Rethinking America

Different Under Trump? Why Russia Grates Americans So Much

The reemergence of US’s erstwhile counterpart from the bipolar world order is an uncomfortable reminder that the presumed age of American hegemony is history.

Credit: Borislav Bajkic - Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Of America's rivals, Russia is arguably the most proactive in challenging US power in the world.
  • The Syria tragedy has exposed the degree to which American power and influence have dwindled.
  • The sense of waning American power was a theme used by Trump who pandered to a nostalgic desire to "make America great again."
  • Economically, technologically and militarily, America’s position in the world will thus continue to weaken.

The era in which the United States reigned supreme, unchallenged in its economic, political and military power, is over.

Challenging American power

Population growth, diffusion of technology, development and globalization have combined to enable a number of actors to approach – though admittedly not yet in all respects quite equal – the United States.

China has recorded decades of blistering growth and development, illustrated by the fact that it has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer.

With a population in excess of 1.3 billion, it has also made massive technological progress and is now the world’s third-ranking military power. China is now also the world’s largest exporter and holds vast amounts of U.S. government debt.

India, like China, has achieved decades of high growth and has undergone significant development. Also like
China, it has a population of 1.3 billion and has moved up on the list of the world’s top military powers. India’s technological capabilities are also progressing, demonstrated by its expanding space program.

Russia, for its part, has a much smaller population. It possesses massive energy resources and has used revenues from that sector to invest in and modernize its armed forces. Russia also possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Russia or China: Who grates more?

Of these rivals, Russia has arguably been the most proactive in challenging American power and position in the world.

In his speech at the Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square in 2015, the biggest military parade since the collapse of the Soviet Union and marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Russian president Vladimir Putin berated the U.S., protesting that “in the past decades, we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world.”

Beyond the Syrian intervention, Russia’s increasing unwillingness to accept the unipolar paradigm is evidenced by it withdrawing from arms control agreements such as the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and the Nuclear Security Pact.

A more modern and capable Russian military has also directly challenged the United States by provocative actions such as probing – or even incursions into – NATO airspace and “buzzing” U.S. warships.

Russia is using its reinvigorated military as a tool of policy in the true Clausewitzian sense. A combination of conventional and hybrid warfare near its borders in Georgia and Ukraine and, more notably, “out of theater” operations supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syrian civil war.

The latter, in particular, shows Russia’s increasing boldness, and is a sign that foreign interventions are no longer only a Western – i.e. American – monopoly.

Syria as an uncomfortable reminder

The Syria debacle – or rather tragedy – has exposed the degree to which American power and influence have dwindled. In the ongoing catastrophe, it is Russia that is calling the shots, with the U.S. increasingly responding to, rather than shaping, events.

American power is also being challenged elsewhere. China is becoming increasingly assertive in the South China Sea, warning and tracking U.S. warships.

American warships have also been harassed by Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. North Korea is threatening the U.S. with pre-emptive nuclear strikes and is continuing its nuclear and missile programs.

Even the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte are declaring “separation” from the U.S. and pivoting to China.

Implications for American exceptionalism

American decline is difficult to accept for believers in American exceptionalism, which includes most of its political elite.

The sense of waning American power was, therefore, a central theme of the U.S. election, with Donald Trump pandering to a nostalgic desire to “make America great again.”

But despite Trump’s victory and his soaring rhetoric, like the laws of physics, American decline (relatively speaking) is inevitable.

As emerging economies, with their vastly greater populations, continue to develop and grow, the United States will represent an ever smaller proportion of the world’s GDP.

The U.S., in other words, will undergo the same relative decline that Europe, once dominant on the global political, economic and military stage, has undergone already.

With greater wealth, emerging nations will also inevitably have more resources to invest in research and development, including in military affairs. That, combined with the diffusion of technology already underway, will result in America’s technological lead diminishing more and more.

Time to accept multipolarity

This will then also affect the other yardstick of American power – its military.

Though U.S. policymakers, both Democratic and Republican, support maintaining global military supremacy – a policy summed up by President George W. Bush as “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge” – in the long run this will be untenable.

Economically, technologically and, as a consequence, militarily, America’s position in the world will thus continue to weaken.

The writing “American decline” is on the wall – in several languages. America will no doubt continue to be a great power, but it must accept that it will be one of many great powers in a multipolar world.

Trump and Russia

No matter how much Donald Trump will try to cozy up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, one a peacock, the other a fox, the two men — extremely pride-driven and perception-driven as they are — will eventually come to blows.

High levels of personal vanity — in that field, Mr. Putin, despite his cutting a diminutive figure, is not prepared to play second fiddle to Mr. Trump — are never a good base on which to form a solid relationship.

The Trump/Putin rapprochement, if it happens for real, is to be a momentary one. For now, they need each other if for no other reason than demonstrating to their respective home audience that they are the “chosen one” who can make a big difference in their nations’ lives.

It remains entirely unclear what, in terms of real substance, they can deliver for one another.

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About Markus Heinrich

Markus Heinrich is currently an independent political analyst and international relations researcher.

  • hhour

    Herr Heinrich,thank you for the excellent article.

  • diamondvajra

    THEY DON’T HAVE TO ACCEPT A UNIPOLAR WORLD JUST STOP ACTING LIKE ASSHOLES

  • Andrew

    “American decline is difficult to accept for believers in American exceptionalism, which includes most of its political elite.”

