June 14, 2001
by Constantine C. Menges
An important item on the agenda of President Bush as he meets President Putin of Russia should be the new 30-year treaty of cooperation which the leaders of Russia and China are scheduled to sign in July 2001.
This treaty will formalize the ever-increasing Chinese-Russian strategic coordination of recent years, which is intended to counter the United States around the globe
Why would the leadership of China and Russia believe they need to join for this purpose? At their summit meeting in July 2000 , Mr. Putin endorsed China's view as expressed in their joint statement that the U.S. "is seeking unilateral military and security advantages" in the world. Mr. Putin also criticized the "economic and power domination of the United States" and agreed with China on the need to establish a still undefined "new political and economic order."
The new China-Russia treaty will not only mean a significantly increased political-strategic challenge to the U.S., it will also pose additional military risks. These are illustrated by Russia's sale of advanced weapons systems to China which it is aiming at U.S. forces and by the February 2001 Russian military exercises that included mock nuclear attacks against U.S. military units viewed as opposing a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The relationship between Russia and China went from alliance in the 1950s to deep hostility from 1960 to 1985 followed by gradual normalization during the Gorbachev years. After 1991, Boris Yeltsin continued negotiations to demarcate the disputed border but kept a political distance because China remained communist and had publicly welcomed the 1991 coup attempt by Soviet communist hard-liners and also opposed Mr. Yeltsin's democratic aspirations.
Mr. Yeltsin and the first President Bush had three summit meetings in 1992 and 1993, and Russia declared its intention to move toward a "strategic partnership and in the future, toward alliance" with the U.S. The mutually positive and hopeful initial relationship with the new, post-Soviet Russia also included a signed agreement on reductions in offensive nuclear weapons and a joint decision on modifying "existing agreements" (including the ABM treaty) to permit global missile defense which both Presidents Yeltsin and Bush acknowledged were needed. Unfortunately the Clinton administration did not pursue the opportunity for Russian-U.S. agreement on missile defense.
In April 1996, Mr. Yeltsin decided to agree with China on a "strategic partnership" and increased Russian weapons sales. Through a series of regular summit meetings, China moved the "partnership" with Russia toward strategic alignment marked by an ever-larger component of shared anti-U.S. political objectives (e.g. support for Iraq, opposition to missile defense) along with increased Russian military sales and military cooperation. This was ignored by the previous administration.
As a result, for the first time in 40 years the U.S. faces coordinated international actions by China and Russia. This could have six principal negative implications starting, first, with the fact that Russia has accepted and repeats most of communist China's views about international politics and about the U.S., for example that the U.S. seeks to dominate the world.
Second, the Chinese view of the coming July 2001 treaty emphasizes that, when one of the parties to the treaty "experiences military aggression," the other signatory state should when requested "provide political, economic, and military support and launch joint attacks against the invading forces."
As the American public has learned from the April 2001 reconnaissance aircraft event, China defines not only Taiwan but also most of the international South China Sea and all its islands as its sovereign territory. If the United States should threaten or take any type of counteraction (political, economic or military) against China to uphold the rights of US aircraft or ships in that international air and sea space or to help allies or other countries defend themselves against coercion by China, which has territorial disputes with 11 neighboring countries including Japan and India, China could define this as "blackmail" and a violation of its "sovereignty". It would then hope to draw Russia in militarily, if only as a potential counter-threat as suggested by the February 2001 Russian military exercise.
A third negative consequence is ever-increasing Russian military sales and other support for the buildup of Chinese advanced weapons systems specifically targeted at U.S. air, sea and electronic military capabilities and vulnerabilities in the Pacific. For example the Russian anti-ship missiles that accompany the two Russian destroyers already delivered (and the four more to come) skim the ocean at twice the speed of sound, can carry nuclear warheads and were designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers. In the 1990s, Russia sold China about $9 billion to $20 billion in advanced weapons systems aimed at U.S. forces (jet fighters, submarines, destroyers, anti-air/missile systems) with another $20 billion to $40 billion in weapons and high-technology sales planned through 2004. The income from these sales also helps Russia further modernized its strategic nuclear forces that currently have 4,000 warheads on about 1,000 ICBMs.
A fourth negative result is that Russia and China are working together and in parallel to oppose any U.S. decision to deploy national or Asian regional missile defenses; they are seeking to persuade U.S. allies to oppose this and refuse cooperation. At the same time Russia has sold China one of its most advanced weapons (S-300), originally designed to shoot down the Pershing medium range missile as well as aircraft and cruise missiles, along with a similar medium-range system (Tor-M1) in such quantity that China is now in effect already deploying its own missile/air defense system on the coast.
Fifth, Russia and China have been providing weapons of mass destruction components, technology and expertise to a number of dictatorships such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya which are hostile to the United States and its allies. Russia and China have also established military supply links with Cuba and the pro-Castro Chavez regime in Venezuela. The risk of conflict increases as all these dangerous regimes become militarily stronger and also believe they are backed by both China and Russia.
The sixth negative result is that the ever-closer relationship with China strengthens the authoritarian tendencies within Russia, thereby increasing the risk it will become more aggressive internationally. While the Chinese government develops relations with the Putin government and military, the Chinese Communist Party has revived direct relations with the Communist Party in Russia.
At their June 16, 2001, meeting in Slovenia , it is urgent that President Bush seek to persuade President Putin that Russia should assure the U.S. and the world that there is no open or secret military component to the July 2001 China-Russia treaty. Mr. Bush should remind Mr. Putin that the U.S. has no territorial or other claims of any kind on Russia. In contrast, communist China has on numerous occasions during the 1950s and through 1992 formally demanded that Russia "return" virtually all of the Russian Far East that China alleges was stolen by an "illegal"1860 treaty. Russia is arming a potentially very dangerous country, perhaps making the same mistake Josef Stalin did in selling weapons to arm Germany which then attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.
Unless Russia excludes such a military component in the new treaty, Mr. Bush should indicate that the U.S. will view this as a China-Russia military alliance and a potentially grave threat to be met by the significant reductions in U.S. economic support for Russia directly, through debt restructuring, international institutions and trade access. Further the U.S. would see the need to immediately accelerate movement toward missile defense.
The U.S. and its allies need to give the China-Russia strategic alignment effective attention. With skill and foresight it is still possible to turn back the momentum by hard-liners in both Russia and China toward more confrontation while adopting realistic U.S. policies that maintain deterrence and peaceful relations.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Times on June 14, 2001
Dr. Constantine Menges, a scholar, author, and university professor, was a Hudson Institute senior fellow until July, 2004.
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