A Nixon-to-China Moment for Our Time, Squandered

 

It is a bipartisan article of faith within the American foreign affairs establishment that Vladimir Putin is our implacable foe, and that the Russia-China axis is a natural alliance of two powerful, like-minded despotisms set on global domination. This axiom, a toxic byproduct of our recent domestic political meltdown, is as unquestionable as it is wrongheaded and short-sighted.

In the American imagination, still laboring under a post-Cold War hangover, Russia looms large as a font of hostility, anti-Americanism and illiberal ideology. And indeed, there is little question that the Putin regime is authoritarian and hostile or indifferent to Western values like human rights, individual liberty, and law-bound, accountable government. There is also little question that Russia’s intelligence services have been spectacularly successful in exploiting our political divisions and sowing havoc and discord in our domestic politics. And, Putin continues to poke Uncle Sam in the eye, witness for example, Russia’s most recent meddling in Venezuela.

However, some sober perspective is in order. While Mr. Putin is surely an SOB, his regime is not nearly as wicked as others that we do not demonize to nearly the same extent and is in every respect an improvement on the Soviet Union. Russia is not a rogue state, and Putin’s hostility is mostly a reaction to American meddling in Russia’s backyard stretching back across Democratic and Republican administrations to before the turn of the century. Most recently, the U.S. and our European allies actively supported the overthrow of Ukraine’s legitimately elected government and its replacement by one hostile to Moscow. Moreover, since April of 2008, it has been NATO’s explicit policy that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of the alliance. This remains NATO policy today, though this fact is almost never mentioned by the mainstream Western press. Following on the heels of two earlier waves of eastward expansion, which brought NATO’s frontier to within 80 miles of the Saint Petersburg suburbs, these stunningly provocative policies would be a bridge too far for any Russian leader. Like every other country, Russia has legitimate security interests along its frontiers, and most especially where its bloody historic heartland is concerned. American and European leadership would have been wise to respect those interests.

Consider what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. On this question, we need not speculate, as the historical record is quite clear: the United States reacts with fire and fury when confronted with similar provocations in its backyard. When in 1917 Germany attempted to entice Mexico into a hostile alliance, the United States declared war and dispatched the Kaiser’s Empire to the boneyard of history. In 1962 the United States came close to global thermonuclear war with the Soviets when they took their interference in Cuba a step too far. Russia’s reactions to NATO’s and America’s interference in Ukraine and Georgia have been relatively restrained by comparison.

The fact of the matter is that Russia is a relatively weak and declining power that spends less than one-tenth of what the United States does on defense, and is able to punch above its weight only by cannily deploying asymmetric strategies that maximize its strengths in cyber-warfare and intelligence operations. Russia has little military capability to seriously threaten Europe, and even less demonstrated intention to do so. While we obsess over Putin’s meddling in our elections and squander our resources on pointless distractions like prying Ukraine loose from Russia’s sphere of influence, we lose sight of the one central fact of our time – that we are in the early stages of conflict with China, a conflict that has the potential to dwarf all of America’s earlier great power confrontations.

China is well on its way to becoming a major peer competitor of the United States. Currently China’s per capita income level is comparable to Mexico’s, and the size of its economy stands at roughly $13 trillion, compared to approximately $20 trillion for the U.S. China will match the U.S. in nominal economic terms when its per capita income grows to the level of Argentina. If its per capita income were to match Taiwan’s, the Chinese economy would be 72% larger than that of the United States. Since economic power equals military potential, China represents an unprecedented strategic challenge for the United States. Because China faces serious internal constraints, it is far from clear that it can ever reach Taiwan’s income level. But nobody knows where China’s growth limits lie. What is clear is that China has already left the United States in its rearview mirror in terms of industrial capacity, is gaining on us in aggregate economic terms, and has not yet reached its full potential.

