but only if we realize that this is not the great-power competition of the twentieth century.”
Is the West triumphant again? The wisest thing for most policymakers in Washington to do is to abandon this triumphalist mindset and do some cold and hard geopolitical calculations. Any cold assessment will show that the American-British effort to totally weaken and topple Russia is unwise. At the end of the day, Russia will not disappear. A totally angry and alienated Russia is not in European interests. Russia will be a neighbor of Europe for the next thousand years. And it will have reasonably good relations with most countries in the world, outside the West (the 12 percent).
The Overstretched Superpower. The United States is an overstretched hegemon, with a defense strategy that has come out of balance with the foreign policy it supports. Biden’s first year has already shown how hard it is to manage an unruly world when Washington has more responsibilities—and more enemies—than it has coercive means. Over the longer term, a superpower that fails to keep its commitments in line with its capabilities may pay an even heavier price.
Ukraine and the Return of the Multipolar World. Instead, it suggests that the world is increasingly fracturing into a more complex and multipolar environment, one in which America’s long-running foreign policy adventurism and overreach are liable to leave it overextended. For all the triumphalism of the Washington foreign policy narrative on Ukraine, it would be foolish for U.S. policymakers to assume that this war presents either a vindication of the liberal order or a repudiation of power politics and spheres of influence. Instead, it suggests that they must learn to navigate a world that is not divided into black and white, but rather, into many shades of gray.
Ukraine Reveals the Need for an ‘America First’ Foreign Policy. A scenario is easy to envision in which three years from now Russia and Ukraine are both engulfed in chaos, and NATO, larger and more expensive than ever, is tasked not with defending the continent against a malevolent superpower but with doing on the borders of Russia what America tried for twenty years to do in Afghanistan. How many billions—or trillions—would Americans want to commit? How many lives? If Trump is president again, his policy preference will be clear enough. If a Democrat is still in the White House, the populist Right might make even greater inroads with public opinion, reaping the reward as another liberal administration loses the afterwar…. The time for American policymakers to get ahead of these developments is now. That means moving away from what is still a default policy of American primacy and replacing it with policies designed to promote something like a multipolar liberalism. Sunset NATO and in its place foster a genuinely European alternative. The liberal and democratic states of Europe are quite wealthy and populous enough to provide for themselves, and in so doing they will also become better prepared politically for whatever regional instability might arise to the east or the south. The wealthy democracies of East Asia should also form a nexus of strength capable of moderating, if not altogether checking, Chinese ambitions. For its part, the United States should view China primarily as an economic rival and espionage threat. If China engages in military adventurism it will only create new problems for itself. The weakness of every state in the world today is the fragility of its legitimacy, which is not typically improved by forcibly absorbing and trying to govern hostile populations.
America in a World of Limits. But U.S. leaders should avoid overinflating the threat posed by China. Indeed, China has its own domestic and international constraints that may hinder its rise. Accordingly, policymakers should deal with the challenges posed by China without resurrecting the Cold War or raising the likelihood of direct conflict. The acknowledgment that the United States faces real limits on its power does not mean accepting American decline or forlorn resignation that our best days are behind us. To the contrary, prudent foreign policy tradeoffs will better husband our power and provide the means to attend to our domestic economic and fiscal challenges thus ensuring future American safety and prosperity.
America’s Interest in the Ukraine is Not What You Think. The war in Ukraine gives the lie to liberal internationalists such as Robert Kagan who argue that “maintaining the liberal world order” is simply a matter of resolve. Quite the opposite. What Kagan calls “constant [order] tending” is actually clinging to a strategic lifestyle the United States can no longer afford. If American foreign commitments continue to exceed American power, the inevitable result will be additional crises and accelerated decline. Rather than expanding our commitments in places like Ukraine (and Taiwan, for that matter), the United States should begin strategically unwinding commitments it no longer has the capacity to uphold. As Paul MacDonald and Joseph Parent point out, “sagging capabilities and a sprawling defensive perimeter will court disaster.”
Unfortunately, the disaster has already arrived. The United States should, therefore, work to limit the scale of the catastrophe by supporting peace talks between Ukraine and Russia
US grand strategy should reject declinism. This article contends that the US has the resources and the need to challenge China in Asia, not just project into Europe and defend North America.
The Price of Hegemony: Can America Learn to Use Its Power? This article argues that the US will inevitably play a leadership role in the world and that a failure to contain China and Russia now means larger conflicts in the future.
Fighting Back: How Democracies Can Check Authoritarian Aggression. This article argues that we need to contain Chinese and Russian authoritarianis.
Getting China Wrong (book). The West’s strategy of engagement with China has failed. More than three decades of trade and investment with the advanced democracies have left that country far richer and stronger than it would otherwise have been. But growth and development have not caused China’s rulers to relax their grip on political power, abandon their mercantilist economic policies, or accept the rules and norms of the existing international system. To the contrary: China today is more repressive at home, more aggressive abroad, and more obviously intent on establishing itself as the world’s preponderant power than at any time since the death of Chairman Mao. What went wrong?
The Final Struggle: Inside China’s Global Strategy. (b00k) The Chinese government has a sinister secret. And it’s hiding in plain sight. Drawing from internal military documents and never-before-seen writings and speeches by Xi Jinping, The Final Struggle takes readers inside Beijing’s shadowy halls of power to reveal the plans, intentions, and operations of the most powerful – and covert – political organization in the world.
For decades the economic rise of China has been paired with an insistence from the government in Beijing that theirs would be a peaceful rise; that other countries had nothing to fear from China. The democratic world has been largely content to accept those promises, as cheap manufactured goods and huge profits for Western elites flowed out of China. In truth, leaders from Deng Xiaoping onward have been biding their time as China’s power grew.
