The US secretary of state cites ‘hard lessons learned’ from Middle East interventions and says Russia, Iran and North Korea pose ‘serious challenges’.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the new Biden administration’s strategic vision for the US foreign policy and identified China as the top geopolitical challenge facing the United States.
In a wide-ranging speech in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Secretary Blinken framed President Joe Biden’s view of the world as a contest between democracy and authoritarianism and promised the US would “lead with diplomacy” not military intervention.
Blinken linked President Biden’s planned repairs of the US economy and democracy at home to the renewal of American influence and power abroad and argued US foreign policy and domestic wellbeing must be linked.
“The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver – not only for our people but also for each other – the more we refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs, and hopes,” Blinken said.
“It’s on us to prove them wrong,” he said.
Blinken cited Russia, Iran and North Korea as “serious challenges”. In addition, “there are serious crises we have to deal with” in Yemen, Ethiopia and Myanmar, he said.
Blinken said the US-China relationship presents the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st Century”.
“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to,” Blinken said.
The US would collaborate with China where possible and compete as necessary but always from “a position of strength” and with the participation of allies, Blinken said.
“It requires engaging in diplomacy and in international organisations because where we pull back, China has filled in,” Blinken said.
The US is seeking to re-engage Iran in negotiations to prevent it from gaining nuclear capabilities and faces a continuing challenge from North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
Biden has called for an end to the war in Yemen and Blinken spoke on March 2 with Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday to express US concerns about reports of atrocities in the Tigray region.
In Myanmar, the Biden administration has imposed sanctions on military leaders and called for the restoration of the democratically elected civilian government after the February 1 coup d’etat.
Blinken spoke of “hard lessons learned” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria where US forces have been engaged in combat operations for much of the past 20 years.
“Americans are rightly wary of prolonged US military interventions abroad. We’ve seen how they often come at far too high costs both to us and to others,” Blinken said.
“When we look back at the past decades of our military involvement in the world, especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, we must remember what we’ve learned about the limits of force to build a durable peace,” he said.
“It is critical to pursue every possible avenue to a diplomatic solution.”
At the same time, Blinken said, the Biden administration “will never hesitate to use force when American lives and vital interests are at stake”, justifying the US air attack last week on “Iranian-backed militia groups targeting US and coalition forces in Iraq”.
President Biden is weighing whether to withdraw 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by May 1 under a deal struck with the Taliban by former President Donald Trump.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is preparing a recommendation on troop levels for Biden after consulting with NATO allies.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is holding discussions in Kabul and Doha on the way forward, the State Department said on February 28.
Notably, “our aim will be to de-escalate regional tensions and create space for people throughout the Middle East to realize their aspirations,” the White House said in a 20-page national security memo distributed to US agencies in connection with Blinken’s speech on Wednesday.