Monday, April 17, 2017

How a Geopolitical Alliance of China and Russia is Exploiting the US's "Imperial Overreach"

A hundred days into Donald Trump's presidency, it is almost comical to see how his foreign policy has deviated from what people thought it would be when he was first elected.  People thought was going to make amends with Putin, only to see him profess that Russo-American relations has "reached an all-time low."  They thought he would pressure hard on China for unfair trade practices, only to see him profess his "good friendship" with Xi while refusing to label the country a currency manipulator.  They thought he would take America out of foreign entanglements, only to see military presence increased in Syria and Korea.

It is a bit unfair to just label him a flip-flopper for constant changes.  In many cases, he is perhaps just reacting to change situations in the geopolitical world, pushed on by a sensationalizing media and a populace that easily buy into the belief that the US needs to enforce some sort of international moral standard through military actions.  It certainly does not help that the American general public is so prone to see international affairs as a black-and-white matter of "good" versus "evil" where, in cases of evil, the actions as propagated by the media are enough for them to back certain moves without thinking about long-term consequences.

The harsh reality is that international geopolitics is a game of rational calculations based on relative national power, where ethical and moral questions is useful only as a tool to be exploited for national interest.  And whether intended or not, the current turn of events with regards to American foreign policy is skillfully being exploited by the Chinese and the Russians to advance their own national interests in their respective backyards, using the inability of the US to attend to a multitude of different issues associated with both countries all at once.

The current, almost exclusive focus of US foreign policy on the issues of Syrian chemical attack and North Korean provocations is a case in point.  In particular, by escalating the Syrian conflict rather deliberately, Russia has put the four-year-old war back on the front pages of American media outlets and minds of the American people.  In this process, Putin successfully shifted focus away from the ongoing "secret war" in Donbas in eastern Ukraine.  This is despite the fact that just a couple of months ago, US media was reporting a buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.  Now no one seems to care.

Also successfully "de-escalated" is the ongoing issue of China's island-building in the South China Sea.  In the past months, the Chinese have undertaken a mere semblance of detente with the Filipinos and the Vietnamese by allowing fishermen from the two countries into dispute waters effectively controlled by Chinese Coast Guard.  However, while international media outlet interpreted this as Chinese moderation, what is effectively happening is the Chinese, while shifting away the attention of the global audience, has continued to move military assets into islands built up in the months past.

In these "de-escalated" issues, the participation of the US is minimal, or at the very least, highly nonvocal.  This happens because the US simply does not have enough energy and physical assets to impose its will on many different issues that are occurring across distant parts of the globe.  If the public reacts strongly to one particular issue, it has to move assets to handle that particular issue, leaving a spectrum of others untouched for months at a time.  By not focusing on the other issues, the US gives breathing space for China and Russia to act at will to impose national interest with little opposition.

And they do so skillfully, often through creating "facts on the ground" that ensure national interest is preserved no matter what international law may say.  Both Crimea and islands of South China Sea are great examples of just moving in, occupying, and staying.  Contestants such as Ukraine and Philippines simply do not have enough hard power to dislodge Chinese/Russian advances without external support.  By de-escalating different issues in turn, China and Russia are able to advance their interests on every issue while the US busily shift assets and public attention to catch up with the "current threat."

Of course, regional powers opposing Chinese and Russian interests clearly know what is happening.  They simply cannot expect American power to be always available to back them up.  The consequence of this realization is going to a greater militarization, in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Middle East, while an increase of accommodation of and appeasement toward Russian/Chinese power by smaller powers in the respective regions.  Whether or not America manages to juggle participation and resolution of half a dozen issues vis-a-vis China and Russia, the fact that regional powers will start to develop their own foreign policies and military capacities independent of the US.  American "imperial overreach," in essence, is accelerating the creation of a multipolar world.  

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