What’s more, like the old Soviet Union– but unlike Putin’s Russia – China presents a formidable ideological challenge to liberal democracy, a fact to which our intelligence community has finally awakened. The CIA publicly assesses that “Chinese leaders will increasingly seek to assert China’s model of authoritarian capitalism as an alternative—and implicitly superior—development path abroad, exacerbating great-power competition that could threaten international support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” Beijing has been aggressively reshaping the international discourse in the area of human rights, seeking not only to block criticism of its own system but also to erode accepted norms and advance narrow definitions of human rights based on economic standards. China also seriously challenges our liberal establishment’s preferred “multicultural” model of state-building. China is an old-fashioned 19thcentury-style ethnostate whose leadership regards our obsession with diversity and multiculturalism with a mixture of amusement and contempt. The coming U.S.-China rivalry will be a contest, among other things, between two very different approaches to nation-building, whose outcome depends to a great extent on how we think of ourselves as a nation.

A quick glance at a world map suffices to make one thing perfectly clear: a Russian-Chinese alliance is not in America’s interests. Eurasia covers more than 36% of the earth’s land area and contains nearly 70% of the world’s population, as well as 70% of its energy resources and 75% of its GDP. China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project aims to tie the Eurasian landmass into a single economic zone. If successful, this strategy would threaten American economic dominance and dethrone the dollar as the world’s preeminent reserve currency. The emergence of a single hostile economic and political bloc dominating this vast landmass, from the South China Sea and Vladivostok in the east to the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas in the west, would be a geopolitical disaster for the United States. And yet, for some two decades, as presidents of both political parties sleepwalked through our holiday from history, we have heedlessly and inexplicably turned Russia into an enemy and driven it into the arms of China.

Let’s understand one thing: taking on both Russia and China, which appears to be our policy, is insane. There is still time to reverse our foolish course. However, to do so would require a bold diplomatic gambit that drives a wedge between Russia and China – a kind of Nixon-to-China moment in reverse. Richard Nixon’s surprise appearance in Beijing in February 1972 was a stunning diplomatic coup with far-reaching consequences – it hastened the breakup of the Communist bloc, tipped the balance of the Cold War in America’s favor, and helped launch China on a course of economic openness and reform. Today the situation is reversed – Russia is now the junior partner. But as in 1972, Russia and China have differences that can be exploited by a clever American foreign policy; and the U.S. and Russia have common interests including, notably, the containment of Chinese power.

The contours of a bargain with Putin are clear: reversal of the 2008 NATO policy of expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and internationally recognized neutrality for those two countries; recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and the easing and eventual lifting of sanctions. In return Russia would withdraw support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Castro regime in Cuba and curb arms sales to Iran. These would be just the first steps leading to a long-term U.S.-Russian realignment directed at containing China. Knocking Russia out of the Chinese orbit would serve as a strong signal to other Asian countries that jumping on the Chinese bandwagon is not their only option and that balancing with the United States against a rising Chinese colossus is a viable – and preferable – alternative. In addition, breaking up China’s domination of Eurasia would contribute to maintaining America’s economic dominance, including preserving the dollar as the world’s trade currency – an enormous boon for U.S. influence that China does not yet possess.

It is to President Trump’s credit that his instincts towards Russia are not ones of reflexive hostility. It is also to his credit that he recognized from the beginning of his campaign that China is America’s primary adversary — and he is to be commended for beginning to shift the establishment’s view of this subject. Unfortunately, the tragicomedy of our present political moment is that the two-plus-year-long Russian “collusion” circus and our near-pathological neo-McCarthyite demonization of Russia have ensured that no rapprochement is possible during the Trump administration. And even if it were possible, where is our Nixon? Where is our Kissinger?

America’s geographical distance from the world’s zones of conflict, which makes us virtually invulnerable to invasion or domination by hostile powers, encourages two kinds of thinking about world affairs: isolationist and messianic. Americans are unused to and uncomfortable with realpolitik, and it is our natural tendency to view world affairs through ideological lenses, rather than from the perspective of power relations. But in an era when for the first time in generations we face a rising global competitor and enormous budget deficits, a little cool-headed realism is necessary. Instead of frittering away our limited resources on pointless, non-strategic causes, we must husband them and concentrate on the core strategic challenge – containing China’s power. In this context, international realities dictate that a rapprochement with Russia is not only desirable, if historical precedent holds, it is also – eventually – inevitable. Tragically, our toxic domestic politics make it nearly impossible for the Trump administration to make this necessary pivot and undermines efforts to reorient America toward meeting the Chinese challenge. Allowing our Russia policy to be driven by hysteria and undermined by partisan domestic political squabbles is a serious self-inflicted mistake that we are likely soon to regret.

