A US Confrontation with China and Russia Is NOT Inevitable

July 15th, 2021 - by Sylvia Demarest / World BEYOND War & David L. Phillips / Balkan Insight

A Response to: “A Global US Can’t Avoid Confronting China and Russia”

Sylvia Demarest / World BEYOND War

(July 13, 2021) — On July, 8, 2021 Balkin Insights published an article written by David L. Phillips titled “A Global US Can’t Avoid Confronting Russia and China” — Subtitle: “Forget talk about ‘re-sets’ in relations; the US is on collision course with two implacable adversaries that are bent on testing its leadership and resolve.”

David L. Phillips is Director, Program on Peace-building and Rights, in the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Concerned about the tenor of this article, especially coming from an institute dedicated to peace-building, I decided a response was in order. Below is my response to Mr. Phillips’ essay. The response was sent on July 12, 2021. [The original article by David L. Phillips is posted below the author’s response — EAW].

Dear Mr. Phillips:

It was with growing concern that I read the above article written by you and published in Balkin Insight, allegedly on behalf of a center at Columbia University dedicated to “Peace Building and Human Rights”. I was shocked to see so much warmongering rhetoric coming from a center dedicated to building peace. Could you explain precisely how you think the US should “confront” Russia and China without risking a war that would destroy us all?

On the subject of promoting peace, since you worked in several recent administrations, you are surely aware that the US has an entire infrastructure designed to essentially disrupt the peace and “foment conflicts” namely the National Endowment for Democracy along the Republican and Democratic Institutes and an entire range of NGO’s and private donors the purpose of which is to disrupt counties the US has targeted for regime change. If you add the security agencies and USAID, it’s quite an infrastructure.

Does your center support the disruptive activities of this infrastructure, which some people call “soft power”? On the subject of human rights, what has your center done to confront the tactics used during the “War on Terror” including illegal invasion, bombing, civilian displacement, rendition, water-boarding, and other forms of torture that have been exposed over the years?

Rather than point the finger at other countries, why don’t we work to right our own ship of state?

You also seem to be completely unaware of the history of Russian/Chinese relations, which has often been one of hostility and conflict, at least until very recently when US policy towards Russia forced Russia into an alliance with China.

Rather than re-examine the policies that have resulted in such a catastrophic outcome for US interests, you seem to prefer saying things that appear to be questionable such as: “Russia is a world power in decline.”

Let me ask you to test that statement against just a few observations from my reading and travels to Russia;
1) Russia is generations ahead in missile technology and missile defenses and many other high tech military technologies and sports a rebuilt, well trained military;
2) Russia’s Rosatom now builds a majority of the nuclear plants world wide using new and much safer technology, while the US companies can’t seem to construct even one modern nuclear electrical generation facility;
3) Russia builds all of it’s own aircraft, including passenger aircraft—Russia also constructs all it’s own naval vessels including new high tech submarines and autonomous drones that can travel thousands of miles underwater;
4) Russian is way ahead in extreme cold weather arctic technology including facilities and icebreakers.
5) Russian debt is 18% of GDP, they have a budget surplus and a sovereign wealth fund — the US debt increases by trillions every year and the US has to print money to pay current liabilities;
6) When Russia intervenes, as she did in Syria in 2015 at the invitation of the Syrian government, Russia was able to turn the tide of that destructive illegal proxy war the US supported. Compare this record to the “success” of US warmongering since WW2;
7) Russia is essentially self sufficient in food, energy, consumer products, and technology. What would happen to the US if the container ships stopped arriving?

I could go on but here’s my point: considering your apparent lack of current knowledge, perhaps you should to travel to Russia and witness current conditions for yourself rather than continuing to endlessly repeat anti-Russian propaganda? Why do I suggest this? Because anyone who understands the issues involved will realize that it is in national security interests of the USA to be friends with Russia — assuming this is still possible given US behavior over the last 30 years.

Of course neither Russia nor China want to confront the US because both realize 1) given current policies, the continuation of US/NATO militarism is unsustainable both politically and economically; and 2) the US would be unable to sustain a conventional war for any length of time thus the world would be at great risk of the US turning to nuclear weapons rather than accept a conventional defeat.

This is why both Russia and China are biding their time rather than risk a global nuclear war. Should US/NATO ever decide to direct nuclear weapons at Russia, the Russians have made it quite clear that the next war will not be fought solely on Russian soil, so since US policy includes first-use of nuclear weapons, such first-use would result in a full-blown nuclear war including the destruction of the US.

Considering reality — I have to ask how are you building peace and human rights by continuing such rhetoric and support for such policies?

I could write an entire thesis on all the inaccuracies, misinformation and disinformation contained in your essay — but let me say a few words about Ukraine and the former USSR.

