Hear me out: The United States and Russia should pursue mutually beneficial relations in the Arctic. This region is one of the last frontiers yet to have recognized territorial boundaries and operates on vague international norms open to dispute. The US has sovereign territory in the Arctic and other interests including natural resources and trade routes. The time is now to start seeking advantageous bilateral partnerships to secure greater US influence in the Arctic. The US and Russian Federation have common Arctic interests: international cooperation, conflict avoidance, and denying China economic potential via trade routes. To further American prosperity and values, the US should seek greater Arctic influence via partnering with Russia rather than continuing to couch Moscow as an adversary.
US Arctic Interests
The US is an Arctic state. What happens in the Arctic, from international maritime trade to military aerial maneuvers matters to Washington. Increasing Arctic activity begets competition, and competition may eventually lead to conflict. Neither the US or Russia desires an Arctic fight. Washington’s continued insistence that Russia is a threat in the Arctic only advances toward conflict.
If the Northern Sea Route (NSR), Northeast Passage (NEP), and Northwest Passage (NWP) are left to the international law to regulate, China will be able to instate its Polar Silk Road and obtain unparalleled economic potential. It is imperative for the US to pivot its focus to this region in an effort to influence future Arctic activities. Moscow is vying for Arctic control via the NSR and is taking advantage of the ambiguous international norms in the region. The US has a choice to make: proactively collaborate with Russia or continue the tired Soviet-era rhetoric of labeling Putin and the Russian Federation an enemy. In looking at Russia’s evolving Arctic rhetoric, there is far-less threat than there is opportunity.
Russian Policy Analysis
Russia views the Arctic as a leveraging point to international great power status. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Transport and Energy in Russia focuses on Arctic cooperation, whereas the Russian Security Council and Ministry of Defense emphasizes concern towards national security and thus lean towards military control over the region.
The 2008 Russian Arctic strategy document – the Foundations of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the Period Until 2020 and Beyond – was approved by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and still signals Russian Arctic ambition today. The Foundations of the State Policy emphasizes peaceful Arctic cooperation. In 2013, Moscow expanded their official Arctic strategy and included less ambiguous lines of effort towards defending Russian territory like “developing the Russian icebreaker fleet, modernizing the air service and airport network, and establishing modern information and telecommunication infrastructure”. Russia’s 2020 iteration (2020-2035) contains similar rhetoric as the 2013 version, emphasizing natural resource protection, establishing trade routes, and mitigating “territorial vulnerabilities” due to melting ice. However, the latest version dedicates greater discussion to evolving national security and threat perceptions.
Although Russia’s additions to its Arctic strategy focus on defending its “primordial homeland”, the narrative of international cooperation, promotion of peace and stability, and mitigation of military confrontation permeate the verbiage. Putin emphasizes a multipolar international order and sees Arctic cooperation as dependent on regional powers promoting collaborative governance on the international stage. For Putin, US forward basing and NATO involvement are seen as deliberate attempts at encircling Russia and thought to be antidemocratic. This presents an opportunity for the United States to reframe the conversation and revisit its long-held perception of Moscow as an anti-West adversary.
Russia is proactively preparing itself to cooperate with the US in the Arctic. Whether or not these public statements should be trusted, the international community has heard them. In order to mitigate tensions and promote international cooperation Russian claims it seeks, the US should pursue a balancing approach rather than continue to label Moscow as the enemy. Emphasizing the multipolar international system allows each regional power to defend its homeland and collaborate bi- or multilaterally with other powers in contested regions to mitigate conflict.
Why has the US not partnered with Russia thus far on anything of consequence?
The US has sought to spread democracy throughout the globe because democracies promote peace and traditionally work well together. However, Russia may never be a functioning democracy. Russia is an opportunistic state seeking to restore its great power status. Moscow claims to be a democracy but fails to meet Western standards. Fostering a more productive relationship with Russia requires the US to accept that Russia will never a Western democracy. But this does not mean Russia should forever be a threat to the West. There are more pressing security threats to the Arctic than that of Russia’s desire to return to great power status and defend its homeland.
