By Fabio Reis Vianna for the Saker Blog

At the end of the tragic year 2020, Jake Sullivan launched a tweet urging Europeans to act together in the face of “China’s worrying economic behavior.”

Today’s National Security Advisor to the newly sworn-in Democratic administration thus gave the first signs of what the Joe Biden administration would look like to the traditional allies of the United States.

Sullivan’s words not only confirm the use of Twitter as an efficient and routine diplomatic instrument of global scope, but also inaugurate the rhetoric that should shape what some analysts already call the Biden Doctrine.

The aggressive attitude of the Trump administration, which in the end revealed itself concretely in pure rhetoric – since surprisingly Trump, in his own words, was the first president in “decades” that did not initiate “new wars” – was certainly not a point out of the curve in the impositive conduct and with imperial bias that the United States has been deepening uninterruptedly since 1991.

Having been the first demonstration of military and technological power of the new unipolar liberal order born of the iron curtain debris, the first Gulf War could be considered the inaugural staging of the U.S. path toward a global military empire.

An absolutely unnecessary war against a defenseless enemy that served only as a parameter setter; the institution of a coercive power based on the control of a feeling that paralyzes anyone who dares to challenge this power: fear.

The control of fear, or the principle of limit, represented above all a warning to the rest of the world that the winner of the cold war, who paradoxically was won without a (hot) war, will not admit to being challenged under any circumstances.

The national security strategy of 2017, as if in a written confession, only outlined and made official what in practice had been happening and deepening since that fateful war of 1991.

In practice, the 2017 national security strategy is a more forceful warning to emerging and “revisionist” powers, especially Russia and China, that the model of global governance regulated by the liberal international order – in force throughout the postwar period – is over. Welcome to the old Westphalian order.

In this new (old) scenario of permanent competition among sovereign states, the United States therefore assumes, without subterfuge, that its own national interest will guide its actions. And if necessary with the use of force.

Biden’s own economic strategy seems to imply a continuation of the nationalist line initiated in the Trump administration, even if a softer rhetoric and democratic style is being rehearsed.

Realizing where the wind is blowing – even if late and at the end of her term – Angela Merkel rushed to demonstrate to Beijing the concrete European interest in concluding the comprehensive investment agreement as soon as possible.

Sniffing the opportunity, Xi Jinping ends up facilitating the agreement by giving in to a series of very expensive concessions to the European interest, mainly the one concerning the non obligatory technology transfer by European companies that will settle in China.

Most likely the Chinese leader sought to take advantage of the transition period to anticipate the agreement before Joe Biden actually took the presidential seat.

A wake-up call to Chinese and European leaders may have been the document signed by Jake Sullivan himself entitled “Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.

The document published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace practically anticipates the economic bias of the strategy to be followed by the Biden administration.

It is an ode to the reconstruction of the post-Pandemic American economy with a focus on the national interest, and is in fact a continuation of Trump’s sovereignist policy, but with tones more to the left.

Thus, those who think that the Biden doctrine will be a resumption of the economic liberalism of the Democratic governments that preceded it are mistaken; on the contrary, everything leads us to believe that the erratic way in which the United States has dealt domestically in containing the pandemic – which has drastically affected its role as global leader – will lead to an aggressive reaction not only in economic terms, but especially in military terms.

It is undeniable that the leadership vacuum generated by American incompetence in fighting the pandemic has accelerated an increase in rivalries and competition in the world system.

An increase in the escalation of military tensions that has already been observed in several regions of the planet and has accelerated dramatically with the advent of the plague.

The resurgence of ancient empires such as China, India, Turkey and Russia itself – which, using the same mechanisms of the power game invented by Westerners, has shown impressive strength and resilience during the pandemic crisis – seems to have raised the alarm even from old Europe.

De facto inventors of the world system in place since their small national states began the expansive adventure about five hundred years ago, Europeans are now at a real existential crossroads.

What allowed the expansion out of these small and bellicose territories was precisely the violent internal competition between them, which even prevented Europe from becoming a unified empire.

Time and destiny ironically come to throw the weight of this new era of empires into the lap of a Europe more divided than ever.

Most likely aware of the challenges ahead, Angela Merkel affirmed last January 26 in Davos the importance of the pandemic as a test “of the resilience of our systems and societies” and that “our vulnerability has become obvious.

Europe’s paradox is that without a peaceful, strong and unified EU, it will lag behind. But the strength that has always allowed Europe to accumulate power and wealth over centuries has been precisely this chaotic machine of war, violence and internal competition.


Fabio Reis Vianna, lives in Rio de Janeiro, is a bachelor of laws (LL.B), MA student in International Relations at the University of Évora (Portugal), writer and geopolitical analyst. He currently maintains a column on international politics at the centennial Brazilian newspaper Monitor Mercantil.

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