It’s amazing how little investment the US has in the priorities of our allies. It’s well established that our foreign policy establishment is utterly incapable of seeing anything from the perspective of any of our “adversaries”. This would be a tremendous problem if the United States were actually in anything like a real competition with anybody. The dumbest actor in a contest rarely wins. But it’s not a contest. At this point, we’re so much more powerful than any of our opponents that it just doesn’t matter (leaving aside moral questions). What we should be doing, in this waning, but still present historical moment, is building up our position with allies, and working to stretch this sweet spot out as long as possible. We’re doing the exact opposite of that, of course.
A system that wants to stand the test of time needs to be aware of, and at least not obstruct, the wishes of smaller members of that system. As today’s video illustrates, we’re not doing that. Our oldest and strongest allies in Europe have opted to kick off the “New Cold War” by committing to an investment agreement… with China. This should be a wake up call. I doubt it will be.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. China is in Washington, DC’s crosshairs. Trump made US China policy dumber and more aggressive, but it was a change in tone, not direction. The US military industrial complex has wanted a new Cold War for 30 years, and Joe Biden won the election promising to be even tougher on China than Trump was. Well there’s a problem here. Last week, Europe, our main ally in the last cold war, made it clear that they’re not very interested in the next one.
Europe and China have been working on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment since 2013. Seven years ago, Washington, DC was still mostly in it’s build China up until it looks like a credible enemy phase. Things are obviously a little different now. The US government is eager to start this cold war it has been investing in for 30 years. Yet Europe or perhaps it’s more accurate to say Germany and France, just accelerated the process on this new trade deal with China, intentionally finalizing negotiations before Biden gets into office and starts trying to rebuild transatlantic relations.
What’s happening here is that Europe is sending the United States a very clear message. Some analysts are selling this thing as a done deal, but they aren’t reading the fine print. Technical language still needs to be sorted out, and there are at least a couple more layers of approval to go in the EU system.
There are probably years of hoops to jump through before this thing comes into effect. At any point along the way, the agreement can be blown up entirely, or it can become so watered down as to become meaningless. What Europe has done here is give itself leverage against the United States. Europe’s countries have locked themselves into a process that that can be accelerated or delayed dependent on whether or not the US starts treating them like independent countries again. Many in the US are outraged by this. How dare they? What about those poor Uighurs in Xinjiang!
What is happening in Xinjiang is horrible. But the United States is beginning to treat Europe like its own personal Xinjiang. It’d be one thing if we were really focused on China, but Washington DC is currently trying to control Europe’s foreign policy in every direction. We are slowly smothering European independence, and we aren’t even consistent in our demands from one president to the next.
Since 2018, we haven’t allowed them to do business with Iran, even though the last US president designed a deal specifically for that. Europeans apparently aren’t allowed to build natural gas pipelines to Russia anymore either, a supposed national security move that’s really about forcing our European colonies to buy US gas. And now we don’t want them buying stuff from China either, after we spent at least three decades encouraging exactly that. This is not just a Trump thing. He made it louder and dumber, with his insulting trade and sanctions policy, but there has been a steady growth in US compulsion behind the scenes for decades now. This accelerated after 9-11, as I talked about in a video on Iran sanctions a couple years back.
“The Patriot act and a range of other US, European, and international legislation dramatically stepped up the invasiveness and power of financial compliance laws. Strangely, as we learned in Syria, this never did much to slow down the funding of terrorism, but it made OFAC and other US agencies a lot more powerful. 9/11 super charged national security freaks everywhere, and dramatically widened the government’s picture of what is going on financially speaking. Power tends to accumulate, and Washington, DC’s powers have already spread far beyond counter terrorism. 2010’s FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, turned the IRS into a sort of super-charged OFAC. Other doctrines and agencies like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the Department of Justice, have been dusted off and employed to make the US ever more powerful, reaching ridiculous heights like the arrest of a Chinese business woman in Canada a couple months back.”
This is the real Thucydides Trap. Like ancient Athens, the US built a successful alliance that served its purpose, but is now slowly and steadily becoming more brutal to both its enemies and its allies.
Most fundamentally, what this is about is self-respect. The west loves to claim that Asian countries have some weird obsession with honor, but we have got the exact same thing. My bet is that Europe’s current incarnation is content to fall further into dependence on the US. But they don’t like having their noses rubbed in it. Trump didn’t really have a new US policy, but he let the mask slip too far. By making US power too obvious, he made that US power weaker.
The Europe China CAI should be a wake up call. Is the United States serious about building an anti-China coalition with allies? Or are we demanding that the world join against an ever expanding block of official enemies as US subjects? I am not yet convinced that either of these options is truly necessary. But the first one could provide the sort of competition that leads to human flourishing long term. The second one will lead to World War III by 2040. Trump was all about door number 2. Let’s hope Biden has more sense.
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