Letter From the Editors

As the annual freeze sets in across Northern Europe, we’ve surprisingly been seeing a springlike thaw in some areas of international relations, and even some courtship. NATO’s latest suitor, Sweden, has tucked the traditional bride-price of 2% of GDP for defense into its 2024 budget, up from a mere 1.1% in 2020. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged the allies to rush to the altar. “I certainly hope that very soon we will welcome Sweden as a full member of the North Atlantic alliance,” concurred Hungary’s President Katalin Novak. Even Turkey’s willful Erdogan signed off on admitting the new member in October.

But as so often happens in courtship, the heart (parliament) can refuse to follow the head (of state). Turkey’s parliament has repeatedly pushed back its vote on ratifying the accession protocol; in Hungary, where the president does not introduce legislation, the parliament blocked a vote on it when some deputies introduced it.

But the big relationship drama this week was unfolding in the Western Hemisphere, where the fate of “Chimerica” hung in the balance at the APEC summit in San Francisco. Even before the summit, Sergei Stankevich wrote, “Chinese Deputy Prime Minister He Lifeng was in Washington with a team of experts, where he spent hours wrangling with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in search of practical confirmation that the US does not intend to continue its ‘decoupling’ strategy toward China.”

“All the time the Chinese deputy prime minister was attacking the US Treasury Department in Washington, Beijing kept Xi Jinping’s arrival in San Francisco in doubt,” Stankevich continues. “Since the visit was confirmed at the last minute, it means that the White House made some concessions, the significance of which, however, will only become apparent in time.”

As though this ominous tension were not enough, Stankevich reminds us that the stakes here are not a lovers’ quarrel, but thermonuclear war, as two countries with ambiguous red lines and deterrent capabilities patrol disputed waters without military communications for deconfliction. The military hotline has been on the agenda for a while (the Chinese cut the line after Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, and the previous effort to reinstate it was derailed when the US shot down a suspected spy balloon). However, Stankevich suggests that Xi and Biden talk nukes directly: “The US will not be able to pull Beijing into the system for monitoring and reporting on at least strategic offensive weapons. But a quick dialogue on the sensitive topic is very much desired. Or better yet, a trialogue that includes Russia.”

Speaking of Russia, APEC also featured the highest-level delegation from Moscow since the war in Ukraine began. “We look forward to having them as part of this larger economic framework and discussion,” said NSC spokesman John Kirby, often the bearer of more hawkish pronouncements. The State Department made clear, however, that there would be no bilateral discussions.

A Russian delegation found itself closer to center stage at Dubai Airshow 2023, with perhaps more attention from the Americans there than in San Francisco. Izvestia reports: “The [attack helicopter Ka-52] Alligator’s demonstration flights drew crowds in Dubai, with US pilots and experts literally encircling the exhibit on the very first day.”

But while diplomats and arms dealers are happily engaged, others are full of heartbreak. Republic reports that “families of mobilized men are trying to protest all over Russia, demanding that their loved ones be sent home from the front, since they have been there for over a year now without rotation.” Authorities are meeting this sentiment with accusations of subterfuge, pretextual denials of permission for rallies, and even legal pressure on allies in the Duma. “But we’ll keep pushing until our demands are met,” said one activist. “The most important one is to bring our husbands and our sons back home.” As winter settles upon the trenches in Ukraine, the soldiers surely dream of reconciliation as much as of spring.