The Big Problem With “Great Power Competition” | Ali Wyne

In this episode, we are joined by Ali Wyne, senior analyst with Eurasia Group’s Global Macro-Geopolitics practice, focusing on US-China relations and great-power competition, and author of the new book “America’s Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition,” which is generating a great deal of buzz in foreign policy circles.

Ali Wyne offers a critique of using competition with China and Russia as an organizing principle for US foreign policy. Great power competition, Ali Wyne argues, is inherently reactive and should not be the blueprint that drives US strategy. Rather, in an era of a resurgent China and revanchist Russia, the US can leverage certain comparative advantages it has to pursue a pro-active and forward looking agenda on the world stage.

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Transcript lightly edited for clarity 

What is great power competition and what does it have to do with US foreign policy? 

Ali Wyne [00:00:00] You’re allowing your competitors to dictate the terms of competition so you place yourself in a reactive defensive position when I think really you should be trying to place yourself in a proactive, affirmative position. It’s humbling for me to be on the podcast. You know, I’ve been a listener for a long time and, you always have this kind of hope when you are somebody who is aspiring to contribute in some way to the marketplace of foreign policy ideas, you know, you sort of have this short list of podcasts that you say to yourself, wouldn’t it be nice if one day I might be able to appear on that podcast? I not only am a really big fan of the podcast, but you obviously you have a very distinguished community who listens to you. So, I’m grateful for the opportunity, very humbled to be here and just looking forward to the conversation.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:02:45] And I am always grateful and also humbled when listeners of the podcast become guests on the podcast. So welcome, Ali. Thanks for coming on.

Ali Wyne [00:02:54] Thank you so much for having me.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:02:56] Can you explain why is using great power competition to chart U.S. foreign policy a problematic endeavor?

Ali Wyne [00:03:05] Sure. And it’s important to distinguish between thinking about great power competition descriptively and thinking about great power competition, prescriptively. So great power competition descriptively has much to recommend it. And I think it’s a real credit to the intellectual architects of great power competition and to the policymaking architects of great power competition that it has come to achieve its present centrality in mainstream discourse. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that descriptively it distills the totality of contemporary geopolitics, but it does nonetheless distill some very important drivers. So, number one, interstate competition is an enduring element of international relations, at least it has been for the better part of about four centuries, really, since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. So great power competition recognizes that interstate competition has never disappeared. It’s waxed and waned in intensity, but it’s been an enduring feature of international relations for quite some time, number one. Number two, it recognizes that the United States, while remaining the world’s only superpower, is relatively not as preeminent as it was, say, at the end of the Cold War or even at the turn of the century or even a decade ago. So, it recognizes the relative diminution of U.S. influence, and it also recognizes that if America’s relative influence is declining, then it follows that the relative influence of its principal nation state competitors is rising and its principal nation state competitors being a resurgent China and a revanchist Russia. And we see, of course, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the really quite troubling uptick in tensions across the Strait of Taiwan, we see how Russia and China are increasingly able and willing to push back. So descriptively, great power competition distills very important dynamics in contemporary geopolitics. The concern that I have is if and when we turn description into prescription. So prescriptively, why might great power competition be problematic as a blueprint for U.S. foreign policy? There are a number of critiques that one might advance. I think that I would bucket my principal critiques into three sort of broad headings. The first heading is that if you articulate and pursue a foreign policy that is maybe not exclusively but in large measure designed in opposition to competitors, you almost from the get-go are ceding the competitive turf to your competitors. You’re allowing your competitors to dictate the terms of competition. So, you place yourself in a reactive defensive position, which I think really you should be trying to place yourself in a proactive, affirmative position. And so, the United States risks putting itself in a position in which it’s anticipating what is China going to do and how do we respond? What is Russia going to do and how do we respond? And if you place yourself in that kind of reactive crouch, you’re allowing your competitors to dictate the terms of competition and in a sense, you’re allowing yourself to be lulled into an ever more expansive globe spanning competition. Now, obviously, the United States does have to manage strategic frictions, growing strategic frictions with China and Russia. It will have to compete with China and Russia, albeit selectively, I would argue not universally. But if you don’t have a well-defined, affirmative sense of where it is that you would like to go in world affairs, where it is that you would like your own foreign policy to go, then you’re much more liable to see any and all Chinese and Russian maneuvers as implicating your vital national interests. And obviously, if you’re sitting in Beijing or Moscow, you want Washington to believe that wherever you assert yourself that Washington feels implicated. So, the first critique is, does great power competition put you in a reactive defensive frame of mind that basically has you chasing China and Russia around the world?

