Archive for the ‘Russia and China’ category

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018

December 30, 2017

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018, Gatestone Institute, John Bolton, December 30, 2017

Yesterday’s 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump’s continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.

Russia and China will be among the Trump administration’s key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.

China has likely been Trump’s biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing’s foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.

Even worse, Beijing’s belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.

Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea’s Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul’s strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China’s frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.

On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the “rodina” (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.

No better proof exists than Russia’s reaction to Trump’s recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump’s weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump’s aid is a small step compared to President Bush’s 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin’s calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow’s adventurism in Ukraine.

Just as troubling as Russia’s menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia’s naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.

This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia’s support (even more than Iran’s) for Syria’s Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia’s assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran’s nuclear-weapons program on America’s list of threats emanating from the Middle East.

Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court’s November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president’s focus on protecting American sovereignty.

Trump’s first insight into the rage for “global governance” among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization’s adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of “who governs” and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don’t need international treaties to “improve” it.

No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Trump’s ‘America First’ vs. McCain’s ‘America Last’

July 29, 2017

Trump’s ‘America First’ vs. McCain’s ‘America Last’, PJ MediaDavid P. Goldman, July 28, 2017

Europeans suspect that the U.S. wants to sabotage Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe and replace them with LNG exports from the United States. Neither the Trump administration nor its opponents in Congress entertain such a Machiavellian agenda. On the contrary, the Trump administration initially supported sanctions against Russia as a bargaining chip, to be played to extract concessions from Moscow over the Ukraine, Iran and other matters of contention. The House and Senate bills in their present form effectively tie the president’s hands, turning what was a bargaining chip into a declaration of trade war. This would not be the first war to begin when what was intended as a feint was interpreted after the fact as a threat.

America won the Cold War by driving a wedge between Russia and China, and by persuading a frightened Western Europe to point medium-range missiles at the Russian heartland. Russia sought to compensate for its economic inefficiency by turning Europe into an economic colony, and the most dangerous operations of the Cold War were undertaken to prevent this. Now, for narrow political reasons, Trump’s enemies propose to undo the whole structure of relationships that won the Cold War and drive Europe into the arms of the Russians and Chinese. I do not believe for a moment that McCain and Schumer have a clue about this—they are like the “sleepwalkers” in Christopher Clark’s brilliant history of the outbreak of the First World War—but if I were a Russian operative, I would try to invent someone like John McCain, if McCain did not already exist.

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Not the supposed protectionist Donald Trump, but the “free trade” wing of the Republican Party has taken the United States into a trade war that it can only lose. New sanctions against Russia passed by the House and Senate last week force Europe into a de facto alliance with Russia against the United States, and by extension with China as well. It is the dumbest and most self-destructive act of economic self-harm since the United States de-linked the dollar from gold on August 15, 1971, and it will have devastating consequences. The charade in the House and Senate may embarrass Trump, but it also poses a threat to European energy supplies as well as an extraterritorial intrusion into European governance. Berlin, Paris and Rome will conspire with Moscow to circumvent the sanctions while attacking the United States at the World Trade Organization and other international fora.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and their counterparts in the House of Representatives allowed their dudgeon against a sometimes provocative president to overwhelm their sense of self-preservation. The sanctions will hurt Russia, but not nearly as much as they will hurt the United States over the long term. The White House envisioned sanctions as a bargaining chip, to be used to persuade Moscow to behave in the Ukraine and to limit the ambitions of its Iranian ally of convenience. In their present form, however, the president will have no authority to remove sanctions imposed by Congress. That turns a feint into a threat. Wars have been started over less.

The Democrats along with the McCain Republicans, it will be remembered, accused Trump of undermining the Atlantic Alliance, of isolating the United States, and of handing a diplomatic victory to Russia. Not Trump, but his detractors have given Moscow a degree of leverage over Western Europe to which it has not aspired since the height of the Cold War in 1983, when Soviet premier Yuri Andropov considered a pre-emptive Russian attack in response to Western plans to deploy medium-range missiles in Germany.

Supposedly it was Trump who ignored the exigencies of international relations in favor of domestic political theater. Yet it is the Establishment wing of the Republican Party and its Democratic allies who combined to embarrass the president, without a moment’s consideration of the consequences of their actions. Among Washington’s elite, Trump Derangement Syndrome has nothing to do with ideology. It is about jobs and patronage. This is not hypocrisy. It is chutzpah.

Trump humiliated the Democrats and the Establishment rump of the Republican Party last November. The losers now face the prospect of permanent exile from political life. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement July 25, historian Edward Luttwak predicted a Trump dynasty lasting sixteen years, in which Ivanka Trump Kushner would succeed her father. “No wonder that leading Democrats and non-Trumpers continue to act hysterically even eight months after the election. President Trump’s plan threatens to exclude them all from office until long past their retirement age,” Luttwak wrote. The hopes of high office of the defeated Establishment can be realized only by stifling the Trump administration in its cradle.

That is the motivation behind the Black Legend of Russian collusion that continues to occupy the waking hours of the American media while putting most Americans to sleep. As Sen. McCain said after the Senate vote July 27, the sanctions “respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy….We will not tolerate attacks on our democracy. That’s what this bill is all about. We must take our own side in this fight, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans.”

