A Reverse “Nixon Strategy” Won’t Work for Trump
By Jacob Stokes
Several commentators, among them Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute and Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have suggested that U.S. President Donald Trump should take any efforts to warm relations with Russia one step further and try to enlist Moscow’s help in balancing a rising China. Trump views China and Islamist extremism as the two principal challenges to U.S. security, and he sees Russia as a potential partner in combating both. The thinking goes, then, that Trump should run a version of the diplomatic play that former U.S. President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger followed in the early 1970s when they thawed relations with Beijing to counter the Soviet Union. This time, however, Trump would partner with Russia to balance China.
The proposal entices with visions of ambitious strategic gambits across Eurasia, in Trumpian vernacular the “big league” of geopolitics. Nixon going to China was one of the most consequential diplomatic deals in U.S. history. What better way for the dealmaker in chief—especially one who regularly consults with Kissinger—to burnish his credentials than carrying out a version of it for himself? In theory, the move would adhere to traditional maxims of geopolitics: namely, the imperative to maintain the balance of power on the Eurasian continent. U.S. strategists have relied on this principle to varying degrees since at least World War II. Further, a strategy that engages with Russia to counter China might lend a degree of coherence to the Trump administration’s otherwise disjointed foreign policy.
The problem for Trump is that Sino-Russian ties have been improving more or less steadily since the waning years of the Cold War. The thaw between the two communist powers began in the early 1980s and was followed by normalized relations in May 1989. Beijing and Moscow established a “strategic partnership” in 1996 and signed a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation in 2001. Chinese and Russian leaders now refer to the relationship as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination,” a convoluted term for a not-quite alliance. Last September, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi proclaimed that “the depth and scope of coordination between both countries are unprecedented.” Robust cooperation has accelerated since Xi Jinping became China’s top leader in 2012; he reportedly has a warm personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two countries cooperate closely across a number of fields. On energy, Russia became the top oil supplier to China in 2016. Crucially for China, it transports supplies overland rather than through contested sea lanes. The nations have partnered on military exercises, including in the Mediterranean and South China Sea, as well as on some joint technology development projects. They have revived their languishing arms trade relationship. In 2015, Beijing agreed to purchase both Su-35 fighter jets and the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system from Moscow. The two countries have also embarked on a number of symbolic people-to-people projects, such as beginning the long-delayed construction of a bridge across the Amur River. And in June 2016, Presidents Xi and Putin agreed to work jointly to increase their control over cyberspace and communications technologies.
A shared political vision for world order provides the foundation for Chinese-Russian cooperation. It is defined primarily by the desire to see an end to U.S. primacy, to be replaced by multipolarity. Once this vision is realized, each nation would command an effective sphere of influence in Asia and eastern Europe, respectively. For now, though, China and Russia have tenser relations with the United States than at any point since the end of the Cold War. This is primarily because of maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas—including over the Diaoyu/Senkaku, the Paracel, and the Spratly island chains—and the war in Ukraine, making the Sino-Russian partnership more important than ever. A recent op-ed in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily called that relationship “the ballast stone in maintaining world peace and stability.”
A shared political vision for world order provides the foundation for Chinese-Russian cooperation.
In the 1970s, it was deep discord in the Sino-Soviet relationship that helped convince China to align with the United States. This discord culminated in border clashes in 1969. By 1972, relations between the two communist powers had deteriorated from frosty to outright frozen. When Kissinger came calling, Beijing already saw Moscow as a bigger threat than Washington. For Russia today, the opposite is true. Moscow sees Washington as the primary adversary despite hopes that Trump will repair the relationship.
Moscow sees Washington as the primary adversary despite hopes that Trump will repair the relationship.
To be sure, there is some potential for a rupture between China and Russia. Moscow worries about a lopsided economic relationship based on trading Russian resources for Chinese finished goods. China’s growing influence in Central Asia and the sparsely populated areas of eastern Russia, Moscow’s arms sales to India and Vietnam, and China’s theft of Russian weapons designs all threaten to derail the partnership. But the United States’ ability to fuel those disputes in order to foster divisions remains limited at best. Moreover, Xi and Putin have found a modus vivendi that downplays and contains those frictions while focusing on the cooperative aspects of their relationship. When Chinese leaders talk about a “new type of great power relations” with the United States, they envision something much like the Sino-Russian relationship as a model.