If the US treats the Arctic as a partnership venue rather insist upon its ideological differences with Moscow, Washington may be able to divest Moscow from emerging economic relations with Beijing.Adopting an Arctic balancing approach allows Russia the maneuverability to operate in the region absent perceived challenge. This will promote favorable US-Russian relations, serving as a compelling incentive for Russia to help distance China from the Arctic equation.Consequently, international security threats from China and its growing economic coalition will be weakened.
The Perils of Arctic Action v. Inaction
Russia’s innate opportunistic proclivity means its will continue pushing the politico-social boundaries. Take the Lomonosov Ridge dispute for instance. The Russian Federation took advantage of ambiguous international norms and rules and submitted a territorial extension proposal to extend its territory via the Lomonosov Ridge to Greenland’s exclusive economic zone. The UN is starting to look favorably on this. Washington can use this situation to support Russia and garner Putin’s trust. This will cause friction between the US and Greenland (an autonomous island within the Kingdom of Denmark – a NATO member and US ally), but the benefits outweigh the cost, especially if the United Nations deems Russian’s proposal justifiable via sufficient evidence.
This is purely a value proposition. Denmark is a relatively weak NATO member state that the US derives minimal value from, whereas Denmark gains significant security benefits from the US at little cost. Partnering with Russia and letting it have its Arctic claims in exchange for the de-escalation of European tensions, as an example, is more beneficial than supporting Denmark. By publically voicing support for Moscow’s claims, the US can display a multipolar foreign policy that it has lacked in recent decades that may consequently enhance international support for the US, at least in Russia’s eyes as the most likely would-be Arctic adversary
This support can be utilized in various foreign policy facets such as trade, strengthening relations, and pivoting other nations away from dependency on China. Currently, some nations may be turned off by the perceived over-involvement of the US in other countries’ affairs. Taking a step back and employing a balancing approach to American foreign policy will empower others. Whether or not China’s Belt and Road Initiative is actually utilizing debt-trap diplomacy is arguable. However, indications of such speak to China’s evolving global power and influence over weak and vulnerable states. If the US approaches the Arctic ambiguity with a multipolar, internationally empowering methodology, it will starkly contrast with China’s BRI and Polar Silk Road plans. A new, favorable light will be shed on the US and can be advantageously utilized to garner influence in various bilateral relations that may advance Washington’s position relative to Beijing in evolving international discourse.
Avenues for Bilateral Cooperation with Russia
The first issue that needs to be resolved is deconflicting US and Russian Arctic ambitions. The Russian rhetoric revolves around mitigating territorial vulnerabilities, advancing regional resource extraction (mainly oil and gas), and improving the living conditions for the native population. Additionally, the latter involves preserving the Arctic ecological balance and environmentally friendly policies. Moscow is principally interested in investing energy sector technologies, which fall under Western sanctions. This is where the US has an opportunity to collaborate with the Russian Federation. According to the US Air Force Arctic Strategy, stability and diminished security threats, protection of the homeland, and cooperating bi- or multilaterally with other arctic nations are the main foci. The US has an opportunity to promote American prosperity via a bilateral relationship with Russia in the Arctic in via several courses of action (COA): work bilaterally with Russia to help develop oil and gas extraction in the region; be a proactive force in the bolstering of ecological conservation laws; or be a stronger proponent of internationalized yet controlled trade routes through the Arctic.
Although ecological safety seems to be of great importance to Russia in its strategic rhetoric, the Russian actions taken in the Arctic do not logically follow this strategy. Consequently, US bilateral pursuits emphasizing environmental protection laws with Russia are not the most prospective route. However, Washington has an obvious interest in fostering relations with states controlling the earth’s natural resources, specifically oil and gas. Moscow sees energy-dependence as one path to becoming a great world power. When these two points are placed in the context of the fact that the Arctic harbors an estimated 13% of the world’s conventional oil and 30% of its conventional gas resources, it would be in each nation’s benefit to invest in developing the technology in the region to extract them. The US can start the diplomatic conversations required to start such a project and be a significant source of financial investment considering America’s world-renowned economic prowess. This gives the US an initiation advantage and provides an inlet for it to stake claim to some of the Arctic prosperity. Additionally, Russia claims most of the Arctic waters and by proxy any future trading routes through the region. The US can seize the opportunity to prove itself as an invested Arctic state and initiate mutually beneficial international trade travel laws. In this scenario, the US can leverage Russia’s precarious relationship with China to provide reasoning behind stricter shipping laws. This benefits Russia by diminishing security threats from a more frequently traveled trade route, while simultaneously denying China seemingly limitless economic potential which is also favorable to the US.
