This time is different*

Michael J Mazarr, who is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and who was a professor and associate dean of academics at the U.S. National War College, and also was a special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, near the very top of the Pentagon, has written a short but provocative article in Foreign Affairs in which he says that “A new era of great-power competition is upon us. That, at least, is the emerging conventional wisdom among foreign policy analysts in Washington. Both the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) signaled a shift in thinking:the unclassified summary of the latter declared that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” and many have turned to the classic concept of great-power rivals to describe the new reality. “After being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century,” the NSS concluded, “great power competition returned.” Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis used the term in a speech outlining the NDS. Outside government, references to great-power competition have proliferated over the last several months, the term having become a sort of shorthand for the situation the United States now faces.” But, he asks, “does the phrase [Great Power competition] really capture today’s reality?

His answer is no, for three reasons:

  • First, he writes: “The current structure of the international system is not fundamentally multipolar. It does show growing signs of multipolarity, in the reduced degrees of U.S. predominance and as several regional powers have become more assertive. Yet it also retains many elements of the post–Cold War period of unipolarity. Washington remains the predominant power for many reasons: its overall military superiority, its leading role in so many international organizations, its formidable set of treaty allies, and its ownership of the world’s dominant reserve currency are chief among them. At the same time, the emerging system has important elements of bipolarity: the United States and China are clearly first among equals, and their rivalry is likely to play a disproportionate role in shaping the course of world politics. Today’s world thus reflects a complex mixture of unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar elements that does not match the classic vision of a colliding set of roughly equivalent great powers;” but
  • Second, he explains, “The way [modern] states express that dissatisfaction, moreover, differs significantly from the classic predominance of political-military forms of great-power competition. Because of the nuclear revolution, victorious wars of conquest are simply not a realistic option. No modern Russian Napoleon could imagine seizing the whole of Europe, because to do so would be to court nuclear annihilation. Beyond the effect of nuclear weapons, several factors—including the role of democracy, prosperity, and economic interdependence—have ushered in an age when military adventurism is strikingly rare. Today’s versions of rivalry and competition almost always play out in the economic, political, cultural, and informational spheres—not on the battlefield;” and consequently
  • Third, he concludes, “The strategy of the United States’ leading rival—China—is therefore to advance its interests primarily through economic, geopolitical, and informational means. Military power certainly backs up some of China’s ambitions, such as in the South China Sea and in its belligerent posture toward Taiwan. But China’s activities today pale in comparison with earlier forms of great-power military aggression, which often involved existential threats to homelands—Germany’s fleet threatening the United Kingdom’s survival before World War I, Napoleonic France invading its neighbors, and the like. Whatever China’s objectives are today, they will not be served by a direct attack on other great powers.

This is something akin to what I have been saying for years: China aims to rise to the status of global superpower, even surpassing the USA in many areas, but it plans to do so without going to war with America or the US-led West or anyone else, for that matter, and President Donald Trump is facilitating China’s aims by treating it as a traditional enemy.

Canada must find a way to survive and even prosper in this new paradigm. That means:

  • Maintaining and improving cordial and cooperative relations with the United States, even under the influence of the Trump Party, which will outlive President Trump, himself, and with Europe, too;
  • Restoring correct relations with China; and
  • Improving commercial, diplomatic and political relations with, above all, India, but also with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Vietnam and with countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East and South and West Asia.

In short, it means correcting the foreign policy fumbles of Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland.


* With apologies to Professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff


Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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