James Dobbins, Howard J. Shatz, and Ali Wyne, writing for the RAND Organization, suggest, in a recent article, that “Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer … [and] … China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue.” That’s something I have been saying, less succinctly, for several years.
“Great power competition has returned,” the authors say, “China and Russia have begun to reassert their influence regionally and globally … [but, they explain] … Russia and China represent quite distinct challenges. Russia is not a peer or near-peer competitor but rather a well-armed rogue state that seeks to subvert an international order it can never hope to dominate. In contrast, China is a peer competitor that wants to shape an international order that it can aspire to dominate. Both countries seek to alter the status quo, but only Russia has attacked neighboring states, annexed conquered territory, and supported insurgent forces seeking to detach yet more. Russia assassinates its opponents at home and abroad. Russia interferes in foreign elections, subverts foreign democracies, and works to undermine European and Atlantic institutions. In contrast, China’s growing influence is based largely on more-positive measures: trade, investment, and development assistance. Among permanent United Nations (UN) Security Council member nations, China has even become the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. These attributes make China a less immediate threat but a much greater long-term challenge.” I think that assessment, Russia is a well armed rogue state that poses an immediate threat to global peace and security, while China is the greater long term challenge to the US led West, is spot on.
China cannot be contained
“Russia can be contained,” Messers Dobbins, Shatz and Wyne suggest, “by employing updated versions of defense, deterrence, information operations, and alliance relationships that held the Soviet Union at bay for half a century … [but they warn that] … China cannot be contained … [rather they say] … Its military predominance in east Asia will grow over time, compelling the United States to accept greater costs and risks just to secure existing commitments. But,” they say, and I agree, that …
“it is geoeconomics, rather than geopolitics, in which the contest for world leadership will play out. It is in this former domain that the balance of global influence between the United States and China has begun shifting in China’s favor.“
The authors compare and contrast China and Russia, and these four images are worth a look:
… and …
They all lend credence to the authors’ contention that Russia can be, quite readily, contained using proven, traditional methods, but that China must be dealt with using a new and different strategy because, as I have mentioned before, a hot war between China and the USA, or even the US led West, is likely to end in stalemate, at best … it’s that shark vs the dragon, or whale vs the elephant thing: America is and will remain, until well past 2040, the greatest maritime power the world has ever seen, but China is, already, unbeatable on land on the East Asian mainland. America can, indeed, “bomb China back into the stone age” but China can and would retaliate and China would, most assuredly, crawl back from the rubble and resume its march towards, at least, coequal hyper~puissance. A hot war makes no sense … even the new Team Trump must see that.
Dealing with Russia
“The West can meet the Russian military threat,” the essayists say, “with familiar measures of defense, deterrence, and reassurance .. [but, and this is a vitally important message to President Trump] … These require alliance solidarity, forward presence, layered defenses, and a credible ladder of escalation. Many of these requirements are already in place … [but they are under threat by Donald J Trump’s instinct for unilateralism] … Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is quite vulnerable to a range of nonmilitary deterrents. The Soviet Union was highly autarkic. It did not trade much beyond its own sphere of influence. It neither sought nor received much outside investment. Its elites did not travel or have foreign bank accounts. Russia, in contrast, has a capitalist, albeit crony capitalist, economy, one much more dependent on foreign markets and investment than the Soviet Union had been. U.S. and European sanctions already constrain the Russian economy and could constrain it much more in the future … [because] … A recent assessment found that Russia’s insufficient infrastructure, aging population, state domination of the economy, and poorly functioning institutions have all contributed to a weak medium-term economic outlook that will keep its national income well behind that of the advanced economies … [and] … One aspect of this vulnerability is Russia’s dependence on its export of oil and gas. In 2017, oil and gas made up 47 percent of Russia’s earnings from exporting goods and services and 40 percent of its government revenue; for the first five months of 2018, oil and gas revenues constituted 46 percent of total government revenue, higher than the 42 percent for the same period a year earlier. The United States can put significant downward pressure on these returns by increasing U.S. gas and oil production and even other forms of energy, such as wind and solar … [and Canada could help by building pipelines to Canadian tidewater on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts so that Canadian oil and gas can compete, too] … The more energy the United States produces domestically, the less it imports and the more it can export, thereby increasing global supply and reducing, or at least restraining, the price that Russia can get for its own energy exports .. [and] … This need not be a U.S.-only venture, and multilateral efforts would be more effective … [see my comments about Canadian pipelines just above] … The EU is seeking to raise the share of renewables in the total energy it uses, and the United Kingdom has recently considered changing rules to promote hydraulic fracturing as a method for increasing natural gas production. Any effort that increases domestic European supplies of any energy source is likely to restrain global hydrocarbon price increases. Russia is also quite vulnerable to further trade and financial sanctions, provided that they are widely adopted. The United States can depress world energy prices unilaterally, but it requires broad support, at least among Western nations, to construct an effective sanction regime. With such support, sanctions could degrade the Russian economy more rapidly and to an even greater extent than increasing U.S. energy production could.” Of course the problem is that US President Donald Trump opposes most of those measures and US money is being used, right now, to try and “land-lock” Canadian oil so that it cannot get to world markets except through the USA.