Published in Foreign Policy
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There are 53 comments.

  1. 1
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  1. Hang On Member

    Never count Russia out. Ever. It’s down at the moment but is less down than in the 1990s. It was down in the 1920s and 1930s, but then the 1940s happened. Same after the Crimean War. Russia has the same interests as it has had since the Mongol Invasion, so they should be easy to figure out as to how to accommodate, if that is to be the goal. The problem is how that impacts other countries with which we also wish to ally.

    • #1
    • July 11, 2019, at 7:26 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher

    Agreed to most all of this. Vladimir is playing nice with the dragon hoping that it eats him last. It will eat him, just not right now. China is the bigger threat to us.

    In terms of utilizing Russia in an alliance (or even just an accomodation) Russia is as much of a liability as an asset. The Russian military is in disarray. Most of their equipment is old and getting older with not a lot in the replacement pipeline. The T-90 tank is a T-80 with doodads bolted on. Their aircraft carrier needs to send along an ocean-going tug to make sure it gets home. They would blow right through the reunited Germany but first they gotta get through the Poles and this ain’t 1939 anymore. When last I checked, Russia’s commodity-based economy is about half the size of Italy’s economy, and no one is sweating the resurgence of the Roman Empire. 

    Russia does play the asymmetric warfare angle well. Putin has been living rent-free in the minds of our media for over two years, and all that it cost him was having some of his acquaintances blather on to a former MI-6 spook with more animus than discretion. 

    • #2
    • July 11, 2019, at 7:46 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. James Gawron Thatcher

    Oblo,

    I don’t quite agree with your analysis. Putin is a problem and what is going on inside Russia is a problem. I don’t think just talking Realpolitik will solve this. However, it isn’t American policy (other than Obama appeasement) that is the root cause. It is the disingenuous EU that is the problem. Blowing off the Americans until they get in so deep that Putin’s little nasty moves start to terrify them. Trump, who was insanely falsely accused of being soft on Putin, proceeds to reinforce the Baltics, Ukraine, and Poland. This is what Obama & the EU should have done. Next, Trump asks the idiot EU to just make their 2% GDP commitment to NATO. This money was to be spent on their own army, on their own armaments, and in their own country’s defense. Of course, these manipulators so used to conning everybody with their globalist pan-European horsesh*t and then picking everyone’s pockets, wouldn’t cough up the 2%. Finally, after whining about Putin, Mrs. Merkel sells out to Putin completely with an energy deal when she could have got the energy at a lower price. Idiots!

    If the EU was truly a rational democratic government (not a trading union mutated into a weird political monster) it would be putting proper pressure on Putin to clean up his democratic act and put Russia on a sounder long term constitutional footing. Instead, the EU calling Russia illiberal comes off like the pot calling the kettle black.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #3
    • July 11, 2019, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. Kevin Schulte Member

    Trump will be free to address the Russia problem in his second term. Especially if he wins handily.

    • #4
    • July 11, 2019, at 9:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. James Gawron Thatcher

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Trump will be free to address the Russia problem in his second term. Especially if he wins handily.

    Kev,

    From your comment to Gd’s inbox.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
    • July 11, 2019, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Hang On Member

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Trump will be free to address the Russia problem in his second term. Especially if he wins handily.

    If that happens, watch out for exploding heads. 

    • #6
    • July 11, 2019, at 10:18 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Percival Thatcher

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    If the EU was truly a rational democratic government (not a trading union mutated into a weird political monster) it would be putting proper pressure on Putin to clean up his democratic act and put Russia on a sounder long term constitutional footing. Instead, the EU calling Russia illiberal comes off like the pot calling the kettle black.

    Jim, you are probably more fond of the EU than I am, because nearly everybody is. However, if they pull up their socks and provide the level of support for NATO that they are obligated to, I don’t think Vladimir stands much of a chance at a military intervention. If they clean up their domestic mess, then he won’t be able to jerk around with their elections, either.

