10 Reasons US and Russia Should Be Allies
If you were born before 1985, a few years before the fall of Communism in The Soviet Union, the chances are that you will remember the stress and worries of the Cold War. Even if you did not really worry yourself you will have noticed your parents and teachers worrying about ‘the commies’. The Russkis were the bogeyman of the day. Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and others presided over a country that set itself against all that the United States and its allies held dear. It infiltrated countries with spies who not only did their best to steal information but also to seed communist ideas in labor organizations (it is now known that much of the industrial unrest that crippled Britain in the 1970s was Soviet sponsored).
Soviet submarines, carrying a cargo of death, patrolled our coasts, Soviet weapons faced our soldiers in places like Vietnam and they even tried to place their land based nuclear missiles in Cuba, a scant few miles off the American southern coast.
Was there hysteria about the threat posed by the Russians? Almost certainly, as Sting said so eloquently ‘Russians love their children too’. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, meaning whoever started a war was destined to suffer as badly as their enemy, kept the world safe. It was only in the 1980s when a series of summits between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev and Prime Minister Thatcher started exploring the potential of mutual disarmament that the world stepped back from the Nuclear Arms Race.
Gorbachev’s thanks was to be ousted in a coup but it resulted in the fall of communism and the opening up of the former Soviet sphere of influence. Russia became a potential trading partner. In recent years, however, President Putin has started flexing the Russian muscles once again. His actions in the Ukraine showed him that NATO and the US under President Obama were unwilling to stand up to him. Their failure of intervene decisively in Syria opened up even more opportunities and Putin saw this as a chance to become the leader of the (not necessarily free) world.
It looks likely that Russia interfered in the US 2016 election but President Trump has made no secret of the fact he admires President Putin while also threatening another arms race. With another woman in power in Great Britain is there an opportunity for a resumption of the friendly and productive relationships of the 1980s or will we return to the days of MAD? Here are our top 10 reasons why we think the friendly approach will be the best.
10The Doctrine Of MAD Still Applies
As mentioned above the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction meant that both sides of the Cold War subscribed to the principle that as long as they had enough nuclear weapons to turn their enemy into a radioactive desert it did not matter that others might have more. The Soviet Union and the US armed themselves to the teeth while Britain, France and China (the five are the only officially recognized nuclear states) had a few hundred, enough to take out their enemies major cities in the event of an attack. All five states have signed nonproliferation and test ban treaties. A number of countries (mostly old Soviet States) have disarmed themselves completely. India and Pakistan, long time enemies at war over the province of Kashmir both have warheads (and are thankfully locked into their own MAD cycle). It is also thought that Iran, Israel and North Korea have or are close to having such weapons. There is, in addition, the worrying potential that North Korea might be providing nuclear weapons technology advice to Syria.
In December 2016 it appeared that President Putin and President Elect Trump might be willing to start a new arms race. Putin appeared to be willing to improve his delivery systems while Trump talked of ramping up the arsenal itself. Whether this was posturing to the outside world or to each other a renewed arms race makes no strategic sense. Russia and America already have enough weapons to obliterate each other should one state turn rogue. The real danger comes from the use of nuclear weapons in ‘hot’ conflicts such as Syria. Just as a single event (the shooting of an Austrian Grand Duke in Serbia) plunged the world into years of conflict in 1914, a nuclear explosion in some far off place runs the risk of setting the world ablaze. Russia and America should work together to do their best to prevent this.
9Russia Is A Powerful Cyber Enemy
It looks likely that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections in the US, to the detriment of the Democrat Party. This is particularly ironic given that Putin’s resurgence can be seen as a direct consequence of Obama’s failures on the international stage, his withdrawal creating a vacuum ready to be filled by an alternate ‘strong man’.
Russian hacking is nothing new. Spies have sought to infiltrate and steer domestic organizations since the start of the Cold War (we already mentioned their role in British Trades Unions unrest in the 70s) and their cyber hacking activities date back to at least the 1990s. Recently it is not just the DNC that has proved vulnerable, the NSA appears to have been hacked as have government departments in many American NATO allies and Wikileaks looks to be closely involved as the ‘dumping ground’ of choice for sensitive information. It is not just institutions that are vulnerable, Russia has proved its powerful reach by showing that it can disrupt the Ukrainian power grid. The old saying goes ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. Friendly relations with Russia will give us some breathing space to shore up our cyber security and protect against such threats, all the time remaining aware that just because we are friendly does not mean the attacks will stop.
