The US Is Partially to Blame for the Moscow-Beijing Axis

Commentary The war in Ukraine has shocked many with a modern sensibility—and with good reason. In addition to the carnage and destruction, Russian President Vladimir Putin has single-handedly unearthed Carl Von Clausewitz’s definition of “war as the continuation of policy” from its prematurely dug grave. Western detest of “behavior that belongs in the 19th century” and “imperial revanchism” betrays the fact that our concepts of international norms and responsible statesmanship only apply if a given actor in the system willfully chooses to accept such preconditions. Accordingly, it also betrays the Hegelian epistemology through which our policymakers implicitly view the world. This philosophical school believes that civilization progresses through various stages on its path to ultimate freedom. Former President Barack Obama often exemplified this attitude when he cited one of his favorite lines, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” To the chagrin of Western leaders, extraterritorial aggression to seize land and alter a country’s border is supposed to belong only in that previous era, which humanity has already passed through. Putin’s actions have subsequently highlighted the difficulty in accounting for the agency of an individual actor. His decision-making seems to be more representative of another famous German philosopher, who championed the individual “will to power” above any limits imposed by an arbitrarily defined system moving toward some abstract value. Regardless of such philosophical speculation, however, Putin demonstrated that even if the international community condemns the manner of his action, it doesn’t really matter from an amoral, realpolitik framing as long as he achieves his policy goals. While the Ukrainian nation seems to be tenaciously resisting the Russian military operation, it is still almost certain that Putin will achieve most of his stated objectives. One way or another, Kyiv will not join NATO, the Donbas republics will have their autonomy enshrined, and Crimea will stay firmly in Russian hands—at least for as long as Putin remains at the helm in Moscow. A destroyed shoe factory following an airstrike in Dnipro, Ukraine, on March 11, 2022. (Emre Caylak/AFP via Getty Images) Some may argue that the repercussions resulting from his actions will make his excursion a net negative, but this is also shortsighted, as it continues to downplay the most important international actor in the global community: China. U.S. foreign policy toward Russia throughout the entire 21st century has been defined by confrontation, which has diverted limited U.S. resources and attention away from countering Beijing. Those who argue that both could be simultaneously accounted for in an appropriate manner overestimate relative American strength. Such a strategy was only possible in the brief period when the United States did possess overwhelming influence and power relative to the rest of the world in the 1990s (often referred to as the unipolar moment). Incidentally, this era coincided with Russia’s extreme economic and military weakness following the collapse of the USSR. A more farsighted U.S. foreign policy would have taken the opportunity to support meaningful reform and significant aid to the aspiring democratic nation. Still, that would have been only a proactive way to help avoid the current state of affairs. Washington’s best option now, for the entire world and especially those living through the carnage in Ukraine, is to push for a diplomatic solution that takes account of the actual balance of power as it exists on the ground. America continues to embolden Ukraine while simultaneously taking direct military aid off the table; in other words, we provide just enough support to ensure that we prolong the conflict without giving Kyiv the actual means to stop Putin from achieving his objectives. Our hesitancy to escalate the situation is well-founded as we don’t want to ignite a large-scale war, but Putin also knows this. He’s not backing down from his goals, which would amount basically to a guarantee that he falls from power. But Putin is also aware that he essentially has a free hand to subdue the Ukrainian resistance by any means necessary, secure in the knowledge that U.S.-led NATO is almost certain not to get involved. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and President Joe Biden (C) listen as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (C/R) addresses a North Atlantic Council meeting during an extraordinary summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images) This brings us to our current strategy: we have gone all-in on a strict, establishment-wide agenda of “punishing the Russian nation,” accomplishing nothing and risking much. This is the worst possible option. Not only for ending the bloodshed and changing the Kremlin’s policy, but also because it is sure to increase the relative geopo

The US Is Partially to Blame for the Moscow-Beijing Axis

Commentary

The war in Ukraine has shocked many with a modern sensibility—and with good reason.

In addition to the carnage and destruction, Russian President Vladimir Putin has single-handedly unearthed Carl Von Clausewitz’s definition of “war as the continuation of policy” from its prematurely dug grave.

Western detest of “behavior that belongs in the 19th century” and “imperial revanchism” betrays the fact that our concepts of international norms and responsible statesmanship only apply if a given actor in the system willfully chooses to accept such preconditions.

Accordingly, it also betrays the Hegelian epistemology through which our policymakers implicitly view the world. This philosophical school believes that civilization progresses through various stages on its path to ultimate freedom. Former President Barack Obama often exemplified this attitude when he cited one of his favorite lines, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

To the chagrin of Western leaders, extraterritorial aggression to seize land and alter a country’s border is supposed to belong only in that previous era, which humanity has already passed through.

Putin’s actions have subsequently highlighted the difficulty in accounting for the agency of an individual actor. His decision-making seems to be more representative of another famous German philosopher, who championed the individual “will to power” above any limits imposed by an arbitrarily defined system moving toward some abstract value.

Regardless of such philosophical speculation, however, Putin demonstrated that even if the international community condemns the manner of his action, it doesn’t really matter from an amoral, realpolitik framing as long as he achieves his policy goals.

While the Ukrainian nation seems to be tenaciously resisting the Russian military operation, it is still almost certain that Putin will achieve most of his stated objectives. One way or another, Kyiv will not join NATO, the Donbas republics will have their autonomy enshrined, and Crimea will stay firmly in Russian hands—at least for as long as Putin remains at the helm in Moscow.