    • #7
    • July 11, 2019, at 10:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Oblomov: China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project aims to tie the Eurasian landmass into a single economic zone.

    If only there had been some attempt to counter this. A trade partnership, perhaps, across the Pacific.

    • #8
    • July 11, 2019, at 11:00 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Oblomov:

    The contours of a bargain with Putin are clear: reversal of the 2008 NATO policy of expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and internationally recognized neutrality for those two countries; recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and the easing and eventual lifting of sanctions. In return Russia would withdraw support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Castro regime in Cuba and curb arms sales to Iran.

    That’s an interesting idea and I think something along these lines deserves consideration. That said, it does seem a little asymmetrical. I might be missing something, but are US interests in either Cuba or Venezuela really comparable to Russian interests in Ukraine and Georgia?

    • #9
    • July 11, 2019, at 11:06 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Miffed White Male Member

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Trump will be free to address the Russia problem in his second term. Especially if he wins handily.

    You mean he’ll have more flexibility?

     

    • #10
    • July 11, 2019, at 11:54 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Oblomov: The contours of a bargain with Putin are clear: reversal of the 2008 NATO policy of expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and internationally recognized neutrality for those two countries; recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and the easing and eventual lifting of sanctions. In return Russia would withdraw support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Castro regime in Cuba and curb arms sales to Iran.

    So in return for them keeping things they already have and that the US is pretty much powerless to take away from them (e.g. Crimea), they agree to stop doing things that the US really has no way of forcing them not to do if they should ever change their mind (e.g. funding foreign governments).

    If it’s in the USA’s best interest not to expand NATO into Ukraine and Georgia, then why the heck would Russia agree to such a deal?

    There’s the lifting of sanctions, I suppose, but Russia doesn’t really seem all that bothered by the sanctions.

    To make the deal worth Russia’s while, you’d have to promise the expulsion of the Baltic states from NATO. That ain’t gonna happen.

    • #11
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Hang On (View Comment):
    It was down in the 1920s and 1930s, but then the 1940s happened…

    …when the USSR received massive economic and military aid from the United States via Lend/Lease.

    • #12
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. DonG Coolidge

    Russia is happy with trading beef and fossil fuels to China for cheap manufactured goods and electronics. Texas does very well with that economic model. Russia has less need than ever for western Europe. 

    • #13
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Oblomov: The contours of a bargain with Putin are clear: reversal of the 2008 NATO policy of expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and internationally recognized neutrality for those two countries; recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and the easing and eventual lifting of sanctions. In return Russia would withdraw support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Castro regime in Cuba and curb arms sales to Iran.

    So in return for them keeping things they already have and that the US is pretty much powerless to take away from them (e.g. Crimea), they agree to stop doing things that the US really has no way of forcing them not to do if they should ever change their mind (e.g. funding foreign governments).

    If it’s in the USA’s best interest not to expand NATO into Ukraine and Georgia, then why the heck would Russia agree to such a deal?

    There’s the lifting of sanctions, I suppose, but Russia doesn’t really seem all that bothered by the sanctions.

    To make the deal worth Russia’s while, you’d have to promise the expulsion of the Baltic states from NATO. That ain’t gonna happen.

    Yes, they have Crimea. But they don’t have international recognition of their having it. That is something valuable and we can give it to them.

    The beginning of a realignment is very simple: we get out of their face if they get out of ours. We recognize their sphere, they recognize ours. It’s simple and fair. After that we can begin to talk about a genuine partnership.

    The basic facts are these: taking on BOTH Russia AND China is insane; and pushing Russia into an alliance with China is idiotic. So let’s stop doing things that are insane and idiotic.

    • #14
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    Oblomov:

    The contours of a bargain with Putin are clear: reversal of the 2008 NATO policy of expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and internationally recognized neutrality for those two countries; recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and the easing and eventual lifting of sanctions. In return Russia would withdraw support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Castro regime in Cuba and curb arms sales to Iran.

