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Can Europe Avert a US-China War?

Strategists are currently scrambling to draw lessons from history and devise an approach that enables the US and China to compete without triggering a catastrophic conflict. Perhaps the best hope for delivering that outcome lies in Europe.

NEW HAVEN – European countries are currently divided over whether to join US President Joe Biden’s diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing. The episode underscores yet again that when it comes to dealing with China, Europe and the United States truly are an ocean apart.

Beyond sharing fundamental political values, the US and Europe often employ similar rhetoric about the challenge China poses to the international order. Nonetheless, most European governments cannot reconcile their interests with the vision of a US-led coalition of democracies standing up to the world’s autocracies, and European officials balk at pursuing a China policy focused on containment, under the guise of competition.

While the European Union wants to deepen transatlantic cooperation, there is no consensus on how to do so without alienating China or undermining the very international system it aims to defend. Nor are European governments convinced of America’s reliability as a partner. Biden might value the transatlantic relationship, but his predecessor, Donald Trump, did not. Who is to say what the next US president – possibly Trump himself – will stand for? This doubt is a key motivation behind the EU’s effort to operationalize its vision of “strategic autonomy.”