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giovedì 29 marzo 2018


IN DUE LINGUE (Inglese, Italiano)
IN TWO LANGUAGES (English, Italian)

With this piece – which was preceded by “US foreign policy and Trump’s contradictions: questions of method” –, Michele Nobile begins to deepen the analysis of the Trump administration’s foreign policy starting from the recently published National Security Strategy. [the Editorial staff of Red Utopia]

INDEX: Foreword - 1. Defining the problem of national security - 2. The theory of democratic peace in previous administrations - 3. The worldview of 2017 NSS and critique of the theory of democratic peace - 4. China and Russia in previous NSS - 5. China and Russia in 2017 NSS: threats to national security - 6. Relations between China and Russia in American strategy - 7. Provisional conclusion

Donald Trump and China’s president Xi Jinping. Beijing, November 9, 2017 © Nicolas Asfouri
At the end of 2017, the Trump’s administration published its National Security Strategy (NSS), the report that the President of the United States is required to present annually to Congress. It is legitimate to ask what interest a document such as an NSS can have since it certainly contains no military action plans, not even in general terms.
An NSS is the result of compromises within the administration and is often overtaken by unforeseen developments; on the other hand, the availability of the means envisaged for achieving stated objectives can also exceed the duration of the administration that produced it – and not just by a few years.
The doubts increase in the face of a president like Trump – contested by foreign and military policy experts in his own party – and the series of sackings or resignations of high-level staff, both as a result of disagreements with the president and imposed by the results of investigations.
Of the thirty 20th-century Secretaries of State, Rex Tillerson is one of the six who have remained in office for the least time, and in the post-Cold War period only Lawrence Eagleburger lasted less. The Trump administration is on its third National Security Advisor in just over a year, while in the space of eight years Clinton and Bush Jr. had just two and Obama three.
Besides, it cannot be said that the Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser appointed by Trump – Mike Pompeo, appointed as director of the CIA, and John Bolton, formerly ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush – are characters indicative of a moderate orientation: they are decidedly “hawks” chosen exclusively because of their political proximity to the president.
Furthermore, while all versions of the NSS pay a ritual homage to “American values”, it sounds strange to read in a document introduced by Donald Trump that “the United States rejects bigotry, ignorance and oppression” and that it is committed to defending the rights of women and girls (2017 NSS).
In more substantial terms, as widely predictable in some points, for example on Russia and on NATO, the 2017 NSS appears in contrast with the fears and hopes raised by Trump before his election. One can thus question the extent to which the document reflects the president’s thinking and therefore how reliable it is.
It is remarkable that Trump’s message preceding the latest NSS speaks of “rival powers” aggressive towards American interests in the world, but without naming China and Russia; then, in his speech of December 18, 2017 presenting the document, Trump cited the phone call from Putin thanking him for the intelligence that the CIA was able to provide concerning a major terrorist attack planned in St. Petersburg, but also said that the United States faces “rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth”, specifying that, “based on my direction, this document has been in development for over a year. It has the endorsement of my entire Cabinet”.
It is not at all unusual for an NSS to be published beyond the terms prescribed by law, but this latter sentence appears as a superfluous clarification, a reassurance that seems to imply the opposite.
As for the rest, the discourse differs from the NSS only in its even more triumphalist tones and for the self-celebration of the presumed identification of the People with the president, elected with almost three million votes less than competitor Hillary Clinton:
“But last year, all of that began to change. The American people rejected the failures of the past. You rediscovered your voice and reclaimed ownership of this nation and its destiny.
On January 20, 2017, I stood on the steps of the Capitol to herald the day the people became the rulers of their nation again. (Applause.) Thank you. Now, less than one year later, I am proud to report that the entire world has heard the news and has already seen the signs. America is coming back, and America is coming back strong”.
Report on the national security strategy was established in 1986 by the Goldwater-Nichols Act: since then seventeen have been published. Well, if you compare 2017 NSS with those which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is clear that it is a very original document, almost on a par with the 2002 NSS of Bush Jr., who formulated the doctrine of “preventive war”.
While it is not possible to deduce from an NSS exactly what an administration will do and when, general indications can nevertheless be drawn about the perception of threats to national security and the attitude with which they are intended to be addressed.
The 2017 NSS contains relatively little about human rights and the promotion of democracy – a fact which may gratify the sympathisers of president Putin and North Korea’s supreme leader –, but the prospect it outlines, which in emphatic terms one might say grand strategy, is no less dangerous than the decision that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Perhaps even more so, in terms of relations with the nuclear powers of China and Russia and for reasons that are not only due to the constraints posed by the Congress, but are intrinsic to the concept of America First as defined by Trump.
The vision of the world contained in the 2017 NSS is substantially in line with that of Trump; however, in its realisation this same vision can lead to considerable fluctuations and confusion in the conduct of US foreign policy not only because of internal opposition, but because it is internally contradictory: this could be the reason for personal disagreements in the Administration, in which different parts push on the poles that constitute the contradiction.
The structure of 2017 NSS is made up of a message from Trump himself, an introduction and four chapters related to as many pillars of national security, plus a chapter that applies the strategy in the regions of the world.
Formally, each chapter presents some priority actions to achieve the objectives indicated, which is a novelty that appears to give concreteness, but which in reality is only stylistic; and also the four pillars or objectives – protecting the American people, promoting prosperity in America, preserving peace through force and advancing America’s influence – are banalities present in every NSS.
The peculiarity of this document must be sought in the way in which those objectives are concretely defined, above all in the definition of the problem of national security and threats.