    That’s an interesting idea and I think something along these lines deserves consideration. That said, it does seem a little asymmetrical. I might be missing something, but are US interests in either Cuba or Venezuela really comparable to Russian interests in Ukraine and Georgia?

    I’m open to other suggestions. Maybe it’s not perfectly symmetrical, but I don’t see why it’s asymmetrical. Cuba is a thorn in our side; Ukraine is a thorn in theirs. We have absolutely no business screwing around in Ukraine, and their actions in Cuba and Venezuela are basically reactions to our provocations. Let’s unwind the provocations. As I say in response to Misthiocracy, a realignment has to begin with mutual recognition of each other’s spheres of influence. 

    • #15
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Putin is a problem and what is going on inside Russia is a problem.

    Jim, what’s going on inside Russia may be a problem, it’s just not OUR problem. And Putin is a problem largely of our own creation. As I say, NO Russian leader would be OK with Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO, which we insist upon for reasons that escape me.

    The main problem is China, not Russia. Let’s focus on that problem. Russia can help us if we stop having an idiotic foreign policy.

    • #16
    • July 11, 2019, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. James Gawron Thatcher

    Oblomov (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Putin is a problem and what is going on inside Russia is a problem.

    Jim, what’s going on inside Russia may be a problem, it’s just not OUR problem. And Putin is a problem largely of our own creation. As I say, NO Russian leader would be OK with Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO, which we insist upon for reasons that escape me.

    The main problem is China, not Russia. Let’s focus on that problem. Russia can help us if we stop having an idiotic foreign policy.

    Oblo,

    I agree that China is now the main event. However, because we can’t rely on our supposed ally the EU and this then further stimulates Russia into bad behavior we are distracted from keeping the pressure on China. The EU ego is so massively inflated that they don’t seem to see their own absurdity. I am hoping we get some resolution and relief from this distraction.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
    • July 11, 2019, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. I Walton Member

    Russia is a distraction, an old habit. After Putin they’ll probably drift to being a sort of ally. China is a existential threat and will remain one that we must deal with intelligently and for the long run. The article is dead on. 

    • #18
    • July 11, 2019, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    I think you’re ignoring what’s in Putin’s best interests here. Not Russia’s; Putin’s. It’s immensely helpful for him to have a Great Satan to rail against. Maybe, if the deal were sweet enough, you could convince him to switch. Can you convince the rest of his government that they were always at war with Eastasia?

    • #19
    • July 11, 2019, at 2:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq (View Comment):

    I think you’re ignoring what’s in Putin’s best interests here. Not Russia’s; Putin’s. It’s immensely helpful for him to have a Great Satan to rail against. Maybe, if the deal were sweet enough, you could convince him to switch. Can you convince the rest of his government that they were always at war with Eastasia?

    Putin’s hostility to us is for the most part a rational and predictable reaction to things we have done, and not a trumped up ploy to scare up domestic support for his regime. This is something Americans have difficulty grasping. If we reverse those things, we can expect U.S.-Russian relations to improve. Is it guaranteed to work? Of course not, but countries tend to act in their national interests. A smart foreign policy would exploit the inherent tensions between Russia and China, the way Kissinger did in 1972. That’s what we should be doing.

    • #20
    • July 11, 2019, at 2:58 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    However, because we can’t rely on our supposed ally the EU and this then further stimulates Russia into bad behavior we are distracted from keeping the pressure on China.

    Jim, it’s even worse than you say. It’s not only that we can’t rely on the EU in our conflict with China, the fact is that U.S. and European interests simply don’t align the way they did with respect to the Soviets, who were a direct threat to Western Europe. The U.S. sees China as a serious threat in Asia and the Pacific. Europe, by contrast, does not see China as a threat at all. Therefore our interests and those of the Europeans will continue to diverge. NATO will probably hang on for a bit longer for sentimental reasons, but I don’t think it’s long for this world.

    • #21
    • July 11, 2019, at 3:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    You make many interesting points and I agree with many of them.

    Some questions:

    You mention neutral status for Ukraine and Georgia. Does that include US, EU and Russia staying out of meddling with their internal affairs? Does Russia withdraw its sponsored forces from Eastern Ukraine?

    What about the Baltic states? And Belarus?

