Trump and Russia: The Right Way to Manage Relations

That is the name of an essay from the March/April edition of the Foreign Affairs.

Here is it’s opening

 

Relations between the United States and Russia are broken,and each side has a vastly different assessment of what went wrong. U.S. officials point to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody covert war Russian forces are waging in eastern Ukraine. They note the Kremlin’s suppression of civil society at home, its reckless brandishing of nuclear weapons, and its military provocations toward U.S. allies and partners in Europe. They highlight Russia’s military intervention in Syria aimed at propping up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship. And they call attention to an unprecedented attempt through a Kremlin-backed hacking and disinformation campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last November.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle view things differently. In Ukraine, Moscow sees itself as merely pushing back against the relentless geopolitical expansion of the United States, NATO, and the EU. They point out that Washington and its allies have deployed troops right up to the Russian border. They claim that the United States has repeatedly intervened in Russian domestic politics and contend, falsely, that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even incited antigovernment protests in Moscow in December 2011. And they maintain that the United States is meddling in Syria to overthrow a legitimate government, in just the latest example of its unilateral attempts to topple regimes it doesn’t like.

Informative and objective throughout. Highly recommended.

Putin and Erdogan’s Marriage of Convenience

Excellent read at the Wilson Center on the evolving and odd relationships between the United States, Turkey, and Russia. In late 2015 Turkey was shooting down Russian fighter jets. In August of 2016, Erdogan was praising his dear friend Putin. This turnabout was largely a result of America’s intervention into Syria.

Here is one bit from the article.

Overnight, America had transformed the Syrian Kurds into a legitimate actor, enabling them to consolidate territorial gains adjoining Turkey. For Ankara, however, this was nothing short of a victory for the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been instrumental in the creation of the YPG and waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state

Yet, like most American allies, Erdogan is more than happy to free ride on American security treaties.

Still, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Erdogan would contemplate abandoning NATO. Turkey lives under the shadow of the Russian giant — its anger at the United States and its Western allies notwithstanding, it needs the protection the alliance offers. Without it, the Russians would be able to intimidate Ankara at will. Erdogan correctly calculates that he can be a free rider in the alliance, cozying up to Moscow and antagonizing Washington, all the while knowing that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is deeply embedded in NATO.

Do read the entire thing.

The author is Henri Barkey.

Trump, China, and Russia

Should we be as concerned as most have been regarding the ongoing love affair between Trump and Putin? Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo has been especially active on how dire we should be over the expected thaw in US-Russian relations. See here, here and here.

I’m not as alarmed.

Russian aggression offends my western sensibilities, but not my perception of American strategic interests. The atrocities committed by Russia in Syria are truly tragic, and the there should be serious consequences for their recent cyber crimes, but you ally not based on values, but interests…otherwise, how would WW2 have ended if we refused to work with Stalin?

It seems clear to me that Trump has identified China as the biggest threat to the United States and from the phone call to Taiwan to nominating Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council, you can read Trump’s early maneuvering as building leverage for when he has to deal with China.

How does Russia fit into this? From his outlook on Syria, nominating Tillerson to Secretary of State, and to his dismissal of Russia’s interference in the election, Trump seems to be courting Russia to help balance against the future country which will be the most important player in what is expected to be the most important region. I disagree with this approach., but it isn’t crazy. If your international outlook emphasizes a focus on power, which I presume Trump’s does, on nearly every metric China should be the more concerning country. Just look at a very crude metric of power, GDP. Assuming both states are illiberal and that one is the recognized potential hegemon of their region, who should the United States ally with?

Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to Trump to assume this is the framework that guides his thinking (as opposed to his suspected need to be adored by powerful men), but either way, an improvement in relations with Russia will be a welcomed change of pace.

Abe to visit Pearl Habor

Very good news from Japan. As reported in the NYT,

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to go to the site of Japan’s attack 75 years ago that pulled a stunned United States into World War II.”

Japan has always been an odd country in regards to its post WWII history. Unlike Germany, it has stubbornly refused to fully and remorsefully acknowledge its past war crimes. As well, unlike any other “normal” country, it has never really demonstrated any real interest of returning to a position of regional leadership commensurate with its economic ability. Most international relations scholars assume that economic growth is soon followed with some attempt by the state at reasserting itself on the world stage. This is the historical norm, but Japan doesn’t seem interested in shaping the far east in its image.