What is containment in foreign policy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:06:41] Like you see everything as a zero-sum game.

Ali Wyne [00:06:44] One risk is seeing the potential for zero competition. I think the other concern is that you run the risk of losing a sense of priority. So obviously there are going to be instances in which China and Russia assert themselves in which you do feel that your vital national interests, or at least your important national interests, are implicated. But not everywhere that China and Russia assert themselves will implicate vital U.S. national interests. The trouble is, and here I’ll give just an example by way of drawing on a little bit of history during the Cold War. So, if you look at the principal architect or at least I guess the foremost avatar of containment, George Kennan, he writes in his 1967 memoir that when he articulated containment, he had a very specific, geographically delimited conception of containment. So, Kennan says in his 1967 memoir that, I mean, in Kennan, he said that when I articulated containment, he said, I advise my colleagues that the purpose of containment should be to ensure that those areas that I believe to be capable of industrial scale military mobilization, that they not fall under communist dominion. And in Kennan’s estimation, outside of the Soviet Union, there were four areas that he believed were capable of that industrial scale military mobilization. And he said that the goal of containment should be not to compete with the Soviet Union ubiquitously and universally, but to compete with the Soviet Union to ensure that those areas didn’t fall under communist control. The irony is, and I think it was sort of a source of enduring kind of embitterment for Kennan that even though containment, the construct, the framework, even though it achieved bipartisan traction, it was, in his view, it was misappropriated such that in his estimation, the United States, as the Cold War progressed, basically collapsed the boundary between the geographical, industrial core of the postwar order and the periphery of the postwar order, such that the United States was competing with the Soviet Union, even in geographic areas where America’s vital national interests were not implicated.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:08:36] Like Vietnam.

Ali Wyne [00:08:37] You could think about Vietnam. You could think about Angola, you could think about Nicaragua.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:08:42] Suddenly, everywhere became a place where you had to contain Soviet expansionism. Exactly the point you make in your book is that, you know, the Soviet Union of old was nowhere near as powerful as the China of today. So, containment as a strategy would be a fool’s errand regardless.

Ali Wyne [00:09:02] It would be a fool’s errand and I think at this point, some observers will say, well, what’s wrong with holding up great power competition as a blueprint for U.S. foreign policy? The United States waged a nearly half century long struggle against the Soviet Union. It was long term. It was systemic. It was multifaceted. It spanned the globe, and the United States won, and the Soviet Union lost. So why not essentially import that model and adapt it to present circumstances? I think that there are many reasons to answer in the negative, but I think an important reason which you hinted at is the economic disparity between the Soviet Union of Old and China of today. So, the Soviet Union at its peak, there’s some differences of estimates for most economic historians would say, based on their calculations, that the Soviet Union, at the zenith of its economic power, that its gross domestic product was somewhere between 40% and 45%, as large as that of the United States at the apex of the Soviet Union’s economic power. China today already, if you look at the International Monetary Fund’s latest calculations, China’s economy today is already about 80% as large as that of the United States. So, leaving out Russia from the equation and just focusing on China, that kind of ubiquitous contestation with a country whose economy is already that much larger, both in absolute terms and in relative terms, vis-a-vis that of the United States. That kind of ubiquitous contestation, I think, would be far more costly, not only in economic terms, but also in strategic terms.

What issues arise when using great power competition as a means to chart United States foreign policy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:10:25] So if one sees great power competition as a blueprint to chart U.S. foreign policy, ubiquitous competition competing with China and to a certain extent, Russia everywhere over everything is one sort of potential problem. What other problems do you see with using great power competition as a blueprint to chart foreign policy?