    Would we be precluded from providing defensive systems to Poland?

    Does he agree to stop killing Russian dissidents on Western territory?

    Currently Russia derives short-term economic benefits from its closer relationship with China, including huge arms sales and of natural resources – the only two assets its economy has. In your scenario what would Russia seek from the West economically to replace its altered relationship with China?

    The unknowable is what is Putin’s endgame? Does he want to reconstitute the old geography of the Soviet Union? Does he get more political mileage out of resisting the West or cutting ties with China?

     

     

     

    • #22
    • July 11, 2019, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. James Gawron Thatcher

    Oblomov (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    However, because we can’t rely on our supposed ally the EU and this then further stimulates Russia into bad behavior we are distracted from keeping the pressure on China.

    Jim, it’s even worse than you say. It’s not only that we can’t rely on the EU in our conflict with China, the fact is that U.S. and European interests simply don’t align the way they did with respect to the Soviets, who were a direct threat to Western Europe. The U.S. sees China as a serious threat in Asia and the Pacific. Europe, by contrast, does not see China as a threat at all. Therefore our interests and those of the Europeans will continue to diverge. NATO will probably hang on for a bit longer for sentimental reasons, but I don’t think it’s long for this world.

    Oblo,

    I think you overestimate the spoiled globalist/socialist idiots of the EU. They aren’t capable of running a foreign policy and simply caved-in to Putin the first chance they got. If they are left to their own devices they will screw up until they hit a brick wall. The “populists” are the only hope for them. Salvini is the only one on the continent that is making sense. If the populists can take enough power from the nudniks (a technical term), NATO will be around for a long time. Actually, 2% GDP for the best security on the planet is a huge bargain. If the globalist/socialists weren’t such sh*theads (a technical term) they’d realize that NATO was the best deal for them.

    Actually Oblo, it isn’t NATO that may go extinct but the EU. Stay tuned, don’t touch that dial.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
    • July 11, 2019, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    You mention neutral status for Ukraine and Georgia. Does that include US, EU and Russia staying out of meddling with their internal affairs? Does Russia withdraw its sponsored forces from Eastern Ukraine?

    What about the Baltic states? And Belarus?

    Would we be precluded from providing defensive systems to Poland?

     

    Neutrality simply means that these countries would not be members of any military alliance or other similar association. Neutrality is an ancient and honorable position. It was common in the 19th century and I expect that as multipolar politics returns in this century, neutrality will once again come back into vogue. Finland and Austria were neutral throughout the Cold War and this neutrality was understood and respected by both sides. This did not prevent them from being free and independent and very nice places to live. I see no reason why the same could not be true for both Ukraine and Georgia. Neutrality could be simply a declared policy on the part of these countries, but it would be far better if there were an accord to effect it, with all the major interested powers as parties (a la Congress of Vienna, Congress of Berlin, etc.). Of course, Russia would have to withdraw from the Donbass and leave Ukraine in peace as part of the deal.

    As far as the Baltic States and Belarus are concerned, the ideal situation would be to have a neutral buffer zone around Russia consisting of the former Soviet republics (Baltics, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia). Unfortunately the Baltics are in NATO, so that ship has sailed; I see no way to kick them out, unless NATO itself falls apart. But the other former republics should definitely be neutral if they want to keep their independence and keep the Russians from wrecking their countries they way they are wrecking Ukraine. But they will have to accept a certain level of influence on the part of Moscow — that just comes with being in that neighborhood. If we are entitled to a Monroe Doctrine, I don’t see how we can say the Russians aren’t entitled to theirs. 

    Poland is safely in Europe and NATO; I would keep it that way. 

    • #24
    • July 11, 2019, at 7:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. The Reticulator Member

    Oblomov: Like every other country, Russia has legitimate security interests along its frontiers, and most especially where its bloody historic heartland is concerned. American and European leadership would have been wise to respect those interests.

    Yes, Henry Oblomov, Russia has legitimate security concerns that we have been too careless about.

    However, I don’t think Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia pose much of a threat to Russia. And it would be good if we were careful about their legitimate security interests.