This is opposite of Germany which cannot apologize enough for its Nazi past and is the regional leader for economic and political integration.

So whereas Europe looks to Germany to lead, Asia looks to Japan with suspicion. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think the United States should withdrawal its troops from Asia but can from Europe.

I’m speculating but I think a lot of the contrast between regional perceptions of Germany and Japan has to do with how Germany has made great efforts to address its past behaviour while Japan has not. Although the situation is much more nuanced, I think a good amount of tension in the region could be reduced if Japan were to attempt to more genuinely apologize for its past. In fact, as a way to put pressure on Japan towards this direction, I’ve often thought it would be good American policy to apologize for using atomic weapons on Japan. Obviously President Obama is not the best person to do this. Too much of my country doesn’t even think he is an American citizen for him to be the one who offers the apology. Even more obviously, President Trump is not the one either. He is more likely to demand the U.S. get reimbursed for the materials used in making the bomb then apologize for dropping them. But either way, the trip to Pearl Harbour is good news as it is the first step in the direction of Japan reconciling with its past and helping reduce the burden of America maintaining regional peace.

Our new Secretary of Defense will be James Mattis

It is official. President Elect Trump has confirmed that former General James Mattis will be his Secretary of Defense.

As a libertarian, I’m pretty skeptical of stocking any administration with so many former generals. I prefer civilian control of the government and some of these picks, like Mattis, are not very far removed from their military service.

Who knows what Trump is up to. He campaigned on disparaging our military leadership so I’m not sure what to make of all these reports of him courting so much former brass. But Mattis isn undoubtably a hawk.

See his suggested “blue print” for America.

He claims that the instability of the world is a consequence “…of 20 years of the United States operating unguided by strategy.” He also adds “The international system as we know it — and as we created it — is under assault from the forces of entropy that fill vacuums and corrode order when the United States is not actively engaged.”

Nothing can be further from the truth. The American strategy of the past 20 years has been some version of “engagement and expansion” which was the Clinton Doctrine of actively engaging the world and expanding democracy and markets. All three post cold war presidents had some version of this.

Mattis notes that a lack of American strategy has resulted in world where “Russia invades Ukraine, shaking the post-World War II European order. China chips away at others’ sovereignty in Asia.” I have no idea what he is talking about. In the far east we have the pivot. In eastern Europe NATO has grown, not shrunk. The recent revanchism of China and Russia are not desirable but the west has done something similar by invading Somalia (91), the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and engaging in military operations in Yemen, Somalia (2016), Pakistan, and Syria, among others.

As well, the west proudly chips away at others sovereignty with the defense of Responsibility to Protect and such institutions such as the ICC.

All of this western preoccupation with the internal politics of other countries represents a direct threat such illiberal regimes survival. I’m not defending these systems, and I certainly think that they are inferior to what we in the west offer, but exerting pressure on these regimes to liberalize results in a less stable world and a less secure America. If all this instability is the cost of making an omelet, where is the omelet?

I disagree with most of the next Secretary of Defense policy stances. He wants to tear up the Iran deal and bomb ISIS, among other hawkish policies. But the more I read about his personal narrative, the more impressed I become. The “warrior monk” apparently owns 6,000 books and doesn’t deploy without them. Despite his erudition, he still connects with his troops at a personal level. Yet, he will do more damage to American security if he continues to frame China and Russia as a threat to the American “way of life”. Instead, the biggest threat to American democracy was just elected.

 

Who are “key allies?”

Over at Duck of Minevera Phil Arena has a piece discussing information failure and the possible outbreak of war under a Trump presidency.

 

He writes…

…Trump’s electoral victory is so alarming. Trump has famously questioned what the US is getting out of its military presence in South Korea and Japan and indicated that the US should no longer serve as the world’s policeman (source). He has expressed admiration for Putin and indicated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are legitimate – when he’s acknowledged that they’re even occurring (source). One could hardly blame Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un for thinking that the United States would not respond if they chose to attack traditional US allies in the Baltics or South Korea.

 

The bold text is original.

he concludes with…

As horrifying as the prospect of a return to warfare on a scale not seen in decades is, I cannot hope for the abandonment of key allies. That is why I am so troubled; if Putin and Kim respond to Trump’s comments the way leaders have often responded when the US signaled that it was unwilling to check aggression, there is no best case scenario.

My issue with his post is that he doesn’t want to “abandon key allies.”

