The international order has entered a new epoch and the United States will need to vigorously defend its way of life from encroaching authoritarianism from China and Russia, according to a senior U.S. official.
How the United States acts over the course of the next decade will make or break its efforts to preserve a liberal international order against the autocratic advances of China’s communist regime, said White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan.
“We’re in the early years of a decisive decade,” Sullivan said at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security and the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington.
“The terms of our competition with the People’s Republic of China will be set. The window of opportunity to deal with shared challenges like climate change will narrow drastically even as the intensity of those challenges grows.”
Sullivan delivered the remarks hours after the unveiling of the Biden administration’s national security strategy, which designated communist China as the greatest challenge facing the United States.
“The PRC’s assertiveness at home and abroad is advancing an illiberal vision across economic, political, security, and technological realms in competition with the west,” Sullivan said, using the acronym for the regime’s official name.
“It is the only competitor with the intent to reshape the international order and the growing capacity to do it.”
Sullivan said that the world had left the post-Cold War era, often associated with the rise of globalization, international cooperation, and a general lack of military conflict between great powers.
Now, he said, a new era of geopolitical competition has arisen, tied closely to the push by China and Russia towards a multipolar world order. In this burgeoning era, autocratic nations would seek to rewrite the rules of the international system according to their whims, he said.
“The world’s major autocracies believe that the democratic world is in decline,” Sullivan said.
“They seek to advance a very different vision, where might makes right and technological and economic coercion squeezes anyone who steps out of line.”
To that end, Sullivan said that the authoritarian philosophies of Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin contained a “fundamental fragility” that could be overcome by a united “free, open, and prosperous international order.”
“Even if our democratic allies and partners don’t agree on everything, they are aligned with us,” Sullivan said. “And so are many countries that do not embrace democratic institutions but nevertheless depend upon and help sustain a rules-based international system.”
“They don’t want to see it vanish, and they know that we are the world’s best bet to defend it.”
Whether the United States succeeded or failed in defending that international order, Sullivan said, would determine whether the nations of the world could effectively remain free or even work with one another on transnational issues like disease and climate change.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Sullivan said. “The actions we take now will shape whether this decisive decade is an age of conflict and discord or the beginning of a more prosperous and stable future.”
“The post-Cold War era is over,” he added.