A prominent American Senator suggests that the possession of a single atomic bomb by Iran would be a bigger threat to the United States and the world than ISIS/Daesh and the international jihadi insurgency. The Republican Congress appears to agree with him and in an almost unprecedented move rather than simply waiting to vote down any international arms restriction treaty with Iran – the traditional approach – Congress has now directly inserted itself into the negotiations aimed towards at least limiting Iran’s atomic weapons development.
At the same time a respected international security analyst presents details of the ongoing escalation of global jihadi revolutionary activity and focuses on the fact that the America Congress will most likely push for an expanded Authorization of Military Force that targets groups affiliated with ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq. Of course Congress has failed to act on any such authorization for over half a year, but if they do it appears that it will be expansive.
While that is going on the President of Russia, immersed in a huge military buildup, admits that he lied about the Crimea and personally orchestrated the covert military action which led to Russia retaking that territory from the Ukraine. There also seems little doubt that with his success, Putin will be tempted towards similar covert actions against numerous small nations on Russia’s western borders, nations that were well entrenched within the Soviet Union, a relationship that he clearly wants to restore.
Inside Russia Putin continues to be roundly applauded for his actions and after decades of losing allies and being embarrassed by rebuffs from its former client states from Serbia in 1999, to Georgia, to Iraq and Syria, the Russia popular attitude towards the U.S. is seen as worse than at almost any time during the Cold War – “We don’t like the Americans, and it’s because they’re pushy, they think they’re unique and they have had no regard for anyone else.” No doubt the Russian attitude will not be improved if America does begin providing lethal aid to the Ukraine.
At first blush that Russian view sounds awfully harsh – but then you remember that at some recent American political events it’s been expressed that any candidate that does not campaign on a platform of America being unique and exceptional should not even be considered for election.
And while ISIS, Russia and America are taking all the headlines, China is pursuing an extremely pragmatic, subtle and effective international diplomatic initiative. Unlike the United States, its focus has not been on military allies and coordination – as illustrated in huge exercise such as RIMPAC – but on financial ties, what China describes as economic partnerships rather than alliances. That approach has been increasingly successful across Africa and Latin America.
In fact Beijing’s pragmatism illustrates the extent to which the U.S. is actually in a “unique” (if not exceptional) position. While the U.S. has routinely felt compelled to organize multi-nation coalitions to deal with what it sees as moral imperatives or true security threats – the invasion of Kuwait, the Bosnian genocide, the revolution in Libya, the Syrian brutalities, the rise of ISIS – both Beijing and Moscow have used veto power at the United Nations to block UN military action (such as in Korea) and continue to coordinate and support each other; China’s decision to escalate its business deals with Russia despite Western economic sanctions is one example, as are there mutual trade and military relations with Iran. Both Russia and China remain heavily focused on increasing their military capability to deal with their borders and buffer zones and on pragmatic international alliances which tend to mitigate American initiatives and what they see as dominance.
So where am I going with all this other than to depress you on a Monday? The answer is that in a somewhat oblique way it introduces a concept called “mirroring” that I explore extensively in my upcoming book Surprise Attack. While I’ve made it clear in earlier posts that I tend to be a bit on the “hawkish” side, it’s obvious over the longer term that if one nation becomes too “dominant”, despite all its intentions (even if they are good ones) it creates a growing “push back”, an urge to craft effective military or economic deterrence. That push back is in turn mirrored by the dominant nation and what ensues is mutual escalation….not a good thing. It’s a concept that deserves a lot of thought and a lot of discussion but one that needs to be proved in before I go much further than this…and that will need to wait for the book to actually come out.