In exchange for turning against China, Moscow might seek the lifting of sanctions imposed following the annexation of Crimea, an end to U.S. support for a free and independent Ukraine, and acquiescence to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It may also demand a removal of missile defenses from Europe, the cessation of NATO expansion, or, even better from a Russian perspective, the abolition of NATO altogether. Granting Putin’s wishes on these issues would undermine the seven-decade U.S. investment in a Europe whole, free, and at peace—an investment that propelled the United States’ ascension to postwar primacy in the first place. What is more, accepting Russia’s acquisition of territory by force would undermine U.S. arguments about the prohibition of such actions under international law when Beijing asserts its expansive claims in the East and South China Seas using force.
Even if Trump convinced Putin to end Moscow’s partnership with Beijing, Russia would still have little capability to thwart China’s bad behavior in places that matter. Russia’s Pacific Fleet, although relatively sizable in number, suffers from severe shortfalls in maintenance, and many of its assets are aging. Planned additions to the fleet—including extra missile defense systems and submarines—will bolster deterrence capabilities but have limited applicability to the types of sea patrol tasks necessary to counter China’s maritime assertiveness. In theory, Moscow could help arm Asian nations to contribute to the balancing effort, but direct U.S. and other allied assistance could easily substitute for that, building relationships more advantageous to U.S. interests in the process.
Putin would also need to patch up diplomatic relations in Asia if he planned to balance against Beijing. Doing so would require a substantial diplomatic investment and, likely, Russian concessions. Putin’s ballyhooed rapprochement with Tokyo seems to have run aground despite clear eagerness on the part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a deal to address the dispute over the Northern Territories islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kurils, as well as a peace treaty officially concluding World War II. And Russia’s continued support of North Korea and staunch opposition to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system has made for rocky relations with Seoul. The Russian position on the South China Sea—studied aloofness while agreeing to joint naval exercises with China—means that strategic relations in Southeast Asia would also require substantial diplomatic spadework (Putin’s warm relations with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines notwithstanding).
A better U.S. strategy for competing effectively in the no-holds-barred contest of great power politics—including in “triangular diplomacy” with Moscow and Beijing—would focus on two lines of effort. First, the Trump administration should work with both Russia and China where possible. Those efforts should seek to forge a trilateral understanding on contentious issues affecting strategic stability, such as nuclear and missile defense issues, twenty-first-century definitions of sovereignty, and rules for armed intervention. Trilateral discussions should also build practical cooperation on areas of mutual interest, such as climate and energy, counterterrorism, and nonproliferation. Addressing frictions head-on and building habits of cooperation could mitigate strategic distrust among the three great powers by lessening the worry that two will cut deals at the expense of the other.
Second, Washington must continue to do the hard work of maintaining and building support among current U.S. allies and partners in both Europe and Asia, along with other increasingly powerful middle-tier states such as Brazil, India, and Vietnam. Such ties give the United States leverage over China and Russia, neither of which has similar worldwide networks of friendly states. The United States must assess the costs and benefits of finding and keeping friends overseas in a manner that looks beyond the narrow transactionalism Trump espoused on the campaign trail. Put simply, when considered in the context of a global competition for power and influence, a vast network of allies and partners starts to look more like an asset than a liability.
Trump seeks “good deals” with Russia. Cozying up to Putin in hopes of receiving Moscow’s help in balancing Beijing would not be one.
Source: Foreign Affairs “Russia and China’s Enduring Alliance”
Note: This is Foreign Affair’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
In my post “Russia-China Alliance May Not Break when There Is No US Threat” on October 2, 2016, I said though the Russia-China alliance is an alliance of necessity to resist US containment of both Russia and China, even if US threat has been removed the alliance will not break as friends in need may become friends in deed.
However, we have not studied another possibility: Can US new president Trump leverage Russia against China?
In fact, before Obama began his pivot to Asia to contain China, the US has been quite successful in containing Russia with China’s assistance. China supported the UN decisions initiated by the West to contain Russia in the Middle East. It even suffered serious losses in supporting the US in conducting regime change in Libya. However, when the US began to contain China, China has to unite with Russia in resisting US containment. It greatly pleased Russia by joining Russia’s veto of UN resolution initiated by the US aimed at bringing regime change in pro-Russia Syria.
Since then, China has made great efforts to build mutual trust with Russia. As a result, the two countries have developed very close ties, difficult for Trump to break.
Perhaps, Trump knows the importance of leveraging Russia against rising China. In his election campaign, Trump often praised Russian President Putin while attacking China. It gave people the impression that Trump will improve US relations with Russia when he has won the election and become US president. That idea is quite unpopular among lots of American people. For example Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis regards Russia as the biggest threat.
However, some people believe that Trump is not so stupid as to regard Russia as a friend instead of an enemy. Perhaps Trump regards China as the biggest threat and wants to use Russia in countering China.
