The United States Will Continue to Relatively Decline

Joe Biden’s election victory could present a moment of opportunity on a range of issues, according to many of the submissions made by members of seventeen leading global think tanks to Council of Councils (CFR). However, many warn that both U.S. and global institutions will be put to the test in the years ahead, in part due to domestic forces.

SAM ROGGEVEEN: Australian politicians, journalists, and commentators seem to want to hold on to an alliance and a predominant U.S. presence in Asia that has always served Australia well. They are reluctant to acknowledge the simple truth that the United States will continue its relative decline even after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office.

The term relative deserves to be stressed. America will remain a great power with the most capable military on earth. It also boasts enormous reserves of innovation and a young, growing population. The moral panic about the alleged deepening divisions in U.S. society will pass.

However, the inescapable truth is that China will continue to grow more quickly than the United States can. It may soon surpass U.S. gross domestic product to become the largest economy on earth, and no nation of that size will stand by while its adversary dominates its neighborhood. China wants to lead.

Despite lofty rhetoric about preserving the rules-based order and resisting Beijing’s leadership tilt, the United States has made no concerted effort to defend its predominant position. Biden shows no inclination toward the kind of massive military build-up needed to restore America’s undisputed superiority in Asia. And why should he? Competing with China would be costlier than the Cold War and offer uncertain benefits. At best, the United States could be an effective counterweight to China, and Canberra should encourage Washington toward such a redefined role.

Sam Roggeveen is Director, International Security Program, Lowy Institute (Australia)

The original (full) comment appeared as part of the “Biden and the World: Global Perspectives on the U.S. Presidential Election” Global Memos –briefs by the Council of Councils that gather opinions from global experts on major international developments.