1. Defining the problem of national security
The message signed by Donald Trump that serves as a preface to 2017 NSS is an arrogant revendication of the Administration’s alleged successes, including having “crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists”, which, however, was claimed by all the players involved just before Trump took office.
The list of problems inherited from the previous administrations is long: “rogue states”, international terrorism, aggressive powers, uncontrolled immigration, criminal cartels, unequal distribution of defence costs between the United States and allies, impropriety in economic relations.
Against this background, the successes boasted with a triumphalist tone are even more evident: the Trump administration is already “charting a new and very different course”. The president stands as a saviour of the Fatherland, as the one who restored confidence in American values and America’s position in the world – “after one year, the world knows that America is prosperous, America is secure, and America is strong” (2017 NSS).
However, a note of alarm is sounded both in Trump’s message and in the text of the NSS itself: “The United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world, filled with a wide range of threats that have intensified in recent years”. Apparently it seems a contradiction, but the alarmist note performs several functions.
First of all, keeping the alarm about terrorism and the “rogue states” high is a necessity intrinsic to the doctrine of war and preventive military operations, which is now one of the options for action openly indicated by all US administrations, albeit with different formulas.
Formalisation of this doctrine is a distortion of jus ad bellum (the right to engage in war), with implications also for jus in bello (the rules regulating the conduct of war, for example concerning the treatment of prisoners and civilian populations).
Even in a very broad and very debatable interpretation of the norms of international law, one of the binding criteria – and not the only one – which can justify a military action that anticipates an enemy attack is that of the imminence of aggression.
However, no matter how far it is cloaked in formal references to the needs of self-defence, in the logic of preventive war formalised since 2002 NSS the concept of the imminence of attack is freed from specific temporal and material references, and therefore emptied of real meaning.
The main justification for war and preventive military operations has become the possibility and intention that entities defined as terrorist or “rogue state” procure weapons of mass destruction; this is also tantamount to affirming that for these entities the possession of weapons of mass destruction coincides with the certainty of their use in an indeterminate future and place. War or preventive military operations are thus justified a priori.
In Trump’s introductory message to the NSS, the unequal sharing of security burdens between the United States and the allies is indicated as one of the reasons that has encouraged opponents to take dangerous actions – the point is then reiterated in the document. Obviously, it is not at all the alliances themselves that are called into question, but the terms with which the other States contribute.
However, the list of faults does not stop here. It covers the whole of the 90s, including the Administrations of Bush Sr. and Clinton, and implicitly also those of Bush Jr. In 2017 NSS, criticism of the idea that US military superiority was guaranteed is fundamental, as is criticism of the Wilsonian (after Woodrow Wilson, president from 1913 to 1921) concept of “democratic peace” which, although articulated in different ways, has been at the centre of the foreign policy pursued by the United States since the end of the Cold War.
The 2017 NSS is notable for the way it combines the emphasis of relaunching domestic liberalism – of deregulation or rather “re-regulation” – with a strong competitive characterisation of the world economy and of relations between States that also extends, with due distinctions, to allies. The recent protectionist measures, which provide for differentiated treatment and exemptions for allies, fall within this logic.
In this NSS, alarmism must be understood in the light of the domestic use of foreign policy, namely of the fact that the problem of the national security strategy is defined not only by external threats, but also by the “strategic complacency” of all previous administrations, the conduct of which is thus discredited.
According to 2017 NSS, the policies of previous administrations deprived the United States of part of the strategic advantages it enjoyed after having emerged victorious from the Cold War, thus allowing other players on the international scene to implement long-term plans to challenge the United States. It is this “strategic complacency” that 2017 NSS intends to overturn. And the players in question are China and Russia.
Overall, in the definition of problems of national security, the strategy of America First is the exact opposite of the idea that “power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game” (2010 NSS).
If the 2002 NSS of Bush Jr. intended to mark a discontinuity due to the fact that, for the first time since the war with Britain in 1812-1815, the heart of the United States had been the object of an attack from the outside, 2017 NSS intends to mark a deliberate discontinuity, not imposed only by the external environment.

