Letter From the Editors
President Biden’s recent travel schedule leaves little room for doubt that America is exerting every effort to revive old alliances and build new ones. Biden’s Asia tour last week laid the groundwork for containing China in the region. “Washington is once again trying to show China and its Asian allies ‘who’s the dad here,’ ” writes expert Ivan Zuyenko. But since Washington can’t afford the exorbitant economic costs of recognizing Taiwan’s independence, “the White House’s current policy is clearly aimed at maintaining a high degree of tension both in the Taiwan Strait and in the Pacific Ocean as a whole,” Zuyenko concludes.
At the same time, Biden is finally making inroads with getting Europe on board with his China containment policy. And here, Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine was a godsend for Washington, believes Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council. The Biden administration’s initial attempts to get Europe to turn on Beijing failed, “as evidenced by the fact that China was only scarcely and vaguely mentioned in the final communiqué of NATO’s Brussels summit in June 2021.”But now, instead of “faraway and obscure Beijing, it is now Moscow, so close and so familiar from the days of the cold war, that US strategists can cast (albeit temporarily) as the global villain,” writes Kortunov. Presumably, this renewed consolidation would be easy to convert into a unified front on China as well.
Of course, some potential stumbling blocks, according to Kortunov, include increasing competition between the dollar and euro, disagreements over trade tariffs, and of course growing political differences between allies. Eventually, selfish personal interests may win out over allied obligations.
A perfect example of that is Turkey’s move to block Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO accession until it gets its way on the Kurdish issue – namely, getting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and some of its prominent activists designated as terrorists. Considering that many of the Kurdish activists on President Erdogan’s enemies list have become prominent politicians in European politicians (especially Sweden), his ultimatum puts Europe in a very tight spot. Of course, Erdogan knows NATO decisions are made by consensus, and he is not afraid of leveraging that to his advantage. Military expert Aleksandr Golts says that “this is completely in line with the rules of classic realpolitik, which posits, among other things, that whatever serves national interests. . . is a good thing. Under these rules, there is no room for values like a commitment to democracy [or] the renunciation of aggression as a political tool.”
Will Erdogan’s “me first” political gambit pay off? The coming weeks will tell. He’s hardly the only world leader busy expanding his unilateral influence. Take Polish President Duda, who made a surprise appearance in Kiev this week. The Polish leader was basically treated as a celebrity by Supreme Rada deputies, whom he addressed from the rostrum. Duda was not stingy with compliments, saying “Ukraine is the face of Europe” and vowing not to rest until it is admitted into the European Union. But Duda’s overtures are more than just help “for a neighbor in trouble,” Tikhon Sysoyev opines. Rather, it’s a way to score points with fellow allies, and perhaps even to lay the foundation for a “soft takeover” of Ukraine, he claims. “The country that only recently infuriated officials in Brussels and Washington has become the main stronghold of NATO’s eastern flank.” And what about the new bill submitted to the Supreme Rada that (at least according to leaks) would give special privileges to Polish citizens? These include the right to hold government posts, while Polish police would be legally allowed to “maintain order” in Ukraine. According to Sysoyev, Poland’s ambitions extend far beyond simply being a loyal ally in Washington-led organizations. And if Turkey is any indication, the right leverage at the right time can make all the difference.