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For China and Russia, U.S. Unorthodoxy Is No Substitute For Trust

President Donald Trump, accompanied by  Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, speaks on the phone with with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Similar to the two prior U.S. Presidential administrations, the current administration is making overtures towards Russia in the hope of improving U.S.-Russian relations. However, any penchant for deal-making must be buttressed by the clear understanding of other great powers’ legitimate security interests. Additionally, the realization by the U.S. national security establishment that other great powers’ national security architectures consider their own interests no less important to them than the U.S. does its own is critical.

Unorthodoxy Doesn’t Impress Everyone

President Trump has recently signaled his new policy orientation towards both China and Russia in two unorthodox moves. With respect to China, the administration has indicated that unless U.S.-China trade relations are better balanced in favor of the U.S., then the “One China” policy might be under review by the U.S.. Similarly, the administration has hinted at possible removal of U.S. sanctions against Russia in return for a new agreement on nuclear weapons.

While there are indeed some calls for the U.S. to review its “One China” policy, most of these have been voiced without consideration of the Chinese standpoint. Fundamentally, China has spent a generation gradually improving the economic benefits for its citizenry, resulting in more people being lifted out of poverty than ever before in human history. With the end of the Cold War, this economic development has been the basis for the continued legitimacy of China’s leadership in the eyes of its people.

Why, then, would it proceed to jeopardize this legitimacy for the the sake of a trade deal more favorable to the U.S.? As China has itself voiced multiple times, domestic considerations will override global perceptions of itself if given a choice between the two. Lastly, governmental legitimacy is surely a (if not the) prime example of this stark choice.

Without Trust, You’re Wasting Your Time

This pattern of attempting to leverage resolution over immediate issues into questions concerning other states’ overriding national security objectives continues with Russia. As stated above, the U.S. has indicated that it may be amenable to removal of Russian sanctions if a deal can be reached on nuclear armaments between the two sides. However, this deal will be next to impossible to reach, much less actually implement because of two key factors.

First, Russia’s nuclear superiority to the U.S. is a key plank in its bid to re-establish itself as a great power. What sane great power would make any deal towards nuclear weapons reductions when faced with conventional forces massing on its borders in the form of NATO? Additionally, any true progress towards any kinds of mutual arms reduction on both sides would require mutual trust. As is quite evident, there is absolutely zero strategic trust between the U.S. and Russia currently. Again, there is a tendency here by the U.S. to overestimate the importance of issues such as trade (increased or decreased) to a particular country when that country’s own core security interests are at stake.

Secondly, and more importantly, U.S. sanctions were initially imposed on Russia because of the Ukraine Crisis, not any nuclear issues. Again, the Ukraine Crisis is but a symptom of much larger issues between the U.S. and Russia going back to the end of the Cold War. There will be zero progress on issues such as Ukraine and Syria unless these underlying issues are addressed holistically.

Lastly, at the recent CSIS event, “Russia in Global Affairs”, the panel chair actually thanked the U.S. for the role of its sanctions in bringing Russia and China closer together. At the same event, yet another panelist made it quite clear that even if U.S.-Russian relations were improved, this would have absolutely no bearing on Sino-Russian relations. Again, this is evidence of the strategic mistrust between the U.S. and Russia.

The Blob Isn’t Going Anywhere

In the end, perhaps the most immediate obstacle to the new U.S. administration’s outreach towards both China and Russia is the U.S.’ own national security architecture. Labeled “The Blob” by the previous administration, it is apparently composed of elements of the defense establishment and the intelligence community, as well as various think tanks and media outlets. The fear is that any intrinsic deal-making expertise brought to bear by the new administration will be ultimately countermanded by The Blob, which apparently is impervious to the desires of The White House, irrespective of any actual party affiliation.

Similar to the national interests of both China and Russia, The Blob is responsible for upholding the national security interests of the U.S.. These interests are many, but surely the paramount interest must be to retain hegemony in a liberal, rules-based order, while simultaneously preventing the rise of peer competitors in East Asia (China) and Eurasia (Russia). Unfortunately for the U.S., even some its staunchest allies have recently voiced a reluctance for further “nation-building”, where Western values are imposed on sovereign regional states. It’s far too early to tell how this game will play out, but what is clear is that unless the new administration understands and respects the national security interests of all three states, there will be no progress at all.

 
  • ILYA GERASEV

    – “However, this deal will be next to impossible to reach, much less actually implement”

    Actually, it is possible! More than that, it is an overdue issue for both of our sides for a long time. We just seem to forget some of the figures… And Common Sense.

    1) There is no “tangible” superiority of nuclear arms between us (the Russians) and the United States. We both have around 4000 units each of Special Payload Warheads (nuclear warheads), the difference is around 500 units or so which makes no difference when we are talking about nuclear weapons.

    2) By this time, the effects of using nuclear weapons in real life has been analyzed so thoroughly and the deadly “no-winner” ramifications are crystal clear, that such countries as the United States and the Russian Federation clearly understand that such weapons shall not be used, unless we agree to end all life on this planet. This makes any kind of talk about having a superior nuclear arsenal between our countries (or actually any nuclear-capable countries) for gaining any political leverage absolutely pointless, since everyone understands that we shall never use them.

    The System does not allow for such countries like ours to launch “just one” and than say “Oh.. sorry, it was just one!” – too late.

    But never the less it can be used as a significant tool to improve the current relations between our countries and give a good example of conduct in this policy for other nations. The Fact is, that it actually Benefits (!) both sides:

    1) This warhead count (just for one of our countries) is enough for implementing a total Earth-wide nuclear apocalypse SEVERAL times. Most other nuclear-capable country’s arsenal does not exceed 200-300 warheads. And still pose the necessary “deterrence” power. Reducing the warhead count even 4-fold will still retain a by far the advantage over other nuclear-capable countries and serve the purpose of deterrence (although limiting our power to only be able to destroy our planet once).

    2) Such a reduction shall also serve to great economic effect on both sides. The cost of maintaining a nuclear arsenal in a safe and, at the same time a fully ready condition is Very High. Here is an article to estimate (https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/The-Unaffordable-Arsenal-Reducing-the-Costs-of-the-Bloated-US-Nuclear-Stockpile/2014/10/Section_one)
    Our figures are similar.

    A good nuclear deal is not impossible – it is a very good, mutually beneficial political step.

Author

Robert Matthew Shines
Robert Matthew Shines

Robert Matthew Shines is a U.S. Foreign Policy Analyst & Project Manager with Bright Group Consulting, where he provides confidential geopolitical forecasting services regarding various aspects of U.S.-China foreign policy. Additionally, he is an Expert | Geopolitical Intelligence with RANE, an information and advisory services company that connects business leaders to critical risk insights and expertise. He is also an Analyst with the Foreign Policy Association where he writes blogs on foreign policy analysis. As a Senior Analyst and Editor with Global Risk Insights, he provides analysis on political risk & geopolitics. Lastly, he is a Writer for Geopoliticalmonitor Intelligence Corporation, an international intelligence publication which provides comprehensive geopolitical analysis. Having previously consulted in Ukraine, his area of focus is U.S.-Russia relations. He received his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management with a focus on U.S.-China relations.

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