Even though Russia has finally dropped its communist model, it is still to join NATO. But unlike her former satellites in Eastern Europe, who were eager to slip under the NATO umbrella, Russia has opted to align itself with its regional rival China by signing up to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). With such a confrontational strategy, Russia’s possible membership in NATO, though desirable for many good reasons, has become even more elusive than ever before.
In this post, I’ll try to make the case for Russia’s NATO membership, even when Vladimir Putin and an increasingly nationalistic Russian public opinion would adamantly oppose it for the time being.
So, why should Russia chose to leave SCO and join NATO? After all, from Russia’s perspective, NATO has not only been created to oppose the Soviet Union’s hegemony in Western Europe (and other parts of the world); it also consistently implemented a strategy of containment and encirclement of the Russian Federation itself.
Russia has been feeling the pressure of this long-term strategy for quite some time, and its decision to join SCO has been motivated by deeply seated fears of being ran over, rooted in its own historical experiences as empire building nation, up to and including Napoleon and Hitler’s invasions. Such experiences learned the hard way can’t be carelessly cast aside, we need to address them. From their point of view, which is undeniably valid, we’ve been systematically chipping away at — and assimilating parts of — their former traditional zones of influence. Or, to say the same with other words: we’ve been pushing them into the arms of a smiling China.
Back in 1996 when it co-founded the Shanghai Five, SCO’s precursor, and when it played with the concept of a multipolar world (BRIC?) Russia couldn’t foresee two simultaneous factors that would change the equation and the global geostrategic equilibrium: In 2009, China has become a huge economic superpower, while the USA have been financially bleeding themselves to death in successive wars, with the current banking crisis being the straw that could still break the camel’s back. Moreover, the USA owe China (sic!) the biggest part of their national debt.
That’s an interesting, but also a dangerous combination for Russia. Despite the USA being nearly broke, their military is still second to none. It even managed to keep a significant technological gap to all other armed forces of the world. And now comes the rub:
In the near future, China will be able to use the US military to enforce its own ever-growing zone of influence… and it could also use it against Russia.
How would that happen? Dwindling oil reserves will make sure that oil prices will keep going up, even quite rapidly when the recession has come to an end , and the USA won’t be able to keep their economy, and much less their military running smoothly. So they will desperately need money, which China has been stockpiling en masse and would be more than happy to provide. With financial and economic “persuasion,” China may be able to co-opt the US armed forces to project its own power onto foreign countries, including countries under Russian influence. Think of this as a not so subtle art of geostrategic jiu-jitsu. If you think this is absurd, just remember how Saudi Arabia arranged Kuwait’s liberation from Saddam, by financing a huge part of the US’s military costs: they effectively co-opted the biggest army in the world (including a coalition of willing states) to do their bidding by means of financial persuasion.
Why would that happen? China’s growing industry is a natural competitor of most western economies for all kinds of natural resources: energy, minerals, markets, … Right now, China concentrates on sub-saharan Africa as its main resource provider, and it already competes on all markets worldwide. But with its growing economy (and population), China will inevitably, sooner than later, extend its economical stranglehold onto countries that are currently either independent, or in the Western sphere. This won’t always happen peacefully, and since China’s army isn’t known for its overwhelming military power, strongarming the USA to intervene on their behalf will inevitably happen. And since Russia-Chinese relations are “somewhat difficult,” to put it diplomatically, Russia isn’t immune to indirect chinese pressure. Their SCO membership won’t prevent China from encroaching into Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan; but possibly also in Russia’s southern flank. Their SCO status may also not protect them from an increasingly overconfident China, “resolving” by force some of its territorial disputes with the Russian Federation.
How can Russia prevent it? By joining NATO, Russia could neutralize the overall chinese influence and make sure China won’t be able to turn the US military against themselves. Furthermore, Russia’s huge resources in natural gas and minerals, and Europe’s heavy dependence on energy from Russia will ensure Russia a crucial role in the NATO. Russians need not fear being steamrolled by the USA or by western European nations, because they would be the 2nd 800 lb gorilla in the alliance, both militarily and economically. Russia has a lot to gain by joining us in NATO, both economically and in term of military protection and might.
But why would NATO want Russia? That’s an important question too. What could Russia offer us in return, that we don’t already have? Essentially, military might, but also more financial independence from China. Russia’s armed forces are still the 2nd strongest in the world; and with dwindling US prowess in that sector due to ever increasing financial constraints (e.g. the USA is planning to kill the production of the F-22 Raptor, and this is just the beginning of a slow and agonizing decline), NATO could really use Russian military experience and technology to complement its own systems to everyone’s benefit. And even more crucial than that: if Russia became NATO member, a lot of people on Russia’s periphery, and also in other parts of the world, would gain peace of mind, and won’t have to live in constant fear of Russia expanding again, as it previously did in its non-NATO past (and present, their latest victim being Georgia).
And what about China? Should we convince Russia to join NATO in the next 20 to 50 years, China may probably want drop the strategic confrontation it started with SCO, and join us as well, thus forming the biggest military alliance of all times… and, who knows, maybe even the embryo of the first true global world government. Such a global governance model would benefit China immensely, as it would naturally benefit those member states that are economically the most viable, i.e. guaranteeing China the true role it deserves due to its economic prowess. The only thing China would have to renounce, is trying to project military power (directly, or indirectly) to push its competitors aside, monopolizing the world’s resources.
Conclusion: Should a world government ever become reality, the specter of a nuclear holocaust following a global thermonuclear war between independent nation states would have been banned forever. There would still be some little troublemaker states/regions, even with their own small nuclear arsenals, but on a global scale, joining NATO, Russia and China and all their respective followers into a single alliance would be the biggest contribution to world peace that ever existed: a pax universalis.