The United States is currently facing a new Cold War with China and Russia, but relying on protectionism and economic sanctions is not the solution. Instead, the US needs to learn from history and take a strategic approach to maintain its global dominance.
After World War II, the US created powerful alliances like NATO and GATT to promote free trade and technology transfers among allies. However, Stalinist central planning and autarky led to the Soviet Union having a moribund economy, relying solely on its size to create mischief globally. Meanwhile, the US underwrote the entire international system with its strong economy, a military force capable of fighting wars across oceans, and significant markets for allies to develop their industries.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and EU sought to integrate Russia and China into the West’s commercial system, assuming that economic integration would lead to democratic reforms. This approach backfired, as it only made Europe dependent on Russian natural gas and gave Russia and China access to Western markets and technology to strengthen their own militaries and bully other nations.
In the words of Henry Kissinger, “The U.S. cannot indefinitely maintain a system in which the most powerful country in the world cannot guarantee the essential rules of the international order. And the failure to craft a sound strategic approach to Eurasia will result in a vacuum of power to America’s detriment.”
While the US did not give Russia and China access to military technology, so much commercial technology is dual-use that both countries are now capable of creating significant trouble. Even with the US spending more on defense than China, Russia, and several other nations combined, the US still cannot guarantee the security of Taiwan. The US Navy is unable to support its forces in the Pacific and meet military commitments elsewhere, while also securing US supply chains, which are now much more dependent on ocean commerce.
In the end, the US needs to abandon protectionism and economic sanctions and instead take a strategic approach to maintain its dominance on the global stage. History has shown that relying on alliances, free trade, and technology transfers among allies is the best way to ensure US security and stability.