Monday, October 10, 2005

Borderline Insanity

The Russian border dispute with China has been put off, but not resolved, by the Russian-Chinese Treaty of 2001. The treaty can be broken by either side after twenty years.

As the article notes, both sides have reason to keep the border quiet for now. China is focusing on Taiwan and Russia is too broke to defend itself. Russia clearly hopes that the balance of forces will shift its way by 2021. Either Russia is economically strong enough to defend their Far East or China gets blasted a bit by the US and Japan in a war over Taiwan (a war the Russians seem determined to facilitate). China must either hope to own Taiwan by then or be strong enough economically to build a military strong enough to cope with both threats at the same time.

Clearly, we need to make sure that China can't capture Taiwan by 2021. And we have to get Russia to think of itself as a Western nation and encourage its economic and political evolution. If China can't do a smash and grab on Taiwan in the next fifteen years and if Russian recovery as a part of the West can be achieved, China will have to start diverting resources to defend their border with Russia whether the Taiwan issue is solved or not.

So can Russia revive economically, stay reasonably democratic, and integrate with the West? This thinking is not encouraging:

In the view of Sholban Kara-ool, Chairman of the Tuvan Parliament and Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Russia’s Federation Council, “The erratic nature of US foreign policy has been a contributing factor. When (your) foreign policy is unpredictable, it means we must plan based upon the worst case scenario.”

Remember, however, before you go off on an anti-Bush rant about how Iraq has spoiled all our friendships, that this treaty dates to 2001. So the erratic nature of our foreign policy must be a 1990s issue for Russia. Given Russia's risky moves to protect their Serb brethren after the Kosovo War, this adventure might have been the deciding factor in Russia's view of our foreign policy. Really, since September 11, our foreign policy has been pretty predictable: we will not accept anti-American states or groups that carry out terrorism, inspire terrorism, or pursue nuclear weapons. Russia may not like the effects of that policy but it is hardly unpredictable.

Yet seeking the warm embrace of the rising Dragon of China will not let the Bear slumber at peace in its period of hibernation:

According to former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, “strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing is no more than a slogan. In fact, Russia can be only a junior partner there, and it would never agree to that.” There is a basis for these misgivings. China’s army is double the size of Russia’s, and Chinese officials have articulated their plans for a massive (17.7 percent) increase in defense spending. It is no wonder that one Western diplomat, in describing the Russia- China relationship, put it this way: “When they get together, it’s all smiles and bear hugs, but beneath that, there is still profound mistrust between the two.”

Many Russians realize that this treaty is a short-term measure and that things could change for the worst in time:

Others take an even dimmer view. In the words of the late Gen. Alexandr Lebed, one-time candidate for the Russian presidency and governor of Krasnoyarsk:

The current Russian policy (toward China) is not understandable. Our brilliant minds in the military are selling them aircraft. These aircraft will bring bombs one day to our heads.

And though Russia does not see itself as Western, the fear of China may yet compel a reassessment of their policies that value opposing the West more than defending against China:

A March 2001 interview with Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, a prominent Russian think tank with ties to the Russian government, illustrates this: Question: “What should Russia’s attitude be toward NATO eastward expansion?”Karaganov: “We should oppose it. Of course, we could spend tremendous effort and resources on fighting this ‘Evil,’ but it is the same as trying to restrict population growth in China from the outside. By the way, the latter is potentially more dangerous for Russia.”

The Russians fear the demographics of the Far East but numbers of Chinese in Russia seem hard to nail down. It is either a real problem or a nightmare vision that is real only in the imaginations of Russians. Either way, the disparity of numbers on either side of the map line indicate that should the Chinese government decide to flood Russia with Chinese settlers to create facts on the ground, Russia would be swamped and provide a nice excuse for Peking to intervene.

I hope we can push China to look inward toward Asia and away from Taiwan. If not, we need to make sure that China knows it can't win in the Taiwan Strait until the growing strength of Russia makes them look over the shoulders a little bit.

And we need to get Russia to think of itself as a Western power. The Great Wall of Putin will not keep Russia safe.