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Memorandum
To: Gop Presidential Candidates
From: Michael Allen
Date: Summer 2023
Re: January 2025

The president taking office in January 2025 will immediately face a daunting series of issues affecting the security, freedom, and prosperity of the United States. The United States is not currently postured to fend off a challenge from an increasingly aggressive, ideological, and unrestrained China. In Europe, the next president may have to deal with any of several scenarios from incremental Ukrainian progress to a proxy war with China or may have the opportunity to end the Russian-Ukrainian war as two more years of fighting may have increased the prospects for a ceasefire. Finally, the United States needs a new Middle East strategy that accounts for a nuclear threshold Iran, a possible war between Iran and Israel, and a shifting set of partnerships within the region. More challenging still, a new American strategy will have to account for a new complexity: deepening partnerships among Russia, China, and Iran. Finally, the United States faces near-term military confrontation in several separate theaters. 

Owing to the failures of the Biden Administration, a new president in 2025 will have to make up for lost time and immediately begin implementing a new strategy with a particular look toward how much risk to accept in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. To prepare the American people, GOP candidates should develop new strategies and begin discussing these issues on the campaign trail. A new U.S. strategy should be governed by several principles. First, because of legitimate concerns about “endless wars” and “nation-building,” a new strategy should strive for well-defined national security goals. Second, although the United States cannot do everything maximally at once, it should contend with China, Russia, and Iran without surrendering any region to an adversary. Third, to avoid legitimate concerns about overextension, the United States should make a concerted push to insist our allies, especially in Europe, do more on Ukraine and to adhere to their NATO commitments. Finally, the United States should seek to make common cause with allies on China to stand up to Chinese economic coercion.

Because of their varying timelines, the challenges posed by China, Russia, and Iran to some degree can be manageable sequentially and should be addressed by the GOP candidates accordingly. For example, because of the dynamic nature of the Ukraine war, critical issues regarding U.S. funding and President Biden’s overcautious piecemeal military assistance policy are pressing now. The United States would never have chosen an indirect contest with Moscow, but it must have a serious response. GOP presidential candidates should weigh in on these policy issues during the campaign to set the table for success in 2025. They should also articulate a China strategy during the campaign that can be quickly acted upon in January 2025. Most pressing may be by boosting funding and assets to the Indo-Pacific to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which most timelines put between 2027 through the end of the decade. And GOP candidates should articulate an updated Middle East strategy that accounts for a changing region. While the United States cannot put forward a maximalist effort in the Middle East, it is unhelpful to merely suggest we drop it altogether. Doing so would only create a vacuum into which China, Iran, and, to a lesser degree, Russia would further exploit.   

Ukraine

The GOP should adopt a balanced approach—not a blank check but also not going overboard by seeking drastic reductions in assistance. Abandoning Ukraine would be a gift to Putin, whose strategy is premised on western weakness. Cutting funding would also be contrary to U.S. national security interests. While Russia’s battered conventional military force may not threaten NATO today, a weaker Ukrainian force would be less of a bulwark against future Russian aggression. A Russian military further degraded by Ukraine enables a fuller shift to a larger contest with China sooner. While not renouncing Ukraine, the GOP should repudiate Biden’s “as long as it takes” formulation on U.S. support. While it served its early purpose of signaling U.S. resolve, it has outlived its usefulness. It triggers legitimate concerns about endless foreign commitments thereby hurting U.S. support for Ukraine. 

Next, now more than a year into the conflict, the United States should be more specific about its war aims. The GOP should stand for a durable peace that gives Ukraine military and economic security. The more durability, the sooner the United States can safely turn to Asia without fear of a quick relapse into hostilities in Ukraine. 

Most of all, the GOP should consider the repercussions in Asia of giving up on Ukraine. U.S. Asia policy is to corral a coalition to stand up to China and deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Abandoning Ukraine, especially after we have invested American prestige, would be fatal to these efforts. Giving up on Ukraine but promising “we’ll mean it next time” for Taiwan will not strengthen deterrence in Asia. Would-be coalition allies would scatter, justifiably doubting U.S. reliability on Taiwan. States in the region would make their own accommodations with China—at our expense. 

China

The Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of 21st-century geopolitics. The United States is in an all-encompassing systemic rivalry with China, yet the Biden Administration’s policy has been incoherent, veering from engagement to “competition” yet seemingly only consistently prioritizing climate change. President Biden has failed to alert the country to the dangers of an increasingly hegemonic Chinese Communist Party. The next president must quickly execute an interlocking diplomatic, economic, and military strategy to counter a China that aims to displace U.S. global influence and power. 

