Now that Biden’s administration is slapping more sanctions and other punitive measures, nearly “once a week pace”, on China and Russia, Henry Kissinger (now aged 97 but “still going strong”), a legendary US Secretary of State, has announced a loud warning to Washington on March 25, 2021. He urged Washington to either agree to a new international system or continue pushing tensions that are leading to a situation similar to the eve of World War One. In a recent Chatham House webinar with former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Kissinger called on the US to create a balance with existing global forces, adding that
“if you imagine that the world commits itself to an endless competition based on the dominance of whoever is superior at the moment, then a breakdown of the order is inevitable. And the consequences of a breakdown would be catastrophic.” “The US must also remember, he said, that international problems do not have “final solutions,” and that each apparent solution “opens the door to another set of problems.”
Biden administration’s foreign policy seems to be focused on an “emphasized dual-containment” approach regarding other great powers, China and Russia. President Biden has vowed to be tough on China and Russia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others have accused China of threatening the US-led international order and undermining democratic nations around the world. Both of them have accused Russia of malign behavior, meddling in US elections and threatening of others. Increasing number of various “incidents” in the vicinity of Russian and Chinese borders, tell how tense and hostile the international atmosphere is right now.
Kissinger’s recent statement about the US and the international system is actually a mature proposal, based on his unique foreign political experience, that would be beneficial for world peace if the Biden administration accepts his advice that the global order is changing. However, it is unlikely that Washington is ready to admit that it cannot maintain anymore a unipolar order. Former Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reportedly said that Joe Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Historically, it has been always difficult for Great Powers to accept that the world has changed, especially when it is to their detriment. The behavior of the Biden administration, demonstrates that it will not emotionally or rationally accept transformation of polarity in the international system. The US is no longer the world’s sole superpower and its rivals are no longer accepting such aggressive rhetoric, which is why the Chinese delegation in Alaska meeting last month clearly stated that it does not accept any language of force.
In his recent article (The National Interest, March 22,2021), Robert D. Kaplan said that “The United States cannot continue to oppose both China and Russia at every level without nurturing a Chinese-Russian alliance that holds up for many years and will by itself dissipate American power.”
Kaplan continues “When President Richard Nixon and national security advisor Henry Kissinger opened ties with China in order to balance against Russia and then established a policy of Detente with Russia, the Cultural Revolution was still in progress in China and a vast gulag still operated in Russia. But that did not deter the Nixon Administration. A mature policy of engagement now with both authoritarian powers begins with this realization. Engagement is not appeasement. It is a matter of mixing various forms of pressure and diplomacy to explore areas where Russia and the United States can cooperate to reduce tensions…”
Kaplan closes his article by saying “What Nixon and Kissinger accomplished is now impossible. That was a time when Russia and China were practically at war and thus ripe for American manipulation. But a modest prying-apart over time of the Russia-China alliance might yet be possible. At least that is the direction where we should be headed. Merely holding Russia to account is not a policy. We should learn from Napoleon.”
History may teach a lot, if the observer is willing and open to learn.