April 26, 2021

Opinion: America must choose Russia over China or be forced to face both

Opinion: America must choose Russia over China or be forced to face both

@edgymandrill submitted this article.

Last week, I wrote about a conundrum facing the United States. What should America do in the face of increasing coordination by rivals who are deploying rhetoric intended to undermine her strategic position? In traditional great-power politics, the ability of nations to play their competitors off one another is part of maintaining a balance of power. America must rely on realpolitik, not imaginary perceptions of her role in the world.

Russia and China are right to assume that America could not take on the two of them at once, both in terms of political will and in terms of hard power. but of the two, China is by far the greater military and economic threat to the United States. Therefore, it would be prudent to at least ensure Russia’s neutrality by turning somewhat of a blind eye towards Russian expansionism. In reality, a military alliance with Russia against China would be more prudent, but this would require a major paradigm shift and an openness to ideas that the American defense establishment currently considers anathema. These include allowing Russian satellite states in the Middle East, particularly Syria to exist without constant harassment. This would mean admitting defeat in Syria and allowing the Assad regime to stay in power. In fact, America may have to limit its more intrusive engagements in the Middle East, and focus more on Eurasia. The United States would also have to recognize the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a done deal, and accept the possibility of Russia acting as a regional hegemon in Europe. In short, this would mean that the United States would no longer act as if it were the moral and humanitarian foundation of the world.

Why else would conciliation with Russia make sense for the United States? First, Russia is a complex country with its own unique traditions but also with cultural and historical ties to the West. Because of this, it would be easier for America to achieve a degree of mutual understanding with Russia than with China. Second, Russia is one of the few nations which operates a large, modern military with potentially-global reach. China is at least on par with Russia in terms of military technology, considering that the Russians sold a great deal of Cold-War era equipment to China, including ships, submarines, and anti-ship missiles. More recent arms deals between the two nations have given the Chinese access to late 4th-generation fighter aircraft technology, such as engines and avionics. Both Russia and China have invested heavily in anti-ship missiles and other area denial weapons to counter the United States, which places greater emphasis on maintaining a large navy with multiple aircraft carriers.

Given these differences in weapons development and doctrine, it would make sense for America to have another ally with significant naval capability, if only to ensure an absolute advantage against China in the Pacific. The United States Navy is strong, but it is divided between two oceans, and the majority of American naval forces in the Pacific have their home port on the west coast of the United States. It would take some time for America to bring all of her forces to bear in the South China Sea. On the other hand, Russia not only enjoys the benefit of having naval forces stationed in the Pacific, but also shares an extensive land border with China. Therefore, in the event of conflict between the United States and China, the neutrality of the Russian forces would be a prerequisite for American success. But their support - at least as a passive deterrent - would be even better. Even if there is no hope for a Russian-American alliance due to domestic issues, the United States could still make an effort to separate Russia and China. It is unfortunate that the current administration has instead chosen to escalate tensions with Russia.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Great Powers Journal. However, we endorse it as a valuable contribution to the conversation.