[Column] Biden’s “everything doctrine” and the new Cold War

Posted on : 2021-07-01 16:53 KST Modified on : 2021-07-01 16:53 KST
S. Korea should embrace Biden's moral sensibility while shunning geopolitical conflict
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands before their first summit, held at the 18th-century Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16. (TASS/Yonhap)
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands before their first summit, held at the 18th-century Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16. (TASS/Yonhap)

Zbigniew Brzezinski, late American strategist and former White House National Security Advisor, described the greatest threat to US hegemony in his book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.”

“The most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an ‘antihegemonic’ coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances. It would be reminiscent in scale and scope of the challenge once posed by the Sino-Soviet bloc, though this time China would likely be the leader and Russia the follower.”

As the Biden administration doubles down on its foreign policy aimed at containing China — an approach crafted by the Trump administration — this dangerous scenario is becoming more likely.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video conference on June 28 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship. During the conference, the two leaders talked about developing their strategic partnership.

Xi and Putin have had nine in-person meetings, held five video conferences and teleconferences, and exchanged letters five times since 2018, when the Trump administration initiated its policy of pressure on China, state-run China Global Television Network reported.

On the very day of Xi and Putin’s conference, the US launched air strikes on Iranian-backed militia groups on the border of Iraq and Syria. One of the militias bombed by the US was the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the biggest armed militia supported by Iran.

The air strikes were essentially aimed at Iran. The US and Iran are currently negotiating a return to the Iranian nuclear deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), from which the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew.

If the negotiations aren’t completed before recently elected hardliner Ebrahim Raisi takes office as Iranian president in early August, there’s little chance that the US and Iran can repair their relations, let alone reinstate the Iranian nuclear deal.

US relations with China, Russia, and Iran have been going downhill since Trump took office. During a weeklong trip to Europe that began on June 10, Biden worked to build a US-led coalition against China during the Group of Seven (G7) summit, a NATO summit, and a summit with Putin.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was established to oppose the Soviet Union during the Cold War, described China as presenting “systemic challenges.” That extends NATO’s scope beyond Europe and its periphery to Eurasia’s eastern end.

In a column for Foreign Affairs titled “Biden’s Everything Doctrine,” Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that the US’ tendency to squander its power on excessive interventions in every international affair — a tendency that has been the biggest error in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War — could get even worse in the Biden administration.

Biden has said his foreign policy will prioritize countering authoritarian regimes in China and Russia, promoting democracy and human rights, and restoring American alliances, but he has also promised a “foreign policy for the middle class.”

Shapiro argues that there’s little chance of achieving these conflicting foreign policy priorities given the US’ limited resources and time. That’s why he dubbed the Biden administration’s foreign policy as the “everything doctrine,” which is grounded in the US’ characteristic idealism and moral sensibility.

The biggest risk is that Biden’s foreign policy will spur on a conflict with China. While Biden and the members of his cabinet avoid the term “new Cold War,” they often speak of a confrontation between democracy and authoritarianism.

In a column in the same publication titled “Washington’s Dangerous New Consensus on China: Don’t Start Another Cold War,” US Senator Bernie Sanders sarcastically observed that the very people who were pushing to expand economic ties with China 20 years ago are now calling China the US’ greatest threat.

“The primary conflict between democracy and authoritarianism [. . .] is taking place not between countries but within them,” Sanders argued. “If democracy is going to win out, it will do so not on a traditional battlefield but by demonstrating that democracy can actually deliver a better quality of life for people than authoritarianism can.”

If the US-China conflict is bound to become a new Cold War, South Korea — stuck as it is between the two countries — needs a two-track approach. Seoul should endorse the idealism and moral sensibility behind Biden’s “everything doctrine” while avoiding conflict in geopolitical affairs.

When the US pressures China on Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, Seoul should vocally assert the universal principles of freedom and human rights. At the same time, it should exercise extreme prudence and maintain its autonomy in regard to the independence or secession of those regions, which are geopolitical matters.

There’s no need to skeptically question whether such a two-track approach is feasible. South Korea is an important country for both the US and China, which means it can maintain a consistent position and attitude, as long as it doesn’t provoke either side. Diplomacy is all about choices and principles.

By Jung E-gil, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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