2. The theory of democratic peace in previous administrations
In some respects, 2017 NSS may recall the strategies of previous administrations: the importance of economic problems is common to those of Clinton and Obama; and the view that terrorism and “rogue states” are one, but not the only main threat, was shared by the abhorred (by Trump) Obama. Trump) Obama.
Understandably, most problems do not change from one administration to another and even the generally indicated objectives are not so different.
For example, cybersecurity was already in the Clintonian 2001 NSS, which recalled the cyber conflict between China and Taiwan, increased IT security research funding by 32% and indicated a series of initiatives to protect against cyber attacks, including the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P), presented as “an innovative public/private partnership” in terms not different from what can be read in the 2017 NSS about collaboration between government and private companies.
The same can be said for anti-missile defence and for the affirmation that “we will compete with all tools of national power to ensure that regions of the world are not dominated by one power” (2017 NSS).
However, the worldview of 2017 NSS is very different from previous ones and consequently also the emphasis on the problems, and especially the frame within which they are treated. For the sake of clarity, a historical digression is necessary.
Since the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, US foreign policy has presented a component that can be called “Wilsonian”, more or less accentuated by various administrations: America as champion of the “free world”, of democracy and economic freedom, an internationalist power attentive to maintaining good relations with the allies, promoter of international institutions and active in them.
A fundamental element of Wilsonianism is the idea that democracies do not engage in war against each other and are less inclined to the war of dictatorships and totalitarian states: it is the theory of “democratic peace”.
This, in turn, in the case of the United States combines the sense of national exceptionalism with a universal mission, because it is assumed that for the United States the interest of national security coincides with the promotion and support of democracy throughout the world.
Obviously, it is not difficult to list the many cases in which the United States worked against democratically-elected governments or supported dictatorships: during the Cold War, political liberalisation in peripheral or developing countries was subordinated to the “containment of communism” and limited by the risk that it would trigger processes of social and political mobilisation that would bring parties favourable to the Soviet Union or China to power. Practical Wilsonianism has been rather selective.
However, it must be said that the theory of democratic peace also had some notable successes, in particular in the partial and no less real “democratic stabilisation” of former enemies Germany, Japan and Italy, which allowed a critique of foreign policy from within the American system of values.
Remaining in the “American creed” of freedom, it is in fact possible to unmask the falsity and hypocrisy of the government, and strongly challenge the contradiction of a foreign policy that claims to defend democracy and national independence by supporting coups d’état or the economic interests of US multinationals, bombing a small underdeveloped country like Vietnam or supporting the Somozist Contra in Nicaragua, death squads in El Salvador and massacres in indios villages of Guatemala.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its block of allies freed the theory of democratic peace from the constraints posed by the “containment of communism”, receiving new and remarkable momentum.
In the years of Bush Sr. and Clinton it was no longer a matter of “containing communism”, but of extending and consolidating liberal and capitalist regimes, integrating the countries of Central Europe – and also Russia – in the world economy in all respects: this was a successful operation.
Aligning national security interests and US values seemed easier in a world that was characterised by the “end of ideologies” (namely of Soviet “communism”) and bipolar confrontation between superpowers, if not by the “end of history”; even those who saw in the power of the United States a sort of empire could dress it in the cloak of benevolence and declare that war now had a humanitarian purpose.
Ideological camouflage of imperialism? Of course, but not only.
The reference to values is also an expression of the informal nature of North American imperialism and of the traditional claim of freedom of trade and investment, which once passed through the fragmentation of empires into independent and formally equal states, and now through financial liberalisation and the privatisation of state services and activities.
And however hypocritical, “humanitarian” war has on its side a reality in which the drama of our age is condensed: that is that the regimes against which it is turned have nothing to do with socialism or democracy, and that their anti-imperialism is actually the mask of brutal nationalisms and the power of very specific political castes.
During the 90s, the active promotion of democracy became the declared aim on which there could be agreement – although not completely around the times and ways – among neoliberal intellectuals-officials of the Democratic Party and intellectuals-officials of the second generation of neoconservatives (young people who had started working in the Reagan administration), two differently “idealistic” currents in contrast to the “realists” of the Cold War and the Kissinger school.
It should be noted that the first generation of neoconservatives opposed the policy of détente initiated by the Nixon-Kissinger duo and Carter’s rhetoric of human rights – to which these neocons attributed the “loss” of Iran and Nicaragua –, but was distinguished from its second generation because it did not make the promotion of democracy an immediate objective of foreign policy.
For these neoconservatives, the “realistic” distinction of Jeane Kirkpatrick between authoritarian regimes and totalitarian regimes was valid: the former less repressive than the latter and with greater possibilities of liberalisation – a thesis that earned her the nomination by Reagan as ambassador to the United Nations; Kirkpatrick had long been a Democratic, but in 1976 along with others of her party she had joined the Republican “hawks” and neoconservatives in the Committee on the Present Danger, contrary to détente.
Thus, the second generation of neoconservatives is distinguished from the first because it fitted the liberal and “idealistic” glove of promotion of democracy on the steel fist of military intervention.
It is very doubtful that the Bush Jr. administration was born neoconservative and that neoconservatives could be said the president and the main holders of the power to decide foreign policy and preparation of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but undoubtedly the neoconservatives, well represented as deputies and collaborators, had had a clear goal for years – Iraq – and a rhetoric appropriate to the needs of the Administration.
The theory of democratic peace can be applied in different ways and does not exclude unilateral intervention, indeed it lends itself to legitimising it; but it also requires being combined with multilateralism, not necessarily on the basis of the authorisation of military intervention by the oligarchy that dominates the UN Security Council, but in the form of coalitions of the “willing” prepared to provide even just symbolic support.
It should be noted that the foreign policy of the governments of China and Russia also presupposes the theory of democratic peace, but with a less universalist sense, limiting it to the development of economic and diplomatic relations with the advanced capitalist powers.
In the name of state sovereignty – a principle incompatible with socialist internationalism -, those governments instead defend their internal regime and that of their “friend” countries from criticism on the lack of respect for human rights and bind military intervention to consensus of the UN Security Council, where they have the right of veto.
This is because the West – the economic and military capacities of the countries with advanced capitalism, first of all the United States – is at the same time the admired and feared “Other” from which recognition is claimed of the status of great power that is entitled to its sphere of influence, to its own regional imperial sphere.

