The End of Great Power Competition?

In 2017, the Pentagon under President Donald Trump announced that a new era of “great power competition” had arrived. Almost instantly, “great power competition” became a ubiquitous phrase in Washington, DC, invoked by grand strategists seeking to reshape U.S. foreign policy and by bureaucracies seeking new resources. Now the Biden administration must decide whether to retain or replace the construct of great power competition as it formulates its National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. What are the U.S. interests that great power competition aims to advance? What threats do China and Russia pose to the United States, and is “great power competition” capable of differentiating between the two? To what extent does “great power competition” foreclose cooperation on climate change and other international challenges? Can “great power competition” achieve U.S. restraint in the Middle East, or will it bring about new interventions there? Join the Quincy Institute for an important debate that puts Elbridge Colby, co-founder of the Marathon Initiative and a leading architect of “great power competition,” in dialogue with two critics, Emma Ashford, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Michael Swaine, director of the Quincy Institute’s East Asia program. The conversation will be moderated by Stephen Wertheim, director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute. The event will take place on Thursday, May 13, at 1 pm EDT. REGISTER FOR EVENT


Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford is a resident senior fellow with the New American Engagement Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, which focuses on challenging the prevailing assumptions governing U.S. foreign policy and seeks to develop effective solutions that preserve America’s security and prosperity. Her work focuses on questions of grand strategy, international security, and the future of U.S. foreign policy. She has expertise in the politics of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. Previously, she was a research fellow in defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute, where she worked on a variety of issues including the US-Saudi relationship, the usage and efficacy of sanctions, US policy towards Russia, the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and US foreign policy and grand strategy more broadly.

Elbridge Colby

Elbridge Colby is co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. He is the author of the forthcoming The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict. Previously, Colby was from 2018-2019 the Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, where he led the Center’s work on defense issues. Before that, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017-2018. In that role, he served as the lead official in the development and rollout of the Department’s preeminent strategic planning guidance, the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).

Michael D. Swaine

Michael D. Swaine, director of QI’s East Asia program, is one of the most prominent American scholars of Chinese security studies. He comes to QI from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he worked for nearly twenty years as a senior fellow specializing in Chinese defense and foreign policy, U.S.-China relations, and East Asian international relations. Swaine has authored and edited more than a dozen books and monographs, including Remaining Aligned on the Challenges Facing Taiwan (with Ryo Sahashi; 2019), Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Strategic Net Assessment (with Nicholas Eberstadt et al; 2015) and many journal articles and book chapters. Swaine received his doctorate in government from Harvard University and his bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.

Stephen Wertheim (Moderator)

Stephen Wertheim is Director of the Grand Strategy Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He is also a Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Wertheim is the author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (Harvard University Press, 2020) and has published scholarly articles on such topics as grand strategy, international law, world organization, and humanitarian intervention. He regularly writes about current events in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. He received a PhD in History from Columbia in 2015.