June 24: A Book Talk on The Return of Great Power Rivalry with Dr. Matthew Kroenig

June 24: A Book Talk on The Return of Great Power Rivalry with Dr. Matthew Kroenig

Wednesday, June 24, 2020 from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM EST
Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Dr. Matthew Kroenig on his new book, The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy Versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China. After several decades of unquestioned US dominance on the world stage, recent years have witnessed a return to the great power rivalry of the past. With authoritarian regimes in China and Russia on the rise, many analysts have predicted profound disruptions to the US-led international system. In The Return of Great Power Rivalry, Dr. Kroenig challenges these predictions, arguing that democratic systems are uniquely prepared to confront authoritarian rivals. 

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, June 24 at 10 AM (EST). Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

The Author:

Matthew Kroenig is a professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author or editor of seven books and his articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Dr. Kroenig is also the Director of the Global Strategy Initiative and Deputy Director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He writes a bi-weekly column for Foreign Policy. He has served as a national security adviser on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney (2012), Scott Walker (2016), and Marco Rubio (2016). He has served in several positions in the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community in the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, including in the Strategy office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the CIA’s Strategic Assessments Group. Dr. Kroenig received his MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkley.

Event Summary:

On June 24, Dr. Matthew Kroenig, the director of the Global Strategy Initiative and deputy director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, joined GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao of the Global Taiwan Institute on June 24 for a talk on his recent book, The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China. In his book, he argues that democracies are uniquely prepared to overcome any challenge autocratic rivals pose, despite growing concerns. In aggregate, Kroenig contends, democracies outcompete autocracies. 

When asked about the main advantages and disadvantages of democracies and their correlation with the balance of power, Kroenig discussed several case studies of competition throughout history that he used to test his theory in the book. He found that in most cases, democracies experience sustained growth, innovation, and ultimately tend to be the “center” of international finance. Regarding military affairs, democracies often have greater flexibility and make more rational decisions due to input from multiple parties. Conversely, autocracies often have to spend more on internal security compared to external. 

Subsequently, Hsiao asked what similarities and differences exist between the current US competition with China and its struggles with past rivals. Kroenig argued that the most critical difference is that China has nuclear weapons, which act as a significant deterrent. Additionally, increased globalization and interdependence have inflated the costs of taking aggressive action. The most common similarity that Kroenig pointed out is that China tends to focus more on regime security instead of prioritizing development, much like past autocratic regimes. Second, rules of politics and political behavior have not changed; despite some differences, the current US-China competition has much in common with historical rivalries.

Another topic centered around Russia and its “partnership” with China, specifically the notion that the US should seek to balance China with Russia. Kroenig believes that it would be a mistake to put too much weight into this argument. First, it is unlikely that Russia and China could form a deep and trusting relationship that poses a threat to US interests. Second, autocracies historically do not make good allies and rarely work well together. Third, regarding working with Russia, the US and other democracies have little reason to trust Putin’s word.  

Hsiao then asked about the role of ideology in great power competition. Kroenig responded by mentioning that both Putin and Xi fear the spread of democracy, and are leveraging technological capabilities to facilitate authoritarianism worldwide. To combat it, the US should frame the issue as an ideological struggle to make it easier for states to “choose a side.”

The two then discussed the possibility of creating a new “league of democracies” to promote and strengthen relations between democracies. Kroenig mentioned that, despite the negative connotation of democracy promotion since the Iraq War, it has consistently been at the core of US grand strategy since 1945. Hsiao then asked if it would be possible to create a NATO-like structure in Asia. Kroenig explained that in an ideal world, creating a “D10″—a coalition of the world’s 10 largest democracies—could help facilitate diplomatic and economic discussions.

Hsiao asked whether the US was in a “new Cold War” and Korenig emphasized that if a “Cold War” means a serious competition, then yes. If it means that we are approaching a high likelihood of war, then no. Compared to the Cold War and the current era, the US will need to create new strategies and policies instead of following the old guidelines like “containment.”

Following this, Hsiao questioned the role of non-democratic states in the Indo-Pacific, especially those unwilling to “choose a side.” Kroenig pointed out that many such states in the region have contributed greatly to the US-led rules-based international system. As such, the US wants states like Singapore to play a part in great power competition regardless of their “democratic” affiliation. On a similar note, the two discussed the role of smaller democracies such as Taiwan in great power competition. Kroenig shared his confidence in Taiwan’s long-term prospects compared those of the PRC, but also mentioned that the US needs to remain committed to Taiwan’s security. By leveraging its relationship with Taiwan and other democracies, the US will stand a better chance against China. 

In Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent speech at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit 2020, she has emphasized the importance of economic cooperation between democracies. Both Hsiao and Kroenig agreed that this element of “competition” is crucial, since China’s primary strength is its economic power, largely due to its unfair trading practices and tendency to prey on the system. According to Kroenig, major powers and small democracies alike should work to strengthen common standards for technology and limit over-investment in sensitive areas.

Hsiao then asked about the importance of trust in ideological competition. Kroenig responded by mentioning that historically, democracies have always been viewed as trustworthy partners. Credible commitments matter, especially for the United States. Democracies are generally more likely to comply with agreements and are usually constrained by their domestic population from making rash decisions. He used the example of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was followed by all the democratic countries who signed on, while multiple autocratic states have broken their commitments.

With the final question before the Q&A section, Hsiao pondered on the role of the US alliance system in Kroenig’s thesis of great power competition. Kroenig argues that our alliance system is reflective of our domestic institutions. The US builds its networks to be effective and should use them to outmatch China in the long run. Historically, states need allies to balance efficiently. China is attempting to woo its neighbors using the BRI, but its effectiveness is questionable. Currently, the US is bickering too much with its partners and must work effectively, according to Kroenig.

To conclude the discussion, Hsiao asked how the US and Taiwan should cooperate going forward. Kroenig responded by arguing that military and defense conversations should come first. Although the US and Taiwan do not have an official alliance, their security ties are highly coordinated. Kroenig mentioned that the US should clarify our commitment to Taiwan to limit miscalculation.

This summary was written by GTI Summer 2020 Intern Joseph Ross.

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