GOP candidates should mobilize society for a protracted rivalry, laying out a specific agenda for maintaining American economic vitality and military advantage. GOP candidates should aim to use their own bully pulpits to explain to the American people the repercussions of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Losing Taiwan would be an unrecoverable blow to America’s strength and influence. An absorption of Taiwan’s GDP into China would give it enhanced market power. Taiwan’s centrality to the sea’s busiest lanes of international commerce would give China an even greater launching pad to dominate Asia. Especially under Biden’s watch, Beijing has become more of a dominant force in the South China Sea, a waterway critical to U.S. trade in Asia, allowing China to project more force to intimidate Taiwan.

GOP candidates should feature several initiatives. First, the defense budget should “reload for an era of geopolitical competition.” China continues to increase its defense spending notching over 7% increases for 2023 and 2022. The Biden Administration calls China its “pacing challenge,” but its defense budget does not stay apace of inflation. The United States spent 3.2% of GDP on defense in 2022—well below our Cold War average of 7%. GOP presidential candidates should advocate for spending 5% of GDP on defense. This would help enable the next president to prioritize a military build-up in Asia. Specifically, GOP presidential candidates should endorse immediate funding of several initiatives to bolster deterrence in Asia, including the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, Presidential Drawdown Authority for Taiwan, and Foreign Military Financing grants for Taiwan.  

Second, GOP candidates should begin to talk about an economic strategy to curb China’s growing economic influence. President Biden has ceded the economic field to China and the next president must implement a new strategy. China is already the leading trade partner of roughly 130 countries, and without the United States offering a viable option, many nations will conclude they cannot afford to cross China. The United States must come up with an alternative, even if its primary purpose is a security agreement, not a free trade agreement. Although conventional wisdom suggests that the predominance of populism is an insuperable hurdle to a market-access free trade agreement, GOP presidential candidates should spotlight that Biden’s neglect has allowed China to further set the rules of global trade and deepen its economic relationships in Asia at our expense. 

Next, as tedious as it sounds, where possible, the United States needs to make common cause with the European Union (EU) on China. As two of the largest trading blocs of advanced democracies and home to one billion people, the U.S. and EU are natural allies and trading partners. Together, we account for one-third of global trade in goods and services and close to one-third of the world’s GDP in purchasing power. Because both have suffered from asymmetric openness to China, including the theft of IP and exploitative non-market policies behavior like subsidies and overcapacity, the United States and EU should leverage market access to improve economic reciprocity.  The EU is an economic power whose cooperation we need to make export controls, trade and financial sanctions, and investment bans more effective and to multi-lateralize strategic decoupling. 

Middle East 

Although Ukraine and China will likely remain the top issues for the president taking office in 2025, the United States should also seek to rebuild relationships in the Middle East that have been mismanaged by the Biden Administration. Because of the Biden Administration’s neglect, Iran is ascendant, and the Chinese have sought to fill the vacuum left by the United States.

First, GOP candidates should make clear that if elected, they intend to reestablish longstanding U.S. partnerships. In particular, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is near its nadir. President Biden over-personalized the relationship with Saudi Arabia, expressing contempt for the Kingdom and its leadership. Now, Saudi Arabia—and the UAE—are hedging by reaching out to China, Iran, and even Syria. 

Second, GOP candidates should embrace the restoration of American deterrence in the Middle East. Our primary regional adversary, Iran, does not fear us  and has comfortably made significant progress on its nuclear program and increased its sponsorship of terrorism across the region. GOP candidates should make clear that attacks on U.S. troops by Shiite-militia Iranian proxies must be answered without hesitation and disproportionately. 

Third, in its zeal to re-enter the Obama-era JCPOA, the Biden team canceled a maximum pressure sanctions campaign on Iran that, with patience, might have borne fruit. The United States should redouble its efforts with Israel to derail Iran’s steady march toward a weapon). 

Conclusion

A new president will face critical questions on much risk to accept in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and whether it can be properly sequenced so that American might can be effectively applied. The recommendations herein are a mere downpayment on the work that the next GOP president must take on to meet the challenges of the era of geopolitical competition.

1 Hal Brands, The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us about Great-Power Rivalry Today, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022), page 189.
2 Kjeld van Wieringen, “EU-China 2030: European Expert COnsultation on Future Relations with China,” European Parliamentary Research Service Strategic Foresight and Capabilities Unit, December 2022. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2022/739240/EPRS_STU(2022)739240_EN.pdf