June 14, 2020

US Aims to Split Russia-China Tie-up

B Arjun

THE American strategic community is worried about China but it is more worried about the Sino-Russia combine. The American realists are pursuing two different strategies to deal with the two Eurasian powers. They are proposing an offensive-realist paradigm to confront China and realist restraint theories to appease Russia.

Take for example, John Mearsheimer. When it comes to China, he says that the US must maximise its global power and seek the establishment of full hegemony in the Indo-pacific region to protect itself “against the intrinsic anarchy” of the international system. And vis-a-vis Russia, Mearsheimer argues “American policy based on the idealistic proselytizing of liberal democratic values has clashed with the national-interest-oriented foreign policies of states like Russia.”   Therefore, he proposes far greater strategic restraint in dealing with Russia and overlooking its forays into Georgia and Ukraine. 

The basic purpose of using two divergent strategies is to cause the Sino-Russian split. Without Russia, China would be more amiable to follow Washington’s diktat and toe the line prescribed to it.
China is now a big naval as well as nuclear power.  It may be incorrect to think that Beijing clings to Moscow because of its nuclear power. What is to be understood is that much more than military and economic power, it is geography that is guiding the relationship between the two. And it is the Eurasian land connectivity that the Americans want to prevent.  To understand the importance of geography in the Sino-Russian relationship let us take a counterfactual course.

If the Sino-Soviet split had not been achieved by America, the Cold War history and its final outcome would have been different. Had the two communist giants remained united, the international socialist solidarity movement would have projected a formidable challenge to US imperialism. But strategically, the Americans were smarter. From the day the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, the plans to sow seeds of discord between the two were launched. The American strategists spread the word that China was more nationalist than communist and would eventually come out of the Soviet fold. Mao Tse-tung displayed a great sense of geography when on his maiden visit to Moscow in December 1949, he decided to undertake an 11-day journey by train. 
Till Joseph Stalin’s death, the Sino-Soviet relationship flourished. However, post-Stalin’s death things began to change. The two communists grew more suspicious of each other's intentions, fearing betrayal.

Nikita Khrushchev was probably too eager to outsmart the Chinese. At the peak of Cold War, Khrushchev decided to appease the West rather than focusing on building the socialist unity. Before coming to India, he visited London and in 1959 he was in Washington.

On taking over command of the Soviet Communist Party in 1953, one of his first moves was to dissolve the Sino-Soviet agreement on Joint Stock companies in the Xinjiang province of China. This was a significant move that disrupted the geographic continuity between the socialist bloc countries. The Soviet fears that the Chinese would encroach into Central Asia and usurping their hold over the region prevented them from appreciating the importance of geography in building exclusive uninterrupted supply chain running from China, via the Soviet Union, right up to Poland.  This would have freed or rather reduced the socialist blocs' dependence on the sea lines of communications controlled and monitored by the capitalist bloc led by the USA. The Socialist bloc markets would have flourished across the Eurasian landmass and challenged the capitalist supply chains.  But both the Soviet Union and China fell into the strategic trap laid by the American strategists and rest, as they say, is history. 

The split-strategy guided the American strategists and foreign policymaking throughout the Cold War and it continues to be relevant in the 21st century. The India-China war of 1962 played its role in widening the Sino-Soviet wedge. 

The US is now more worried about the Sino-Russian relationship because it is now bound by geographic imperatives. The two countries have strong economic linkage, the bilateral trade is in the range of $100 billion. The two are cooperating a lot in the military equipment production and intelligence arena largely because they appreciate the fact that it is their combined strength that can offer a combined resistance to the USA. Fighting alone they will be gobbled up soon by the Anglo-American forces. 

There is no denying the fact that China’s economic march has been halted by coronavirus attack. For the first time in many decades, China is likely to register a GDP growth below five per cent. With concerted US information war against it, Beijing will find it more and more difficult to negotiate the post-Covid world. Russia will equally find it difficult to withstand the economic impact of low oil prices. 

America sees this as an opportune moment to separate China from Russia.

The Russians are being told to leave the sinking Chinese ship. But the fact remains that throughout the Covid-19 crisis the two have stood together, with Russia diplomatically helping China to ward off the allegations that the West is busy levelling against Beijing.

The Russia-America relations are currently in doldrums largely because President Putin is seen to be too interfering and assertive. He is blamed for penetrating the American electoral system. Many in America are blaming Russia for causing the ongoing race-riots in their country.  The US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty is a step towards “the deconstruction of the international arms control regime between the major nuclear powers, an escalation of a new arms race, and the continued attempt to bind and freeze Chinese military power.”

This unilateral withdrawal of nuclear treaties is also aimed to signal to Moscow that the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine was flawed and nuclear parity between the two may not hold in the future. It is most likely that America will seek an exit from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), due to expire in February 2021.

In the midst of growing uncertainty in the global geopolitical arena, both history and geography will guide the choices that both Russia and China make in the near future. Last time America lured China away from Eurasia and let it grow. This time it is luring Russia away from and almost forcing it to look westward.

Will American strategy succeed in keeping Eurasia divided or will China and Russia be able to widen the Eurasian net by including Germany and France into the coalition, will determine the first world order.