Can Moscow and Washington Join Hands in the Pacific?
Image Credit: White House

Can Moscow and Washington Join Hands in the Pacific?


Russia’s hosting of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok last month demonstrates that Russian leaders view their country as an Asian power as well as a European and Eurasian one. Indeed, a major shortcoming of the current U.S. Asia Pivot is that it has often treated Russia as an afterthought. But with the initial Russia-U.S. post-2009 “reset” having largely run its course, Moscow and Washington now need to consider how they will refashion their relationship in the next few years. In this context, Asia offers the parties some probable areas of conflict, but also several areas where mutual beneficial cooperation might be possible.

On the negative side, U.S. and especially Russian concerns about China’s growing nuclear potential are impeding further progress in their shared strategic arms control agenda. China has stayed aloof from bilateral Russian-American strategic-arms talks, arguing that their nuclear arsenals dwarf those of China. Yet, the substantial decrease in Russian and U.S. nuclear forces in recent years is narrowing this gap.

Whereas U.S. officials want the next major nuclear arms reduction agreement to include only Russia and the United States, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian policymakers insist that future nuclear arms reductions occur on a multilateral basis. They want China and other nuclear weapons states to participate. In particular, Russian representatives insist they cannot reduce their major holdings of non-strategic (“tactical”) nuclear weapons without considering China’s growing military potential. As Putin put it back in June, “With regard to further steps in the sphere of nuclear weapons, these further steps should be of a complex character, and this time all the nuclear powers should be involved in this process. We cannot disarm indefinitely while some other nuclear powers are building up their arsenal. It is out of the question.”

The next U.S. administration should assess how the United States might leverage Russian concerns and interests to induce China to participate in strategic offensive arms control. For example, China might offer a unilateral commitment not to increase the number of its nuclear warheads or strategic delivery vehicles if Russia and the United States agreed to make further reductions.

Another problem is how China and Russia have been aligning against the United States on important issues. In the United Nations and elsewhere, the two governments have already complicated U.S. policies regarding WMD proliferation, space and cyber security, and critical regional conflicts including Iran, North Korea, and Syria. They have both launched campaigns to constrain the growth of U.S. defensive alliances in Eurasia and counter global U.S. missile defense initiatives. Although they appeal to international law to defend traditional interpretations of state sovereignty, their opposition to Western assertions of universal liberal values also emanates from their interest in shielding their own human rights abuses as well as those of their client regimes.

April 1, 2013 at 08:07

It is just a matter of time before China takes over the russian far east.  What's Russia going to do once the far east is settled by the Chinese?  I would advice the Chinese to quietly encourage the movement of its people across the river to the russian far east.  It is easy to bribe the Russian border guards as well as Russian officials.  They are too far away from Moscow.  In 20 – 30 years time, the Chinese will be very powerful militarily and no question economically.  It will make the Russian far east the newest Chinese Northeastern province.

February 18, 2013 at 03:28

Russia has much more to be concerned about with a rising China than anyone. They had border clashes in the past. Russia know who has the upper-hand between the US and China. They are becoming closer to the US for various reasons.

October 11, 2012 at 01:47

Russia, especially under Putin, cares solely for Russia's national security and interests.  Its policies can sometimes be linked up with China's and be characterized as support for a multipolar world, but Russia would just as soon a unipolar world with Russian dominance. 
You make it sound like the USA has troops in Western Europe doing invasion drills.  In reality, Russia faces very little pressure from Europe.  What competition there is is purely political and economic, and you can see just how strong that competition is by noticing Russia's recent joining the WTO. 
In contrast to Russia's Western border, China is a nationalist and resource hungry country with a huge population of expendable males, with a tendency to assert aggressive "self-defense" by reclaiming territories it declares lost by past Chinese Empires; Russia happens to currently control territory fitting that description. 
Putin is no fool, and Russia's military in recent years has been "rebalanced" toward territories bordering China, not toward the West.  In this respect Russia is playing the same game as The USA's Asia pivot, and Japan's reorienting its Naval Self-defense force to its South-Western outlying islands. 
Will Russia, likely "alienate" China?  Unlikely.  But they clearly aren't friends.  Moreover, China poses a more serious direct threat to Russian territorial integrity than does the USA. 

John Chan
October 10, 2012 at 23:11

What is the matter with you, still doing cheap shot behind the undescriptive name? How about insulting the dead that can’t talk back, it is the best tough act you can do.
No wonder Chinese is assertive because there are too many chickens wondering around.

October 9, 2012 at 00:03

@ JC,
There was no "if". Thieves from china were trying to poach fishes from Russia, just as
thieves from Somalia tried to pirate other ships, and those chinese paid the price
with their own lives. Bully china tried to act touch in 1960's and what were the
result? Did you guys take back 600 thousand square kilometers of land that Russia
took it in 1858? What is the matter?
Funny I was talking about Russia and china but you have to inject USA and Philippines
in your post, what is the matter? Still full of shame and humiliation, again?
Oh, still no links or stories about US F-22 planes made in china? ROTFLMAO. Thanks for
the big laugh.

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