The United States appears to have forgotten that aggressive intentions are not the only ways that wars begin. Conflicts can also arise from the workings of the security dilemma, when measures meant to deter aggression and defend the security of one state are perceived as threatening by another.
President Biden’s statement in Tokyo on Monday, that the United States would respond militarily to defend Taiwan should China invade, raises important questions about Washington’s new strategic approach to “great power competition” with China and Russia.
Since Nixon’s opening to China in the early 1970s, it had been a fundamental dictum of U.S. strategy that Washington should have better relations with Beijing and Moscow than they have with each other. This approach minimized the likelihood that they would coordinate their peacetime activities against the United States, and it also reduced the chances we might face a two-front war against a pair of formidable nuclear powers.
This approach has now become history. As China has ascended to peer-rival status with the United States over the past decade, and as both Beijing and Moscow have objected with growing directness to America’s interventionism and perceived unwillingness to respect their core security concerns, Washington has pursued policies that have inadvertently encouraged anti-U.S. partnership between Russia and China.