That will be the reverse of Henry Kissinger’s move in improving US relations with China to counter the Soviet Union.
It is perhaps a wise move to contain China, but is it possible for Trump to do so, given US domestic disgust of Putin? Can Trump overcome fierce opposition from US politicians and media, especially the opposition from his own Republican Party?
Given the traditional enmity between the two giant neighbors, it would have been possible for the US to leverage Russia against China if Obama had not committed the mistake of containing them both simultaneously and thus turned them into allies instead of enemies.
The Russia-China alliance is indeed a “marriage of convenience”, but we shall not forget that a marriage of convenience, though not sound as a marriage based on mutual affection, may have some firm basis for the marriage, which usually are mutual interests.
When the two countries become closer, they find that they economies supplement each other very favorably. Russia is a major exporter of energy and other natural resources that China has a thirst for while China is Russia’s major source of cheap consumer goods. The United States cannot replace China as Russia’s resources importer and consumer goods provider. On the contrary, the US is Russia’s competitor in world energy market as it is becoming a major energy exporter too due to progress of technology in energy exploitation.
In addition, the US is Russia’s major competitor in world weapon market. China may become Russia’s major competitor too as it is vigorously developing advanced weapons. However, China and Russia may cooperate in developing advanced weapons due to the mutual trust they have built for a long time. For example, they now have joint ventures in developing wide-body airliners (the technology of which may be used in large military transport aircraft) and heavy helicopters to combine their technology expertise to compete with the West.
The US and Russia however have developed their deep hostility for decades since the beginning of the Cold War. They are simply unable to overcome the hostility within a short period of time. Therefore, it is impossible for the US and Russia to conduct such cooperation in weapon development. Russia and China may together become America’s fearful competitor in world market.
There is, moreover, the mutually beneficial cooperation due to their close geographical locations that the US cannot replace China. China is now using Russia’s railway for its trade with Europe and Middle East. As the Arctic is melting, China may have a shipping route through the Arctic that is much shorter than that through the Indian Ocean. Russia will provide port facilities for supplies and maintenance to facilitate the shipping and air protection to prevent China’s that trade lifeline from being cut by US navy while China may provide funds and labor for the construction of such facilities.
China is certainly willing to pay for the use of the railway and port facilities to benefit Russia. In addition, the route will also be very useful for Russia’s export of oil and LPG extracted in Siberia. Japan and South Korea will be major importer of Russian oil and LPG.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
According to National Interest’s article by Dave Majumdar on February 10, 2017, a report of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) commissioned by US Navy says that the US has to develop a new stealth manned fighter to contend for air superiority with China’s J-20.
The article says, “The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter—which are not dedicated air superiority fighters—would not be suitable to defeat advanced adversary air defenses or enemy aircraft such as the Chengdu J-20 or other Chinese fifth-generation warplanes. ‘In contrast to today’s multimission strike-fighters, such as the F-35C, the design of these aircraft would need to focus mostly on the fighter mission rather than strike, so that they would have the speed, endurance, maneuverability, and air-to-air sensor capability needed for counter-air operations,’ the report states.”
That is only natural because when the US began developing F-35, no other country has stealth fighter to contend for air supremacy with F-35, therefore there is much more emphasis on F-35’s capabilities in penetrating enemy air defense to attack enemy targets on land or at sea.
Now, China has developed J-20 specially for grabbing air supremacy from US stealth fighters. The US finds it in a poor position and is in dire need for some fighters to deal with J-20. Sad for US Navy. No worry, US Navy can ask Congress for lots of funds to develop new stealth fighters for air superiority.
The problem is that China is also spending a lot in developing fighter jets superior to US ones and so is Russia. The US has to conduct arms race in earnest with both Russia and China.
Usually, at least one of the two countries competing with the US may develop something better than US ones. If it is China, US will lose the arms race. However, if it is Russia, the US will also lose to China as Russia is willing to sell and China can afford the purchase of Russia’s best fighter jets as proved by its purchase of Russia’s so far the best fighter jet Su-35.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article, full text of which can be viewed at http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-us-navy-needs-new-fighter-russia-china-are-blame-19409.