Ali Wyne [00:10:50] So I think that there are broadly two main additional critiques that I would set forth. The second critique is that I think the great power competition runs the risk of aggrandizing China and Russia’s strategic acumen. So, by way of contrast, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and perhaps one could argue sort of in this interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the onset of the global financial crisis, I think it’s fair to say that the United States veered too far in the direction of complacence. I think that the United States succumbed to triumphalism, and I think that it understated the potential for the Chinas, the Russia’s of the world to one day in due course amass sufficient power where they could channel their grievance into real, meaningful resentment and actually act on that resentment in ways that challenged the US national interests in fundamental ways. So, if one mistake in appraising your competitors is complacency, the opposite peril is that of consternation. And I fear that with great power competition, there is a risk of aggrandizing China and Russia’s competitive acumen beyond what’s warranted. So let me begin with Russia first and then I’ll turn to China. So, when I was writing the book, I long ago lost count of how many times I encountered this narrative, both in my research and also in my conversations, that Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, is stealthy, it’s ubiquitous, that Russia is behind every fraudulent election; It’s behind every fraying U.S. alliance and partnership. And you really got the sense that while the United States was strategically hapless, Russia was really something of a strategic grandmaster. I think that Russia has really belied that notion, has really punctured that narrative with its invasion of Ukraine. Now, it is true that in invading Ukraine, Russia in a very brutal way, in a very visceral way, in a very horrifying way, has reminded the rest of the world that it matters. It has reminded the rest of the world that it is an enduring power, that it is a nuclear armed power, that it can wreak a lot of havoc. We see the havoc that Russia is wreaking with regards to energy markets, with regards to food markets. So, Russia matters, and we now have a very, very painful reminder of its enduring relevance. But in affirming for the rest of the world or in demonstrating to the rest of the world its enduring relevance, I think that it’s done so at profound cost to its own strategic outlook. So, Russia today is far more beholden to China than it was prior to its invasion of Ukraine. Russia has given NATO a new lease on life. NATO is poised to now admit two new members. Russia has given the Trans-Atlantic Project a new lease on life, so the European Union has given membership candidate status to two countries. And even though Russia is presently blunting the impact of sanctions, those sanctions over the medium, long term are going to begin to bite. And so those sanctions over time are going to begin to curtail Russia’s access to capital technology that it will require for its long-term development. And so, I think that Russia has really engaged in a pretty profound act of strategic self-sabotage. Now, China is certainly not as blundering as Russia. It’s not as risk tolerant as Russia. But China as well, I think, has belied with its own diplomacy. I think it’s belied this notion or this narrative of its much-vaunted strategic acumen that posits that China sees decades into the future, whereas America only thinks in two- and four-year electoral increments. What has China done? If you rewind the clock to, let’s say, maybe like the first quarter of 2020. So, let’s say maybe March 2020, April 2020.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:14:07] Let’s not. It was a terrible time but go ahead.

Ali Wyne [00:14:11] It was a terrible time and I’m glad that at least in some ways, we’re beginning to emerge from the pandemic. But so, the narratives of the time were that China had successfully contained the coronavirus pandemic at home. It had contained the economic fallout from the pandemic at home. And having contained the health and economic fallout from pandemic, it was now turning its sights outwards, and it was going to help the rest of the world, which was still very much in distress. And so, there were lots of stories about how China was dispatching shipments of personal protective equipment to countries in distress.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:14:39] I wrote some of those stories.

Ali Wyne [00:14:42] Of course, of course. And we read those stories. And so, there was a sense that China was confident. It was calm in the face of this crisis. It was competent and it was composed. And on the other hand, you had this depiction of the superpower that really did seem to be in terminal decline. It couldn’t contain the pandemic. It couldn’t contain the attendant recession. It was being convulsed by protests against racial injustice. And given this juxtaposition of narratives, this confident, composed China, on the one hand, at least it seemed, and this flailing, hapless United States on the other, I think that China had an extraordinary opportunity to bring its diplomatic stature into greater alignment with its economic heft. What are some of the steps that China could have taken during the better part of 2020? It could have, if not indefinitely, at least temporarily, pressed pause on cracking down on Hong Kong. It could have temporarily pressed pause on coercing and intimidating Taiwan. It could have taken certain steps to stabilize its relationships with Australia, India, Japan, and South Korea, which are very formidable powers in China’s backyard. It could have taken steps to stabilize its relationships with the European Union and the United States, and it basically did the exact opposite. So, what is China’s diplomatic situation today? Now it is true that coming out of the pandemic, China is more central to the global economy than it was prior to the onset of the pandemic. But China faces a far more contested strategic environment, not exclusively as a result of the diplomacy that it’s pursued but I think that in large measure. And so, China now it faces a United States that is on a bipartisan basis, much more alarmed by China’s resurgence. NATO is referring to China in its new strategic concept in much stronger language. The European Union is taking a much sterner disposition towards China, and China has given the Quad a new lease on life. So, critique number two, just to summarize, is that Russia and China, even though they are serious, formidable, multifaceted competitors, they are not immune from strategic errors. They are not ten feet tall strategically, and we should leverage their competitive missteps.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:16:42] So I very much appreciated particularly your framing of China’s diplomacy as undermining its strategic importance as a really important takeaway of your book. For example, China’s fraught relationship with Europe, it’s one-time major trading partner. The relationship is not as strong today as it was a couple of years ago, and that is undermining its resurgence. But let’s get to your third point. What is your third key critique of using great power competition as a blueprint to chart foreign policy.

