Back in 2000, I predicted that the Sino-Russian alliance would prove to be the greatest existential threat facing the United States during the twenty-first century and that dividing and disrupting it should be America’s overriding foreign policy priority. Recent events, including the signing of an agreement for closer military coordination between Russia and China, seem to have validated that prediction, which President Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, also warned about before he died in 2017. Of course, the best way to break up the Sino-Russian alliance would be to recognize Russia and China’s vital interests in their respective spheres of influence, allaying their security concerns vis-à-vis the United States and potentially allowing points of contention to come to grow in salience. However, it should be noted that this newly proposed grand strategy of retrenchment would be very different from the current, failed U.S. grand strategy of liberal hegemony. Instead, it would be entirely defensive in nature and designed primarily to greatly strengthen America’s ability to deter and defend itself from cyber/EMP/nuclear/biological attacks, rather than project U.S. military expeditionary forces to far-flung regions of the globe, where no vital U.S. national security interests are threatened.
The Biden administration has clearly stated that China poses the preeminent long-term threat to the United States and its allies but has not made any serious attempt to encourage Russia to focus more on China. U.S. leaders have instead continued to attempt to confront and contain both Russia and China along their borders, provoking them to ally together against the United States and its allies. Therefore, to be successful in confronting the potential threats from a rising People’s Republic of China, the Biden administration should act immediately to improve relations with Russia by formally abandoning the United States’ longstanding but counterproductive policy of seeking to confront and contain Russia in its near abroad.
The Biden administration should make U.S. acceptance of Russia’s proposed sphere of influence agreement conditional upon Russia’s departure from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its termination of all military-technical cooperation with Beijing, and its signature on a non-aggression pact with the United States. As part of this non-aggression pact, both parties would agree that in the event of war between one of the signatories and the People’s Republic of China, the other party would remain neutral. If Russia and the Central Asian republics were to leave the SCO, then India would surely follow, greatly reducing the size and power of this Chinese-led military alliance. The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) would replace the Chinese-led SCO, in which Russia serves as a junior partner, as Russia’s new preeminent security alliance. As part of this new U.S.-Russia security agreement, the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would be guaranteed by Moscow in return for their departure from NATO. In exchange for the creation of a land bridge (a road and rail corridor, perhaps elevated in its Lithuanian portion) linking Russia to its Kaliningrad enclave through Belarus and Lithuania, Russia would withdraw all of its offensive forces, including short-range ballistic missiles, from Kaliningrad. This agreement would serve to create a new, more stable and secure tripolar world order.
In return for Russia’s departure from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the United States would agree to leave the NATO alliance—which would continue to exist as a European-led collective security organization—commit to closing most of its 800 foreign military bases, and withdraw most of its forward-deployed 200,000 troops abroad. The United States would also apply diplomatic pressure to persuade NATO to agree to Russia’s proposed security agreement providing that the text of the agreement was modified to read that NATO’s western European members would agree to keep their troops out of Eastern Europe “except in the event of an attack by a foreign power.” Without this additional language, NATO’s Article V security guarantees to its Eastern European members could potentially be rendered moot. The United States and Russia would also sign a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation along with a U.S.-Russia Free Trade Agreement. The United States would also commit to apply diplomatic pressure to Ukraine to incentivize it to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) by offering to conclude a free trade agreement with Ukraine as well. Such a peaceful economic integration of Ukraine with Russia would be far preferable than a Russian military invasion that the United States and NATO would be hard-pressed to counter, and which would most likely end with Ukraine’s outright annexation by Moscow.
After the signing of such a U.S.-Russia peace agreement, all U.S. economic sanctions against Russia would cease. Following a general U.S. military withdrawal from Eastern Europe and from NATO, and U.S. recognition of a Russian sphere of influence over the entirety of the area encompassing the former Soviet Union, the United States and Russia could begin a new era defined not by conflict, but rather by a strategic partnership based on the pursuit of shared interests. This new strategic partnership could include the sharing of advanced military technologies between the United States and Russia, particularly in the areas of super-EMP weapons and national missile defense, as well as an agreement to set up a joint missile defense system to shield both nations and Europe against nuclear attack—an idea proposed by Putin over two decades ago.
Meanwhile, the United States should make clear to Beijing that none of these actions are directed against it. In exchange for Chinese recognition of a U.S. sphere of influence over the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, and Japan, the United States might recognize a Chinese sphere of influence over Mongolia, North Korea, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, perhaps along with other territories. At the same time, the United States should provide Beijing with a guarantee that it will not intervene militarily in any conflict within China’s sphere of influence, including Taiwan, to reassure China of the United States’ peaceful intentions. In addition, the United States could commit to withdrawing all U.S. military forces from Japan and South Korea in return for North Korea meeting certain preconditions. The United States has enforced its Monroe Doctrine to keep other nations out of the Western Hemisphere, so it is sensible that it should respect Russia and China’s spheres of influence to greatly reduce the risks of war between nuclear superpowers, which would be fought at great cost to every nation involved.
Of course, such agreements would not serve to guarantee the United States against the unprecedented threat posed by Russia and China’s increasing capabilities to engage in a nuclear/EMP/cyber/biological first strike against the U.S. homeland. Lest America’s acquiescence to recognize Russia’s and China’s spheres of influence be perceived as a sign of weakness, the United States should take a number of steps to demonstrate its resolve to defend itself against the threat of unconventional attacks. This could include a presidential declaration of a cyber/EMP/missile defense emergency to utilize the up to $200 billion in savings from closing U.S. military bases abroad to fund the hardening of our critical infrastructure and the deployment of an additional 5,000 SM-3 Block IIA Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM’s) deployed on both land and sea without the need for congressional approval.
In addition, Biden should use the upcoming 2022 Nuclear Posture Review to set the objective that the United States will seek to restore “rough” nuclear parity with Russia while committing to fully-fund nuclear modernization. Other steps the administration should take include issuing an executive order to return the United States to a policy of “launch on warning,” doubling the number of Ohio-class nuclear missile submarines at sea at any given time, redeploying America’s 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads in reserve to increase the number of warheads on U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles back to Cold War levels, and placing U.S. nuclear bombers back on twenty-four-hour “strip” alert.
The United States should make clear that these readiness measures are not directed against any specific country but are being taken solely to enhance America’s ability to defend itself against unconventional attack, much as Russia and China have recently done. At the same time, the United States could support the signing of a new trilateral nuclear arms control agreement capping the U.S. Russian, and Chinese strategic nuclear arsenals at START II Treaty limits of 3,500 strategic warheads—covering all of Russia’s nuclear “superweapons”—with equitable limits on aggregate megatonnage and strong verification measures.
We can only hope that the Biden administration has the political courage and the imagination to give peace a chance. To seize the opportunity to avert a third world war with Russia and China, Biden should negotiate a comprehensive security agreement with Russia by building upon what Putin has outlined, while also taking decisive action to shore up America’s defenses against existential attack by U.S. adversaries.
David T. Pyne, Esq. is a former U.S. Army combat arms and H.Q. staff officer with an M.A. in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He currently serves as Deputy Director of National Operations for the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and is a contributor to Dr. Peter Pry’s new book Blackout Warfare. He may be reached at [email protected].