Hoover Daily Report

American Interests and Geopolitical Realignment

Monday, August 5, 2002

Geopolitics is not something Americans spend a lot of time thinking about; we leave that to Foggy Bottom types. But recent developments on the international landscape warrant much more attention than they have attracted.

The Bush administration's success in moving Russia closer to the West represents a remarkable change in geopolitical alignment. The 1990s witnessed an emerging anti-American partnership between former adversaries Russia and China, which Washington seemed powerless to impede.

For much of the past decade, Beijing has wooed a weakened post-Soviet Russia by evoking common extremist threats and resentment of U.S. superpowerdom. Last July, China obtained Russia's signature on the Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship, and Cooperation, which, among other things, recognized Beijing's claim to Taiwan and further pitted the two states against U.S. intervention by highlighting the role of the United Nations.

The broadening Sino-Russian entente began to raise red flags. Instances of converging interests strengthened these misgivings: China buys Russian ships and planes for its offshore agenda. Both fight separatists in Central Asia's former Soviet republics, some of whom infiltrated western China. Beijing, the senior partner in the Russo-Chinese corporation, has been gaining influence in Inner Asia as Moscovite power recedes. Behind China's gambit is the quest for access to the vast oil and gas reserves in Inner Asia.

By forming closer relations with the Kremlin, the Middle Kingdom also hopes to break out from its perceived American encirclement and secure its northern border in an effort to pursue a more assertive posture, or "forward policy," in the Pacific.

Ostensibly, Beijing and Moscow consummated their romance this June when Presidents Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin cosigned the Shanghai Cooperation Organization charter—along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—which strengthens previous treaties on reducing forces along mutual borders and cooperating against terrorism and separatism. But appearances fooled no one, especially not China, for it understands Moscow's recent pro-Western tilt.

At the beginning of the Bush presidency, China's ascendant economy, size, and ambition seemed poised to confront a United States estranged from Russia and assailed by Europe for its unilateralism.

George W. Bush, however, succeeded in undermining this looming Moscow-Beijing axis by drawing Putin into the U.S. antiterrorism campaign, attaining the Kremlin's acquiescence in the deployment of U.S. forces in Central Asian republics, defusing its resistance to Washington's pullout of the ABM treaty, and assuaging its opposition to NATO's eastward enlargement by granting it greater sway with the NATO-Russia Council in May. For Russia, it gets a more reliable partner with the United States plus the benefit of having the United States in Central Asia.

Thus the Bush administration should receive as much acclaim as Richard Nixon did thirty years ago for realigning China on America's side against the Soviet Union. In the present case, Bush has moved Russia closer to the West and outflanked China on the strategic chessboard. This statecraft could result in a genuine realignment benefiting the West and Russia. Now it's time to turn our attention back to China and continue to engage it in a twenty-first-century framework of security for the great powers.