U.S. Russia sanctions are unproductive


Tatenda Mashanda

It was an excellent achievement when Nixon and Kissinger took advantage of Beijing’s fears of the U.S.S.R. with the historic opening of China’s borders. That chess move created a strategic triangle, with the U.S. in a unique position, and turned ideology on its head, dividing the two Eastern communist regimes.

Now, amidst a startling attention deficit in the U.S., tensions with Russia are resulting in the U.S. getting the short end of the stick, with risky implications for the global order. Sino-Russian relations are closer than they have been at any time in the past five decades, giving them the chance to reshape the global order to their liking. It may be a realist nightmare. Whereas Kissinger’s strategic logic was advantageous for the U.S. by creating better relations with both Russia and China, it now looks like China will be the winner as the rift grows between the U.S. and Russia.

The new Sino-Russian inclination may be more of a marriage of convenience than anybody in the Washington foreign policy elite will ever admit. Unnecessary U.S.-led sanctions against Russia have led Putin to “pivot” East, particularly to China. Oil deals with China will bolster a floppy Russian economy, while Beijing gains a valuable partner, instead of a rival, for stabilizing Eurasia, which China increasingly sees not as a backyard, but as an economic future. A successful partnership with Eurasia, boosting its economic prospects by building infrastructure and stumping extremism that threatens Russia, China and central Asia, would underline the success of the non-Western model of authoritarian state-centric capitalism.

Not just the region, but also Africa and Latin America — where China already has made inroads with its development largesse — are bound to take notice. Cooperation between the Chinese and Russian militaries has increased considerably, showcased in their recent, largest-ever, joint naval exercises in the Sea of Japan — a not-so-subtle message to the U.S. Moscow is taking the lead on security. Beijing is flooding the region with aid and investment. Its new BRICS Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank should lubricate China’s hegemonic ambitions. If Russia and China are working closer than ever before, one ought to ask: why is Washington still considering everything through a Cold War perspective?

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, competing visions of world order are developing. The growing Sino-Russia cooperation has the potential to bolster a non-Western disposition, leading to a global split. In addition to the re-emergence of major powers such as China and India, rising middle powers are already playing an increasingly important role in regional security and global rules-shaping. Many of these emerging states harbor resentments against the U.S.

In this increasingly post-Western world, Western policies and norms that are viewed as threats to national sovereignty are being more broadly questioned. They tend to spark strong counteraction from emerging powers who worry about maintaining their national sovereignty.

After the disastrous NATO intervention in Libya on ostensibly humanitarian grounds, neither Russia nor China are likely to approve any future ventures in the U.N. Security Council. China usually follows Russia’s lead in the U.N.; together they have blocked sanctions against Assad in Syria and made sure the Western-led operation to depose Qaddafi in Libya is the last R2P (responsibility to protect) operation of its kind. If U.S. politicians continue to sing the “America is exceptional” song, they might be missing an important opportunity. Their actions promote resentment in countries with emerging economies, complicating efforts at global problem-solving.

This makes one wonder why politicians in the U.S. are adopting an increasingly anti-Russia and China policy. It’s stupid politics. It’s high time many of these politicians realize that international politics is a complex landscape and that no one nation can singularly shape political outcomes. It will need more American commitment and pragmatic realism, abandoning unipolar tendencies and understanding that the world is increasingly multipolar.

The U.S. must have good ties with all the players. Coming up with a new equilibrium with Russia may require itchy concessions, but it is worth it.

Democrats and Republicans alike are trying to outpace and out-do each other on their stances against Russia and China, but this is very bad politics.

They are missing an opportunity to engage two great powers and a chance to cope with changing world order.