- - Monday, July 13, 2020

In 2013, with the arrival in office of President Xi Jinping, China began the roll-out of its Grand Strategy, known internally as Unrestricted Warfare. Originally Mr. Xi cast the strategy publicly in a benign wrapper known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Its purposes and content, however, were unmistakable.

In close collaboration with Russia, China sought to penetrate country after country using predatory lending and traditional mercantilism, and by seductive offers to build infrastructure, China has sought to secure control of critical resources, strategic terrain and distant markets. The strategy seeks political and economic dominance through local dependency on Chinese goods and services.

In 2018 after securing changes in party rules that virtually assure his chairmanship for life, Mr. Xi accelerated the pace of his effort to expand China’s influence and control throughout the world. For example, today China owns 60% of Congo’s cobalt, much of Chile’s lithium (for batteries), and ports in Sri Lanka, Greece (Piraeus), Italy and others spread throughout Europe.

Russia has followed suit, contracting to build four large nuclear power reactors in Egypt and two more units in Turkey that will give it a dominant role on the Suez Canal, and in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Russia already maintains a naval base at Tartus on the coast of Syria.

Both China and Russia are expanding into Africa and South America, buying up substantial stakes in mineral resources and focused entrees in energy. China has also acquired a site in the Bahamas, where it intends to build a deep-water port. In sum, Russia and China are establishing dominance over country after country without having to deploy a soldier, a ship or to fire a shot. 

Concurrent to the foregoing geopolitical turmoil two other evident trends — population growth in emerging markets and urbanization — pose serious challenges and potential opportunities for all of humankind. Over the next 30 years global population will grow from 7 billion to 10 billion people. 

Ninety percent of that growth will occur in non-OECD countries and involve migration to cities where they will require a scale of industrial and social services unparalleled in human history. The need for clean electricity, fresh water and nutritious food will be staggering and will constitute the largest management challenge in human history.

Clearly the dominant provider of that infrastructure will have gained political control and breathtaking profits and will dominate the world. Today those providers stand to be China and Russia.

Nuclear power currently provides the only realistic solution for meeting the predictable demand for clean baseload electricity facing our planet, while concurrently addressing emissions at the scale needed to meet climate objectives. Today state-owned, heavily subsidized entities from Russia and China are capitalizing on this demand for nuclear power, creating alliances in parts of the world that will shape geopolitics for the next 60-100 years (the lifespan of these plants and fuel).

Tragically, over the past 40 years our country has allowed its capacity to build nuclear power plants to atrophy, leaving it unable to compete by itself with China and Russia.

Considering these realities — emerging Chinese-Russian collaboration and mounting centrifugal issues in the United States and allied countries — the need for U.S. leadership, and multinational coordination toward forging partnerships is more critical and urgent than ever.

Fortunately, opportunities are at hand this year and next to renew or strengthen the kind of strong competitive alliances we will need to compete successfully with China and Russia. To wit: The United States will host the G-7 countries in focused policy conference calls over the next few months, followed by the Three Seas Summit of East-European countries in October.

These significant opportunities will be followed by the G20 meeting in Saudi Arabia in November and by the COP26 meeting in the U.K. (Nov.). Each of these meetings present opportunities for the United States to deepen alliances in energy broadly, and on emissions reductions and nuclear energy specifically.

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, the Department of State has been taking the initiative with our allies to enable formation of public-private partnerships starting with the United Kingdom and Japan before the remaining G-7 teleconferences are held. Fortunately, much of the finance and engineering work is already being done in the private sector.

With American leadership, an historic opportunity is at hand. By teaming with our G-7 allies, American industry is in a position to lead the execution of the largest infrastructure project in human history. We must first engage with the United Kingdom and Japan to form a U.S.-led, allied-supported strategy to deliver energy for humankind, leveraging the following alliances where the United States maintains a clear leadership role: 5 Eyes, NATO, 3 Seas Initiative etc. 

These enduring alliances provide the foundation for a strategy by which the United States can move from transactional energy independence to geo-political energy dominance and leadership. We have at hand the opportunity to launch a private sector-led global energy strategy that addresses de-carbonization while re-establishing America as the 21st-century leader in clean infrastructure development.  

• Robert McFarlane served as National Security Adviser to President Reagan from 1983-87.

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