Posted tagged ‘Russia’s foreign dominance’

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.

Middle Israel: Year of the Russian bear

December 31, 2016

Middle Israel: Year of the Russian bear, Jerusalem Post, Amotz Asa-el, December 31, 2016

(Nature abhors a vacuum. So does Trump, and his presidency may bring the end or at least amelioration of Russian dominance. — DM)

putinsumtinRUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference in Moscow last week. ‘He has weathered the West’s sanctions, stood his ground in Ukraine, smoothly restored Russia’s Middle Eastern outposts at the expense of a stammering Europe and a clumsily retreating US, and while at it emerged as. (photo credit:REUTERS)

 

Moscow’s imperial resurgence is ready to spend itself, but in 2016 it dominated the int’l system.

Even its critics admit Russia was 2016’s dominant superpower.

At a time when the European Union began to fray and the US drowned in political strife and shame, Russia emerged from the geopolitical shadows, where it had been lost for a quarter of a century, displaying imperial vision, vigor and sway.

This may be difficult to recall by now, but only five years ago, when NATO began bombing Libya, Western leaders treated Russia like a dying power that can be ignored while the West snatches its bastions.

Last year this impression was dispelled, from both its ends. The West’s failure to rule the world could not be more manifest, and Russia’s imperial resurgence could not be more apparent.

Completing with astonishing speed what it began in autumn 2015, Russia multiplied its aerial presence in Syria and also shipped there a mighty flotilla led by an aircraft carrier, to the world’s mixture of trepidation and respect.

In 2016 Russia brought on its knees Turkey, whose army is NATO’s second-largest. Last year’s incident in which Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet ended with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pilgrimaging to the Kremlin, where he begged Vladimir Putin’s forgiveness.

Even more incredibly, in 2016 Russia was accused of meddling in the American presidential election. While such interference could not have been effective, its very possibility was until recently unthinkable.

No less ominous and much less far-fetched is the thought that Russia encouraged the Middle East’s exportation of unwanted migrants to European shores. Russia had good reason to help this movement, because the way it sees things, the EU provoked it and as such had better cease to exist.

RUSSIA’S IMPERIAL quest began defensively.

Having first seen the former communist satellites in Central Europe escape Russia’s orbit; then the former Soviet possessions in the Baltics, and then also in Ukraine and Central Asia – Putin began wondering where the retreat ends. When he saw Washington tempting Georgia to join NATO and Brussels luring Ukraine to join the EU, he drew his line – with a knife.

The West, still indulging in the post-Cold War era’s moralism, didn’t get it. The way it saw things, freedom and democracy were predestined victors. Moreover, the West didn’t think it was behaving imperialistically, so why would Russia? Historians will indeed wonder how it was that Western diplomacy did not understand it was provoking Russia, how Western leaders lacked intelligence about Putin’s thoughts, feelings and plans, how he was restoring Russia’s military, and how he might readily activate it.

While intriguing, in 2016 these questions became academic. Now Russia’s imperial pretension is a fixture of the international system, and the only question is how far it might reach.

The good news is that the current Russian leadership, unlike the Soviets but very much like the czars, does not care where the world itself is headed, but cares greatly about the vast belt that surrounds Mother Russia – from Western Europe to China and Japan, through the Middle East.

The bad news, from the viewpoint of Russia’s rivals, is that the sanctions the West imposed on Moscow have backfired, and only further underscored the Russian bear’s weight and clout.

The simplest indication of this economic resilience is visible in the currency markets, where the ruble rose this year 30%, from 85 to 60 rubles to the dollar, thus partly offsetting the sanctions’ initial jolt two years ago, when it fell within several months by 50%, from 36 to 70 rubles per dollar.

Much more impressively, Russia has managed in recent years to create a viable and competitive agriculture, so much so that this year it became the world’s leading wheat exporter, bypassing the US.

The communists, by contrast, unable to motivate workers and organize distribution, repeatedly registered failed harvests, while the USSR came to depend on Western grain.