“The objectives of these various military, economic, and informational efforts,” Messers Dobbins, Shatz and Wyne contend, “should not be just to deter Russian aggression and limit its influence but also to steer Moscow toward an off-ramp encouraging it to abandon its destructive behavior and resume the democratic and economic reforms begun after the Cold War.“
Coping with China
The authors explain that “China presents a regional military challenge and a global economic one. In east Asia, the range and capabilities of Chinese air and sea defenses are continuing to grow, making U.S. forward-basing more vulnerable and the direct defense of U.S. interests in the region potentially more costly. As these trends continue, the United States will find itself gradually pushed more toward the threat of horizontal or vertical escalation for deterrence, with the attendant risks of counterescalation. Neither the United States nor China is likely to employ nuclear weapons, but even an initially localized conflict could quickly spread into the economic, cyber, and space realms, doing considerable damage to both sides. The United States might be able to reduce or delay such reliance on escalatory responses by shifting to less vulnerable platforms: longer-range precision-strike drones and vessels to carry longer-range drones and submarines, along with the further dispersal of bases. The United States can also help allies and partners in the region to increase the range and capabilities of their own air and sea defenses … [and, as I have been suggesting, for years, Canada can and should help in this] … Barring unforeseen technological developments, however, the United States will not be able to rely indefinitely on the direct defense of its regional interests, and the consequences of horizontal or vertical escalation will also rise steeply. In sum, the price for defending U.S. interests in east Asia, as the United States currently defines them, will become progressively steep.“
The authors explain that “China’s expanding influence is not, however, dependent principally on its growing military prowess. Militarily, China can be contained for a while longer; economically, it has already broken free of any regional constraints. In 2000, China was the top goods export destination for only three economies, all of them small, and the top goods import source for only two economies: Hong Kong and Macao … [but] … By 2016, China was the top goods export destination for 13 economies, constituting 9.2 percent of the global economy, and the top source of goods imports for 49 economies, constituting 53.4 percent of the global economy. In contrast, in 2000, the United States was the top goods export destination for 33 economies and the top source of goods imports for 28 economies … [but, again] … By 2016, the United States remained the top goods export destination for 30 economies but served as the top source of goods imports for 20 economies. China is thus displacing the United States as both the leading goods exporter and the leading goods importer in a growing number of markets. The United States, Europe, and Japan retain a large advantage in advanced technology and higher-end industry, but … China has set its sights on taking the global lead in those areas as well.” This is, also, something with which I have dealt, just recently.