Ali Wyne [00:17:18] So the third and final critique, it’s perhaps an uncomfortable or unpalatable one, but I think that we have to be dispassionate in these matters, that China and Russia can’t be locked away in a sort of a geopolitical closet with the United States taking away the key. I think many of us would like to envision a scenario in which the United States could advance its vital national interests solely in alignment with like-minded countries. I just don’t think that it can. So, one of the risks of great power competition is it runs the risk of casting cooperative undertakings or even cooperative pursuits with China and Russia as fool’s errands at best, and worse as exhibitions of strategic weakness. And I think, again, in just a clinical, non-emotional, dispassionate way, given China and Russia’s proportions their military proportions, their economic proportions, we do have to think about diplomacy dispassionately and carve out or preserve some baseline diplomatic space with both countries.

How do United States lawmakers view great power competition in terms of policy decisions?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:18:10] So you’ve articulated a very strong critique of using great power competition to drive U.S. foreign policy. I’m wondering, are you seeing evidence that there is, in fact, a bipartisan consensus that is coalescing around this idea, though?

Ali Wyne [00:18:30] There is, I think, a pretty strong bipartisan consensus and I think that it actually has been growing for some time and again, for understandable reasons. Because, again, you see China’s activities, you see Russia’s activities, and you see the relative diminution of American influence. I think that one of the reasons a great power competition enjoys its present centrality in our discourse is I think it gives policymakers and lawmakers a sense that the United States can resume a familiar playbook that has served it well because if you look at the history of U.S. foreign policy, much of U.S. foreign policy has been oriented around dealing with external competitors, and we’ve prevailed in those confrontations. So Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany were militarily defeated. The Soviet Union collapsed. So, I think that there is a sense that embracing great power competition is a policy framework in orienting our foreign policy around external competitors that we can say, hey, we’ve done this before, and we can do so again.

What is the issue with the United States expecting decisive victories over Russia and China?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:19:21] But we’re not in those previous eras. One cannot expect China to collapse or be defeated. Similarly with Russia, these are incomparable eras we’re discussing.

Ali Wyne [00:19:34] And I think that America’s prior confrontations with major external competitors, they were primed to expect decisive victories and again, I mentioned Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union but if you believe, and I think that the evidence suggests, that for all of their myriad socioeconomic frailties at home and for their growing strategic constraints abroad, I think that China and Russia are unlikely to collapse in dramatic Soviet style fashion. I think that they’re going to endure. If you accept the proposition that your two foremost competitors are unlikely to collapse but rather are likely to endure in perpetuity, then the task for your diplomacy becomes not how to accomplish a decisive victory, but instead how to forge and sustain a strained, ambiguous cohabitation. And that proposition is uncomfortable when you’re psychologically primed to expect decisive victories.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:20:21] So rather than organizing U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy around great power competition, you argue that, in your words, a resurgent China and revanchist Russia offers the U.S. an opportunity to do something different. What is that opportunity?

Ali Wyne [00:20:37] I think that their competitive missteps give the United States a little bit of breathing room to pursue a foreign policy that isn’t predicated upon their decisions, that isn’t tethered to their decisions, but instead is focused on articulating an affirmative vision of what it is that the United States actually seeks to accomplish in the world. What is it that U.S. foreign policy seeks to accomplish? And I think it’s important to remember that the United States really hasn’t given itself much of a chance to think in those affirmative terms, because even when the Cold War ended, there was an almost immediate search for what should be the next external competitor to discipline U.S. foreign policy. So even when the Cold War ended, we were searching for external competitors to discipline our foreign policy. My proposition in the book is, given that our principal competitors are making competitive missteps, can the United States articulate a foreign policy that’s more predicated upon renewing its own unique competitive advantages and articulating an affirmative vision of world order? And I think that that opportunity is within reach, but only if we recognize that that opportunity exists in the first place.

How could the United States stop using reactive foreign policy and move into affirmative foreign policy?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:21:37] So what are the competitive advantages that the U.S. could harness to pursue a more affirmative role in the world?