A picture shows a destroyed shoe factory
A destroyed shoe factory following an airstrike in Dnipro, Ukraine, on March 11, 2022. (Emre Caylak/AFP via Getty Images)

Some may argue that the repercussions resulting from his actions will make his excursion a net negative, but this is also shortsighted, as it continues to downplay the most important international actor in the global community: China.

U.S. foreign policy toward Russia throughout the entire 21st century has been defined by confrontation, which has diverted limited U.S. resources and attention away from countering Beijing. Those who argue that both could be simultaneously accounted for in an appropriate manner overestimate relative American strength.

Such a strategy was only possible in the brief period when the United States did possess overwhelming influence and power relative to the rest of the world in the 1990s (often referred to as the unipolar moment). Incidentally, this era coincided with Russia’s extreme economic and military weakness following the collapse of the USSR. A more farsighted U.S. foreign policy would have taken the opportunity to support meaningful reform and significant aid to the aspiring democratic nation.

Still, that would have been only a proactive way to help avoid the current state of affairs. Washington’s best option now, for the entire world and especially those living through the carnage in Ukraine, is to push for a diplomatic solution that takes account of the actual balance of power as it exists on the ground.

America continues to embolden Ukraine while simultaneously taking direct military aid off the table; in other words, we provide just enough support to ensure that we prolong the conflict without giving Kyiv the actual means to stop Putin from achieving his objectives.

Our hesitancy to escalate the situation is well-founded as we don’t want to ignite a large-scale war, but Putin also knows this. He’s not backing down from his goals, which would amount basically to a guarantee that he falls from power. But Putin is also aware that he essentially has a free hand to subdue the Ukrainian resistance by any means necessary, secure in the knowledge that U.S.-led NATO is almost certain not to get involved.

nato-meeting
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and President Joe Biden (C) listen as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (C/R) addresses a North Atlantic Council meeting during an extraordinary summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

This brings us to our current strategy: we have gone all-in on a strict, establishment-wide agenda of “punishing the Russian nation,” accomplishing nothing and risking much.

This is the worst possible option. Not only for ending the bloodshed and changing the Kremlin’s policy, but also because it is sure to increase the relative geopolitical position of China. We have chosen a path that prioritizes political posturing over real resolutions and simultaneously strengthens Beijing while failing to counter Moscow.

Crippling sanctions meant to destroy the Russian economy are unlikely to impact Putin’s decision-making significantly. There is ample research that supports the contention that economic punishment is almost always ineffective in altering a country’s policy, instead only leading a government to double down while simultaneously making life harder for the innocent citizenry living under the regime’s control.

However, the Western response to Russia’s actions has even gone further to transcend this ill-advised policy. The voluntary decision of Western companies to morally posture and withdraw services from Russia will not do anything to help stop the bloodshed in Ukraine. Add to this the calls from pundits and politicians for someone to kill the Russian president.

Rather than enact change, this will only help validate the Kremlin’s claim that the United States and its allies are rabid Russophobes. It gives credence to their narrative that the West seeks to punish the Russian nation and keep it from taking its rightful place as a major power on the world stage.

Additionally, Moscow claims that the Russians are fighting to protect their ethnic kin currently living under the despotic regime of a U.S.-installed puppet in Kyiv—the cradle of their civilization.

The inevitable consequence is that Russia will now turn its gaze away from the Western world and instead look to the government in Beijing that feigns friendship and cooperation. Leaders in Moscow are sure to know that this is only a weak façade hiding the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) insatiable hunger to expand its power and geopolitical influence. Still, Russia is struggling to keep its head above water. Reaching for the outstretched hand of Beijing is the only way to stop from drowning.

Don’t let CCP propaganda fool you, though—this authoritarian alliance was not always inevitable.

There is an old adage that the two-headed Russian imperial eagle faces east and west, but its back is always to the former.

Russia and China are not natural allies; however, the flawed Western policy forces Moscow closer to Beijing. The two share a significant amount of border in Russia’s respective east and China’s north. The latter’s enormous human capital makes the resource-rich former and its sparsely populated Siberia region especially attractive.

Besides this fact, Russia and China continue to compete for significant influence in Central Asia. The region is an integral part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”) investment project and provides contiguous land passage toward the all-important European market.

Epoch Times Photo
The KTZE-Khorgos Gateway Dry Port, a logistics hub on the Kazakh side of the Kazakhstan-Chinese border, on April 15, 2019. (Abduaziz Madyarov/AFP via Getty Images)

As such, these two neighbors are bound to be competitors. This fact is borne out in their historical relationship as well. Playing the weaker of the two off against the other is a reliable way to secure a more stable balance of power in the world and ensure that the expansive influence of the stronger is effectively constrained.

This was the central premise of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s opening to China 50 years ago: ally with relatively weak China to counter the hegemonic influence of the superpower USSR—which also happened to be a U.S. peer competitor—to its north.

Today, the situation has been reversed; however, the time for the United States to try and co-opt Russia away from its eastward leanings and create a robust resource-rich bastion against the expansive CCP-led China has likely passed.

Moscow has truly upset the post-World War II liberal order. It has reminded the world that military means can still be employed strategically to achieve political ends. Some rogue nations may have defied the international system before, but none as blatantly as Moscow—or as powerful.

Most important, however, is the fact that Russia has also had the support—tacit or not—of China. How long before other countries test the waters of geopolitical revisionism to see if Beijing will also support their cries of Western victimization?

Maybe, at the end of the day, it would have done the United States well if its policymakers at least tried to think a little bit more in a way “that belongs in the 19th century.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Dominick Sansone is a regular contributor to the Epoch Times. He focuses on Russia-China relations and U.S. foreign policy. Subscribe to his new Telegram channel at https://t.me/dominicksansone