The authors discuss the idiosyncrasies of both the Chinese and Russian political philosophies, noting, correctly, that the current Chinese Communist Party’s model owes far, far more to Confucius than to Karl Marx, and they also discuss both the Made in China 2025 and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and they say that “China has already started reshaping the global economy … [The] BRI has the potential to cement further changes in China’s favor. The United States currently lacks a strategy to respond to this challenge. Washington has cut back both on foreign assistance and on support for U.S. foreign investment. The U.S. administration’s current focus on bilateral trade deals and balancing trade flows one country at a time,” they suggest, and again, I agree, “is unlikely to stem or even keep pace with the growth of Chinese influence … [even though Chinese growth has, very recently, stalled, likely as a (partial) result of US trade actions] … U.S. strategy toward China should contain several basic elements … [the authors say] … In the security sphere, the United States should continue to hold the line in east and southeast Asia, accepting the larger costs and risks involved in counterbalancing growing Chinese military capabilities … [but, in my opinion, President Trump is quite right to demand that countries that are protected by the USA, including rich countries like Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, should shoulder a larger share of the burden ~ 2% of GDP in Canada’s case, as a bare minimum] … At the same time,” they say, “Washington should help its regional allies and partners to field their own antiaccess and area denial systems … [and] … Finally, the United States should take advantage of any opportunities to resolve issues and remove points of Sino-American tension, recognizing that its bargaining position will gradually deteriorate over time.“
“In the economic realm,” Messers Dobbins, Shatz and Wyne suggest, “the United States needs to compete more effectively in foreign markets, to persevere and strengthen international norms for trade and investment, and to incentivize China to operate within those norms by collaborating when it does and mobilizing concerted international pressures when it does not. Given China’s efforts to take technological leadership in the long term, and the potential advantages that such leadership brings, the United States also needs to improve its innovation environment. Measures could include greater funding for research, retention of U.S.-educated foreign scientists and technologists, and regulatory reforms that ease the introduction of product and process improvements into businesses and the market … [and those measures apply, in spades, to Canada, too] … The contest with China will not be decided by adjusting the bilateral trade balance but by competing successfully in foreign markets more generally. If China is displacing the United States in many of these markets, which it is, the displacement is not due to preferential access but because it is beating the United States in some combination of price, quality, financing, and delivery. The U.S. Commerce and State Departments need to develop a sophisticated understanding of China’s geoeconomic strategy and, in particular, of the role that BRI is likely to play. The U.S. Commercial Service, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Export–Import Bank, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation all need to increase support to U.S. exporters and investors,” as do the similar agencies in Canada, like the Business Development Bank and Export Development Canada. The authors say that “The United States should also move to secure its own preferential access to the world’s largest markets, the industrialized countries of Europe and Asia, those most compatible with the U.S. economy. Establishing Pacific and Atlantic free-trade areas will both set higher standards for trade and investment and advantage U.S. exporters vis-.vis Chinese competitors.” Of course the USA was a charter member of the Trans Pacific Partnership until President Trump pulled out.
Conclusion: an off ramp for Russia and an on ramp for China
The authors say, and I agree, fully, that: “With an economy smaller than that of Brazil, Italy or Canada and only slightly larger than that of South Korea, Russia needs an off-ramp from its rogue behavior to enable it to rejoin the global trade and investment system in a way that will benefit Russians, although not necessarily Russia’s current leaders. China, in contrast, the world’s second-largest national economy, needs an on-ramp to consolidate its adherence to global economic rules. Such measures could include both positive inducements, such as a greater role in multilateral institutions, and negative inducements, such as reduced access to developed-country markets or technology, if it does not adhere to global norms.“
“In either case,” they add, in what I read as a quite stinging rebuke aimed at the Trump regime, “the success of U.S. strategy requires joint action with its main allies and trading partners. Russia sees NATO cohesion as the weak spot in U.S. efforts at containment and has been probing it aggressively. Maintaining and even strengthening transatlantic cohesion across all dimensions—military, diplomatic, and even economic— can help keep Russia in check until it is ready to reform … [and] … In approaching China, there is a strong alignment of interests among the United States and its nearby partners, Canada and Mexico; Europe; and Indo-Pacific partners, such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand … [because] … Together with the United States, these countries account for 53 percent of global GDP, 54 percent of global exports of goods and services, and 55 percent of global imports of goods and services.46 They also dominate as creators of technology and as both sources and recipients of investment … [Messers Dobbins, Shatz and Wyne conclude that] … Working together, they can have significant influence over the policies of China and of recipients of Chinese investment. These Western advantages will wane, however, as China continues to advance, making concerted action urgent, as well as essential.“
My own conclusion is that that the RAND Organization authors are correct, but, before America (and Canada, too) can follow up one their several very sensible and quite clearly achievable recommendations, President Trump (like Prime Minister Trudeau) has to either grow up or be replaced.