3. The worldview of 2017 NSS and critique of the theory of democratic peace
The 2017 NSS qualifies the ritual reference to “US values” with a view that opposes that of the previous documents even in deliberate theoretical references. From the outset, Trump’s NSS states that his strategy is based on realism, “is guided by outcomes, not ideology” and “is based upon the view that peace, security, and prosperity depend on strong, sovereign nations that respect their citizens at home and cooperate to advance peace abroad”.
In concluding, it says that the strategy “is realist because it acknowledges the central role of power in international politics, affirms that strong and sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interests”.
The reference to realism is neither casual nor neutral. It must be understood not in a generic sense, but according to the meaning it assumes in the theory of international relations, which after the great season of German geopolitics is now largely an Anglo-Saxon creation.
In this context, the term realism evokes a substantially Hobbesian world, populated by States that pursue their own “national interest” defined above all – but not exclusively – as power and military strength.
According to the classic Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace by Hans Morgenthau, both in the domestic sphere and in the international sphere politics is struggle for power.
In the international arena, this struggle can be aimed at maintaining the distribution of power among States unchanged, thus maintaining the statu quo; or at increasing the power of the State beyond its borders, thus changing its status (what Morgenthau called imperialism); or following a prestigious policy to maintain or increase power through demonstrations of strength.
An NSS it is not a theoretical treatise, which is why it is not difficult to identify the steps and proposals that presuppose collaboration rather than competition, participation in international institutions and agreements instead of isolationism, multilateralism more than unilateralism.
For the United States – as for Russia and China – the combination according to areas and opportunities for different complementary tactics is inevitable, and a certain ambiguity is useful. Areas in which the different interests require mediation and negotiations are flanked by those in which positions are at odds.
It is also a matter of times, diplomatic tactics – the alternation of rigidity and flexibility can serve to negotiate more advantageous terms from a position of strength, also on behalf of third parties – and unpredictable developments, due primarily to the initiative of local forces which then oblige the powers to take a position on the side of one or other of the parties.
Examples of it are the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme between 2013 and 2016, involving the member states of the UN Security Council (hence also China and Russia) plus Germany, and those with North Korea starting from the 1993 missile test, in which China and Russia also took part.
On the other hand, examples of events in which the great powers had to take a stance after they had been promoted by local conditions and forces – unless we overestimate the power of the CIA with a logic similar to that of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – are the “Arab Spring” and the “coloured revolutions” in the former Soviet countries.
It is therefore important to distinguish in what the rhetoric of 2017 NSS differs from a pure and coherent theoretical realism. However, it is equally important to take note that the atmosphere of this NSS is far from the Wilsonian idealism that characterised all the previous ones.
The point concerns not only the rhetoric and the way in which the strategy is legitimised. What should be noted through the formula of “principled realism” is the shift from an attitude that emphasises the pursuit of national interest through international cooperation – clearly always reserving to the United States the right to unilaterally resort to force “if necessary”, and then with the willingness for diplomatic compromises and exchanges between national security and international economic policy – to an attitude which, having made the necessary distinctions, is competitive in all fields and with all international actors.
Doubts in this regard are dispelled by statements such as: “the contests over influence are timeless. They have existed in varying degrees and levels of intensity, for millennia. Geopolitics is the interplay of these contests across the globe” (2017 NSS).
“Geopolitics” is a term loaded with sinister associations because it is associated with the politics of power, the defence or construction of empires and spheres of influence and the Cold War: for this reason, in the NSS it is rare and is however used in a generic way – as in 2006 NSS – instead of with historical value, as in 2017 NSS.
There we read instead that, “after being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned. China and Russia began to reassert their influence regionally and globally” and “are contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favour” .