Acting on the Discovery of Mutually Beneficial Arctic COAs
There are several converging and diverging desires to be considered between Washington and Moscow when it comes to the Arctic. Multipolarity (or at least international cooperation), stability, definitive rules which mitigate security threats, and denying China unlimited access to Arctic waters are some desires that coincide between the nations. On the other hand, the desires start to diverge when it comes to militarizing the region and the potential territorial expansion efforts that Russia seems to be toying with. However, when the economic incentives eventually subside or become subordinate to security threats, great power competition will ensue. In order to be prepared for this possible competition, the US must play a proactive role in promoting stability via positive relations with Russia vice injecting continued tension through antagonistic rhetoric.
There are more converging aspirations in the Arctic for both the US and the Russian Federation than there are diverging ones. Putin has placed himself in the international spotlight by publicly stating that he seeks international cooperation and a multipolar system in the Arctic region. Partnering with Russia in the Arctic is not only possible, it is necessary. If left unattended, the politically ambiguous Arctic will become the perfect environment for great power competition to formulate and has the potential to be a serious security threat to sovereign American soil. Now is the time for the US to come to terms with Russia as a potential partner for the greater good and to promote American prosperity.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and are not the official position of the United States Air Force or Department of Defense.
China And U.S. Are On the Brink of War
Right now, the neocons that Biden has surrounded himself with are threatening to accuse him of having ‘lost Taiwan’ if Biden backs down from his many threats to China, threats that the U.S. Government will reverse America’s “One China” policy, which has been in place ever since the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, when the U.S. Government signed with China to the promise and commitment that “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” If Biden sticks with that, and fails to follow through on his threats that America will invade China if war breaks out between Taiwan and China, then the neocons will say that the U.S., under Biden, has failed to ‘stand up for our allies’, and that therefore China will have effectively beaten America to become the #1 power, on his watch — merely because he had refused to change U.S. policy in the way that the neocons (America’s “Military-Industrial Complex” or “MIC” or weapons-manufacturers — and their many lobbyists and supporters in Congress, the press, and elsewhere) have recently been demanding.
The Truman-created CIA edits, and even writes, Wikipedia; and, so, Wikipedia’s article on “Taiwan” opens by saying “Taiwan,[II] officially the Republic of China (ROC),[I][h] is a country in East Asia.” But that assertion of Taiwan’s being “a country,” instead of a province of China, is a lie, not only because Taiwan (despite its propaganda urging the U.N. to accept it to become a member-nation of the U.N.) has not been accepted by the U.N. as a member-nation, but also because the U.S. Government itself promised, in 1972, that both in fact and in principle, the U.S. opposes any demand that might be made by any government of Taiwan to become a separate nation — no longer a part of China. Ever since 1972, any such demand by a government in Taiwan violates official U.S. Government policy since 1972, and is merely another part of the MIC’s wishful thinking, that America will invade China. So: the demand by the neocons, for America’s Government to support a public declaration by Taiwan’s government that it is no longer a part of China, is part of the pressure upon Biden, to yield to the Pentagon lobby (which largely made him the President). Biden’s threats might be made in order to satisfy his financial backers, but, if he fulfills on any of those threats, there will then be a war between America and China.
China is insisting that the anti-communist Chinese who in 1945 escaped to China’s island of Formosa or Taiwan — which Japan had conquered and militarily occupied between 1895 and 1945 — illegitimately controlled that land just as the Japanese had illegitimately controlled it between 1895 and 1945, and so China claims that Taiwan remains and has remained a province of China, as it has been ever since at least 1683, when China’s Qing Dynasty formally declared it to be a part of China. Taiwan was ruled that way until 1895, when Japan conquered China and one provision of the peace-treaty was that Taiwan would henceforth be part of Japan’s territory, no longer Chinese.