Today a strengthened, emboldened Chinese Communist Party is dropping the act. Chairman Xi Jinping has amassed more power than any leader since Mao Zedong, and his officials openly proclaim their intention to change the world, subvert democratic norms and instill their own brand of autocratic control. In a nutshell: to remake the world in China’s image, something Xi refers to as “the final struggle”.
Russia and China’s War on the Dollar Is Just Beginning. Nonetheless, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the tide seems to be turning—perhaps not permanently, but in a way that should concern American policymakers. The Sino-Russian alliance is attempting to attract other nations to an alluring alternative, with the ultimate aim of constructing a financial system wholly independent from Washington’s control. With Russia’s help, China is gradually seeking to undermine U.S. financial hegemony…. If the United States wants to remain at the helm of the rules-based international order, it will need to address the serious efforts underway to undermine its global financial hegemony.
China, Not Russia, Still Poses the Greatest Challenge to U.S. Security. AMERICAN FOREIGN policy after—indeed, during—the Russo-Ukrainian War should promptly head to the world’s most decisive region: Asia. This will require that American foreign and defense policy genuinely put Asia first—in our military investments, in our allocation of political capital and resources, and in our leaders’ attention. Nothing that has happened since Russia’s abominable invasion of Ukraine has changed a set of facts: Asia is the world’s largest market area, and it is growing in global share. Located in the middle of Asia is China which, alongside the United States, is one of the world’s two superpowers. China’s behavior has become increasingly aggressive and domineering and appears oriented toward establishing Beijing’s hegemony over Asia. If Beijing achieves this goal, the resulting consequences for American life will be dire. Preventing China from establishing this hegemony over Asia must therefore be the priority of U.S. foreign policy—even in the face of what is happening in Europe. The simple fact is that Asia is more important than Europe, and China is a much greater threat than Russia. By way of comparison, Asia’s economy is roughly twice as large as Europe’s today—but within twenty years it will likely be multiple times greater. China, in the meantime, has a GDP roughly an order of magnitude larger than Russia’s.
Why America Will Remain the World’s Superpower. The United States should spend roughly five percent of GDP on defense over the coming decade. Economic power goes only so far, however, so the democratic world also needs a rapid multilateral rearmament program to shore up a military balance that has been eroding in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. This will include enhanced forward deployments of well-armed forces—especially armor and airpower in eastern Europe and a thicket of shooters and sensors in the western Pacific—that can turn attempted land grabs into protracted, bloody quagmires. A rapid ramping up of detailed operational planning on how the United States and key allies, such as Australia and Japan, would respond to Chinese aggression is also necessary.
US Restraint has created a dangerous and unstable world. . Russia and China were emboldened, in part, because the United States undertook the greatest military drawdown since the collapse of the British empire
Empower Alliances and Share Burdens. By promoting a larger role and increased political say for its allies, Washington can build durable regional balances of power in Asia and Europe—backed by U.S. military power. That, in turn, might compel Beijing and Moscow to adopt more reasonable approaches to their neighbors and discard the belief that they can cut superpower deals with Washington over the heads of Asia and Europe. Shared security burdens and empowered alliances with the United States will make it easier for Asia and Europe to explore the balance of near-term containment of and long-term reconciliation with China and Russia
Swarming to Victory: Drones and the Future of Great Power Competition. But a greater presence in the Indo-Pacific is also essential to prevent China from regularly using military and paramilitary tools below the threshold of armed conflict—such as ordering fighter sorties, building artificial islands, and harassing regional fishermen in contested waters—to gradually change the regional status quo. Therefore, both high-intensity warfighting capabilities and low-intensity presence operations are necessary to deter the entire spectrum of China’s aggressive behavior
How does great power competition end? We need to settle in for what is likely to be a lengthy and hopefully peaceful U.S. competition with China. Perhaps one day the citizens of that country will rearrange their own domestic political affairs. Americans can and should continue to speak out on the issue of human rights inside China. More broadly, we should not hesitate to publicly recognize and describe the highly authoritarian nature of the Chinese Communist regime. But while that understanding is indispensable, it is not a strategy. The immediate need is for the United States and its allies to push back and develop far more focused and coordinated countermeasures against Chinese power to deter armed conflict.
War Gaming Reveals How a US-China Conflict Might Escalate. Moreover, the United States needs to develop an integrated network of partners willing to contribute to Taiwan’s defense. Allies are an asymmetric advantage: the United States has them, and China does not. The United States should deepen strategic and operational planning with key partners to send a strong signal of resolve to China. As part of these planning efforts, the United States and its allies will need to develop war-winning military strategies that do not cross Chinese red-lines. The game highlighted just how difficult this task may be; what it did not highlight is the complexity of developing military strategies that integrate the strategic objectives and military capacities of multiple nations. Moving forward, military planners in the United States and in Washington’s allies and partners must grapple with the fact that, in a conflict over Taiwan, China would consider all conventional and nuclear options to be on the table. And the United States is running out of time to strengthen deterrence and keep China from believing an invasion of Taiwan could be successful. The biggest risk is that Washington and its friends choose not to seize the moment and act: a year or two from now, it might already be too late.
Engagement with China has not failed. This is where engagement still provides opportunities and in fact the best vehicle for averting conflict and fixing the U.S.-China relationship. Friedberg correctly observes that “engagement was a gamble rather than a blunder,” and he acknowledges that “US and other Western policymakers cannot fairly be faulted for placing their original bet.” It is true that the gamble has not paid off, but that does not mean the original bet has been lost. Engagement in fact has not failed; it just hasn’t succeeded yet. And Friedberg himself implicitly endorses it when he recommends that “the United States and its allies should continue to articulate the hope that liberal reforms will someday be possible [in China] and try to create conditions that may make them more likely.” That was, and remains, an excellent reason for engagement with China.