Ariel Cohen* – Newsweek
Watching Vladimir Putin threaten to wipe out your hometown of Washington, D.C. in a national address is an unnerving experience; especially when viewing it in Moscow. Lately, Putin has not been shy about flaunting his shiny new missiles—and using them, if necessary.
In his address, Putin lamented the possible deployment of U.S. intermediate range ballistic missiles in Europe, where they would have only 5-7 minutes to reach targets like Moscow, or Putin’s beloved resort of Sochi. Though he reaffirmed that Russia will not be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in the region, he warned of swift retaliation should the United States revert to the pre-1987 nuclear posture, when Pershing 1 missiles targeted the Kremlin from Germany.
And it seems that Russia’s menu of retaliatory options is growing. The Kremlin boss boasted of the country’s new missile arsenal, including the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile (Dagger), the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (SS-X-30 Satan-2), and the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear power cruise missile (SSC-X-9 Skyfall), and the Avangard maneuverable hypersonic warhead—all of which would prove difficult to intercept, if they perform as advertised.
The doomsday list didn’t end there. Putin also hailed Russia’s new underwater drone the Poseidon (STATUS-6). At 65 feel long, the autonomous, nuclear powered torpedo is said to be armed with a 100-megaton hydrogen-bomb torpedo –powerful enough to level an entire U.S. coastal state, like, say, New York.
As in the past, he focused his invective on the U.S. as Russia’s “main adversary”, calling its allies “oinking satellites”, and promising to strike at “decision centers” in case of attack on Mother Russia, meaning Washington, Brussels, London, Warsaw and other capitals. “They can count…”, Putin said repeatedly of his geopolitical foes, “…they are rational. Let them count how long would it take for these hypersonic weapons, launched outside of U.S. territorial waters, to reach the targets—less than for the hypothetical American missiles to reach Moscow.”
Putin’s ire was triggered by the Trump Administration decision to quit the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Treaty (INF). The White House made the move after Russia deployed a missile with a range prohibited by the Treaty, a blatant violation. The abandonment of the agreement—a key pillar of the post-war arms control architecture—was one of the very few US policies Chancellor Angela Merkel supported in her speech at the Munich Security Conference, which I attended a week earlier.
Yet, Merkel, who resigned the leadership of her Christian Democratic Party, and is planning to step down in 2021, was also devastating in her criticism of the rest of America’s foreign policy. She blasted Trump for abandoning Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (JCPOA, the Obama-era agreement with Iran,) his threat of trade tariffs against German cars, and America’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria. There was speculation in Munich among senior former U.S. policy-makers that Donald Trump may not respect NATO’s Article 5 commitments or pull out of the North Atlantic Alliance altogether. One hopes that this was party politics talking—not reality.
The growing trans-Atlantic divide was evidenced further by the embarrassing turnout for the U.S-led Middle East Conference in Warsaw—just before Munich. “Old” Europe—France, Germany, Italy—sent only low-level representation of deputy foreign ministers to an event headlined by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Rather than isolating Iran as intended, the United States instead seems to have isolated itself. Meanwhile, Europe’s attempts to dictate terms for American foreign and security policy, while not stepping up to the plate to pay for common defense, only drives the trans-Atlantic wedge deeper.
The Munich spat between the U.S. and our European allies comes at an inopportune time. Russia is not just threatening to nuke it under certain circumstances, but persisting in its distrust of the United States. Mr. Putin accuses the West of spying on Russia through combing through the Internet; and his Duma is preparing legislation on how to disconnect the Russian Internet segment from the World Wide Web.
But there is a shared long-term strategic and systemic threat just over the horizon that Washington, Moscow, Brussels and Berlin all prefer to ignore: the rise of China. At the University of Singapore Middle East Institute conference earlier this month, where I delivered a report on Central Asian Infrastructure Investment, experts analyzed massive Chinese plans to establish strategic presence from Myanmar and Sri Lanka to Djibouti and Dubai.
Not just Pakistan’s Gwadar, but Egypt, Israel, Greece and Czechia are targets of massive Chinese port and rail projects. The Belt and Road Initiative is going to reformat the world as we know it. China is already Africa’s main trade partner. China has supplanted the UAE itself as the number one investor in the Gulf. With the U.S. less interested in the Middle Eastern oil and gas, energy-hungry China will take its place. And it isn’t far-fetched to suggested that just as in the case of the British Empire and the U.S., soldiers will follow the merchants.
China is using the full statecraft toolbox, including trade, investment, finance, security, infrastructure and tourism. As has been pointed out before, Beijng is playing a game of Weiqi (“Go”) – a patient, complex game aimed at controlling maximum territory over extended amounts of time, as opposed to the relatively linear, tactical thinking that dictates chess moves. It is moving to a fifty year timetable. Washington, on the other hand, responds with a feeble attempt to cobble together a disparate coalition of Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and possibly India—with scattershot, mostly military response, which at best only irritates Beijing.
At the recent meeting of the US-German Loisach Group on strategy at the Munich Security Conference, it became clear that the Europeans must make up their mind whether they are with the U.S. or against it. As it stands now, Mr. Trump remains unsure that France and Germany are allies at all.
Both sides of the Atlantic need to face down the challenge from China, and kick their coordination up to the next level. Russia must be given a choice of joining the West or facing China alone—a chilling prospect for a nation 9 times smaller by population and 10 times smaller by GDP—and a shared border of 2,600 miles. Absurdly, it appears that Mr. Putin is so blinded by his distaste of the U.S., he is ready to deliver his country to its resource- hungry neighbor.
Without the common trans-Atlantic threat assessment, strategic coordination, and political and military commitment, China will become a predominant global power of the second half of the 21st century. Nobody in Washington and Brussels can say they weren’t warned.
*Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow with The Atlantic Council and director of the Energy, Growth and Security Program at the International Tax and Investment Center.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.?????