After WW II, when FDR’s America was allied with China against Japan, Truman’s America (the source of neoconservatism, or overt U.S. imperialism) supported the anti-communist Chinese, not mainland China, and therefore generally backed Taiwan’s independence from the mainland. However, that intense Trumanesque U.S. neoconservatism ended formally with the 1972 Shanghai Communique. And Biden is now considering whether America will go to war in order not only to restore, but now to further intensify, Truman’s neoconservative, imperialistic, U.S. thrust — going beyond even Truman.
Here is how that is currently playing out:
On September 10th, the Financial Times headlined “Washington risks Beijing ire over proposal to rename Taiwan’s US office” and reported that the neocons were pressing for Biden to change the diplomatic status of Taiwan’s “representative office in Washington” so as to become, in effect, a national Embassy. “A final decision has not been made and would require President Joe Biden to sign an executive order.” This executive order would, in its implications, terminate the Shanghai Communique, and go back to the hard ‘anti-communist’ (but actually pro-imperialistic) policy in which the U.S. Government will be bringing its weapons (and maybe also its soldiers) close enough to China so as to be able to obliterate China within ten minutes by a surprise nuclear attack which would eliminate China’s retaliatory capabilities. It would be even worse than the 1963 Cuban Missile crisis endangered America. So, of course, China’s Government wouldn’t tolerate that. And they don’t.
On September 12th, the Chinese Government newspaper Global Times issued “Teach the US, Taiwan island a real lesson if they call for it: Global Times editorial”, which stated that:
If the US and the Taiwan island change the names, they are suspected of touching the red line of China’s Anti-Secession Law, and the Chinese mainland will have to take severe economic and military measures to combat the arrogance of the US and the island of Taiwan. At that time, the mainland should impose severe economic sanctions on the island and even carry out an economic blockade on the island, depending on the circumstances.
Militarily, Chinese mainland’s fighter jets should fly over the island of Taiwan and place the island’s airspace into the patrol area of the PLA. This is a step that the mainland must take sooner or later. The name change provides the Chinese mainland with sufficient reason to strengthen our sovereign claim over the island of Taiwan. It is anticipated that the Taiwan army will not dare to stop the PLA fighter jets from flying over the island. If the Taiwan side dares open fire, the Chinese mainland will not hesitate to give “Taiwan independence” forces a decisive and destructive blow.
More importantly, if the Chinese mainland turns a blind eye to the US and the Taiwan island this time, they will definitely go further in the next step. According to reports, Joseph Wu, leader of the external affairs of the Taiwan island, participated in the talks between senior security officials from the US and the island in Annapolis on Friday. Next time, they may publicly hold the meeting even in the US State Department in Washington DC. As the US will hold the “Summit for Democracy” by the end of this year, if we do not contain the insolence of the US and the Taiwan island, Washington might even really invite Tsai Ing-wen to participate in the summit. It will be much worse in nature than former Taiwan regional leader Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the US as an “alumnus” in 1995.
Will peace come if the Chinese mainland puts up with all this and swallows its anger for the sake of peace? If the mainland doesn’t strike back decisively, US warships will dock at the island of Taiwan, its fighter aircraft will land on the island and its troops may be stationed in the island again. At that time, where will be China’s prestige as a great power? How can the country maintain its system of defending its interests on the international stage?
So: either the U.S., or else China, must back down — or else, there will be war between China and the U.S.
Of course, each side has its allies. Perhaps UK will put its neck on the line to conquer China, and perhaps Russia will put its neck on the line to conquer America, but in any case, the result if Biden yields to the neocons, will be World War III.
They press him hard. For example, the British neocon, Niall Ferguson, wrote in the Economist, on August 20th:
There is nothing inexorable about China’s rise, much less Russia’s, while all the lesser countries aligned with them are economic basket cases, from North Korea to Venezuela. China’s population is ageing even faster than anticipated; its workforce is shrinking. Sky-high private-sector debt is weighing on growth. Its mishandling of the initial outbreak of covid-19 has greatly harmed its international standing. It also risks becoming the villain of the climate crisis, as it cannot easily kick the habit of burning coal to power its industry.