8Trading With Russia Offers A Win Win Solution
America’s response, following events in the Ukraine in 2014, was to impose economic sanctions on Russia. Those who favor such sanctions often believe that restriction of trade can be a powerful tool, and it can, but only in the right circumstances. Those in favor of sanctions point to their role in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa. On analysis, however, their impact appears to have been more one of psychological support for the ANC than in providing any real economic pressure while long term sanctions on Iran were a patent failure.
Imposing sanctions on Russia may have made the Obama administration feel good, allow them to believe they were doing something proactive but they had little real effect. Put bluntly the trade relationship between Russia and the US is not worth enough money (no more than a few billion) for Russia to feel the pinch. To put it into context combined Russian-Sino trade is worth trillions of dollars (see below).
Improving relations with Russia will allow us to improve our trade prospects. This would not only help to invigorate the American economy but, long term, would provide us with an effective tool in the form of economic sanctions that would really bite.
7China Is Flexing Her Muscles And We Need Allies
In recent years China has started to flex her muscles and to take more of an interest in world events. One of the largest economies in the world China exports almost everywhere and they have, slowly and surely, extended their sphere of influence by providing support for national projects in African and other nations. In some cases the projects Chinese companies take could have gone to American firms, this is annoying but the function of a free market. The real danger, however, is that through their investment China is building support on the world stage. Just recently President Duterte of the Philippines, America’s long term ally in South East Asia and a base for significant numbers of US troops, declared that America had lost influence militarily and economically and that he would, from now on, seek an alliance with China. He also held out the possibility of a future alliance with Russia.
6A Trade War With China Would Be Damaging To The US
President Trump has made no secret of his dislike for China accusing them of stealing American jobs and accusing the Chinese government of manipulating fears about global warming to make American industry uncompetitive.
Given the mutual dislike of the Trump administration and the Chinese government there is every possibility of a trade war. If ‘America First’ results in high import tariffs on products made in China it may initially appear to support the American economy. Such a boost would not last long, those at the lower end of the economic spectrum would find imported products such as electronics suddenly out of their price range but with no viable domestically produced alternative. American businesses relying on Chinese goods in their production chain would suffer. Meanwhile China would likely curb American imports, placing yet more burdens on American industry.
A trade war would hurt both countries but America would lose, the Chinese have far greater foreign reserves and their trade is leveraged far more to other markets meaning they are less reliant on trade with the US than America is on trade with China.
5Russian-Sino Relations Are Closer Now Than They Have Ever Been, We Would Do Well To Weaken That Alliance
Despite both countries being communist Soviet-Sino relations were very poor. The Chinese may have been communist but they were the wrong kind of communist, the Chinese also objected to the level of Soviet control and support of other communist states believing they were Marxist Imperialists.
These days China is Russia’s largest trading partner with the combined trade between the two worth trillions of dollars in oil, ram materials and foodstuffs. Russian projects, struggling with low investment would be more than happy to turn to Chinese investors. The new Silk Road (One Belt One Road Policy) further aligns Russian and Chinese economic interests and brings in trade opportunities with former Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and with the European nations. To put it bluntly if this carries on America will find itself marginalized. Expensive production costs combined with a posturing and unpopular government will make American products and companies increasingly uncompetitive. The world may speak English and love Hollywood movies and Netflix but why buy an expensive iPhone when an Oppo or Huawei will do the same job at a fraction of the price.
We cannot afford to alienate both Russia and China. While our economic ties make China the more natural trade ally the lack of trust between the current US administration and the Chinese and the conversely warm relationship between Presidents Trump and Putin mean that while we should be doing our best to refrain from getting into a trade war with China we should also be building our relationship with Russia. We need allies!
4Russia Is A Permanent Member Of The UN Security Council
The UN Security Council is the branch of the UN responsible for the maintenance of international peace and stability. It can impose sanctions and authorize the use of an international peacekeeping force. There are 15 members of the Security Council and each has one vote, 10 members sit for 2 year periods before relinquishing their seat. 5 members, the US, Russia, China, Britain and France (the 5 allies who won the Second World War and were instrumental in setting up the UN), are permanent members. Each of the 5 permanent members has a veto which they can use to block any UN resolution. While Britain and France are natural allies of the US China typically uses its veto in tandem with Russia so Russian support is vital if the US wants to impose sanctions on rogue states such as North Korea.
Russia’s importance in international forums extends beyond the UN, as a key and powerful member of both the G8 and G20 they have a vital role in helping to decide new trade policy which of course will impact on the US (see above).
3Russia Has ‘Good’ Relations With Tehran and Pyongyang
With missile tests and work on nuclear reactors North Korea, the secretive and deeply communist state in East Asia is a danger to US interests and US allies. Russian experts certainly believe that North Korea is now capable of arming missiles with nuclear warheads. To date China has been America’s partner of choice when dealing with the potential North Korean threat given their greater economic influence on North Korea. However given the current administration’s antipathy towards China they may not necessarily be the best placed to represent US interests. Russian relations with Pyongyang may not be as warm as Beijing’s but they do have influence and the ability to obtain information. Both could be useful to the US in years to come.
