The Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy identified the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” with China and Russia as the foremost threat to U.S. national security. Since then, the term “great-power competition” has become a buzzword among defense officials and foreign policy experts of diverse political backgrounds.
Both the White House and Pentagon insist that the U.S. military needs enhanced capabilities to counter growing threats such as Russian hypersonic missiles and new Chinese warships and submarines. Greater investment in new weapons will “strongly position the U.S. military for great power competition for decades to come,” as then-Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan tweeted in May.
Yet, as the Trump administration escalates its hard-power focus, it is systematically eroding the restrictions on hard power that historically have limited the strength of potential great-power challengers. Trump policies have damaged the arms control and nonproliferation agreements that regulate these threats. Now, as we face next week’s termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the administration is generating skepticism about the long respected Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). […]