And yet it is all too easy to see a sequence of events unfolding that could lead to another unnecessary war, most probably over Taiwan, which Mr Xi covets and which America is (ambiguously) committed to defend against invasion. …
The ambitions of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, are also well known — along with his renewal of the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological hostility to individual freedom, the rule of law and democracy. … If Beijing invades Taiwan, most Americans will probably echo the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who notoriously described the German bid to carve up Czechoslovakia in 1938 as “a quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing”. …
That brings us to the crux of the matter. Churchill’s great preoccupation in the 1930s was that the government was procrastinating — the underlying rationale of its policy of appeasement — rather than energetically rearming in response to the increasingly aggressive behaviour of Hitler, Mussolini and the militarist government of imperial Japan. A key argument of the appeasers was that fiscal and economic constraints — not least the high cost of running an empire that extended from Fiji to Gambia to Guiana to Vancouver — made more rapid rearmament impossible.
It may seem fanciful to suggest that America faces comparable threats today — not only from China, but also from Russia, Iran and North Korea. Yet the mere fact that it seems fanciful illustrates the point. The majority of Americans, like the majority of Britons between the wars, simply do not want to contemplate the possibility of a major war against one or more authoritarian regimes, coming on top of the country’s already extensive military commitments.
Scholars get well paid to write such propaganda for the MIC (companies such as Lockheed Martin). Comparing China’s Government with that of Nazi Germany, and proposing that Biden become, for present-day America, what (the equally imperialistic) Churchill was for Britain’s in the late 1930s, might be stupid enough, in just the right way, to inspire someone like Biden, in precisely the wrong way, as it’s intended to do. If so, there will be WW III.
On September 14th, the Editor-in-Chief of Global Times wrote that “China has absolutely no way to retreat. The one-China principle is the fundamental principle that we must insist on.” Similarly, in the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis — when the Soviet Union was about to place its missiles on an island near America’s coast — America was willing to go to WW III if necessary in order to prevent that from happening. America established its “red line,” and the Soviet Union did not cross it. We’ll see what Biden does. And, if he makes the wrong decision, we’ll then see what Russia does.
Biden Overstates by 700% Effectiveness of Covid Vaccines
The White House said on September 9th that “recent data indicates there is only 1 confirmed positive [covid-19 disease] case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week.”
Its announcement fails to link to any source on that allegation. However, if Biden got that estimate from the New York Times, then he was definitely overstating it by 700%. And America’s ‘news’-media, at press conferences, don’t ask politicians, “Where do you get those data? What assurance do you have that they are trustworthy?” Instead, mere allegations by public officials are reported as if they should be accepted as being facts.
All of America’s recent Presidents have been similarly casual and untrustworthy about the truthfulness of their allegations, such as they were about “Saddam’s WMD.” The whole world therefore has good reasons to distrust what America’s Presidents say. It’s certainly the case with this President. Why do people trust them any longer? Either the U.S. official builds policies on the basis of his/her falsehoods, or aims to deceive people; and, in either case, what that person says won’t be trusted by any intelligent person.
In this particular instance, another dubious news-source (besides Biden), the New York Times, had headlined, two days earlier, on September 7th, “One in 5,000: The real chances of a breakthrough infection.” However, that allegation (“One in 5,000”) likewise failed to link through to its source and to describe the methodology behind that estimate, though it did allege that the estimate was somehow based upon “statistics from three places that have reported detailed data on Covid infections by vaccination status: Utah; Virginia; and King County, which includes Seattle, in Washington state. All three are consistent with the idea that about one in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid each day in recent weeks.”
Perhaps President Biden had read that headline (from two days before), and didn’t read the Times’s news-report itself, which said not “1 confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week” but instead “that about one in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid each day in recent weeks.” In other words: Biden’s estimate, of a one-in-5,000 chance per week, is overstating by 700% the Times’s news-report’s estimate, which said per day — not per week.
The Times’s news-report then upped its own ante to only a one-in-10,000-per-day chance in America’s largest cities, which are more-leftist, less rightist, than most of America, and which therefore believe more in government-regulation (such as to control covid) and so have a higher percentage of vaccinated population: “Here’s one way to think about a one-in-10,000 daily chance: It would take more than three months for the combined risk to reach just 1 percent.”
