This will force Washington policymakers to prioritize. The United States will have to decide which country poses the greater potential threat in the future. Surely that nation is China. Despite many uncertainties, including potentially significant demographic and economic challenges, the PRC is the superpower-in-waiting. Russia, in contrast, is in decline. Its economy is based on resources, its population is shrinking, its wealth dramatically lags behind that of Europe as well as America.
Most important, Moscow’s ambitions appear bounded: Russia today acts like a pre-1914 Great Power, demanding respect for its interests and security for its borders. Nothing suggests further aggression against its neighbors. For most of its recent history Crimea was part of Russia; backing Donbass separatists created a frozen conflict which prevents Ukraine from joining NATO; supporting formally independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia does much the same to Georgia, while providing payback to the United States for Kosovo. While unjustified, these are tactical maneuvers, not a plan for regional, let alone global, conquest.
Which suggests that Washington should look for accommodation rather than confrontation with Russia. The West risks permanent estrangement for no good policy purpose. The United States can rightly insist that Moscow stay out of American elections, but the former should make a similar pledge regarding foreign contests. Beyond that there surely is potential for a deal: take NATO expansion off the table in return for an end to Russian destabilization of Georgia and Ukraine. Then drop sanctions.
And draw Moscow toward the West. The objective would not be to push Vladimir Putin into war with China, but to eliminate the disagreements which bring Beijing and Moscow together, the perception of a shared threat from America. Then the U.S. would disperse rather accumulate potential adversaries.
Washington’s punitive policies have proved far better at making enemies than friends. American policymakers would do better focusing on practical U.S. security rather than succumbing to abstract moral vanity. Richard Nixon, despite his obvious faults, understood the principle of dividing potential foes. President Donald Trump and those around him should learn from history.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.