    Last I checked, no other country has been able to field even a single carrier battle group, let alone eleven of them. We are declining economically, only because of our own stupid decisions on a national level.

  • Mark

    North American debt load is abt to turn the US and Canada in a very long depression. The US won’t except this and let’s stop the pretending. We have and need Russia to take out China who I must agree have under valued their dollar to the point we can’t and won’t ever compete. We need tariffs now and we need smaller gov by 50%. We need our allies who are flocking to China ie the Phillipines. America has been completely emptied of its wealth. Here we are sticking our noses in every è else’s mess instead of cleaning up ours. I think Trump has a good handle but can he deliver?? We shall see…..

  • John Bass

    Trump’s refusal to
    acknowledge Russia’s involvement in the election.

    If you want to know why, Here goes

    1) Trump owes Blackstone/ Bayrock group $560 million
    dollars (one of his largest debtors and the primary
    reason he won’t reveal his tax returns)

    2) Blackstone is owned wholly by Russian
    billionaires, who owe their position to Putin and have
    made billions from their work with the Russian
    government.

    3) Other companies that have borrowed from
    Blackstone have claimed that owing money to them is like
    owing to the Russian mob and while you owe them, they
    own you for many favors.

    4) The Russian economy is badly faltering under the
    weight of its over-dependence on raw materials which as
    you know have plummeted in the last 2 years leaving the
    Russian economy scrambling to pay its debts.

    5) Russia has an impetus to influence our election
    to ensure the per barrel oil prices are above $65 ( they
    are currently hovering around $50)

    6) Russia can’t affordably get at 80% of its oil
    reserves and reduce its per barrel cost to compete with
    America at $45 or Saudi Arabia at $39. With Iranian
    sanctions being lifted Russia will find another
    inexpensive competitor increasing production and pushing
    Russia further down the list of suppliers.

    As for Iranian sanctions, the 6 countries lifting
    them allowing Iran to collect on the billions it is owed
    for pumping oil but not being paid for it. These
    billions Iran can only get if the Iranian nuclear deal
    is signed. Trump spoke of ending the deals which would
    cause oil sales sanctions to be reimposed, which would
    make Russian oil more competitive.

    7) Rex Tillerson (Trump’s pick for Secretary of
    State) is the head of ExxonMobil, which is in possession
    of patented technology that could help Putin extract 45%
    more oil at a significant cost savings to Russia,
    helping Putin put money in the Russian coffers to help
    reconstitute its military and finally afford to mass
    produce the new and improved systems that it had
    invented before the Russian economy had slowed so much.

    8) Putin cannot get access to these new cost saving
    technologies OR outside oil field development money, due
    to US sanctions on Russia, because of its involvement in
    Ukrainian civil war.

    9) Look for Trump to end sanctions on Russia and to
    back out of the Iranian nuclear deal, to help Russia
    rebuild its economy, strengthen Putin and make Tillerson
    and Trump even richer, thus allowing Trump to satisfy
    his creditors at Blackstone.

    10) With Trump’s fabricated hatred of NATO and the
    U.N., the Russian military reconstituted, the threat to
    the Baltic states is real. Russia retaking their access
    to the Baltic Sea from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and
    threatening the shipping of millions of cubic feet of
    natural gas to lower Europe from Scandinavia, would
    allow Russia to make a good case for its oil and gas
    being piped into eastern Europe.

    Sources: Time Magazine, NY Times, The Atlantic, The
    Guardian UK.

  • wave

    i tought even the military admited that against near peer full shooting war that the life expectency of the u.s aircraft carrier fleet was between a few hours and a week at most. at best the winner of a ww3 between u.s and china/russia , will be india / gulf states or whoever survives the nuclear winter u.s/china/russia would be uninhabited radiation hellholes at that point.

  • Andrew

    I’ve worked for the military, and our technology is years ahead of Russia and China. If there is a war, Russia and China will lose.

    As far as nuclear weapons goes, the idea of “mutually assured destruction” carried us through the Cold War, and I am certain that its fundamental principles will continue preventing nuclear war into the future. Except, that we have advanced missile defenses now…

  • Andrew

    If Japan is any indicator, we have a ways to go before we reach their level of indebtedness (relative to GDP). They are somewhere in the vicinity of 250% sovereign debt of their GDP. We are sitting around, what, 120? 130? It’s still bad. But Japan is still afloat for now, so we have some hope…

  • Andrew

    Almost everything you have here is legitimate, except that it does not factor in the productivity gains that the U.S. shale sector has from hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing has completely changed the nature of the oil business making the U.S. and Canada the primary oil producers in the world now. Many U.S. oil companies will be able to turn a profit at 30USD/barrel soon due to new technology coming on the scene. This means that Putin and his oligarchs will be going broke soon, assuming #8 and #9 don’t materialize. That would be a rather egregious conflict of interest on both Trump and Tillerson’s parts, and worthy of impeachment, in my opinion.

  • wave

    Im sure you still got the edge now but i remember 5 years ago the mil where still saying that they where 20 years ahead of china/russia , but look now who got hypersonic icbm’s , if the u.s mil/industrial complex doesnt start delivering results instead of juicing the system it wont last long.