    In the early days after the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland formed bonds with Belarus and Ukraine to help them fend off Russia as a package deal. Belarus is a lost cause now, but Poland is still interested in strong ties with Ukraine, despite the terrible animosities that peaked in the 1930s and 1940s. Poland was pretty much ethnically cleansed by the end of the 40s (no more Ukrainians, no more Jews) but Ukrainians are now starting to move to Poland for jobs. It’s working out OK, but every time one or the other country makes some remark that threatens to awaken the old troubles, Russia is ready to jump in and exploit the difficulty. You can see Putin’s crew chortling on YouTube. Cutting Ukraine adrift threatens to play into Russian hands and leave Poland alone to face Russia.

    So although you make some good points about our mis-emphasis on Russia, I don’t think walking away from Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltics is quite as simple or consequence-free as you portray it. 

    • #25
    • July 12, 2019, at 12:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    However, I don’t think Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia pose much of a threat to Russia. And it would be good if we were careful about their legitimate security interests.

    A neutral or friendly Mexico does not pose much of a threat to the United States. An explicitly hostile Mexico that is a member of a military alliance with a major world power aimed at constraining the United States is a different matter. See what I mean?

    Even if everything you say is true concerning the Balts, Ukrainians, etc., it doesn’t change the big picture, which is this: 1) China is our main strategic challenge; 2) taking on both China and Russia is bonkers; and 3) pushing Russia into a de facto alliance with China, which is what we have been doing for a quarter century through NATO expansion and other things is idiotic and we need to stop doing it. 

    • #26
    • July 12, 2019, at 7:02 AM PDT
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  27. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I don’t think walking away from Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltics is quite as simple or consequence-free as you portray it. 

    Walking away from the Baltics would indeed be damaging because they are NATO members and we have an ironclad commitment to defend them under Article 5 of the NAT, even if it means going to war against a nuclear superpower. This commitment is foolish, but we have made it and are stuck with it until NATO dies its natural death and other more sensible security arrangements for Eastern Europe can be worked out.

    Ukraine and Georgia are different. There we have only made a promise to make a commitment. We need to undo that promise, which is crazy and highly provocative, and which has been disastrous for both those countries in its practical consequences.

    • #27
    • July 12, 2019, at 7:07 AM PDT
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  28. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov Post author

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    Currently Russia derives short-term economic benefits from its closer relationship with China, including huge arms sales and of natural resources – the only two assets its economy has. In your scenario what would Russia seek from the West economically to replace its altered relationship with China?

    That’s a good question. In the medium to long term, the Russians don’t want to become Chinese vassals. Alignment with the United States (and others in the coalition we will build to balance China) would give them insurance against that. That coalition, incidentally, probably will not include “the West” as a whole. It is highly unlikely to include the Europeans, for example, because their interests are not aligned with ours where China is concerned.

    • #28
    • July 12, 2019, at 7:14 AM PDT
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  29. Miffed White Male Member

    Oblomov (View Comment):
    Ukraine and Georgia are different. There we have only made a promise to make a commitment. We need to undo that promise, which is crazy and highly provocative, and which has been disastrous for both those countries in its practical consequences.

    Obama already undid the promise to Ukraine. Recall that after the dissolution of the USSR we “guaranteed” their territorial integrity in exchange for them giving up the Soviet nukes that were on their territory.

    How’d that work out for them?

     

    • #29
    • July 12, 2019, at 7:43 AM PDT
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  30. Hang On Member

    There is one other factor that is not being considered in this: the creation of a European (or EU) military. I think that is highly likely to happen in the next few years. It is Germany’s Defense Minister who is becoming the President of the EU (granted, she’s getting a lot of resistance). But assuming France is able to bulldoze this through (Germany will not do it because the SPD are part of the resistance to her appointment and the CDU depends on keeping the SPD happy), then there will be an EU army. So Poland will no longer have a military. The Baltic States will no longer have militaries. So they will be part of a structure that the neutrality for former Warsaw Pact countries makes neutrality possible only if the EU is neutral. Which may occur given the EUs anti-American posture.

    This is a really good discussion.

    • #30
    • July 12, 2019, at 9:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
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