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The U.S.’ Outreach To Regional Hegemons Is Both Right And Wrong


US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they begin a meeting at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Reuters)

Recently, the U.S. has reached out to India to help it stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. This mirrors the U.S.’ efforts to solicit China’s assistance in resolving the North Korean crisis. While these maneuvers acknowledge both India and China’s importance in their respective geographic areas, they simultaneously reduce both India and China’s core strategic interests in resolving these crises to continued beneficial trade relations with the U.S..

Threaten Friend And Foe Alike

The U.S.’ appeal to both India and China alike is an indicator of accelerating multipolarity in the 21st century. After decades of frustration with North Korea, the U.S. has recently turned to China for help. The North Korean situation affects all Northeast Asian states, to include South Korea, Japan, and Russia. However, as the region’s emerging hegemon, China’s interests in resolving the crisis clearly must be taken into account by the U.S. as well.

To date, the U.S. has reduced China’s concern with resolving the North Korean dilemma to that of a potential nuclearized Korean Peninsula and a hypothetical collapsed North Korean state which would lead to a refugee crisis for China. Both of these concerns are certainly valid. However, they are subordinate to China’s primary security concern in having an intact North Korea as a buffer state against any perceived encroachment of U.S. forces, which led to China’s entrance into the first Korean War. Until this overall security interest is acknowledged by the U.S., either publicly or privately, there will be no resolution of the crisis.

Security considerations will outweigh economic ones for all countries, and China is no different in this respect. Therefore, U.S. sanctions against China, threats of further sanctions against Chinese entities suspected of enabling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and threats of downgrading the U.S.-China relationship are all futile. These threats would have had much more teeth a generation ago when the U.S. economy was much stronger and more singularly indispensable to the global economy as a whole. As this is no longer the case, any reduction in U.S.-China trade would actually hurt the U.S. more, while accelerating China’s OBOR.

The Longest U.S. War Has No End In Sight

Similarly, the U.S. has singled out India to help it in its efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan. Of course, India has always had an overriding security interest in Afghanistan as both South and Central Asia lie within its sphere of influence. However, like China, the U.S. has yet to make the case to India on how exactly it will benefit India’s security interests to assist the U.S.. Also, the U.S.-India trade relationship is being threatened by the U.S. and this is being used as a stick to get India to comply with U.S. wishes.

However, as with China, India is far from being a treaty ally of the U.S. and, as such, has no concrete incentive to follow the U.S. lead in resolving a regional crisis unless its own security interests are acknowledged and taken into account. With India, one interest of concern is surely the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. As India doesn’t already trust Pakistan due to its relationship with China, this mistrust is compounded by Indian uncertainty regarding the exact nature of U.S.-Pakistani ties with respect to terrorism.

A bad situation is made much worse by the fact that the U.S. is now actively seeking Indian and Pakistani help in Afghanistan. Luckily, the Doklam standoff is now resolved, otherwise it could have emerged as a bargaining chip as both China and India might have asked the U.S. which one it truly favored in the crisis as the price of assistance in the North Korean and Afghan theaters of concern respectively.

This Model Won’t Work On Iran Or Russia Either

If this model is to be followed in the future, then the U.S. will continue to seek assistance from regional hegemons to help it resolve local crises. How will this play out in the Syria Crisis? Yes, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are all powerful regional actors with various interests in resolving this particular crisis. However, unlike Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iran is not a U.S. ally and so therefore will ask the U.S. what concrete benefits will accrue to it for helping the U.S. to resolve this particular crisis. Unfortunately, the U.S. has already shot itself in the foot with sanctions against Iran despite its acknowledgement that Iran is still in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

Finally, after so many other crises, there is still the Ukraine Crisis. There is no other regional hegemon the U.S. can deal with to resolve this situation other than Russia. Recent U.S. veto-proof sanctions against Russia, combined with recent talk of arming Ukraine with offensive weaponry, severely undermine its incentive to help resolve this crisis, to say the least. Yet again, decreased economic ties with the U.S. pale in comparison to core Russian security concerns such as NATO expansion.

This particular raft of sanctions also further reduce the incentives for the above Chinese, Indian, and Iranian assistance as they explicitly target global firms looking to benefit from Russia’s oil and gas sector. Additionally, the overall situation is worsened as Russia itself is a key player in the North Korean Crisis, Afghanistan, and the Syrian Crisis and now has absolutely zero interest in helping the U.S. realize its own objectives in these various theaters. Summarily, as long as the U.S. keeps subordinating key regional states’ core security interests to their economic ones, its strategy to resolve various regional crises is doomed to ultimate failure.



Robert Matthew Shines
Robert Matthew Shines

Robert Matthew Shines is President of Bright Group Consulting L.L.C., where he provides strategic advisory services regarding US-China relations. He has conducted numerous cross-border business policy and feasibility research projects and has been engaged in international geopolitical risk assessment and analysis for over 20 years. He has extensive experience in international business policies in the U.S. and emerging markets and has provided policy advice for numerous firms and institutions. He is a regular contributor to several foreign policy outlets, including the Foreign Policy Association. He received his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management with a focus on U.S.-China relations.

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