By Jenny Clegg – Feb 17, 2022
The US-manufactured crisis in Ukraine is part of the NATO drive to subordinate Europe, to prevent its tilt toward the China-Russia partnership and the Eurasian powers’ attempt to build a new multipolar world.
Why is Washington choosing to stoke a conflict with Russia, when it has declared China its greatest strategic rival?
To grasp the full significance of this moment of crisis over Ukraine, it has to be understood in the wider global context.
Speaking for the new cold warriors, British Conservative Member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood raised the warning flag:
Today, non-western civilisations such as Russia and China are starting to shake up the old world order. … We are standing at the precipice of a new era in global uncertainty. If we blink now, the events of 2022 will determine how the next decade plays out.
Russia must be opposed, we are told, not least because of its growing alliance with China.
This indeed is more than a crisis over the future of Europe: it is about the future of the world order – but not in terms of Ellwood’s great power rivalry, rather in the context of a relative decline of US unipolarity and the rise of a multipolar trend.
US strategy: Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific
At this point in time the very legitimacy of US leadership as the world’s essential “deterrent” power against the world’s so-called “dictators” is on the line.
The debacle surrounding the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, compounded by the lack of consultation with European allies on the announcement of the AUKUS (Australia – United Kingdom – United States) alliance have raised serious doubts around the world about US reliability.
Faced with the Ukraine crisis, Washington now has to show that it is back. Should it fail or be seen to back down, this would reinforce the perception of US decline.
This matters not least in the Indo-Pacific. There the US has been expanding its military reach – from Obama’s “Asian pivot” to the ramping up of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea.
Biden’s “new multilateralism” has seen the widening involvement of partners in its naval exercises around China’s coast and the strengthening of the Quad – a security alliance of the US, Australia, Japan and India.
This follows AUKUS, and a US-Japan, then an Australia-Japan agreement on military cooperation.
New defence deals between Japan and the UK and France may presage further NATO linkages into Asia region.
At the same time Biden has shifted US focus toward Taiwan.
Reneging on its promises to Russia not to expand NATO eastward, the Biden administration is now inching away from the “One China policy,” the very basis of US-China diplomatic relations.
What happens over Ukraine may well set precedents for these Indo-Pacific developments. If the US and NATO uphold Ukraine’s supposed right to choose its alliances, this may embolden demands for Taiwanese independence.
Conversely, a rollback in the supply of arms and military trainers to Ukraine from outside may work against the US moves to “partner” Taiwan through increased arms sales and US training of Taiwanese military.
Any scaling back of NATO’s military architecture might discourage support for AUKUS expansion. And it could lend weight to China’s requirement that, under a South China Sea Code Of Conduct with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), joint military exercises involving countries outside the region should have the prior consent of all parties to the agreement.
The new cold war narrative
Underlying Biden’s new cold war, with China identified as the main challenger, is the realisation by strategists that the US cannot effectively contain the rising power on its own. Hence the effort to forge an “alliance of democracies to confront the world’s autocracies.”
While superficially multilateral in form, this remains a unipolar strategy in essence, aimed at maintaining US global primacy.
The new cold war narrative problematises Russia and China as aggressive and expansionist powers, to present US leadership as the solution to “defend democracy” in an uncertain world.
What Presidents Xi and Putin want, the argument goes, is to make the world safe for autocracy: theirs is a quest to divide the world order, carving out their own spheres of influence.
Both aspire, it is claimed, to restore the former glory of their empires, and in doing so, threaten democratic space within their respective regions and defy the “rules-based international order.”
By denying Ukraine’s supposed sovereign right to join the NATO military alliance, Russia seeks to limit NATO influence and hence the US role in Europe.
Similarly, by insisting on its claims in the South China Sea (in contravention a UNCLOS ruling about which not all legal experts have agreed) and warning Taiwan over its assertions to be a self-governing democratic island, China endeavours not only to push the US out of the Pacific but to displace it entirely as the unipolar global hegemon.
In this new cold war narrative, NATO and now AUKUS are “defensive” alliances, essential to “stabilising” Europe and the Indo-Pacific respectively.
What is more, the argument goes, given the brittle nature of their “autocracies,” Russia and China alike are supposedly channeling domestic anxieties into an aggressive nationalism. According to NATO’s logic, this makes them both extremely dangerous.
Stoking their new cold war drive further is the perception of US weakness. This demands not diplomacy, but a show of strength.
It is the logic of this NATO narrative, reinforced by the media and think tanks, that is raising the stakes in the Ukraine so high.
The US has to prove itself as a force capable of confronting the so-called “dictators” of the world, according to this new cold war argument. Giving ground to Russia would cripple US deterrence against Iran or North Korea and, worse, signal the green light to purported Chinese expansionism.
This relentless new cold war propaganda is in complete disregard the facts: Russia and China are both surrounded by US military bases and US missiles.