Are you even aware of the fact that, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation and the Russian people turned to the US and trusted us to help them create a market economy? That 80% of the Russian people had favorable views of USA? That this was reciprocated with over 70% of US citizens holding a favorable opinion of the Russian people?

What an amazing opportunity this presented to put aside militarism, promote peace, and save our own republic? What happened? Look it up!! Russia was looted — it’s people impoverished. Essays were written saying: “Russia is finished.”

But, as I outlined above, Russia is not finished. We even broke a promise not to expand NATO “one inch eastward”. Instead, US militarism continued and NATO was expanded to Russia’s doorstep. Countries bordering Russia, including Georgia and Ukraine, were hit with “color revolutions” including the Maidan coup of 2014 [in Ukraine].

Now, thanks to US/NATO policy, Ukraine is essentially a failed state. Meanwhile, the majority Russian population of Crimea decided to protect their own peace, security, and human rights, by voting to join the Russian Federation. For this act of self-preservation, the people of Crimea have been sanctioned.

Russia didn’t do this. No one who understands the fact would blame Russia for this. US/NATO policy did this. Does a center tasked with promoting peace and human rights support this result?

I can’t know the true motivations behind this anti-Russian rhetoric — but I can say conclusively that it is completely contrary to the long-term security interests of the USA. Look around and ask yourself — why be enemies with Russia — especially against China? The same question could be raised about Iran — about Venezuela — about Syria — even about China itself.

What happened to diplomacy? I realize there’s a club that runs the USA, and to get jobs, money, and grants, you have to be a part of this “club” and that includes joining a serious case of group-think.

But what if the club has gone off the rails and is now doing much more harm than good? What if the club is on the wrong side of history? What if this club is threatening the very future of the USA? The future of civilization itself? I fear that if enough people in the US, like you, don’t rethink these issues our very future is in jeopardy.

I realize this effort will probably fall on deaf ears—but I thought it was worth a shot.

All the best,
Sylvia Demarest

The Article that Prompted the Response:
A Global US Can’t Avoid Confronting China and Russia

David L. Phillips / Balkan Insight

(July 8, 2021) — Forget talk about ‘re-sets’ in relations; the US is on collision course with two implacable adversaries that are bent on testing its leadership and resolve.

The US is on a collision course with China and Russia over both ideology and influence. As a liberal democracy, the US system of government is antithetical to the authoritarian model of government in China and Russia, both egregious violators of human rights. Far from the “peaceful rise” proclaimed by Premier Xi Jinping, China in tandem with Russia is fomenting conflict in the Western Balkans, the South China Sea, and Ukraine – proving grounds of America’s resolve.

Fraternity between China and Russia dates back to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, CPC, 100 years ago. China’s Communists were inspired by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and its consolidation across the vast Russian Empire. Likewise, Communist China was born in the cauldron of conflict. CPC cadres vanquished both the Japanese occupation and nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek. Chinese troops were deployed to the Korean peninsula in 1950.

China was also at war with itself, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. China assumed leadership of the Communist world when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia is a world power in decline; China is on the rise. Xi and Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, are united in their sense of historic humiliation by Great Powers and opposition to the West.

Neither China nor Russia wants to directly confront the US. For now, they foment conflicts out of the spotlight and in cyberspace. Their goal is to deny universal values of freedom and democracy, while undermining US leadership and western institutions such as NATO and the EU. After the Biden-Putin summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned: “Your hegemony is over. Your rules don’t apply.”

China and Russia will continue to test the limits of their power until they are stopped. When the bayonet meets flesh, it plunges deeper. Xi recently warned that those who try to block China’s ascent will be met with a “wall of steel”.

Were his remarks a warning to the West, or for domestic consumption? Xi’s reputation has been tarnished by his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. China’s economic miracle is slowing down, its economy growing just 6.6 per cent in 2018, the lowest rate in 28 years. Its population is ageing, further slowing economic development. The CPC is comprised of elites, hardly representative of 1.4 billion Chinese.

Ukraine meanwhile is a flashpoint for conflict escalation between Russia and the West. Russia supports separatist militias in Donbas, in southeast Ukraine. It recently escalated tension by confronting HMS Defender, a British warship sailing in international waters near Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Britain does not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea, or its claim to Ukrainian territorial waters in the Black Sea. According to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “The important point is that we don’t recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea. This is part of a sovereign Ukrainian territory, it was entirely right that we should vindicate the law [of the sea] and pursue freedom of navigation in the way that we did.”