4. China and Russia in previous NSS
With the collapse of the Soviet Union – while China had already been a partner for almost two decades –, the threat that oriented the entire North American foreign policy in a unified manner disappeared. So, in 1993 NSS under Bush Sr. one could read that “today’s challenges are more complex, ambiguous and diffuse than ever before. They are political, economic, and military; unilateral and multilateral; short and long-term”.
The variety and complexity of the challenges and threats – not just military – in a world characterised by interdependence is also the leitmotiv of the seven NSS of the two Clinton administrations: they contain therein ethnic conflicts, “rogue states”, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and refugees fleeing wars, but also transnational and non-state threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking; socio-economic problems such as degradation of the environment, rapid growth of the world’s population, the fight against poverty and economic globalisation.
In addition to managing enlargement of the community of democratic states – which then, among the 27 countries of the Partnership for Peace, also included Russia –, the Clinton strategy committed itself to prevent the creation of a power vacuum and the arms race which could destabilise some regions of the world, preparing deterrence and, in case of necessity, the defeat of aggression by States “potentially hostile to the United States” such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
After the 9/11 attacks, during the administrations of Bush Jr. a well-defined threat returned to centre stage to be countered with a war of “uncertain” duration, around which the US foreign policy had to orient itself: it was “the crossroads of radicalism and technology”, that is the combination of terrorism, “rogue states” and weapons of mass destruction (2002 NSS), for which the usual notion of deterrence was no longer adequate.
Instead, an end had to be put to tyranny and democracy promoted as “the most effective long-term measure for strengthening international stability; reducing regional conflicts; countering terrorism and terror-supporting extremism; and extending peace and prosperity” (2006 NSS).
The national security strategy of the Obama administrations did not deny but operationally redefined the doctrine of preventive war, managing Bush’s legacy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not at all pacifist, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate (!) distinguished between the bad “war of choice” in Iraq and the good “war of necessity” in Afghanistan.
The big difference between the policies of Bush Jr. and Obama is that the latter was characterised by the intention to shift foreign policy from the centrality of “a single threat or region” (terrorism and the Middle East) to define instead “a diversified and balanced set of priorities appropriate for the world’s leading global power with interests in every part of an increasingly interconnected world” (2015 NSS).
In part, therefore, a return to the complexity of the Clintonian vision. Included in this process was the emphasis on cooperation with the allies, but also the intention to restore better relations with Russia, in addition to trying to rebalance the American position in the Pacific.
The various NSS show the oscillations in relations between the United States and Russia, but until the beginning of Putin’s third presidential term (marked by a strong domestic dispute) and the civil war in Ukraine, on the whole the prevailing trend after every crisis (Kosovo in 1999, the “coloured revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan between 2003 and 2005, the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008) was in the direction of improving relations between the two States.
In 2002 NSS it was said that “with Russia we are already building a new strategic relationship based on a central reality of the 21st century: the United States and Russia are no longer strategic adversaries”; furthermore, “we welcome the emergence of a strong, peaceful, and prosperous China”.
Disagreements – especially with China – were not hidden, but at the time the fundamental fact was that 11/9
“fundamentally changed the context for relations between the United States and other main centres of global power, and opened vast, new opportunities. With our long-standing allies in Europe and Asia, and with leaders in Russia, India, and China, we must develop active agendas of cooperation lest these relationships become routine and unproductive” (2002 NSS).
It must be borne in mind that, until the invasion of Iraq, the Russian leadership fully supported the “war on terror”: for Putin, the war in Chechnya – to which he owes the beginning of his popularity – was part of the “war on terror” and he did not oppose American bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
At that stage, but with ups and downs also during Putin’s second term and the presidency of Medvedev, the goal of Russian foreign policy was economic recovery through export of energy and import of capital and technology, and the recognition of the status of great power with a zone of influence in the area of the “near abroad” (blizhneye zarubezhye) – basically the former Soviet countries –, according to a perspective indicated by Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Kozyrev in August 1992, which is the Russian version of the “Monroe Doctrine” as commonly understood.
The 2006 NSS noted that “recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom’s path”.
However, this was prefaced by the consideration that “the United States seeks to work closely with Russia on strategic issues of common interest and to manage issues on which we have differing interests”, also recognising great Russian influence in regions of strategic interest for the United States and the positive cooperation regarding North Korea and Iran, and by using a firm but not aggressive tone.
Following the high tension resulting from the war between Russia and Georgia, demonstrating Putin’s willingness to intervene militarily in the “near abroad”, the 2010 NSS warned that, “while actively seeking Russia’s cooperation to act as a responsible partner in Europe and Asia, we will support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbours”.
However, from the perspective of resetting United States-Russia relations, it also hoped there would be greater collaboration in dealing with terrorism and new trade and investment agreements.
In addition, the new strategic armaments agreement (START) signed in Prague by the presidents of Russia and the United States in April 2010 was recalled: evidently the commitment to reduce nuclear warheads and carriers expressed a conciliatory intention of both sides after the war in Georgia, despite Bush Jr. having withdrawn the United States from the 1972 ABM Treaty (signed by Nixon and Brezhnev, in the logic of mutual assured destruction it limited the measures of defence against ballistic missiles; in its day, the treaty was a pillar of détente between the two superpowers). The new START instead has been questioned by Trump.
The 2015 NSS, the last of the Obama administration, is particularly significant because it came after the outbreak of civil war in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea, the real watershed of Russian foreign policy and relations with the United States.
The wording was harsh (the expression “Russian aggression” was used), sanctions were adopted and the danger of the dependence of European countries on the flow of energy from Russia used as a political weapon was denounced.
However, conflict was not posed as a perpetual given; it was recognised that the international environment is dynamic, that the balance of power changes and that both opportunities and risks arise from it; it insisted on the role of the G20 and interdependence. And despite the high tension and rebirth of the idea of a new Cold War, the threat posed by Russian aggression was demarcated and not taken as the axis of foreign policy.
In 2010, of China it was said that the United States would be sincere on the issue of human rights, but that disagreements would not prevent cooperation between the two countries, “because a pragmatic and effective relationship between the United States and China is essential to address the major challenges of the 21st century”.
And in 2015, while rejecting Chinese military pressure on some islands in the South China Sea, Obama said that the scope of cooperation “is unprecedented” and the historic agreement between the United States and China on carbon emissions and cooperation on sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear programme was recalled, seeking to “develop a constructive relationship” to share “regional and global challenges”. Competition was allowed, but the idea that confrontation between the United States and China was inevitable was rejected.

