By Jorge Trevino – It seems that the American withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ever since the possibility was mentioned, talk in Moscow has turned ominous, to the point that Putin’s adviser, Andrei Belusov, confirmed in late October: “Russia is preparing for war and so is the U.S.” A few days before, Putin envisaged the possibility of Russia being struck by nuclear weapons. “The aggressor should know that retribution is inevitable… They will die, without time to repent”.
A month before Russian politicians made comments about war, on September 28, U.S. Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, publicly threatened Moscow with a naval blockade in order to prevent Russia from selling its energy abroad. That same week, on October 2, U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey, threatened to “take out” Russian missiles that Washington believes are in breach of the INF treaty.
Given the eastward expansion of NATO since 2000, economic sanctions since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, huge, provocative NATO military drills on Russia’s borders, such as Tridant Juncture happening right now in the Baltic Sea involving 40,000 NATO troops, with proxy wars in the Ukraine (to which the U.S. sells offensive weapons) and Syria, we can understand Russia’s certainty that war is in the making.
There are two possible theaters of operations that involve the destruction of Russia: The Syria-Iran conflict in the Middle East, and the Ukraine, on Russia’s western border. Even if the war in Syria were to expand to Iran, it would pull in Saudi Arabia and Israel, sending the price of oil to the stratosphere, which the Western economies can’t afford or even accept since that would compromise supplies of oil to Europe. Russia could simply step aside once it realizes that winning is no longer a possibility, abandoning the U.S. to fix its own mess (like the Iraqi post-war that drained a trillion dollars from American tax-payers.
On the other hand, the most likely theatre of operations for the upcoming war against Russia will be the Ukraine, the Baltic states and Poland, whose citizens will be cannon fodder. In that scenario, America’s obsession to see Russia destroyed passes through a conflict with China. The Chinese president said recently that China is prepared for war in either the South China Sea or Taiwan, while a U.S. Military Times poll showed that half of American servicemen believe the U.S. will be at war next year. If we consider that servicemen are, in a way, insiders, their opinions result from what they have seen and heard.
Following the same logic as with Russia, where a war on its borders would exhaust her economy and lead to collapse, the US would provoke China into a war to slow its challenge to American economic supremacy. To accomplish that, the U.S. would need to follow the Russian scenario, setting off a proxy war in the South China Sea, for which America holds two aces: North Korea and Taiwan.
North Korea has been in the freezer since the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim last June. Trump is allowing South Korea to court the North, relations reaching an all-time high. However, he could reverse momentum at any time.
Trump looks more comfortable playing the Taiwan card, knowing this could pull Beijing into a hot war. A conflict along the border between the South and East China Seas would interdict China’s vital trade routes, and the U.S. is counting that South Pacific countries with which it has territorial disputes (Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam), would support Taiwan.
Actually, it is unlikely that any of those five countries would participate in such madness, given that China is their major trade partner. Nevertheless, the U.S. considers that China’s preponderance in the South China Sea, challenging U.S. economic power, deserves a broad solution. In both cases – Russia and China – current U.S. policy would sabotage both countries by any available means. The good news for America is that Russia and China don’t want war and are trying to avoid it through diplomacy — less successfully since Trump took office two years ago. The bad news is that provocations are growing by the day and eventually, the bear or the dragon, or both, could say enough and call the shots. (Shots that the deep-state believes would never boomerang back on American soil.)
It is obvious that the depth of the Sino-Russian special relationship is inversely proportional to U.S. aggressiveness. For each new American aggression, including sanctions on Russia, China provides it with life-saving orders for oil, gas and financial cooperation.
Ties between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have grown exponentially since the latter took in office in 2012, largely thanks to Barack Obama. His obsession with Vladimir Putin, combined with his perceived need to ‘Pivot to Asia’ to counter China, drew the two powers closer. While Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, was behind the Sino-Russian split that enabled the U.S. to focus on countering the USSR, Obama reversed the situation, and Trump doubled down, worsening U.S. relations with its major allies. Having being the master of ‘divide and rule’ for 50 years, it ended up isolating itself from the rest of the world.
If the Trump administration maintains its collision course it won’t be long before Russia and China realize that beyond political and economic ties, their survival requires a formal military alliance.
Such an alliance will be a game changer. The Russian military will receive billions of dollars for new weaponry that will enable Russia to compete against NATO. With state-of-the-art Russian nuclear and conventional weaponry, China would be able to hold its own in the South China Sea. Such an alliance would make the West think thrice before meddling. At the same time, Europe will think harder about draining its budgets to compete in an arm race against Russia. Having long allowed the U.S. to foot the bill for their protection against Russia, it would have to participate much more actively against a Sino-Russian alliance, sacrificing their populations’ high standard of living. (For the U.S., challenging Russia and China together would scatter its forces and force tax-payers to pay more and live less.)
Extreme situations like the one we are in right now, on the verge of one or two major wars deserve radical solutions. While the U.S. has been deaf to Russian diplomacy, Russia and China are at a point of no return. having arrived at the point where the only way to avoid war is to prepare for it. (“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”).
Jorge Trevino has been analyzing International relations for 30 years and ha studied national security, counter-terrorism, and intelligence agencies. He is based in Mexico City.