Washington Times on December 29, 2013, reported that Russia bullies Ukraine and pushes its claims to the North Pole, while Beijing beefs up naval patrols in the South China Sea and challenges U.S. allies on its borders. As the Obama administration attempts an ambitious reorientation of the nation’s strategic and diplomatic focus, two regional powerhouses and former Cold War adversaries are showing themselves increasingly keen to challenge Washington’s dominance on the world stage. Excerpts below:
Foreign policy analysts say recent moves by Moscow and Beijing have been far-reaching, heavy with symbolism and clear tests of President Obama’s intentions and resolve.
Since a team of Moscow-backed explorers planted a symbolic Russian flag into the potentially oil- and gas-rich floor of the Arctic Ocean in 2007, actions to make good on that claim include the construction of nuclear icebreakers, and refurbishing its port and military facilities in the region.
Teams of Chinese government operatives have been scouring Africa and Latin America to cut a growing number of forward-leaning energy deals with governments and cement long-term alliances.
The overall message: U.S. power will not go unchecked in the 21st century — particularly in Eastern Europe and greater Asia, where Russian and Chinese influence and interests have long presented strategic challenges for American presidents.
With the Obama administration spending the past half-decade reducing America’s military footprint in the Middle East and preparing to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan, “Russia and China are making global moves,” said Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
“The U.S. has been engaged in drawdown from two active wars and a gradual restructuring of our strategic priorities to Asia over the long term, and this transition is being seized by Russia and China,” Mr. Cronin said.
“China is most focused on the South and East China Seas, while Russia is most focused on the Arctic and other global interests,” he said. “The U.S. is trying to stand up to this activity, but it’s hard when you’re busy trying to make your own transition.”
In the past month, Russia has shifted several of its long-range, nuclear-capable missiles to a territory that abuts Poland. This provocative show of force was aimed at countering a long-planned U.S. missile shield on Europe’s eastern border.
China abruptly established an air defense zone in the East China Sea in a territorial clash with Japan. The development triggered a Cold War-style rhetorical standoff for weeks between Washington and Beijing and prompted the Pentagon to defiantly fly B-52 bombers in the zone.
The struggle for influence in greater Asia is complicated by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin is “more worried about China than it is about the U.S. military’s activities in the region,” Mr. Cronin said.
Russia is far less capable than it was decades ago in projecting military power.
Mr. Putin played a particularly aggressive hand in the recent clash over Ukraine, using threats and Russian cash to woo the strategic former Soviet territory away from a long-term economic and strategic deal with the European Union.
In essence, Mr. Cronin said, Moscow is prone to playing geopolitical games designed to subvert U.S. influence in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Caught in the middle as Beijing and Moscow flex their muscles are the smaller nations in both regions. Many of them are fragile young democracies struggling to figure out how closely they want to align themselves with Washington and invoke the ire of the rising regional power.
Moscow’s determination to fight for influence burst into the headlines when the government of Ukraine accepted a $15 billion loan from the Kremlin, despite warnings from Washington and a massive outcry from pro-democracy protesters in Kiev, who spent weeks pleading with their government to engage, alternatively, in a closer U.S.-backed economic partnership with the European Union.
China’s massive economy is wielding similar influence over its smaller neighbors in East Asia, including the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.
Beijing also has clashed openly with Japan, particularly in territorial disputes in the East China Sea.
U.S. national security officials say a bigger worry is that many Chinese leaders appear to regard the isolated dictatorship in North Korea as a kind of puppet state whose nuclear weapons program and general antipathy toward the wider international community hang on strings that lead back to Beijing.
Some conservative foreign policy analysts in Washington say the Obama administration is naively ignoring the gravity of the situation.
“We’ve got to realize that we’re in a new Great Game and we don’t ,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar focusing on national security and foreign policy issues at the American Enterprise Institute. “We’re too distracted to realize we’re playing. We’re distracted by a lack of coherent strategy. We’re distracted by willful blindness.