5. China and Russia in 2017 NSS: threats to national security
The 2017 NSS lists “the revisionist powers of Russia and China” alongside the “rogue states” of Iran and North Korea and jihadist terrorism.
Also in this case, no single threat is formally defined, but the tone is essentially very different from the other NSS and the implications are more serious: for example regarding the nuclear arsenal (which Obama wanted to reduce), the size of the Armed Forces (reduced by Obama to the level before 9/11), military spending (gradually reduced by Obama) and cooperation in dealing with the problems of the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.
Also because the democratic peace theory is explicitly attacked when there is an invitation to
“rethink the policies of the past two decades – policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out to be false. Rival actors use propaganda and other means to try to discredit democracy. They advance anti-Western views and spread false information to create divisions among ourselves, our allies, and our partners”.
And besides, with polemic grit: “we assumed that our military superiority was guaranteed and that a democratic peace was inevitable. We believed that liberal-democratic enlargement and inclusion would fundamentally alter the nature of international relations and that competition would give way to peaceful cooperation”.
Condemnation of the basic assumption of foreign policy of all Administrations that followed the end of the Cold War is very clear.
“For decades,” – 2017 NSS continues – US policy towards China was based on the conviction that supporting its integration and rise into the post-war international order would lead to its liberalisation, but “contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance”.
And after having recalled modernisation of its military apparatus, the NSS notes – indeed not without reason – that “part of China’s military modernisation and economic expansion is due to its access to the US innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities”.
As for Russia, it “aims to weaken US influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners”; it “views the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and European Union (EU) as threats”.
Further, “Russia is investing in new military capabilities, including nuclear systems that remain the most significant existential threat to the United States, and in destabilising cyber capabilities”; it “interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world”. So, “the combination of Russian ambition and growing military capabilities creates an unstable frontier in Eurasia, where the risk of conflict due to Russian miscalculation is growing”.
The 2017 NSS hints at a difference between the development models proposed by the United States on the one hand, and by China and Russia on the other. The first model promotes the free market not only for economic reasons, but for establishing lasting relationships and advancing common political and security interests; the second model is characterised as a form of mercantilism directed by the State.
Secondly, in reiterating – as usual – that the deterrence of aggression is more complex than in the Cold War, the 2017 NSS emphasises the fact that adversaries and competitors are “adept at operating below threshold of open military conflict and at edges of international law”, patiently accumulating strategic advantages with actions that are “calculated to achieve maximum effect without provoking a direct military response from the United States. And as these incremental gains are realised”, until “a new statu quo emerges” (here the concept of hybrid war is implicit).
The document attributes behaviour and a vision of the world to China and Russia that is neither peace nor war: which is then a definition of what the Cold War was.
For 2017 NSS, given that “our adversaries will not fight us on our terms” – which are those of the separation of the conditions of peace and war –, the United States must face this challenge: the implicit meaning therefore seems to be the return to a condition comparable to that of the Cold War.
The tone of the NSS is indicative:
“Although the menace of Soviet communism is gone, new threats test our will. Russia is using subversive measures to weaken the credibility of America’s commitment to Europe, undermine transatlantic unity, and weaken European institutions and governments. With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to violate the sovereignty of States in the region. Russia continues to intimidate its neighbors with threatening behavior, such as nuclear posturing and the forward deployment of offensive capabilities”.
Moreover, while China tries to attract Latin America into its orbit with investments and state loans, “Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens” and China and Russia support the dictatorship of Venezuela.

6. Relations between China and Russia in American strategy
In line with the “realistic” theoretical approach adopted in 2017 NSS, China and Russia are defined together as revisionist powers. The first question is: for which structure of the international order is revision feared?
In the early years of the 21st century, China became the world’s centre of exports and the ambitions of its foreign policy grew proportionally, both for procuring energy and raw materials and in terms of geopolitical claims in the Pacific Ocean.
However, the economic success of China would have been impossible without the international division of labour put in place by Western transnationals: it is due to Western target markets, primarily the North American one, and to the flow of capital and technology from abroad.
China has no interest in ousting the dollar from its position as a key international currency – the result would be an irreparable damage to competitiveness and the outlet for its exports; there are other methods of payment in bilateral agreements with Russia – and in destabilising the US economy.
The “peaceful rise” of China is started on the path of economic imperialism and the affirmation of a status of great regional power, extending means and sphere of security in the Pacific – what in jargon is called “Anti Access/Area Denial” (A2/AD) capacity –, but this is a defensive measure not necessarily destined to create major crises. Obama had already started to address the issue with his pivot towards Asia.
Therefore, Chinese revisionism – if that is what it means – has its limits, and not only in terms of military capabilities. Capitalist “comrades” have integrated very well into the capitalist world economy and it is absurd to think that they intend to jeopardise the position reached with reckless actions on the international political scene or with economic policy decisions that could trigger the revolt of the working class against the oligarchy of the single party of the Chinese capital.
The case of Russia is more complex. Like a century ago and like China now, Russia needs countries with advanced capitalism and at the same time fears them, for the simple reason that, in relation to what the Soviet Union and its group of satellite states with limited sovereignty were, we are talking about a mutilated and weak imperialism but in precarious recovery.
Reconstitution of Russian power depends on the exports of gas to Europe, the proceeds of which Putin has brought into the State: the energy sector accounts for 20% of gross domestic product and contributes to over half of federal revenues.
This dependence on energy exports, which is anomalous and dangerous for a great power, also marks the oligarchic and rentier characteristics of Russian capitalism (one of the reasons for strong social inequality, given that gas and oil, unlike the “old” coal, are capital-intensive industries), and therefore the limits of Russian imperialism.
With the transition to capitalism, Russia has “westernised” and continues to look to the West: despite the Eurasian discourses, the Chinese world is foreign to it, while Putin’s sexist, militaristic and religiously orthodox palaeoconservatism poses as heir to the “real” values of traditionalism in the face of the moral decadence of Western Europe and, at the same time, as a continuer of Slavophile and Great-Russian imperialism.
The problem of Russia is that, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its geopolitical space in the broadest sense – demographic, socio-economic, military and cultural – is undefined, divided between now independent states which, in several cases, do not intend to reproduce the ancient imperial dependence on the Soviet regime, and – even worse – is afflicted by conflicts and opposing geopolitical orientations.
When all aspects are taken into consideration, it is the very identity of Russia that is problematic.
Under Putin, Russia has acquired the ability to strengthen ties with some former Soviet republics (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), and in order to prevent entry into NATO and the European Union it has embarked on a war with Georgia (facilitated by the adventurism of Georgian president Saakashvili) and promoted and supported the secessionism of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, also annexing the Crimea.
In other words, Putin has shown the intention to create a sphere of influence for Russian imperialism, leveraging the substantial Russian-speaking minorities in neighbouring republics. And so he entered into conflict with European and even more US imperialisms, which do not tolerate these kinds of exclusive spheres.
All this is exacerbated by the fact that the new Russia was born in the era of post-democracy: the emblematic fact of Russian post-democracy remains the political crisis of October 1993 between the president and Parliament, which culminated with the cannon fires ordered by Yeltsin against the Russian Parliament and its setting on fire.
And, although his foreign policy appears to be different from that of “White Crow”, Putin’s rise took place within the power system of Yeltsin, and it was Yeltsin himself who designated him as his successor.
With the deterioration of relations with the West, Putin’s regime has increasingly relied on Great-Russian nationalism and a moralism in line with the traditionalist and authoritarian right. If Putin were president of a Western European state, on the left many of those who support him would launch the alarm of “danger of authoritarian – or even fascist – populism”.

