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Russia is part of the U.S. response to China's European campaign

Russia is part of the U.S. response to China's European campaign
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The European Union (EU) recently announced an investment deal with China, concluding seven years of negotiations, and coinciding with the end of Germany’s term as president of the Council of the EU.

The agreement was not met with universal acclaim, with many critics noting that China’s minor concessions, such as vague commitments to improve labor rights, did not include agreeing to open public tenders, signing the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement, or accepting an investment court system for handling investor disputes.

Even the EU-friendly Financial Times recognized the deal as China’s “strategic victory.”

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It’s not a done deal yet, as the approval process may take to 2022. The agreement has to pass legal muster, be translated into the different languages, and be officially approved by EU governments, the European Parliament, and national parliaments.

The U.S. has time to make clear to Europe the consequences of lashing itself to China.

The U.S. should explain the futility of trying to hold China to the agreement, while China demands technology transfer, steals the technology that isn’t given to it, and violates the labor standards that it kinda-sorta pledged to uphold. The Americans know from experience what a fool’s errand it is.

Failing that, the U.S. should remind Europe that its China-linked (or China-infiltrated) technology firms will receive special attention in their dealings in the U.S. or if they try to list on U.S. stock exchanges. A hint of the EU’s attitude to the U.S. is in its efforts to regulate U.S. technology companies in order to strengthen its own tech sector in lieu of fostering a more business friendly environment. That top-down approach is familiar to Beijing, which will try to manipulate the EU process to stymie its U.S. competition as it makes Europe more reliant than ever on China.

But, if Europe insists on its “strategic autonomy,” Washington should grant that wish by pulling troops out of Europe, because without U.S. troops NATO is nothing.

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Next, the U.S. should get the band back together for the “Big Three” revival tour.

In an ideal world, the EU would be aligned with the U.S. so they can face the challenges of Russia and China together. But if the EU aligns with China, the U.S. should avoid futilely bidding for Europe’s attention, and align with Russia to balance against China.

This won’t be the first campaign waged by the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia — and this one will  include other partners, such as the QUAD, the Pacific security dialogue of the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia, which recently conducted military drills.

The World War II leaders in London and Washington knew to be wary when dealing with the strongman in Moscow, so the capitals should know the form. That said, getting Russia onside won’t be cheap, what with all those sanctions the U.S. calls its “Moscow policy,” but who else has a 2,600-mile border with China? (Actually, India does, and more on that in a minute.)

In the UK, Russia will have to respect some limits. It won’t, of course, so the Brits will have to use “the truncheon” the first time they apprehend the Russian “special services” being bad. And the second and third times. In the wake of the Solar Winds hack, Russia may be amenable to cyber “rules of the road” that restrain its operatives if that is the price of clambering aboard.

Putin won’t believe his luck, because he knows he’d be the junior partner in a lashup with China, so better to be in harness with the U.S. and the UK. Given the feeling evoked in Russia by the Great Patriotic War, Moscow may be keen to work with its World War II partners to again defeat fascism, but with Chinese characteristics.

So, the U.S. may be able rely on Russia to be a “presence” on China’s northern border, while the U.S. and UK increase security cooperation with India along its 2,500-mile border to China’s south. Japan and Australia will make their moves to China’s East, which will encourage small states like Vietnam to seek improved ties with the U.S. and its partners.

This isn’t to ignore Europe but it’s not the priority target. If China can be contained or channeled, Europe can be dealt with as opportunities arise.

And in Europe, Poland and Hungary have angered the EU by asserting their sovereignty and may be interested in avoiding China’s embrace and solidifying their relations with the U.S. and the UK. Ukraine and Belarus are in a tougher spot as they are hard up against Russia and will be reluctant to make a choice that strengthens Moscow.

The U.S. should bear down on the seams in Europe and use bilateral agreements to fracture the continent’s new relationship with China. 

The toughest sales pitch is reserved for Washington, D.C. as the Congress, the sanctions-industrial complex, and much of the foreign policy community is eager to fight Cold War 2.0. There are long-term personal, professional, and financial relationships riding on current level of engagement with Europe, but it’s the Europe of the Cold War, a Europe that ended in 1991 – 30 years ago, a Europe that is going its own way.

James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority.  He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).