Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written by National Security analyst Lieutenant General Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research please email email@example.com.
Great power competition is back.
President Trump’s National Defense strategy in 2018 made it clear that his Administration would no longer subordinate the threats posed by China and Russia to Bush43’s and Obama’s priorities - like countering radical insurgencies.
Given behavior by Russian and Chinese leaders over the last few years, the new Defense Strategy was both timely and overdue.
But exactly how should Washington navigate through the security challenges posed by these countries in the years ahead?
One of Washington's most insightful national security correspondents, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, two weeks ago suggested one approach; he wrote that President Trump's recent positive actions with his friend Vladimir Putin - like offering assistance in dealing with the pandemic or inviting Russia to rejoin the G7 - mean that the White House might be trying to reprise the half-century-old "Triangulation Strategy” made famous by Henry Kissinger in the early 70s - but this time sidling up to Russia, to contain China.
As tantalizing as a "triangulation" strategy might appear to be now as the China challenge deepens by the day - and as Beijing's delight in the disarray in U.S. politics grows by the hour - it's unlikely to succeed.
Recall, in 1972, the historic “triangulation” effort by Henry Kissinger to draw us closer to China and strategically outflank the Soviet Union was brokered with PRC Premier Zhou Enlai. The outcome then was geo-strategically tectonic.
In this case, as Ignatius highlighted, if talks ensue on a triangulation reprise, they will center on Sergei Lavrov and Mike Pompeo. To be charitable, Lavrov is no Zhou Enlai, and Pompeo has yet to demonstrate Kissinger-esque qualities as Secretary of State.
At the most fundamental level, Henry Kissinger worked hard to establish a relationship with Zhou of mutual trust. But with Lavrov, "trust" is a term that will never characterize any negotiation - as Sergei has demonstrated for over 10 years in a perfidious relationship with Washington.
Further, it is in Moscow's and Beijing's strategic interests to deepen THEIR relationship, not to see either draw closer to Washington and the west. Both countries recognize that we are in a contest of governing values: authoritarian state capitalism versus market-centric democracy.
For the indefinite future, Moscow and Beijing will be attracted to each other by their alignment on how to govern; they are repelled by the west's openness.
President Trump and Secretary Pompeo would be well advised to draw closer to our allies who share our values (Europe, Japan, India, Australia, South Korea), not to court autocrats.
An alignment of democracies, based on markets, openness, and the rule of law - and led by the U.S. - should be Washington's central diplomatic objective this century; efforts to "triangulate" with Lavrov and Moscow will prove to be a diplomatic waste of time.
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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN
LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.
He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.
Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.