America’s Competition with China is Not a New Cold War

American Strategy Needs to be Thawed Out

Zachery Tyson Brown
9 min readApr 13, 2021

I hear a lot of people these days declaring 21st-century competition with China a new “Cold War.” Whenever I do, my eyes just about roll out of my damn head, because that sentiment reflects what is in my view a profound misunderstanding of both contemporary America and the reality of the modern world.

I suspect some commentators prefer the frankly lazy comparison because they find it comforting — we’ve been here before, they think, we know how to win this. They believe that if the nation’s leaders looked to the Cold War for guidance, they could better wrap their hands around the troubling reality of a recoiling America, a revanchist Russia, and a risen China. They hope that some nouveau George Kennan will rise from the toiling obscurity of national security staff work with a brilliant new strategy of containment in hand, or at least its 21st-century equivalent. Military commanders like it because most of them cut their teeth the Cold War-era doctrines that won them glory in the great battle against the Soviets that wasn't — 1990’s Gulf War.

These are, of course, fantasies. Our world is far more complex and interdependent than it was in 1950, or even 1990. Political and military power is far more distributed, and the United States…