Nobody Is Competing With the U.S. to Begin With

U.S. security elites are obsessed with the threat posed by China and Russia to U.S. global primacy. This is a serious strategic miscalculation. The United States’ global network of powerful allies and bases (of which China and Russia have hardly any), unrivaled blue-water Navy, and possession of the only truly global currency mean that no other country can challenge Washington on the world stage as a whole.

Nor indeed is there any real evidence that they wish to do so. It is not just that a non-nuclear attack on NATO is impossibly far beyond Russian capabilities; until its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia devoted great efforts to trying to woo Germany and France. Russia has no interest in provoking the United States into a maritime blockade that would devastate Russia’s energy exports, nor China in disrupting a global trading and financial system on which it depends for most of its trade. No U.S. ally or alliance system is under threat from a rival power as long as they and the United States restrict themselves to their own defense. Washington is in firm control of the great economic powerhouse of Western Europe and maritime East Asia, as well as its own hemisphere.

All other things being equal, U.S. global primacy is already secure for a very long time to come. The problem is that all other things are not equal.

Since the end of the Cold War, too many U.S. strategists have forgotten a fundamental rule both of geopolitics and of war: that all real power is in the end local and relative. That is to say, it is the amount of force, money, or influence that a state is able and willing to bring to bear on a particular issue or place compared with the amount that rival states can bring to bear. So, what is true of the world as a whole may be totally untrue of eastern Ukraine or the South China Sea.