Now, 20 years after harvesting 35 million metric tons, Russian wheat growers yielded 70 million metric tons, thus creating a global glut, with prices plunging from nearly $12 per bushel in 2008 to $4.02 this week, while US exports, which in 1974 comprised 50% of the global market, are now a mere 15%.

Russia thus showed that sanctioning it is futile. It can easily feed itself, it has more commodities than anyone else on earth, and its industry can manufacture anything its trade partners won’t sell it.

Moreover, Russia’s agricultural performance means that Putin’s imperial designs come coupled with a social vision – to resurrect the class of private farmers that the communists dispossessed, the kulaks. The ranchers, who were czarist Russia’s economic and political backbone, are also Putin’s heroes, as opposed to the factory workers, whom the czars distrusted and the communists embraced.

Putin, like the czars, has more trust in villagers and farmers, who presumably worship stability and obey authority, than in city dwellers and factory workers, who are prone to develop an excessive appetite for independent thought, free speech and political accountability.

Whatever his designs, Putin has weathered the West’s sanctions, stood his ground in Ukraine, smoothly restored Russia’s Middle Eastern outposts at the expense of a stammering Europe and a clumsily retreating US, and while at it emerged as the region’s power broker.

Having effectively conquered the Syrian coastal strip with a naval base in its south and an aerial base in its north, Putin has just launched negotiations with Turkey and Iran over Syria’s future, leaving the US and Europe out of the talks. Never since the end of the Cold War has the West faced such a geopolitical defeat.

Such has been the Russian zenith in 2016.

In 2017 it will begin to eclipse.

WITH EMPIRE comes a great burden, and Russia is already feeling its brunt.

The assassination last week of Moscow’s ambassador to Turkey was but the start.

Bombarding to death thousands of civilians, as millions of Syrians believe Russia did, means that millions who previously had no issue with Russia now see it as Dracula.

Chances are high that they will seek ways to terrorize Russia, a temptation that is helped by the ubiquity of thousands of Russians in Syria, all potential targets.

The deaths this week of 92 passengers aboard a flight from Russia to Syria, though apparently an accident, nonetheless made many Russians ask what Americans, Soviets, and Israelis asked during their respective wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Lebanon: What are we doing there? Putin is apparently aware of this. That is why he is seeking a settlement in Syria that will end the fighting. This, indeed, will be his great imperial test in 2017: Will he manage to end the war, and will he manage to deliver peace? Sadly, on both fronts chances are low he will deliver.

Much like the West, Putin can deal with governments, but he cannot control insurgents.

He can force Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian allies to acquiesce to Turkey’s effective takeover of northern Syria; he can force Ankara to accept Russian troops’ permanent presence at Turkey’s threshold; and he can also sanction a Shi’ite population transfer to areas from which Sunnis fled.

Yet Putin cannot make more than 10 million Sunni Syrians return to Assad’s bosom, and he also can’t stop them from seeking revenge for what they have been through under Russian sponsorship. In short, Putin’s imperial quest has made him play with fire, and its flames may be approaching him faster than he appreciates.

This is besides the fact that Russia’s economic resilience can only go that far.

The farming sector’s exports, while impressive, added up last year to $20 billion.

Yes, for the first time ever, Russia exported more grain than arms, but for a superpower this figure is low, and it is marginal in Russia’s overall exports, which last year exceeded $340b., dominated by oil.

Oil, however, lost over the past three years more than half its value, thus plunging the Russian economy into crisis regardless of its imperialism’s economic costs, both in terms of the sanctions it provoked and in terms of the military deployments it involved in farflung theaters, from Ukraine to Syria.

The unaffordability of all this to Moscow became apparent last month, when it colluded with OPEC in a deal to cut oil outputs. The deal did spike oil prices initially, but in the longer term it is a financial nonstarter. Diplomatically, it is a behavior worthy not of a superpower but of an unconfident economic laggard that prefers to remain addicted to raw materials.

The imperial limits that all this implies are likely to emerge as a central feature of 2017, especially if President-elect Donald Trump demands the OPEC deal’s cancellation in return for lifting sanctions. The year 2016, however, when Russia emerged from the geopolitical woodwork, will be recalled as the year of the Russian bear.