—Wilson Brissett 2/8/2017
Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said the Air Force is not ready to fight against a near-peer adversary, like Russia or China, that would deploy fifth-generation capabilities. “Against a high-end adversary, we lack the capabilities and the numbers,” Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning. “We’re ready to fight in the Middle East,” he said, making reference to the war against ISIS and its related terrorist networks. But he said the Air Force today lacks the end strength to take on a great power competitor. Beyond increasing the size of the force, Wilson said large exercises like Red Flag are the way to address the gap. The Air Force recently made a “significant investment” at Nellis AFB, Nev., for this kind of joint, air-to-air combat training, and USAF has focused especially on “incorporating space and cyber” into the mix. But he also said that, because of funding and op tempo realities, “not enough people can go to it and they’re not frequent enough.” So the Air Force is also investing in “live virtual constructive training,” Wilson said, which focuses on “reproducing a Red Flag environment” and is particularly useful for exercising F-35s and other fifth-generation aircraft.
Source: Air Force magazine “Air Force Not Prepared for Fifth-Generation Adversary”
Trump’s friendly phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping hours before meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proves his talents in choosing the best timing in dealing with Japan and China.
As a shrewd businessman, Trump is very clear that Japan is the greatest beneficiary of Obama’s pivot to Asia as of all the countries in the world, Japan has the most earnest desire to contain China due to the war crimes it committed in China in the 1930s and 1940s. As the bitter memory of Japan’s invasion of China remains fresh in China, all Chinese people will support a war against Japan no matter how they love peace. Those who oppose the war will be regarded as traitors by most Chinese people.
Japan is lucky that Chinese leaders are wise. They want good relations with Japan and utterly oppose a war with Japan. However, if Japan provokes China, they will fight. Who knows what their successors will do! Containing China to stop its rise seems the best choice for Japanese leaders and people like Shinzo Abe whose grandparents have committed war crimes in China.
The US, however, helped China resist Japanese invasion. Chinese children are still fond of listening to stories about American pilots who volunteered to help China fight the Japanese in China’s war of resistance against Japan.
Trump knows well that the US is simply unable to contain China. Its military threat in the South China Sea has caused China to build large artificial islands as military bases to dominate the South China Sea. Containing China militarily has only given rise to an arms race with China that the US cannot afford.
Obama’s TPP aims at containing China economically, but will end up benefiting TPP members, especially Japan, at US expense.
Not only so, TPP helps Chinese President Xi Jinping overcome vested interests’ obstacles to his reform and will thus enable China to conform to TPP rules and join TPP.
Moreover, TPP’s stringent rules will push other countries, especially a rising India, closer to China economically as they want China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to counter TPP.
Now, Trump’s phone call to Xi tells Abe that the US wants to be China’s friend instead of containing China. Containing China will certainly benefit the US as it facilitates US maintenance of its world leadership. However, it is now Japan’s turn to do the hopeless dirty job.
US-China friendship means better access to Chinese and US markets respectively by the US and China. To compete with China in US market, Abe has to make concessions. As an initial sweetener, Abe has promised to invest $150 billion in the US to create 300,000 jobs. That is much better than paying more for US expense in keeping its military in Japan.
Trump’s scrapping of Obama’s pivot to Asia has the effect of pitting Japan against China and will give rise to Japan’s arms race with China.
Trump also plans to improve US relations with Russia. If he can pit Russia against China, he will be able to subdue China by diplomacy, which according to China’s gifted strategist Sun Tzu, is better than subduing by fighting.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Michael Peck February 4, 2017
President Trump wants “made in America” to be our new national motto. But what if U.S. weapons are so inferior to those of other nations that America will need to import foreign arms to obtain the best technology?
It seems like every other day, some expert is warning us that America is in danger of becoming second best in military technology, usually as justification for more defense spending or for buying some expensive weapon. But the latest study comes from the Congressional Research Service—Congress’s research arm—which is generally regarded as one of the more nonpartisan of Beltway institutions.
CRS warns that countries “such as Russia and China are not only upgrading existing ground combat systems with new and effective survivability and lethality features but are also developing entirely new ground combat systems for domestic use and possible export.”
While Russia is developing the advanced T-14 Armata tank, the United States is still using the same Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry carriers from the Cold War, and fielding of their successor—the Next Generation Combat Vehicle—won’t be until 2035 at best. “There is a possibility one or more upgraded or newly developed foreign ground combat systems could emerge and surpass its U.S. counterpart,” CRS reports.
The report points to numerous areas where U.S. armored vehicles either fall short or at least have lost their technological edge:
• While better sensors such as thermal sights gave U.S. armored vehicles an edge in conflicts such as the First Gulf War, now they are standard equipment on the vehicles of many nations.
