Russian Pundit Views New U.S. Defense Strategy

Rossiyskaya Gazeta

January 27, 2018

Russian pundit views US new defence strategy

Fyodor Lukyanov, research professor of the Higher School of Economics National Research University: Back to realism

The US new defence strategy officially pushes the Pentagon into confrontation with China and Russia. It is possible that this will even make some people happy: the Cold War is remembered as a time when everything was quite clear. But history does not repeat itself. Or rather, it is possible to bring back aggression and militarization of that era. But not its orderliness.

The Pentagon’s document accurately reflects the new world outlook symbolised by Trump. The post-Cold War era, when the US unexpectedly became a world hegemon, is over. “For decades the the US has enjoyed uncontested or dominant superiority in every operating domain. We could generally deploy our forces wherever we wanted, assemble them where we wanted and operate how we wanted. Today, every domain is contested – air, land, sea, space and cyber-space.” And the challenges the US faces today come primarily from competition with major powers, rather than just “pariahs”, terrorists and extremists targeted by the defence strategy of 10 years ago, or global processes, climate, demography and so forth. “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.” A return to the classic pattern of international relations and the setting of traditional objectives.

It must be said that liberal world order discourse – a positive sum game which honours interdependence instead of competition, economy above security – has never been taken seriously in Moscow. The “balance of power” idea, the basic realpolitik notion, appears several times in the new US defence strategy. In Russia, it has always been part of the nation’s political thinking and rhetoric, while the West at some point started to view it as an anachronism. Now Russia and the US are once again using the same conceptual language.

The fact that Russia has been clearly identified as a competitor, will come as a surprise to few people. In our country we have never (except for a very short “rosy” period at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s) thought otherwise and have regarded statements to the contrary as hypocrisy. Now rhetoric matches reality. And the strategy’s emphasis on the need for technological rearmament allows Russian generals to demand more funding for similar purposes.

In form, Russian-US relations have returned to the Cold War model: military competition, a potential arms race and deterrence. In reality, the international situation is polycentric, chaotic and diverse. That is why the resurrection of a common language – balance of power, national interests, and so forth – does not mean it is possible to revive the mechanisms of ensuring global stability that worked 40 years ago.

Trump’s America has entered a period of readjusting its position in the world. Time has come for the US to move from global leadership and the role of global regulator to a foreign policy aimed at ensuring concrete national interests. A key element of this transition is the emphasis on power as a means of ensuring not global US leadership, but global superiority and the ability to advance US interests in every way possible. Power means, first and foremost, classic military power and its buildup requires convincing foes. And here Russia is virtually irreplaceable. Both psychologically – the Cold War-era inertia is very strong – and practically, as Russia’s growing military potential makes it a “credible” threat. Thus, competition with Russia is predetermined.

Another aspect is the US sense of vulnerability in the face of globalization threats, its permeability to outside influence. Russia used to accuse the US of interference in its internal affairs, now the US is responding in kind. There is no way the two countries can agree on mutual non-interference, because each understands it differently. What one calls soft power, the other views as an attempt to undermine his state, and vice versa. The Cold War rivals were not so lacking in self-confidence. At least, they assumed that they were able to guarantee control over internal processes. The ideal embodiment of the new threats is “Russian interference” in US internal affairs. A combination of the customary threat (Russia) and the new threat (external influence), which was not so acute previously. In other words, the image of Russia as a universal danger is the sublimation of a new view of the world full of threats rather than opportunities. This view is again fully reflected both in the new defence strategy and the new security strategy. Interestingly, Russia generally shares this view, that threats are everywhere, simply because for Russia, this is not new at all.

The characteristic most often heard mentioned in relation to Donald Trump is unpredictability. This is said by his opponents, US allies are surprised at it, while commentators warn of danger of such behaviour. From where Moscow stands, rebukes of this kind look strange. If you leave aside his style of behaviour, his policy gives the impression of being cohesive. “Being strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable” – that is how the new US defence strategy formulates its task. Does the supreme commander-in-chief really behave otherwise?


January 24, 2018

America in search of new threats

By Sajjad Malik

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with

The focus of national security discourse in the United States is transiting towards traditional threats after a reduction in the scale of the menace of terrorism. It was the crux of the speech given by Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Washington who said that competition between great powers is the main emerging danger.

The U.S. policymakers believe that groups like al-Qaeda in Afghanistan-Pakistan region and ISIS in the Middle East have been considerably weakened after about two decades of counter terrorism efforts and direct wars. But in the same period, new power centers have emerged to challenge the U.S. hegemony.

Mattis, in the Washington speech, identified China and Russia as the new sources of future threats. He said: “We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”

He also warned that America’s competitive edge was fast eroding and the new powers were catching up through technology and better resource allocation. He made a plea for more funds to modernize the war machine.

American fears vis-à-vis Russia have been well known and calibrated. They are old and based on the suspected Russian dream to sweep across Europe. The threat is also a matter of perception nurtured through extensive propaganda since the Cold War days.

The revival of Russian fortunes under the dogged determination of Vladimir Putin has been amazing. When he burst on the political scene at the dawn of the new millennium, Russia was facing the threat of a further breakup due to conflict in Chechnya. The economy was in mess and peoples’ morale down to the knees.

To his credit, Putin picked the broken pieces and transformed the economy and military power of the country. Though, it came at a price and the Russian march towards liberal democracy hit snags. But Putin was able to put his nation back on the map of world powers within a decade. It might have alarmed many in America.

The story of China is different. China and the U.S. were in the same camp in the second half of the Cold War to oppose the leadership of the USSR. The two have regularly engaged even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Currently, they are cooperating on North Korea and other issues.

China’s success in the recent decades is not due to occupation of any country or fighting proxy wars or funding those groups that are fighting against the U.S. power. Its success lies in building successful economic ties across the globe, including being the largest trade partner of the United States.

The Chinese leadership has so far not shown any desire for hegemonic policies in regional or global politics. Rather, it has been trying to replace competitive policies with cooperative relationships by following the philosophy of “win-win cooperation” for benefits of all.

American view of China’s threat seems exaggerated. China would gradually increase involvement in the international arena but it might never become part of conflicts or openly take sides in active wars because it needs a lot of time to overcome domestic issues. Being a huge country of diverse cultures and people, it needs peace at its border and within to continue its peaceful rise.

But China also learnt through past mistakes that weakness invites aggression. It has been trying to have a formidable defense machine to keep the adventurers at bay. Its aircraft carriers, technology, fast growing economy and interest in deep space are efforts to make the defense better but not necessarily to target others.

The American idea to treat China like Russia does not resonate with the policy of its administration to increase cooperation with Beijing. The narrative doesn’t fit within the economic relationship when Donald trump is trying to address the imbalance in trade.

Mattis’ announcement to return to age old policies of realpolitik means that the world has learnt nothing from the destructive politics of last century. Why seek confrontation when there is huge scope for cooperation between big powers?

Another flaw in Mattis’ approach is that it is still early to shift the focus away from the war on terror. The conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia is very much ongoing. It would be dangerous to open a new front with Russia or China when their cooperation is needed to end these wars and completely eliminate the threat of militancy.


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