Foreign Relations Thinking: Issue Set-Up
We’ve heard the ineffective “or” questions: Is China an adversary, competitor, partner, or opponent to the United States? Is China a near-peer, or peer power? Which is the greater threat, China, Russia, or global terrorism? The honest answer is, “Yes, all of the above, with a regular doses of the unexpected.”
Such questions strain for certainty instead of adaptive awareness in real time. War, terror, and differences with conflict-potential do not follow our plans, especially our telegraphed ones. By setting up false dichotomous questions, we numb ourselves to the qualities needed to execute policy that evolves, survives, and thrives in real time to keep the U.S. a perpetual freedom-superpower in a world of rising autocracies. And that, without becoming one of them or repeating our own historic errors and wrongs.
The U.S. American trend in establishing government from colonial times was to break with power-abusing ancient empires and theocracies of the world, dragging some baleful hypocrisies along with it.
In legal and systemic sense, the U.S. American breakaway from the long line of dynastic or autocratic rulers in the world was a “divorce” from that world. Yet to this day the U.S. shares the planet, atmosphere, and solar system with that world, including China.
If governing systems are like ‘parents’ in the divorce analogy, the shared world and our respective peoples are the perpetual ‘children.’ Our interactions, common interests, and conflicting visions bring the ‘parent governments’ into agreement, disagreement, negotiations, fora, courts, and varied risks of conflict, including military.
Both versions of government find individuals with technology a challenge to their respective abuses of authority, sparing no government the embarrassment of being surveilled in return when doing wrong.
Yet individuals and the collective society need governments to do certain jobs to defend, protect, serve, organize, and support civilization. Americans believe that governments that support an educated, civilized citizenry intelligently consenting to rational governance can be perpetual. China traditionally assumes that is true about centralized, authoritarian rule.
Where China is an existential threat to the U.S., the U.S. has the right and duty to its people to prepare, equip, train, and ensure that the U.S. can decisively defeat China and or deter it from aggression. This requires keeping the edge of the capability to decisively defeat potential aggressors and to return the existential threat. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction still applies until, if ever, a basis for trustworthy reconciliation is achieved for greater common causes.
In the divorce analogy, consider a thought experiment in which the U.S.-China relationship is like an open post-divorce case file routinely managing issues such as:
(1) the role of our respective governing styles and methods (analogy to parenting) and their direct effects on the world and on the international working relationship;
(2) relevant property ownership, allocation, custody, rights, interests, and remedies;
(3) fair trade for the civilian needs of ‘the children,’ being our respective peoples in each government’s ‘sole custody’ as distinguished from supply, communication, infrastructure, and sovereignty elements of defense, national security, cyberspace security, citizen loyalty, secrets, alliances, and navigation-freedom interests in the world, solar system, and beyond;
(4) investment and visitation standards between citizens and companies of each country that minimize national security violations to home countries clearly defined by each side;
(5) rights, duties, and collateral responsibilities of both powers to define, reduce, and prevent violations of civil rights at home and abroad and human rights in international conflict and intelligence activity to make the world a more stable, humane place;
(6) rules, actions, responsibilities, and responses regarding encounters between the governments and commercial entities in the world’s oceans, atmosphere, orbit, solar system and cyberspaces;
(7) de-escalatory yet just processes and remedies for alleged bad behaviors affecting the defense, economy, security, safety, health, welfare, property, fair trade, human needs, freedom, or order of either household, its government, and people;
(8) negotiations of limits on WMD, standards for preventing accidents, standards for reducing the conflicts in the world that tempt their use, and cooperation on WMD anti-proliferation, denuclearization, and remedying irresponsible, unstable entities’ possession of WMD;
(9) cooperation in our respective efforts to track and safely clean-up dangerous items polluting our environment and our planet’s orbital space, or incoming extra-terrestrial bodies threatening the planet;
(10) addressing the need for prevention of extremist groups arising or recruiting from traumas imposed by extreme or fanatical nation state terror, action, and policies.
Future Thoughts: Common Causes
Divorced or not, between the U.S. and China there are objectively challenging global and extraterrestrial phenomena risking survival, success, and thriving across the planet. The clearest and most recent was infectious disease, Covid-19.
The national households may be divorced as to governing systems, but both know that without cooperation for common survival and improved conditions on Earth, we may never have the freedom to compete to see whose system works best.