After the Second World War and during the Cold War, strategic stability in the world was maintained thanks to the balance of power between the two superpowers – the US and the USSR. There were different spheres of influence between these countries as well as between military and political blocs headed by them. The world was actually divided into two opposing camps. At that time, there were no other countries able to intervene in the dispute between the two superpowers. At the same time, since the late 70-ies - early 80-ies of the XX century, in the Asia Pacific Region, a new block of economically developed countries began to form. It could affect the security system of the region. China started developing actively in economic and military terms. It is a notable point that, after 1973, in the Asia-Pacific region, there were no major conflicts. The US-Chinese cooperation was a result of the net settlement and the desire to balance or reduce the influence of the Soviet Union in the region. Nowadays, relations with Russia are more important for the United States than those with China. Russia influences directly and to a large extent a full range of vital national interests of the United States. The aim of this research paper is to examine why relations with Russia are extremely important for the USA.
Common Interests of the US and Russia
Common interests that the USA shares with the Kremlin were expressed when Barack Obama came to power. “When he took office in early 2009, President Barack Obama made improvement of the United States’ relations with Russia – the so-called reset policy – one of his signature foreign policy initiatives”. The policy initiated by the Obama administration contributed to a great improvement in the US-Russian relations. Unfortunately, nowadays, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated because of the situation in Ukraine. In some way, the difficulty of maintaining the US-Russian relations is less linked to specific differences and more to the inability to put an end to sustainable mutual distrust. “Cold War stereotypes and clear asymmetries have shaped each country’s assessments of the other’s concrete policies, raising concerns and sharpening divisions rather than bringing the two countries together”. The values and interests of Russia and the United States are not the same, and their strategies and points of view are often extremely distant from each other. In the best case, Washington and Moscow will be able to make progress in some areas and will be faced with setbacks in others. This reality emphasizes the importance of mutual trust.
The United States uses its relations with Russia to strengthen its national interests. Despite serious differences between these countries, the United States and Russia can cooperate effectively. There are a number of areas where cooperation between the two countries is developing quite effectively and successfully.
The development of peaceful nuclear technology is a major issue between the US and Russia. This topic is related to the growing desire of the USA to expand the use of a “peaceful atom” to ensure the country’s energy resources are safe. In this situation, Russia needed the United States as a partner because about 10% of electricity in the US is produced from uranium extracted from the Russian nuclear weapons. Therefore, the United States sees the cooperation with Russia in this area effective and economically promising. According to the American politicians, an obstacle to such cooperation is the conflict between Russia and Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, as well as a sale of Russian arms to China, Venezuela, and Syria. Another problem associated with the increase in the use of nuclear energy in the United States is fear that, in the case of integration of the Russian nuclear potential in the US market, the US potential for the production of nuclear energy will be threatened. The United States should cooperate with Russia with the purpose of achieving the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-grade plutonium, and highly enriched uranium around the world.
Washington needs to cooperate with Russia in the sphere of strategic interests. The most obvious of these issues are Iran and Syria. These countries are the opponents of the United States. Iran has great nuclear ambitions and Syria has a chemical weapon. Although Moscow and Washington agree on the need to prevent the emergence of nuclear weapons in Iran, approaches to it vary greatly.
The Iranian nuclear program is seen as a field of cooperation with Russia. It is based on the assumption that Iran has enough oil and gas to generate electricity. In such a way, it does not need nuclear technologies for the energy production. The idea of a mutual reduction of nuclear weapons is also based on the idea that Russia and the US, as the largest nuclear powers, are endowed with special responsibilities for the creation of an international non-proliferation system. However, there is an opinion that a total reduction of nuclear weapons will lead to a fundamental transformation of the world order.
One of the key challenges for the United States is nuclear safety. Ensuring an adequate level of security of Russian nuclear facilities must be a priority for the White House. In general, control of nuclear materials in the world has been of paramount importance to the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, there is a great interest in the recovery of the program titled the Cooperative Threat Reduction on a new basis. Russia will no longer be a recipient of the US aid in the elimination of a surplus of Soviet defense programs. It will be an equal partner included in similar projects in other countries.
Arctic exploration is both a subject for cooperation and a potential conflict. According to some American experts, Russia has pretensions to too vast Arctic territories. Therefore, the Arctic could become a new subject of controversy between the US and Russia. Nevertheless, despite all controversies, the international cooperation may continue between the two countries at the North Pole. During the last decade, Russia accepted the cooperation on the Arctic very willingly.
The USA sees Russia as a partner in the policies connected to other countries. One of the key issues is normalization of relations with North Korea. However, recent events and speculations around North Korea do not have much optimism. A joint action plan between the US and South Korea is planned to be signed in the case of provocations on the part of North Korea. This plan and the response of Pyongyang to this move, which led to a full combat readiness of all missile and artillery units, create conditions for a further escalation of tensions on the peninsula, up to the emergence of a direct military confrontation.