Consequently, if that’s correct, then for a person in the more-rural America (assuming that the Times’s data and calculations are sound), the likelihood, at one-in-5,000, would have an average resident there facing a 2% chance of becoming sick with covid-19 during a 3-month period, if “fully vaccinated.” Furthermore, the Times alleges that “The infection rates in the least vaccinated states are about four times as high as in the most vaccinated states.” If that is true, then a reasonable assumption would be that vaccination is effective, and that therefore the Republican Party position on this matter — that the government shouldn’t impose penalties against unvaccinated individuals as part of a program to protect the public’s health (the health of the entire public) — is false, and the Democratic Party’s position on this matter is true.
The Morning Consult poll of residents in 15 countries recently headlined and reported:
2 September 2021
#1: Russia: 27% unwilling, 16% uncertain.
#2: U.S.: 17% unwilling, 10% uncertain.
#15(last): China: 1% unwilling, 1% uncertain.
Previously, these had been the figures:
10 June 2021
#1: Russia: 32% unwilling, 24% uncertain.
#2: U.S.: 20% unwilling, 12% uncertain.
#15(last): China: 2% unwilling, 4% uncertain.
Ever since those polls started on 13 May 2021, Russia has been #1 and China has been #15. However, U.S. hasn’t consistently been #2.
How, then, do those countries rank on performance regarding covid-19?
That’s shown by going to worldometers and clicking there twice onto the column that’s headed “Tot cases/1m pop”. Of the 223 ranked countries:
China is #9, the ninth-best country, at 66 cases per 1 million population.
Russia is #132, at 48,645 cases per million.
U.S. is #209 at 124,729 cases per million. It is the only non-small country that performs this poorly. Every one of the yet-worse countries has below 5 million population except Czechia, which has a population of 10,732,613.
As regards current covid trends:
China has extremely few new cases.
Russia’s new cases have been declining since July 16th.
America’s new cases have been declining since August 27th.
As regards Czechia, all of its bad performance ended in June. On 1 March 2021, Czechia introduced a draconian lockdown; and, after March 3rd, the raging epidemic began its decline. On 15 March 2021, Al Jazeera headlined “Czech Republic: What’s behind world’s worst COVID infection rate?” and reported:
Leading expert in viral sequencing, Jan Pačes from the Academy of Sciences, talks to Al Jazeera about the severity of the pandemic and calls on the government to take stricter precautions.
Al Jazeera: How did the country go from having some of the lowest infection rates in Europe to the highest in the world?
Jan Pačes: The Czech Republic is currently in its fourth wave of the pandemic and the healthcare system is reaching its limits.
The Czech government has consistently showed incompetent leadership, failing to protect public health, governing through populism rather than taking on expert advice.
As regards China (which arguably has the world’s best performance at controlling covid-19): the New York Times indicates vaccination-rates throughout the world, which shows, for China 78% of its residents as having received one shot, and 69% two.
U.S. is 63% and 53%.
Russia is 31% and 27%.
Czechia is 56% and 55%.
Vietnam is 21% and 3.9%.
Vietnam had been, for a long time, the country that had the world’s lowest covid-19 infection-rate, but they were left flat-footed and drastically unprepared for the Delta variant, with virtually no access to vaccines, and Vietnam’s covid-19 infection-rate started soaring in May 2021 and peaked on August 26th. During that time, Vietnam’s performance fell from #1 to #67 on infection-rate (“Tot cases/1M pop”). Vietnam’s Government, which previously had been so proud of its performance, is now intensively struggling with the pandemic.
Within the United States itself, the worst-performing states, in order, as-of September 10th, are Tennessee (163,936), Florida (160,016), North Dakota (159,064), Rhode Island (156,183), Arkansas (155,735), Mississippi (154,667), South Dakota (153,909), Louisiana (152,814), South Carolina (151,474), and Alabama (150,212). (Nine of those ten states had voted for Donald Trump.)