The second question is whether China and Russia constitute or can constitute a strategic Eurasian bloc that moves within a bipolar logic.
The core truth of this thesis is that the situation of these States has changed in relation to the last decade of the 20th century. Nevertheless, their positions in the world system are very different and in no case constitute social systems alternative to the capitalist system. At most, these are forms of capitalism “different” from the “Western” model.
Economic relations between China and Russia are very imbalanced in favour of China: Russia offers energy, weapons and cooperation to maintain the stability of the regimes of Central Asia; on the other hand, China exports industrial products, according to a type of exchange reminiscent of that between colony and metropolis, with a constant positive trade balance.
It should not be forgotten that for half a century – when Mao was still alive and the red flag flew over the Kremlin – Russia and China faced each other as enemies, with small battles on the border of the Ussuri river, in 1969, and an indirect war, in 1978, between China and Vietnam supported by the then USSR.
The problem of the border and control of the small islands at the confluence of the Ussuri and Amur rivers was closed between 2003 and 2005, but in the long run Russian specialists have reason to worry about the future of the Russian Far East in the face of the influence of an economic and demographic giant like China.
The Russian leadership needs Chinese support on the international political scene and of China for diversifying its own energy market – finding itself here in competition with Kazakhstan –, yet it also has reason to fear the growth of Chinese military power and its progressive independence from Russian weapons.
For their part, Chinese political leadership and businessmen have no interest in becoming involved in Russian attempts to create a sphere of influence in Europe: therefore they may support Russia, but certainly not to the point of seriously damaging their relations with the United States and its allies.
For example, China did not recognise the annexation of Crimea and in the UN Security Council did not vote against, but abstained in resolutions on the issue; on Syria, China and Russia together vetoed five resolutions, but in 2016 China abstained, while Russia vetoed; and apparently, due to their relations with the United States, Chinese banks in fact joined sanctions against Russia at least in part.
The tendency of 2017 NSS – and of other observers, both left and right – to treat China and Russia as if they formed a single strategic block is therefore a serious mistake, which confuses a tactical convergence of interests with a lasting alliance. The oligarchies of China and Russia have only one interest on which a true alliance is possible: protection of their own power from internal enemies that can be backed from abroad.
The problem is that in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet states two types of imperialism face each other: that of Russian capitalism – which, due to its economic weakness relative to Western capitalism, must directly exploit means such as energy blackmail and political-military pressure, also having to deal with anti-Russian nationalism, sedimented by a long history of national oppression and the tragedies of Stalinism – and the Western imperialism, which is much stronger economically and attractive as a political and social model.

