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Vineet Ravindran asked: Is the US containment of China actually a means to restore the American hegemony? Does the US still follow the Wolfowitz Doctrine?

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  • Prashant Kumar Singh replies: The so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine was a controversial “Defense Planning Guidance” prepared in 1992 under the supervision of then US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. Though meant for internal circulation, it got leaked to The New York Times and The Washington Post. The controversial doctrine was noted for its unabashed advocacy of perennial American supremacy and sharp unilateralism.

    In the immediate backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the guidance forcefully stated that the foremost post-Cold War US strategic objectives should be to prevent “the emergence of a hostile power that could present a global security threat comparable to the one the Soviet Union presented in the past” and “the emergence of any potential future global competitor” either from the successor state of the Soviet Union or from any other quarter of the world, and “emergence of a vacuum or a regional hegemon”, particularly in East Asia or in the Pacific. It further maintained that the US strategic objective should be “to deter or defeat attack from whatever source, against the United States, its citizens and forces,” and to encourage “the spread and consolidation of democratic government and open economic systems.” The so-called doctrine sought “to strengthen and extend the system of defense arrangements that binds democratic and like-minded nations together in common defense against aggression.” It categorically stated that the US should “act in collective context wherever possible but [underscored] that U.S. must retain ability to defend critical interests unilaterally.” This hyper-realist advocacy immediately drew attention and became so controversial that the then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, ordered its rewriting.

    The doctrine attracted attention as it was a statement of the US ideological triumph over the rival ideology during the Cold War, just as was Francis Fukuyama’s idea of ‘The End of History’ (1989), which declared the liberal democracy the completion of the evolution process of the governing system.

    From the Chinese perspective, the Wolfowitz Doctrine is still at work to stall the Chinese rise and retain the US hegemony. If it appears to China that the US is determined to stall its rise, it equally appears to others in the region that China is determined to establish its hegemony. No one hegemony is more kosher than the other. The point here is whether the US has been able to achieve the objectives of the doctrine. The US has witnessed its relative decline. It has not been able to stop China’s rise if that was its objective at all (in fact, for many decades, the US appeared as a contributor to China’s rise). Its unipolar moment remained short-lived.

    A polycentric world is a reality in both geopolitical as well as geo-economic arenas. American political values are nowhere close to universal acceptance. The US unilateralism has shown serious inadequacy in Afghanistan and Iraq. It does not have any unilateral options to deal with China. In recent years, the US has shown greater willingness for multilateral and cooperative actions as seen in its Indo-Pacific strategy and also in the Quad and the AUKUS.

    Posted on 2 September 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.