The self-referencing chattering class is up in arms about the $400 billion Russia-China gas deal, seeing it and the associated Russia-China alliance as a threat to the grand strategic ambitions of the United States to remain, in the words of President Obama at West Point, the world’s “indispensable”* power. Taking place against the immediate backdrop of the prevailing US narrative** describing the Ukraine Crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the gas deal is manna from heaven for the unreconstructed cold warriors and neocons in the press, the Pentagon, the defense industry, and the State Department who are fanning anti-Russian/anti-Putin hysteria with prognostications that the US, being on the cusp of a new Cold War, should not cut back its defense spending or its propensity to meddle in the affairs of others.
Viewed thru Russian and Chinese eyes, however, the gas deal may be part of a defensive grand strategy aimed at evolving pathways around Russia’s “NATO expansion problem” and China’s “pivot east” problem. The attached essay by Immanuel Wallerstein, a traditional ‘balance of power’ scholar (in the best sense of the phrase), presents a fascinating speculation in this regard. Only time will tell if he is on to something, but his hypothesis is well worth thinking about.
I have reformatted Wallerstein’s essay to highlight his main points … if you find this distracting, the original is at this link.
* A triumphalist self-inflating descriptor coined by President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Obama’s use of the term reinforces Wallerstein’s opening line in the attached essay.
** The contemporary use of the word “narrative” has become rooted in the mass-marketing and public-relations theories of manipulating perceptions. In the words of Israeli journalist Shemuel Meir, a “narrative is a story that we tell ourselves, and not necessarily what happened in reality.” Ironically, the word is now ubiquitous in “news” reports of the American mainstream media as well as our political discourse.
It seems to me that both countries are really interested in a different restructuring of interstate alliances.
- What Russia is really seeking is an agreement with Germany.
- And what China is really seeking is an agreement with the United States.
Germany is clearly internally divided about the prospect of including Russia within a European sphere.
- The advantage to Germany of such an arrangement would be
- to consolidate Germany’s customer base in Russia for its production,
- guarantee its energy needs,
- and incorporate Russia’s military strength in its long-term global planning.
- Since this would inevitably mean the creation of a post-NATO Europe, there is opposition to the idea not only within Germany but of course within Poland and the Baltic states as well.
- From Russia’s point of view, the object of the Russia-China friendship treaty is to strengthen the position of those in Germany favorable to working with Russia.
China, on the other hand, is fundamentally interested in taming the United States and reducing its role in east Asia. But this said,
- it wants to reinforce, not weaken, its links with the United States.
- China seeks to invest in the United States at the bargain rates it thinks are now available.
- It wants the United States to accept its emergence as the dominant regional power in east and southeast Asia.
- And it wants the United States to use its influence to keep Japan and South Korea from becoming nuclear powers.