Book Summary “New Cold Wars: China’s Rise, Russia’s Invasion, and America’s Struggle to Defend the West” by David E. Sanger

The world has entered a new era of great power rivalry and conflict, with the United States simultaneously facing challenges from an increasingly assertive China under Xi Jinping and a revanchist Russia led by Vladimir Putin. This confrontation bears little resemblance to the Cold War of the 20th century, making it far more complex and dangerous than the previous U.S.-Soviet struggle.

The End of the Post-Cold War Era

For years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States operated under the assumption that Russia would democratize and China would liberalize economically as it grew wealthier, gradually integrating both nations into the Western-led international order. This vision proved to be a profound miscalculation.

As the 21st century dawned, Russia under Putin became increasingly authoritarian at home and confrontational abroad, seeking to regain its status as a world power. Meanwhile, China’s economic rise enabled a massive military buildup and technological development under the Chinese Communist Party’s tight control. Rather than embracing Western values, Beijing and Moscow rejected liberal democracy and began challenging U.S. dominance.

The 9/11 attacks and subsequent War on Terror diverted American attention for nearly two decades. But by the time the United States emerged from this preoccupation with counterterrorism, the world had fundamentally shifted. The three largest nuclear powers – the U.S., China, and Russia – found themselves locked in an escalating struggle for economic, technological, political and military supremacy on the global stage.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Putin’s fateful decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022 marked a pivotal turning point. The Russian leader, convinced the West was unwilling to risk war over Ukraine, gambled that a lightning offensive could topple Kyiv’s government before the U.S. and NATO could react. He badly miscalculated.

Galvanized by Putin’s blatant violation of the international rules-based order, the U.S. and its allies swiftly united to provide military, economic and intelligence support to Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance. What Putin intended as a brief operation to subjugate a neighbor turned into a protracted, bloody conflict exposing severe flaws in Russia’s military.

As the war grinds on, the risks of escalation remain high. U.S. officials like Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley worry Putin could resort to using tactical nuclear weapons if faced with utter defeat in Ukraine. Sanger reveals how the Biden administration has walked a tightrope – providing Kyiv with the arms to survive without provoking an overtly hostile response from Moscow that could trigger a direct NATO-Russia confrontation.

The Struggle Over Taiwan

While the Ukraine crisis unfolds, an even greater potential flashpoint looms in the Taiwan Strait. China’s leader Xi has made it a core ambition to achieve “national rejuvenation” by regaining control over the self-governing island that Beijing views as a renegade province.

Sanger takes readers inside tense White House meetings where officials game out scenarios of a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which could swiftly escalate into a full-blown U.S.-China war. He reveals the Biden team’s efforts to deter Xi from using force by stressing the heavy economic and military costs, while stopping short of an explicit security guarantee that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At the same time, the U.S. has taken steps to restrict China’s access to advanced semiconductor chips, which power everything from consumer electronics to military systems. This has heightened tensions as Xi views it as an attempt to stunt China’s technological development and economic growth.

The Technological Battleground

Indeed, the competition between the U.S. and China over critical emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and next-generation telecommunications may prove as pivotal as the military balance. Both nations are pouring billions into research and development while erecting barriers to protect their advantages.

Sanger illustrates how this extends to the corporate world, with the U.S. government pressuring American tech giants like Google and Microsoft over their operations in China. There are also concerns Beijing could leverage Chinese companies like TikTok owner ByteDance and Huawei for espionage and cyber attacks.

The technological rivalry has spilled over into a battle for global influence and alliances. The U.S. has urged partners to ban Huawei from their 5G networks over security fears, while China has made inroads across the developing world through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

America’s Struggle to Respond

Compounding the challenges, Sanger argues the U.S. has struggled with a coherent, consistent strategy to address the threats posed by Russia and China. He cites the whiplash effects of shifting policies across administrations from Clinton to Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden.

Trump’s “America First” approach saw the U.S. abandon its traditional leadership role, cozying up to authoritarians like Putin while alienating democratic allies. Though Biden has tried to restore American credibility, he faces domestic political turmoil and a polarized public that could hamper a sustained global competition requiring decades of investment and resolve.

Sanger raises concerns that the U.S. may lack the economic tools, technological edge, and unity of effort to prevail against ambitious rivals like China that can marshal state resources toward strategic objectives. He argues America must revitalize domestic industry, upgrade infrastructure, and reform immigration to attract top talent – all while shoring up alliances and multilateral institutions.

Conclusion

In “New Cold Wars,” David Sanger provides an authoritative, up-to-the-minute account of the tectonic shifts roiling the global order. Drawing on extensive access to officials across multiple administrations, he pulls back the curtain on the high-stakes decisions that will shape the trajectory of the escalating U.S. rivalries with China and Russia.

While the contours of this new era of great power competition are still taking shape, one thing is clear – the outcome will reverberate across every dimension of economics, technology, security and geopolitics for decades to come. As Sanger makes abundantly clear, how America navigates this pivotal juncture will be crucial for preserving its leadership and democratic values in an increasingly turbulent world.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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