• Countries such as Russia and Israel are already fielding active protection systems, or APS. However, “the U.S., despite a long-standing interest in APS, has yet to field an existing system or a developmental one,” CRS notes. “APS is seen as a means, in conjunction with vehicle armor, to enhance crew survivability from an ever-growing range of threats. Some tanks, including the Israeli Merkava Mk 4 and, reportedly, the Russian T-14 Armata are designed around an integral APS as opposed to having a system retrofitted to the tank which is generally considered a sub-optimal solution.”
• The Bradley’s twenty-five-millimeter cannon is smaller than the thirty- and forty-millimeter weapons found on other infantry fighting vehicles, and may lack the space and power for an active protection system.
• America’s Paladin howitzer and multiple-launch rocket systems are outranged by foreign models.
America was fortunate during the Cold War and the Persian Gulf Wars that it didn’t face cutting-edge equipment; “monkey models” was what the Soviets called the stripped-down versions of the weapons they sold to their Third World clients. But CRS points out that Russia and China are exporting advanced weapons. So even in a conflict against a minor nation, the United States could face sophisticated arms such as the Russian T-90 and Chinese MBT-3000 tanks.
In the normal course of things, even if the United States were falling behind in tanks or some other weapon, it would normally catch up by devoting more resources for development and acquisition. But U.S. weapons development and procurement has become so glacial—the F-35 fighter is just entering service now, more than twenty years after the first development contract was awarded—that it takes decades to develop a new tank.
Which in turn in raises the sensitive issue of whether America will need to buy foreign weapons to remain militarily competitive. “The rise of increasingly capable foreign ground combat systems,” CRS says, “the length of time it takes to develop and field a major combat system under current DOD acquisition regulations, and ongoing and anticipated defense budgetary constraints might present policymakers with an opportunity to re-visit the viability of acquiring existing state-of-the art foreign ground combat systems and modifying them to meet Army requirements as has been done in the past.”
To some extent, this problem was inevitable. Weaponry is the most diffuse of technologies; whether tanks or night vision sensors, what one nation fields, others will soon copy. It is the blindest of patriotism to assume that American arms are the best simply because they are American.
Nor would this be the first time America has imported weapons before. The Pentagon uses Israeli drones and Swedish antitank weapons, while too many spare parts for American military hardware are today made in China.
But what’s really troubling is CRS’s observation that “there appears to be a degree of resignation” among the U.S. military that it will fall behind in the arms race. It’s not unnatural for armies throughout history to fear that the enemy is stronger and better equipped: there always seems to be a “Missile Gap” somewhere. But for the United States, which since World War II has prided itself on having the world’s most advanced technology, it’s quite a comedown.
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
Source: National Interest “Not Made in America: Why the U.S. May Need to Import Foreign Weapons”
Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
US new president Donald Trump clearly knows that the US is declining and urgently needs a thorough reform to reinvigorate its economy.
He knows well that China is the major rival the US has to deal with, but it is a very difficult issue. He has to deal with easier ones first for US benefits.
He scrapped TPP and wants to substitute it with bilateral arrangements with each TPP country to enable the US to obtain maximum gains from each and every of them. He has thus abolished US long-established practice of making multilateral arrangements that benefit US allies at the cost of the US such as TPP, NAFTA and NATO.
Due to US strength as a superpower, it will be easy for the US to obtain concessions from others through bilateral negotiations.
Trump’s wisest strategy is improvement of US relations with Russia. The conflict between Russia and the West is mainly a conflict between EU and Russia. The US shall not take EU’s burden to deal with Russia. On the contrary, the US shall obtain gains from both EU and Russia in the conflict.
Some analysts believe that Trump wants to unite with Russia to deal with China. That is certainly a wise idea but difficult to realize as it is hard for the US to break the firmly established de facto Russia-China alliance as so much interests are involved.
The US cannot replace China to become the greatest buyers of Russia’s natural resources and provider of cheap industrial goods. Nor is the US able to provide Russia with immigrants to Russia’s cold and barren Far East to help Russia develop its vast Far East.
Anyway, Trump is wise in adopting his strategies. The problem is that neither Russian leader Putin nor Chinese leader Xi Jinping is less wise; therefore, only win-win cooperation is the way out for the three leaders. Putin and Xi have achieved that. It tests Trump’s wisdom and tact to achieve that.
Whatever the outcome of the three leaders’ diplomacy, I am sure Trump will improve US economy as the US will certainly obtain concessions from other countries.
It will be a much safer world if there are three equal superpowers China, Russia and the US. Whenever one becomes too strong and aggressive, the other two will unite to oppose it and prevent its dominance of the world. That is perhaps my wishful thinking hard to become reality. However, Russia and China, though not equal superpowers to the US, are now able to prevent US dominance of the world with their de facto alliance.
Article by Chan Kai Yee