By: Matthew Kroenig

What is the kernel of the issue?

The United States has declared that great power competition with China is a foremost priority of US national security policy, but it has not yet articulated clear goals for this competition. 

Why is the issue important?

As General Brent Scowcroft argued, good strategy begins with clear goals. If you don’t know where you are going, then you cannot formulate a strategy to get you there. Great power competition is an accurate description of the current security environment, but it is not a strategy, and it does not tell us what success looks like. Moreover, it will be difficult to persuade allies and partners to join us in countering China if they are not confident that Washington knows what it is trying to achieve.

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should articulate a clear goal for competition with China: To change the minds of China’s leaders about the wisdom of challenging the United States, its allies and partners, and the rules-based international system. While the United States would like China to be a cooperative member of the rules-based international system, that does not seem possible in the short term under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Therefore, Washington and its allies should work to persuade the next generation of Chinese leadership that Xi’s assertive foreign policy failed. It should show them that challenging the United States and its allies is too difficult and costly for Beijing and that China would be better off pursing a more cooperative path.