Navigating Great Power Rivalry in the 21st Century

Michael J. Mazarr is senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and associate director of the Strategy, Doctrine and Resources Program of the RAND Arroyo Center:

The configuration of power in the international system is changing, which is precisely why revisionist powers such as Russia and China feel empowered to challenge American primacy. The United States and its great power rivals do not accept a common set of global rules. Moscow and Beijing are challenging the norms that Washington prefers, from non-aggression in Eastern Europe to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The ideological differences between the great powers are far less severe than they were during the Cold War, but the cleavage between the world’s leading democracy and its two foremost authoritarian powers is significant enough to be a source of conflict. And finally, more than 70 years after the last great power war, there does not appear to be any commonly perceived threat powerful enough to overcome these other factors and compel sustained cooperation. The focus of many great powers today seems to be on a opportunistic grab for influence rather than an urgent fear that disaster will befall them if they cannot find ways to coordinate their actions with others.

Efforts to form a great power concert are thus likely to prove unavailing; making concessions to Russia or China in hopes of drawing them into such a concert could well be more destabilizing than stabilizing. But managing these relationships — and doing so while preserving the greatest degree of stability possible — remains an urgent task for the United States…..

Source: Navigating Great Power Rivalry in the 21st Century

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