Remember the buzz worldwide and among the bipartisan globalist U.S. foreign policy Blob that Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election heralded the start of a new golden age of America’s relations with its longstanding security allies?
Remember how President Biden himself pushed this line with his claim that “America is back” and that Washington would end the supposed Trump practice of denigrating and even rupturing these relationships, and resume its post-World War II strategy of capitalizing on these countries’ strengths and fundamental agreement with vital American interests to advance mutually beneficial goals?
Fast forward to the present, and it’s stunning how thoroughly these American globalist hopes – and the assumptions behind them – have been dashed.
The latest example has been Saudi Arabia’s rejection of Mr. Biden’s request to delay an increase in oil prices announced by Riyadh and other members of the OPEC-Plus petroleum producers cartel. It’s true that few Americans currently view the Saudis as ideal allies. Continuing human rights abuses and especially evidence that its leaders ordered the assassination of a dissident Saudi-American journalist – and coming on top of revelations of Saudi support for the September 11 terrorists and Islamic extremism more broadly – will do that. Indeed, candidate Biden had even promised to make Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.”
But follow-through? Forget it – largely for fear of antagonizing the Saudis precisely because of their huge oil production and reserves, and because the President evidently still viewed them as a key to countering Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the energy-rich region.
As for Saudi Arabia, it and much closer allies (including in Europe) were far from enthralled with how Mr. Biden pulled U.S. forces out of Afghanistan – which they charge took them by surprise and seemed pretty America First-y.
Under President Biden, the United States appears to have performed better in mustering allied support for helping Ukraine beat back Russia’s invasion. But look beneath the surface, and the European contribution has been unimpressive at best, especially considering that Ukraine is located much closer to the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) than is the United States.
In particular, according to Germany’s Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which has been tracking these developments since the war began, to date,
“The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined. This is a meagre showing for the bigger European countries, especially since many of their pledges are arriving in Ukraine with long delays. The low volume of new commitments in the summer now appears to be continuing systematically.”
In fact, European foot-dragging has reached the point at which even Mr. Biden’s Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, has just told them (in diplospeak of course) to get on the stick.
Apparently, America’s allies in Asia as well as Europe have hesitated to get behind another key initiative as well: Slowing China’s growing technological progress in order to limit its potential militar power.
In a September 16 speech, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed that the United States had officially doubled down on this objective:
“On export controls, we have to revisit the longstanding premise of maintaining “relative” advantages over competitors in certain key technologies. We previously maintained a “sliding scale” approach that said we need to stay only a couple of generations ahead.
“That is not the strategic environment we are in today.
“Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic and memory chips, we must maintain as large of a lead as possible.”
And on October 7, the United States followed up by announcing the stiffest controls to date on doing business with Chinese tech entities – controls that will apply not only to U.S.-owned companies, but to other countries’ companies that use U.S.-owned firms technology in high tech products they sell and high tech services they provide to China.
Including these foreign-owned businesses in the U.S. sanctions regime – as well as in parallel efforts to rebuild American domestic capacity and marginalize China’s role in these sectors – is unavoidable for the time being, since the domestic economy long ago lost its monopoly and in some cases even its presence in the numerous products vital to semiconductor manufacturing in particular.
But as the Financial Times reported last month, a year after Washington drew up plans to create a “Chip 4” initiative to work with Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea to achieve these goals, “the four countries have yet to finalise plans even for a preliminary meeting.”
The prime foot-dragger has been South Korea, which fears Chinese retaliation that could jeopardize its massive and lucrative trade with the People’s Republic. But the same article makes clear that Japan harbors similar concerns.
Also unenthusiastic about the U.S. campaign is the Dutch manufacturer of semiconductor production equipment ASM Lithography (ASML). ASML’s cooperation is crucial to America’s anti-China ambitions because it’s the sole global supplier of machines essential for making the world’s most advanced microchips.
So far it’s been playing along. But similar complants about possibly losing business opportunities in China – which may account for nearly half of the world’s output of electronics products along with much of its production of less advanced semiconductors – have already persuaded the Biden administration to give some South Korean and Taiwanese microchip manufacturers a one-year exemption from the new export curbs. Could ASML try to win similar leniency?
In fairness, the Biden administration hasn’t wound up placing all its foreign policy bets on alliances and securing multilateral cooperation. Indeed, its new National Security Strategy re-states the importance of rebuilding American economic strength as a foundation of foreign policy success; the legislation it successfully sponsored to bolster the United States’ semiconductor and other high tech capabilities put considerable money behind that approach; and to its credit, it announced the new China tech curbs even after it couldn’t initially secure adequate allied cooperation – assuming, correctly, that an act of U.S. leadership could bring start bringing them in line.
Hopefully, a combination of these rifts with allies and its recognition of the importance of maintaining and augmenting national power mean that President Biden at least is learning a crucial lesson: that supporting multilateralism and alliances can’t be ends of a sensible U.S. foreign policy in and of themselves. They can only be means to ends. And although they can obviously be valuable in many instances, the best ultimate guarantor of the nation’s security, independence, and prosperity are its own devices.