The fight against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is also seen as a common problem. Cooperation with Russia is necessary for Washington both in terms of direct assistance to the Afghan government and in the context of the provision of transit to and from Afghanistan for the “northern route”. Russia, as one of the players in the region, is seen by the government of Barack Obama as a participant in the dialog aimed at ensuring peace in the Middle East. However, the Syrian issue has transformed Russia into an enemy of the West.
At the present stage, the US-Chinese conflict is larger and deeper than the US-Russian conflict. There are two major contradictions between the two countries. The first one is between the superpower and the country that could be a superpower in the future. The second contradiction is between the countries of the two opposing social systems. According to many researchers, stability in the Asia-Pacific region could be threatened because of the rising power of a number of Asian countries, especially given the fact that, in this region, there are no constraining structures responsible for regional security.
It should be noted that the Pacific command is the largest in America. In the area of its responsibility, there are more than 169 million square kilometers from the US West Coast to the east coast of Africa. At the disposal of the armed forces, there are about 300 thousand people (including troops of advanced presence, four air armies, two operational fleet, one army, one army corps, two divisions of ground troops, and two expeditionary marine divisions), more than 800 combat aircraft, 320 guns and mortars, 150 tanks, and about 100 warships, including 6 aircraft carriers. Given that 80% of China’s imported oil passes through the Strait of Malacca, a blockage of this path would be disastrous for the economy and the armed forces of China. American strategists consider this tactic as the most simple and effective way to neutralize China. Thus, one of the reasons of Washington’s interest in the constructive relations with Moscow is the fact that Russia has a real opportunity to increase or reduce the competitive power, economics, and any other potential of China. Based on the foregoing, it is possible to agree with the opinion that, in the potential geopolitical collision of the US and China, Russia could become a strategic rear of China. That is why the United States makes efforts to keep Russia in the mode of the constructive dialog. It happens despite the fact that there is a wide range of disagreements between Washington and Moscow.
Given the current development of Russia, it represents a threat to the United States only as a potential ally of China in the Sino-American confrontation. Therefore, according to many researchers, the important task of Washington is to turn Russia into a nuclear-free power. It is a part of China’s policy of the USA. Weakened and nuclear-free Russia will cease to be dangerous for the US as a strategic partner of China. Therefore, in such circumstances, China and Russia can be very helpful to each other in strengthening the independence of their foreign policy positions.
Conflicting Interests of Russia and the US
Russia historically has pretensions to significant territories in the Arctic. It can be assumed that with the further development of the region and the increase in energy prices in the world, acuteness of this problem will only grow. Russia’s military cooperation with Venezuela, China, Syria, and the former Soviet Union countries indicates its intention to declare an alternative world order. Relations between Russia and Europe, in particular Russia’s use of energy resources as a political weapon, are also a serious confrontation issue between the US and Russia. The use of energy as an instrument of political push was assessed by the Western partners of Russia as aggressive behavior. As another problem, American experts consider Russia’s desire to control the access of Central Asian countries to the global economy and energy markets, which threaten the energy security of Europe. The gap in mutual dependence of Russia and Europe will have a negative effect on both sides. However, for Russia, the negative effect will be delayed in time. For Europe, the crisis will come immediately. A number of Eastern European countries especially dependent on Russian gas supplies actively appeals to the US and NATO, which demand the provision of their energy security. Russia supports sanctions against Iran only partially. This topic is controversial in relations between Russia and the United States. The key point in this interpretation is the idea that Russia is seeking to form its policy in the Middle East. It uses Iran as a base for the realization of its interests in the region. A radical solution in this case is an attempt of the United States to counter cooperation between Russia and Iran. Nevertheless, considering that Washington has a limited ability to direct pressure on Russia, this scenario is peripheral. Nowadays, Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, Belarus, and other post-Soviet states is also a reason for concern for the United States. “The US-Russia “seesaw” battle that has occurred in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo indicates a trend in Russia’s relations with the West”. Ukraine is one of the major discords between the US and Russia. Annexation of the Crime and military actions in Ukraine made the United States reconsider some of its positions towards Russia.
Russia should be a top priority for the United States because its behavior may have a profound impact on the vital American national interests. They include nuclear energy issues, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, countering terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, and strategic geography. On the whole, the interests of Russia, China, and the USA are inextricably linked. There is a mutual commitment in the harmonization of the national interests both within the three countries and in bilateral relations of these countries. In the global context of the XXI century, the relationship between the United States, Russia, and China should not be based on confrontation. Not only the regional security but the structure of the new world order and global security depend on their international relations. The relations between the US, China, and Russia are important not only for each of the participants but also for the situation in the world as a whole.