Russia’s response was swift, including military and diplomatic reprisals. Russian war planes allegedly fired warning shots during the Defender’spassage through the Crimean coastal corridor. Moscow summoned the British ambassador, warning of additional measures if British ships continued to sail along the Crimean coast.

China is similarly confrontational. The South China Sea is an energy-rich waterway through which $3.4 trillion in trade passes annually. Control of maritime routes is not only critical to commercial traffic, but to China’s growing navy that projects power in the region. In violation of laws of the sea, Chinese navy vessels rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands last year.

China is building navy bases, which it calls “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef, the Subi Reef, as well as military outposts on shoals, reefs and rock outcroppings. In 2016, the Philippines challenged China’s actions before the international Arbitral Tribunal, which ruled in favor of the Philippines and nullified China’s claim. China simply ignored the court’s finding, ratcheting up tensions with the Philippines, Vietnam, the, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. China also confronts Japan over control of the Senkaku Islands in the Sea of Japan.

The Obama administration responded with “freedom of navigation operations”. US warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands without providing notification or seeking permission. By upholding the Law of the Sea, the US implicitly opposes China’s “might makes right approach.” The Biden administration has resumed freedom of navigation operations. Will this be enough to deter China’s maritime aggression?

The Western Balkans are also a dangerous flashpoint. Backed by Russia, Serbia refuses to recognise that Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state. It blocks Kosovo’s efforts to gain greater global recognition by joining international organizations and establishing diplomatic relations with other states.

Russia and Serbia have sought to intimidate Kosovo by establishing military outposts near the Kosovo border. It claims that the base in Nis, southern Serbia, is for a civil emergency response and humanitarian operations. The base is actually used to gather intelligence on Western activities. Serbia has established 11 more military facilities near Serbia’s border with Kosovo. This show of force is intended to deter Kosovo’s efforts to join NATO and gain recognition by all EU member states. Russia backed a coup against the governments of North Macedonia and Montenegro when they sought NATO membership.

Negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo have been meeting for more than 10 years. They resumed their dialogue in Brussels on June 15, 2021. Serbia picked that day for a major military exercise involving 15,000 troops using Russian equipment, such as T-72M tanks, MIG-29 war planes and Mi35 attack helicopters. Weaponized drones acquired from China were also a part of the exercise. “Operation Lightning Strike” was a warning for Kosovo to abandon its goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. China’s expanding footprint is also  a growing concern.

Vucic refuses to recognize that Serbia lost Kosovo due to Slobodan Milosevic’s crimes. A free, independent and pro-Western Kosovo will never rejoin Serbia. As Kosovo readies for the next phase of its dialogue with Serbia, there is a growing clamor to abandon talks until the Nis base and Russian military facilities are closed. Kosovo’s leaders cannot show up in Brussels with a gun held to their heads. Nor can they negotiate independence, which was already recognized by more than 110 countries.

China and Russia work in tandem in the Balkans. Serbia is a major beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In exchange, Serbia supports China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, its human rights abuses in Xinjang, and tough stance towards Taiwan. Vucic threatens the EU by officially supporting steps to elevate Serbia-China relations and expanding military cooperation.

The Russian Intelligence Agency, GRU, is active in Serbia and worldwide. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency confirms that the GRU spies on US government agencies and industries. The GRU was likely behind the ransomware attack, targeting Colonial Pipeline that transports oil, gas, and jet fuel to the East Coast. Russia also used malware to disrupt the 2016 US election system, including voter registration and voting machines. Russia is behind malign influence operations that seek to exacerbate divisions in American society, thereby weakening America’s unity and resolve.

The US cannot turn a blind eye to coordinated aggression from China and Russia. It should work multilaterally to expand naval operations in the South China Sea. It should also support freedom of navigation in the Black Sea by supporting Britain’s naval exercises. Toughening sanctions would show that the US and its allies have zero tolerance for Russian aggression against Ukraine.

When it comes to Kosovo, the US is at a fork in the road. The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is a charade. If the US wants it to work, it should appoint a Special Presidential Envoy to mediate. It can coerce Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to recognize Kosovo by threatening to freeze the offshore assets of Vucic and his brother. Talks cannot be about the status of Kosovo. They must focus on the status of Kosovo-Serbia relations as independent and sovereign states. To show that it means business, the US should demand the closure of the Nis base and other Russian military facilities in Serbia, while imposing an arms embargo on Serbia. Spies at the Chinese and Russian embassies, operating as political officers, should be evicted.

China and Russia are strategic adversaries of the US. They are testing America’s resolve worldwide. To avoid a major military confrontation in the future, the US must firmly oppose provocations today. No more wishful thinking or happy talk about a reset in US relations. Now is the time to confront China and Russia, exacting a price for their malign activities.

David L. Phillips is currently Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN. Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.