Ali Wyne [00:21:45] Well, there are a number of competitive advantages, so I’ll begin with some of the advantages it has at home, and then I’ll turn to some of its advantages abroad. And it’s important, I think, as well, to stress that internal renewal and external competitiveness, they’re two sides of the same coin. You can’t be externally competitive if you’re not renewing your competitive advantages at home. So domestically, it’s a familiar litany, but it’s one worth enumerating nonetheless. So, you look at America’s ecosystem of innovation, you look at its system of higher education, you look at its demographic outlook. China’s demographic decline has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks and months. America’s demographic outlook vis a vis China and Russia is very favorable. And I think that America also has this kind of intangible quality. It has this ability to engage in introspection as a way of stimulating internal renewal. And when I say introspection, I mean to look at its moral imperfections, to look at its moral shortcomings, to look at the gap between its foundational creed and its lived experience, and to make progress in bridging that gap. So, it has a very storied tradition of introspection as an agent of renewal. Turning abroad: it’s true that America’s diplomatic network is under strain from within and without, but it remains an unrivaled network, both in terms of its scope and also its potency. And I think that we see in the way that the United States has mobilized allies and partners against Russian aggression. We see the way that it’s mobilizing allies and partners in support of, say, the Indo-Pacific economic framework, that the United States has an unrivaled diplomatic network. It has an unrivaled capacity to mobilize coalitions, both to manage great power frictions, but also to manage transnational challenges. And I think that also, even though I think it has lost some of its allure, and I don’t think that even its allies and partners necessarily look to the United States the same way that they might have 20 years ago or 30 years ago, but having said that, when the United States conducts itself in a way that seems to violate America’s self-professed ideals, it elicits not only criticism, but importantly, it elicits disappointment. When China and Russia act in ways that depart from Western norms, they elicit condemnation, but they don’t elicit disappointment and that’s a crucial distinction. They don’t elicit disappointment because China and Russia are not really looked to by many other countries as normative exemplars. When the United States fails to articulate and advocate a certain vision of foreign policy or a certain conception of world order, it elicits disappointment because many other countries say, one, you should behave better, and two, we believe that you can behave better. And that expectation, it’s a burden, but I think it’s also a blessing because it means that the United States, what it does at home and what it does abroad, it reverberates around the world. I mean, look at the global reverberations of America’s MeToo movement. Look at the global reverberations of America’s reckoning with racial injustice, which have inspired protest movements all around the world. One last point that I’ll make as an external advantage is we talk about the postwar order, and yes, it’s fraying. It’s under duress. There are many obituaries that are being written for the postwar order, and yet it still does, albeit in fraying creaking form, it still does endure. The more that China and Russia fulminate against the inequities of the postwar order, against the injustices of the postwar order, the more that they betray the impoverishment of their own conceptions, which really don’t exist. And so, I think that because this postwar order has diffused and it’s developed over the better part of 75 years, it confers upon the United States an enormous source of inertial leverage. It’s a kind of sticky leverage. It’s difficult for China and Russia to come up with an alternative given how long this US led order has existed. So, I think that at home and abroad, the United States has a range of competitive advantages. Some of them, I think, are unique. The question is how to renew them, how to harness them, how to repurpose them, not only to manage great power frictions more effectively, but also to manage the full panoply of transnational challenges more effectively. It’s a daunting task, but I think that if the United States focuses more on renewing itself rather than on reacting to its competitors, I think that it really can avail itself of this great power opportunity.

How would an affirmative US foreign policy position handle China’s desire to unify Taiwan to mainland China?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:25:48] So say the United States did all these things that you articulated and did them well and to the fullest extent possible, renewed itself at home, renewed alliances, and mastered its competitive advantages both at home and abroad. How might that impact the Taiwan question, which is like this looming foreign policy challenge China has explicitly stated as its goal of the unification of Taiwan to mainland China. How might a renewed or reinvigorated U.S. grand strategy approach that question, understanding that the goal is not to be reactive to a decision China makes, but to chart its own path? Yet this still is like a looming foreign policy challenge in the near term.