The notion that Russian machinations explain Trump’s electoral victory is fanciful, although Russia’s intelligence services no doubt sought targets of opportunity in the American electoral scramble. McCain’s outrage over the violation of America’s political virginity, though, rings rather hollow. Some of his friends, for example National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, publicly advocate regime change in Moscow, a topic that has been a matter of on-and-off public debate in Washington for years. A 2016 Defense Intelligence Agency document reported that Russia believes that the United States favors regime change. The U.S. supported the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine, which threatened Russia’s access to its Crimean warm-water port. America’s capacity to influence political events in and around Russia is vastly greater than Russia’s.

After the fall of Communism, the dominant strain of American thinking held that the march of liberal democracy was unstoppable, and that it would transform the Muslim world as well as Moscow. I played a bit part in this project; in 1992, then Ambassador to Moscow Robert Strauss arranged for me to advise President Boris Yeltsin’s finance minister, Yegor Gaidar. Strauss did so at the behest of private equity investor Theodore Forstmann, who had funded a proposed study of the Russian economy. As it turned out I had little advice to give to the Yeltsin government, which was acting as a family office for various Russian oligarchs who divided up the Russian economy. The free-for-all of theft left the economy in ruins. One needed a large shopping bag full of currency to do ordinary shopping. A few hundred meters from the Kremlin, old people sold used clothing to buy food, and World War II veterans wore their medals to beg in the streets. No-one who had first-hand experience with Russia’s brief experience with democracy was surprised at Vladimir Putin’s subsequent popularity. The oligarchs continued to steal, but in a measured and organized fashion that allows ordinary life to proceed without catastrophic disruption. Putin rules Russia by means I sometimes find abhorrent, but his is a land where people don’t talk of Ivan the Reasonable.

An ideological residue of the utopian attitudes of the 1990s colors the Republican Establishment’s attitude towards Trump, but it does not really inform them. This is not about the U.S. elections, or Putin’s nastiness, or freedom and democracy. It’s about privilege and the pecking order in the Washington swamp. McCain and Schumer want to destroy Trump because a successful Trump administration would destroy them, and destroy the reputation of an entire generation of diplomats, intelligence officers, academics and military officers who achieved rank by promoting the export of democracy, nation building, counterinsurgency, and so forth.

The trouble is that the Schumer-McCain combination has taken aim at Russia but inflicted collateral damage on the Europeans. The sanctions legislation in its present form allows the United States to impose heavy fines on European companies involved in energy infrastructure with Russia, and threatens several major projects now in progress, including the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline, the Baltic Liquefied Natural Gas Project, and the Russia-Turkey Blue Stream pipeline, among others. EC Commission chief Klaus Juncker warned July 27, “The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests. If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. ‘America First’ cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”

The Trump administration has annoyed America’s trading partners previously by complaining about the exchange rate of the euro and about Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S. But those were cosmetic issues compared to sanctions which the Europeans see as a threat to essential economic interests. The French and German foreign ministries denounced the sanctions as a “violation of international law” and national governments as well as the European Commission are preparing as yet unspecified countermeasures.

Europeans suspect that the U.S. wants to sabotage Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe and replace them with LNG exports from the United States. Neither the Trump administration nor its opponents in Congress entertain such a Machiavellian agenda. On the contrary, the Trump administration initially supported sanctions against Russia as a bargaining chip, to be played to extract concessions from Moscow over the Ukraine, Iran and other matters of contention. The House and Senate bills in their present form effectively tie the president’s hands, turning what was a bargaining chip into a declaration of trade war. This would not be the first war to begin when what was intended as a feint was interpreted after the fact as a threat.

Not Trump, but his domestic opponents have set in motion an unprecedented disturbance in Atlantic relations, and effectively put Berlin, Paris and Rome in the same camp with Moscow in opposing American policy. European governments are already consulting with Moscow about mechanisms to get around the sanctions. Russia has responded by expelling a large number of diplomats from the embassy in Moscow, but that is merely a symbolic gesture. There are more disagreeable measures that Moscow might take, such as providing advanced weapons to Iran, giving close air support to Iranian-controlled militias in Syria, and increasing military cooperation with China. Russia and China, as I have reported elsewhere, already back Iran’s international brigades of Shi’ites as a counter-toxin to Sunni jihadists shaken loose by America’s blunders in Iraq.

America won the Cold War by driving a wedge between Russia and China, and by persuading a frightened Western Europe to point medium-range missiles at the Russian heartland. Russia sought to compensate for its economic inefficiency by turning Europe into an economic colony, and the most dangerous operations of the Cold War were undertaken to prevent this. Now, for narrow political reasons, Trump’s enemies propose to undo the whole structure of relationships that won the Cold War and drive Europe into the arms of the Russians and Chinese. I do not believe for a moment that McCain and Schumer have a clue about this—they are like the “sleepwalkers” in Christopher Clark’s brilliant history of the outbreak of the First World War—but if I were a Russian operative, I would try to invent someone like John McCain, if McCain did not already exist.

LISTEN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes questions in off-camera news briefing

July 7, 2017

LISTEN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes questions in off-camera news briefing, PBS via YouTube, July 7, 2017

According to the blurb beneath the video,

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke and took questions at an off-camera news briefing on Friday after participating in talks with Russia at the G20. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also spoke briefly before Tillerson.