We have almost 30k troops in South Korea so I don’t expect the scenario described to occur in Asia. And either way, I actually lean towards supporting the American hub and spoke alliance system of the Far East as it dampens the security dilemma. There are probably too many historical grievances in Asia to allow for multipolarity to emerge.

But what about Europe?

What exactly is a “key ally” in this region? Like everyone else, I’ve written about the lack of military spending by those the United States is obligated to protect. It’s a standard post and you can read it here. But look at this lineup of “key allies” I pulled from wikipieda. You can sort them into basically three different groups. (1) Most are utterly meaningless for American security. Does anyone think that if Russia annexed Slovenia and Slovakia that this means anything for the defense of American sovereignty? (2) Some are actually not just meaningless but pose a serious threat to American interests and, in a rare but worst case scenario, could drag us into conflict. Turkey is an obvious example. The last group (3) can actually defend themselves and are free riding. This includes states such as Germany, and France.

Military personnel[edit]

Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Total
 Albania 100,500 5,000 105,500
 Belgium 24,500 100,500 125,000
 Bulgaria 46,712 302,500 349,212
 Canada 68,000 27,000 95,000
 Croatia 18,000 180,000 198,000
 Czech Republic 21,057 2,359 23,416
 Denmark 20,003 63,000 78,000
 Estonia 3,209 60,000 63,209
 France 222,215 100,000 322,215
 Germany 180,676 145,000 325,676
 Greece 180,000 280,000 460,000
 Hungary 29,700 8400 38,100
 Iceland 210 170 380
 Italy 180,000 41,867 220,867
 Latvia 6,000 11,000 17,000
 Lithuania 15,839 4,550 20,389
 Luxembourg 1,057 278 1,335
 Netherlands 47,660 57,200 104,860
 Norway 26,200 56,200 82,400
 Poland 120,000 515,000 635,000
 Portugal 44,900 210,930 255,830
 Romania 73,350 79,900 153,250
 Slovakia 16,000 16,000
 Slovenia 7,300 1,500 8,801
 Spain 123,000 16,200 139,200
 Turkey 620,473 429,000 1,041,900
 United Kingdom 205,851 181,720 387,571
 United States 1,369,532 850,880 2,220,412
 NATO 3,585,000 3,745,000 7,330,000

The United States has far too much “free security” offered by two oceans to consider NATO essential to its security. My suspicion is that the US insists on maintaining NATO because being the “leader of the free world” is a public good. NATO doesn’t have any real meaning for America outside of generating pride for the uninformed. Either way, we shouldn’t refer to any of these countries as allies but dependents. An ally helps pursue the national interests and I’m not sure what interests any of these “allies” help us pursue.

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

That is the headline of a piece written by Peter Hitchens.

Here is one bit here.

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

Obviously there is a difference between annexing territory through hybrid wars and joining a common market via some sort of democratic process, but the zero-sum description above is how Russia interprets EU and NATO enlargement.

He then goes on to point out the contradictions of the Western alliance patterns and liberal morals.

…we have a noisy pseudo-moral crusade, which would not withstand five minutes of serious consideration. Mr Putin’s state is, beyond doubt, a sinister tyranny. But so is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which locks up far more journalists than does Russia. Turkey is an officially respectable Nato member, 40 years after seizing northern Cyprus, which it still occupies, in an almost exact precedent for Russia’s seizure of Crimea. If Putin disgusts us so much, then why are we and the USA happy to do business with Erdogan, and also to fawn upon Saudi Arabia and China?

This article is dated, by the way. It was written in March of 2015, prior to the authoritarian backlash following the failed coup.

Do read the entire article.

Nato Secretary General warns Donald Trump against going it alone

“Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States.”

That is the advice of Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

See the article written in the U.K.’s observer here.

This is most ironic as this is essentially what the United States has been doing for quite some time. There are 28 members of Nato yet but according to the Secretary General Stoltenberg, the United States contribution accounts for 70% of its budget. It’s not just total budget but also how much each state spends on their own defenses.

Here are 2014 and 2015 percentages of GDP that each NATO member spent on their defenses.

nato-expenditures-2

 

Okay, so maybe it’s not all that telling that Canada doesn’t reach the 2 percent threshold which all member states are bound to meet but why aren’t states that are most likely to be annexed by Russia (Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania) doing so? Why should the United States take their security more seriously then they do? The aim of Nato was to ensure that no hegemonic power (most likely Russia) could emerge in Europe and take control of its industrial base. What industrial base do these countries have? As a matter of strategy these countries are virtually meaningless to the United States; perhaps the morality of defending these countries from Russia is more debatable but that is for a different post.

