America’s Global Balancing Act

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the disintegration of Iraq’s and Syria’s borders, and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South and East China Seas, the post-Cold War era appears to have ended in 2014. Is that true?

The post-Cold War era was not really an “era,” but rather a gradual transition from a bilateral Cold War to a more complex international order that still involves, in the final analysis, two world powers. In brief, the decisive axis of the new order increasingly involves the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The Sino-American competition involves two significant realities that distinguish it from the Cold War: neither party is excessively ideological in its orientation; and both parties recognize that they really need mutual accommodation.

America’s supposed “pivot to Asia” took a back seat in 2014 to the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East. To what extent has uncertainty about the US commitment in Asia stoked tension between China and America’s Asian allies?

I disagree with the premises of the question. I do think America has made it quite clear that it is in the interest both of America and China to avoid situations in which they will be pushed toward a collision. The recent indications of some initial dialogue between China and India, and between China and Japan, suggest that China also realizes that escalating old grievances is not in its interest. The more serious problem with the “pivot to Asia” was its actual wording, which implied a military posture designed to “contain” or “isolate” China. The Chinese have come to realize more clearly that we were not deliberately attempting to isolate them, but that we had a stake in the avoidance of collisions in the Far East that could produce a wider spillover.