When it comes to Tehran, Russia has been an ally of the Iranians since the end of the Iran – Iraq war and the fall of communism. The two countries may not like each other but they realize that they can work together to support their mutual interests. It is in America’s interests to prevent that relationship becoming too close. Russia is a key supplier of arms to the Iranians and could be persuaded to provide missiles and civilian nuclear training. It is in American interests to make sure that such a deal is not in the Russian interest.
2Russia Is Key To Peace In Syria
The Middle East is a dangerous flashpoint and these days Syria is at the center of the problem. The Obama administration showed its complete lack of aptitude for foreign affairs when it mismanaged the Arab Spring. Failure properly to engage at the time meant that the US lost vital credibility in the region and, crucially, failed to get a handle on what the then domestic conflicts could mean on the wider world stage. In 2011 events in Syria looked like nothing more than a particularly nasty civil war, distressing in that a relatively modern and open country, popular with tourists, was suffering but it appeared a simple domestic conflict with no real impact on the US. Nothing in the Middle East is, however, simple. The destabilization and fighting proved an opportunity for extremists and suddenly ISIL became a dangerous threat to international as well as regional interests.
Syria has been a gift for Putin. The failure of the US, Britain and their allies to provide leadership left a vacuum into which President Putin stepped. His strong man solution; to support the official regime of Bashir Assad at all costs and take action against ISIL and other ‘terrorist’ organizations. US proxy allies the rebels, Saudi Arabia and the Syrian Kurds simply cannot stand up against an Assad supported by Russia and Iran, particularly now that Turkey has allied itself with them in the quest for a solution. The exodus of refugees into Europe has caused a wealth of problems including tensions between nations such as Germany and Hungary on how to deal with it and domestic opposition to the influx which saw the far right do scarily well in the recent Austrian election. These destabilizing influences may see Angela Merkel vulnerable at the German elections this year and an ultra right wing Nationalist, Marine Le Pen will compete with a good chance of election in the French presidential elections. All of this is a bonus to Putin who benefits from a fractured Europe.
Whether we like it or not the Russian, Iranian, Turkish sponsored talks in Astana have made more progress than the US sponsored Geneva talks. For the moment Putin is supporting his man Assad but he is a pragmatist, he will support any deal that leads to peace and Russia, not the US will be seen as having created the environment for peace. We are too late to change the situation now, the only thing we can do is be part of the solution and work with Russia to defeat ISIL.
1The Enemy Of My Enemy
In the Second World War Russia and America worked together successfully in order to defeat the menace of Hitler (and, to a lesser extent, the Japanese). Without the Russian successes on the Eastern Front which bled men from Western Europe it is unlikely that the American, Canadian and British invasion of Normandy could have succeeded. Certainly allied losses in Europe and North Africa would have been far higher had the German army been able to deploy more troops there.
These days Russian and American interests again combine in the fight against ISIL. Russia, like the US, is vulnerable to Islamic terrorism. The Chechen wars may be over but resistance remains and terrorist attacks by Chechens are common and deadly (an attack in 2013 claimed over 30 lives). Since the formation of ISIL many Chechens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to support the struggle. There they gain access to both arms and training which they can use to devastating effect on their return to their homeland.
It is easy to look at Assad’s track record and condemn him for human rights abuses but his Syrian government was and is secular and continues to provide protection to Syrian Christians. The notion of rebels may be romantic but many of them have ties to Al-Nusra (and Al-Qaeda affiliate). When the US sought rebels to support and train only 60 pro US rebels could be found. Assad may not be our friend but the Syrian rebels are not either. At the present time Russia is supporting the fight against ISIS and as the saying goes ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. We need to destroy ISIS and for the moment, as during the Second World War, our best chance to do so is through an alliance with Russia.
These reasons should be pretty persuasive. We do not have to like the Russians, nor should we take them at face value. Ronald Reagan who with Gorbachev and Thatcher brought the world back from the brink of destruction used an old Russian maxim ‘Trust but Verify’ in his dealings with the Soviets. It is an adage that should prove useful in guiding our current Russian policy.
The US remains the most powerful economy in the world, we have the greatest reach militarily, economically and socially but unless we tackle the threats of the modern age head on and avoid misguided policies of protectionism and isolationism we could see ourselves reduced to a shadow of our former selves within a generation. Russia can be an important strategic partner of the US or it can combine with China and force the US into irrelevance. We should choose influence, every time!