Trump may not articulate his strategy in a polite or consistent way, but he is correct for demanding that the costs for maintaing security of Europe be shifted to those who principally benefit. Otherwise we have what Barry Posen calls “Welfare for the rich.”

 

 

Turkey and NATO

Good article by Aaron Stein in War on the Rocks documenting the growing divergence of interests in Turkey-US relations. Our alliance with Turkey is well beyond its usefulness and it makes no strategic sense for the United States to extend its nuclear deterrent to Turkey. I would make this argument even if the only reason to rethink the alliance was because its original purpose was dated. But today Turkey is pursuing its own foreign policy in Syria and is becoming more illiberal domestically each day. Yet, Turkey made no hesitation to convene NATO when it shot down a Russian aircraft in November of 2015. This seems to me as if the benefits of the alliance runs one way and the costs another.

States have interests that are permanent. Alliances form while pursuing these interests. It’s obvious that Turkey and the US no longer share the same interests so the alliance should be updated.

 

Why NATO is a threat to Russia.

Recently, Adam Twardowski of the Center for a New American Security wrote a piece arguing that NATO is not a threat to Russia. His argument that “NATO has never been an existential threat to post-Soviet Russia” is mostly conjecture and has been answered by Ted Carpenter here. But both pieces fail to discuss why Russia considers NATO a threat, and that is the security’s alliance role in the larger liberal project lead by the United States.

Since 1945, the United States has embarked on what John Ikenberry calls an “open and ruled based” international order characterized by multilateral institutions, market based economies, and democracy. The variety of western institutions which define this order are open to all yet membership is with conditions. It’s expected that states that join adhere to liberal values both politically and economically. This means being democratic with a market economy. The American strategic vision of the post Cold War era has been to make our liberal hegemonic project more inclusive. Exceptions are made as geopolitics demand, but the assumption is that once states integrate into the American led ruled based order they will be pressured to become politically liberal states if they are not already there.

How does NATO fit into this grand strategy? It is the security apparatus that provides the regional stability and breathing room to secure these liberal gains and to further support this political evolution. The original goal of NATO was to “keep American in, Germany down, and the USSR out.” This would allow for Western Europe to rebuild its market economies uncompromised by security concerns associated with a rising Germany or a meddling Soviet Union. Along with the Marshall Plan, the Atlantic Charter, and the various Bretton Woods institutions, NATO served to make Europe political and economically liberal. Since 1989, that mission has not changed. As noted by their own study, NATO enlargement will contribute to enhanced stability and security for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area by “encouraging and supporting democratic reforms, including civilian and democratic control over the military;”

The promotion of liberal values abroad combined with an unprecedented amount of power raise concerns inside Russia. Russia considers NATO a threat because it is part of a larger trend of promoting the western liberal ideology abroad. As Michael Mandelbaum states in Mission Failure, after the Cold War “the main focus of American foreign policy shifted from war to governance, from what other governments did beyond their borders to what thy did and how they were organized within them.” This reorientation of American foreign policy lead to a host of American advancements into Russia’s former sphere of influence with three American lead interventions (twice in former Yugoslavia and one in Afghanistan) and involving itself in the color revolutions of the region. American advances in Ukraine are especially alarming to Moscow as the area has been deeply intertwined with Russian history. When it was not part of Russian territory, it served as the buffer against foreign invasion and gave Russia access to its only warm-water port in Crimea. Despite the high level of strategic interest Russia has in its neighbor, the United States has interfered in their domestic politics for most of Ukraine’s 23 years of independence. As Ted Carpenter correctly notes, how tolerant would the United States be if Russia or China were incrementally pressuring America’s immediate neighbors to reconfigure their political economies to resemble their centralized illiberal models?

Promoting democracy and a respect for human rights abroad are admirable, but not from the perspective of the Russia’s ruling regime. From Moscow’s perspective, American support for democracy and human rights in their neighborhood is considered to compromise their own regimes influence. The original purpose of NATO was to provide enough security so that the strategically important region would not fall into the orbit of a hostile power. Today, its purpose is to spread liberalism beyond Western Europe and remake the political economies surrounding Russia to be less styled as Russian and more western. When you also include EU expansion, the revanchist Russian foreign policy should not come as a surprise.