By Dr Subhash Kapila*
Russia and United States détente’ is a geopolitical imperative in 2017 for global stability and security when placed in context of China’s unbridled provocative military rise.
Russia and the United States in the post-Cold War era have failed to establish cooperative security management, both regionally and globally, chiefly because of the ‘China Factor’ that plagued both Russia and United States policy perspectives and formulations.
United States despite emerging as the unipolar Superpower persisted with Cold War apprehensions that Russia was still the potent threat to United States and that needed to be manged by American strategic and political reach-out to China.
Russia strategically down and out then perceived that it needed China for its resurgence and return to its global equivalence with United States. Thus emerged the Russia-China Strategic Nexus as a marriage of convenience dictated by prevailing geopolitical compulsions upto well past of the first decade of the 21st Century. It was a poor attempt to balance United States strategic predominance.
Russia’s and United States stood frozen in their respective threat perceptions for a decade and a half. Resultantly, China as the beneficiary of strategic munificence of both United States and Russia zoomed fast forward to emerge in 2017 with pretensions of being the second pole in what China perceives as a bipolar world comprising United States and China.
The bipolar template of United States and Russia during the Cold War period was predictably stable despite pronounced military confrontation. Russia was then an equal power to the United States with no ‘revisionist power’ impulses.
The bipolar template perceived by China in the second decade of the 2ist Century of United States and China is inherently strategically unstable, unpredictable and dominated by China’s provocative military confrontation and brinkmanship markedly visible in Indo Pacific Asia.
China perceives that Russia’s resurgence is still dependant on China’s economic infusions and that with United States power on decline the ‘China Moment’ has arrived for China to assert its Superpower credentials.
China’s emergence as the potential second Superpower is not a zero-sum game. Such Chinese emergence will extract heavy strategic and political costs from both United States and Russia too. Geopolitical and strategic imperatives for a Russia-United States détente’ in 2017 therefore exist as a pressing need for global stability and security.
Prospects of a Russia-United States détente’ in 2017 following President Trump’s election as US President need analysis going by recent developments both in USA and Russia. The initial indicators by President-elect Trump during his electoral campaign suggest that as President Trump he would seriously reset US relations with Russia leading to a détente’.
Russian President Putin too has sent warming signals to President-elect Trump that Russia too desires for a newer relationship with the United States devoid of confrontation and retaliatory stances. The same has been visible when last week President Putin declined to expel 35 US diplomats in retaliation for President Obama’s expulsion orders of 35 Russian diplomats and sanctions against Russian involvement in the US Election hacking charges episode.
Despite the positive indicators from both Russia and the incoming Trump Administration in USA minefields exist both in USA and Russia towards an eventual and much-needed Russia-United States détente’.
In the United States both on Capitol Hill and the Republican Party, Cold War mindsets still persist on Russia. This mindset would impede the US policy establishment from a realistic reassessment that in 2017 it is China which is the more potent threat to United States national security interests than Russia and this could be reflected in their foreign policy advisories to President Trump.
In Russia, President Putin despite his 17 years in power and having managed relations with two earlier US Presidents in the past even in crisis situations could still be susceptible to pressures from China not to fall for President Trump’s political reach-outs to Russia in 2017. China still has considerable leverages over Russia which would require considerable audaciousness for President Putin to shake-off.
China is seriously impacted and concerned by the prospects of a possible Russia-United States détente’. This stands reflected in commentaries in official Chinese media organs. China can be expected to resort to even generate crisis-situations where any positive movements in Russia-United States détente ‘process are stymied.
Therefore, a lot would depend on the statesman-like qualities of President Putin and President Trump in2017 to navigate skilfully through Chinese minefields of stumbling-blocks to impede a possible Russia-United States détente’.
A greater strategic call devolves on President Trump to extricate Russia from China’s strategic clutches and crutches besides from the innumerable China-apologists in Russia within. This is a vital US National Security Interest for 2017 which should dawn on the new in-coming US policy establishment and thereby strengthen the new US President’s resolve to establish a new American relationship with Russia Concluding, one could suggest that if President Trump really wants to make headway towards a Russia-United States détente’ in 2017, then his first official visit overseas after assuming office should be to Russia and not China, in a reverse of the Nixonian-Kissinger tilt to China in 1972.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]