For comparison, see these nations: U.S. (124,729), China (66), Czechia (156,763), Russia (48,645), Vietnam (5,991).
Don’t Magnify America’s Failures
According to America’s gleeful enemies, the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan is merely a foretaste of the world to come, a place where smaller countries seeking to join a Western community of prosperity and political freedom are instead damned to disappointment and defenselessness.
For regions from the Baltic to the Black and Caspian seas, as well as the great states and island nations of East Asia, where America’s security guarantees play a crucial role in containing revisionist powers, it is a time to take stock and consider what has changed. For Russia and China, this clearly seems like a happy time.
Yet despite the often-heartrending television coverage, America’s weaknesses have been exaggerated. There are certainly lessons for U.S. allies to draw from the Afghan exit, but the Russo-Chinese message of imperial decline, the time-honored theme of panicked legions returning to Rome, is too simplistic. Something more subtle is happening.
The vulnerable flanks vary in importance to the U.S.’s geopolitical calculus. True, Georgia and Ukraine are less likely to receive decisive military support from the U.S. than, for example, Japan or South Korea, but the space from the Baltic to the South Caucasus is nevertheless critical to the West. Abandoning it would be tantamount to inviting Russian military and coercive economic action against the neighbors.
The political elites in Ukraine and Georgia are more focused on America’s long-term posture. After all, the withdrawal from Afghanistan fits into the overall recalibration of U.S. foreign policy away from parts of western Asia and eastern Europe to the Indo-Pacific.
This certainly opens up the space for China’s greater engagement in Europe’s periphery. China is a natural candidate because of the willingness of the communist regime to invest in strategic infrastructure in geopolitically important regions. Both Georgia and Ukraine have long seashores on the Black Sea which makes them attractive to China’s communist grand planners. Both also seek investment for their decrepit railway, ports, and road infrastructure. The unsuccessful Chinese bid in 2016 to build the Anaklia deep sea port was just an example of the likely future Chinese involvement in the region.
All in all, against the widely circulated view that China will remain a minor player in the South Caucasus, everything points to the conclusion that it is just getting started. The Black Sea and the South Caucasus are a part of the trade corridor from Central Asia to the EU. Therefore, Chinese efforts in the Black Sea cannot be viewed in separation from the developments in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.
Changes are also taking place in Ukraine and Georgia as both countries seek alternative options to their geopolitical fixation on the West. Take, for example, Ukraine. On June 30, China and Ukraine signed an agreement proposing a revamp of the country’s decrepit infrastructure. Coming at the same time that the U.S. prioritized Germany by stepping away from the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite longstanding concerns of Ukraine and other CEE nations, this may foreshadow a future in which Central and East European states recognize a growing unwillingness in the West to advance their aspirations and act accordingly.
In Georgia, similar processes are at play. Over the past several month’s tensions with the European Union (EU) have grown in intensity. In the latest move, the ruling Georgian Dream party rejected a €75m euro credit. Like Ukraine, Georgia is being encouraged to limit its dependence on the West.
This, however, does not mean Georgia and Ukraine are reneging on their pro-Western aspirations. Rather, both are making a more realistic assessment. And realism in this case means a multi-vector foreign policy slowly emerging as an order of the things to come. It will provide space for maneuverability and opportunities elsewhere. The Western card no longer provides sufficient financial or security incentives for Georgia and Ukraine to stand unwaveringly against Russian influence. And while Iran, Turkey, India, and others provide some alternative options, none are as powerful and attractive as China.
Even so, even at this difficult time, there are positives. Ukraine and the U.S. have just signed an intergovernmental agreement on a strategic defense framework and a $60m security assistance package including Javelin anti-tank missiles. In Georgia, the depth of the relationship with the U.S. is wide-ranging and is likely to remain so.
Both Georgia and Ukraine rely on the U.S. since it is the only viable defense against Russia. And America’s shift of attention from eastern Europe to the Indo-Pacific region is not complete. The U.S. might be less hawkish when it comes to further NATO expansion to the Black Sea region and some level of rapprochement with Russia could be sought. But extrapolating America’s failures in Afghanistan onto other regions is self-defeating, and most importantly, analytically incorrect.
Author’s note: first published in cepa
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