Ali Wyne [00:26:41] Absolutely. And I wouldn’t want to convey the impression that the management of great power frictions with China and Russia isn’t an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. It is, and it must be. And I also wouldn’t want to convey the impression that U.S. foreign policy can be entirely proactive. It can be entirely proactive in the abstract, but in the real world, inevitably, some of your foreign policy is going to be reactive because there are shocks the system, there are crises, there are developments that take you by surprise. So, what I try to argue in the book is, what can we do recognizing that a significant segment of U.S. foreign policy, invariably and understandably, will be reactive as developments emerge from day to day. What can we do to basically maximize the room for proactive thinking and proactive foreign policy? But with having registered that caveat, any discussion of a great power opportunity or any discussion of great power cooperation is predicated upon foundationally and I don’t mean to sound simplistic here but is predicated upon the avoidance of great power conflict. It’s predicated upon the avoidance of great power war. If the United States finds itself in an armed confrontation with China and/or Russia, then discussions of great power diplomacy, great power cooperation, great power opportunities, they really become moot. So, I would say that the most foundational, fundamental objective of great power relations is the avoidance of great power war. And so, I would argue that the United States, with Russia and also with China, it needs to be taking whatever steps it can to strengthen its military-to-military communication channels with China and Russia. It needs to be thinking of updating its de-escalation protocol. It needs to ensure that even if domestic politics in the three great powers are not conducive to diplomacy, it needs to ensure the privately, diplomacy is operating on full throttle, that diplomacy is the only really guardrail that we have to avert armed confrontation. So that’s point one. Point number two, I think in the specific case of Taiwan, it’s very important for the United States and China not to succumb to fatalism. I do worry that whereas in years past, the discussion around Taiwan was, will the United States and China one day go to war over Taiwan? I fear that now the discussion seems to be morphing more into when will war break out and what will the United States and China do when war breaks out? I think it’s very important for the United States and China to avoid that fatalism, because that fatalism can become a cause of war. Two final points I’ll make about Taiwan. One, it’s also very important for the United States in its dealings with Taiwan, to strengthen Taiwan psychologically and to avoid giving Taiwan the impression that war is inevitable. So, we need to ensure that we are strengthening Taiwan psychologically, economically, diplomatically, not just militarily. And, of course, I think it’s important that we build up a balance of military power not only in Taiwan, but also in Asia more broadly, so that China appreciates that if it were to contemplate aggression vis a vis Taiwan, that the military consequences would be devastating, and that if China were to attack Taiwan or if China were to attempt forcible reunification, then that step would potentially spell the end of what Xi Jinping calls the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. So just to summarize, the foundational objective of great power relations is the avoidance of a great power war. So, everything that I have said kind of in the beginning of our conversation about how the United States can leverage China and Russia’s competitive missteps, how it can chart a more proactive foreign policy, all of that discussion is predicated upon the avoidance of great power war.

How can common good play a role with relations between China, Russia, and the United States?

Mark L. Goldberg [00:30:18] And the second goal that you articulate in your book is to somehow advance the common good. Lastly, could you just articulate what you mean by that and how, given how fraught relations are today between the U.S., China, and Russia, one might harness great power relations to indeed advance the common good.

Ali Wyne [00:30:46] Given how poor US-China and US-Russia relations are and given how rapidly and sobering those two relationships are deteriorating, I guess one could almost perhaps posit an alternative question, which is not so much how they can cooperate, because some might say that question smacks of naivety, and perhaps it does because it seems a cooperative space is so limited. So maybe the question that one might posit instead is not how can they cooperate, but instead, what alternative do they have? I think that right now, the great powers, they might believe that they can get by without cooperating with one another, without preserving any baseline of diplomacy. But I would like to believe that in due course, they will recognize the folly of that conclusion. I’m reading William MacAskill, your previous guest, I’ve been reading his book and the Foreign Affairs essay adapted from his book, and he talks very compellingly and very movingly about this point. He says, what are we going to do if major powers or great powers render the judgment that it’s worth taking the gamble to advance their security by avoiding cooperation with one another? And in my own book, I refer to that risk as a risk of great power nihilism. The risk that the great powers will accord priority to competing with one another over forging that common good. And my concern is that if that great power nihilism plays out, then the great powers will end up cooperating, not through far sighted statecraft, but they’ll end up cooperating because some crisis forces their hand or some transnational challenge grows so intense, so severe, that it forces their hand. And so, I guess, to answer your question, I would say one would hope that farsighted diplomacy prevails, far sighted statecraft prevails, and that the great powers cooperate of their own volition. But assuming that they don’t cooperate, assuming that they believe that cooperation is an exhibition of strategic weakness, I think then the question will become under what circumstances will they be forced against their volition to cooperate? I hope we don’t have to answer that latter question, but at the rate that the relationships are deteriorating, we may well have to grapple with that question sooner than we would like.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:32:57] Well, Ali, the book is great.

Ali Wyne [00:32:59] Thank you.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:33:00] A great beach read for an international relations nerd like me. And congratulations.

Ali Wyne [00:33:05] Thank you so much.

Mark L. Goldberg [00:33:13] Thank you for listening to Global Dispatches. Our show is produced by me, Mark Leon Goldberg, and edited and mixed by Levi Sharp.

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