While US military spending is three to four times greater than China’s, it is 16 times that of Russia.
With the odds so stacked against them, neither country is likely to try to take on the US.
Europe and the new cold war agenda
If the US is looking to its European allies to take on the greater burden of containing Russia, so as to leave it free to concentrate its forces on China, the aim is also to pile pressure on Europe to adopt the cold war “military first” agenda – even at the expense of their economic interests.
The point is that an alternative future is opening for the Europeans through the development of Eurasian integration.
The growing economic relationship between Russia and China – through trade, currency swap arrangements, and energy deals – is further driving the new cross-regional dynamic.
Both powers are reaching out to Europe: China through the Belt and Road Initiative and the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (now on hold), and Russia with its Eurasian Economic Union and Greater Eurasian Partnership.
Lest the Europeans look east to their future, the US must drive a cold war wedge between Europe and Russia, as well as between Europe and China.
US efforts to impose a ban on the Chinese tech giant Huawei were the tip of the iceberg. More is to come in terms of demands for greater trade and investment controls.
What Washington seeks is to restrict China’s growth, and at the same time reverse its own decline by blocking cooperation between China and Europe, thereby making European markets captive to US core technologies, as it races against China for control over the key technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, from AI to quantum computing.
The success of Biden’s new cold war “multilateralism” turns on the position of Europe.
So the Ukraine crisis is being used as a lever to bring about unity among Europeans in a way not seen before – in the coordination of Iran-stye sanctions and military integration. This makes it all the easier, then, to follow the US in decoupling from China.
The US is the world’s revisionist power
The new US bid for global primacy is widely disrupting long-established patterns of regional ordering.
NATO expansion has jettisoned the common security of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, and now all pressure is on to enlist Germany in the new cold war, demolishing its historical reluctance to get involved in military ventures.
Likewise, the US strategy has brought Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, the “Peace Clause,” to breaking point, as this second major power in the East is urged to accept a more active military role.
Across Asia, the cornerstones of the post-colonial order, which have exercised a certain constraint on US dominance, are being eroded: the division between the Gulf States and Israel over Palestine in the Middle East, for example; or the principle of non-alignment long held by India; or Southeast Asia’s military independence.
This historic declaration marks for the first time China’s opposition to further enlargement of NATO. But there is a great deal more substance to the initiative.
Far from seeking their own exclusive spheres of influence, Russia and China set out a world order based on indivisible security, in which “no state can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other states.”
In their call for demilitarisation, common concern is expressed over US plans to develop global missile defence, while the demand for the withdrawal of all nuclear weapons deployed abroad is endorsed.
Support for the G20, BRICS, SCO, ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and the Russia–India–China dialogue marks out the multipolar frame, one not of separation but greater interconnectedness between the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian regions.
Stability is seen to lie in prioritising sustainable development, achievable through multipolarisation, but “with the United Nations and its Security Council playing a central and coordinating role.”
Equal access to the right to development together with the right to choice of development path and a more democratic international system of rule-making are essential in opposition to a one-size-fits-all development model.
US stokes crisis to prevent Europe and Asia from shifting toward China and Russia
What has brought the world to this historic turning point is not a revanchist nationalism in both Russia and China. Rather, global stability is put at risk by the relentless drive of the US expansionism, imposing ideological dividing lines to establish exclusive blocs and alliances.
In this trial of strength between a unipolar and a multipolar world, the US has not only to counter Russia’s and China’s demands for recognition as major powers, but also more widely to subordinate regional organisation in Europe and Asia to prevent their tilt toward the Russia-China initiative.
The Ukraine crisis is a crucial moment in forging a new cold war coalition, as a step further in building an anti-China consensus.
With US leadership credibility hanging in the balance, Biden’s international position is only as strong as its Atlantic alliance. A reluctant Europe may act as a brake on US ambitions.
Thus the Russian threat is being hugely over-inflated, to break what remains of the European will to resist militarisation.
The US ploy of provoking Russia into overplaying its hand has bet on Putin acting like a dictator according to whim. However the joint Putin-Xi statement has drawn attention to the wider context, forcing Western warmongers, as they threaten massive sanctions, to take stock of Russia’s options in its strengthening relations with China.
What is in contention are two conflicting world agendas: the US new cold war militarisation on one side against a multipolar order now driven by Russia and China together, framed by the UN with sustainable development at its heart.
For the Europeans, adopting the US agenda will mean commitment to perpetual military upgrading. But would they on the other hand rather see themselves better off with a peaceful and prosperous Russia, engaging in a Silk Road-type trade, reaching across to China and to East and Southeast Asia, working together in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)?
The outcome of the standoff over Ukraine is going to determine not just the balance of power in Europe but the shaping of the world order in years to come, as US allies, partners, and adversaries alike look to adjust their positions in accordance with the shifting powers of the hegemon.
Featured image: Xin Jinping (left) and Vladimir Putin (right).