7. Provisional conclusion
The actions taken up to now by the Trump administration are in direct contrast with those of Barack Obama, and the world view of 2017 NSS is very different from that of previous documents.
In an attempt to maintain US supremacy in the world – an indisputable goal for any US president –, Obama had also recognised the limits of American power, overtaken by Bush Jr.’s “war of choice” and marked by the prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the global economic crisis in 2008.
Obama maintained, as always, the option of unilateral intervention “if necessary” and continued the “war on terror” in his own way, partly replacing armed drones with boots; but the emphasis fell on international cooperation, on the new role assigned to the G20, on multilateral treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the climate agreement and the new START with Russia.
The fact remains that the great powers – and even the greatest among these – can only try to direct the movements of world society according to their own interests, but contradictions, conflicts and revolutions cannot be dominated by any power or group of powers.
Donald Trump’s foreign policy of America First is animated by a spirit of revenge that does not accept the limits of American power, which nevertheless remains by far the first in the world from all points of view.
What is more, this revenge is claimed to be simultaneously exercised in all fields and areas of world politics: not only against “revisionist powers” and “rogue states” – as well as terrorism – but, especially in economic relations, including vis-à-vis secure allies; in the meantime he adds fuel to the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promises a hard line on Iran, North Korea and Cuba.
This is a first and very serious contradiction of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. And it expresses the harbinger of a disaster attitude in the event of a new international financial crisis, as well as being a serious and real catastrophe for global climate prospects.
Secondly, as indicated above, the 2017 NSS does not distinguish adequately between China and Russia, thereby contradicting a pillar of US foreign policy dating back to the Nixon-Kissinger era. It is certainly possible that in this regard there are differences between the president and other high-level players in the Administration.
The fact is that, despite its alleged realism, in the Hobbesian and competitive logic of America First there is little room for the subtleties of Nixonian memory.
From Trump’s point of view, China is first and foremost an economic adversary, not understanding the integration of China in the flows of the international division of labour of the North American economy itself (a similar problem exists with Mexico) and in the supply of cheaper products for US workers; at the same time, Western imperialisms cannot accept the pretensions of exclusivity of Russian imperialism in its “near abroad”.
It is a contrast between imperialisms on the skin of the peoples concerned, which fuels the fire of nationalisms to the detriment of a united struggle against local capitalist oligarchies and of reasonable solutions to the difficult problem of nationalities in post-Soviet countries.
And although president Trump may think of a rapprochement with Putin, he finds himself with his hands tied. On the other hand, the plans for the development of conventional and nuclear military force, which are essential in the America First strategy, are not those of someone aiming at détente.
Thirdly, the logic of 2017 NSS makes it very difficult to solve the problem of the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea, for which collaboration of the United States, China and Russia is important. The alternative is very dangerous, in this as in other possible areas of crisis.
Fourthly, in a much more marked way than previous ones, Trump’s foreign policy appears to be conceived essentially as a function of domestic politics and aimed at the political consolidation of the clique around his person. In this it presents a strange similarity with the role of Russian foreign policy in consolidating the Putin regime, which has progressively exalted Russia’s “mission of civilisation”.
However, while the link between the domestic politics and foreign policy in the Putin regime has its own coherence, adapted to the particularities of Russian capitalism, Trump’s strategy does not seem adequate to the overall and global interests of US capitalism; nor does it seem adequate to the demands of the internal legitimacy of a country that is culturally more modern and variegated than Russia.
In this regard, it must be recalled that the establishment of the national security report is not the most important aspect of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. That same law reorganised the Department of Defense, streamlining and centralising the chain of command and at the same time giving more authority to commanders in the field; secondly, it promoted operational integration between the army and air forces according to the doctrine of AirLand Battle.
In addition to its effects in planning and conducting operations, the point is important because, making military commands – both functional and in different regions of the planet – answer directly to the Secretary of Defense and in this way to the President, further strengthened the authority of civil power with regard to the military apparatus.
However, it is by no means certain that the authorities of civil power are less inclined to the use of force than those of the military, and it is not uncommon for the opposite to be true; it is important to remember that the commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces is the President.
And when the president is a programmatically warlike character like Donald Trump, there is some cause for concern: he does not necessarily listen to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Finally, it can be said that in some respects the 2017 NSS represents a return to the era of Bush Jr., but in an international context that is much changed with respect to the first years of the 21st century.
As for the view of the world, it is even more backward than that of second generation neoconservatives. It expresses a paleoconservative mindset full of contradictions that can lead to new, dangerous adventures.

[translation from Italian by Phil Harris (for IDN-InDepthNews)]

In propagating and/or republishing this text you are kindly requested to quote the source: www.utopiarossa.blogspot.com

RED UTOPIA ROJA – Principles / Principios / Princìpi / Principes / Princípios

a) The end does not justify the means, but the means which we use must reflect the essence of the end.

b) Support for the struggle of all peoples against imperialism and/or for their self determination, independently of their political leaderships.

c) For the autonomy and total independence from the political projects of capitalism.

d) The unity of the workers of the world - intellectual and physical workers, without ideological discrimination of any kind (apart from the basics of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and of socialism).

e) Fight against political bureaucracies, for direct and councils democracy.

f) Save all life on the Planet, save humanity.

(January 2010)

* * *

a) El fin no justifica los medios, y en los medios que empleamos debe estar reflejada la esencia del fin.

b) Apoyo a las luchas de todos los pueblos contra el imperialismo y/o por su autodeterminación, independientemente de sus direcciones políticas.

c) Por la autonomía y la independencia total respecto a los proyectos políticos del capitalismo.

d) Unidad del mundo del trabajo intelectual y físico, sin discriminaciones ideológicas de ningún tipo, fuera de la identidad “anticapitalista, antiimperialista y por el socialismo”.

e) Lucha contra las burocracias políticas, por la democracia directa y consejista.

f) Salvar la vida sobre la Tierra, salvar a la humanidad.

(Enero de 2010)

* * *

a) Il fine non giustifica i mezzi, ma nei mezzi che impieghiamo dev’essere riflessa l’essenza del fine.

b) Sostegno alle lotte di tutti i popoli contro l’imperialismo e/o per la loro autodeterminazione, indipendentemente dalle loro direzioni politiche.

c) Per l’autonomia e l’indipendenza totale dai progetti politici del capitalismo.

d) Unità del mondo del lavoro mentale e materiale, senza discriminazioni ideologiche di alcun tipo (a parte le «basi anticapitaliste, antimperialiste e per il socialismo».

e) Lotta contro le burocrazie politiche, per la democrazia diretta e consigliare.

f) Salvare la vita sulla Terra, salvare l’umanità.

(Gennaio 2010)

* * *

a) La fin ne justifie pas les moyens, et dans les moyens que nous utilisons doit apparaître l'essence de la fin projetée.

b) Appui aux luttes de tous les peuples menées contre l'impérialisme et/ou pour leur autodétermination, indépendamment de leurs directions politiques.

c) Pour l'autonomie et la totale indépendance par rapport aux projets politiques du capitalisme.

d) Unité du monde du travail intellectuel et manuel, sans discriminations idéologiques d'aucun type, en dehors de l'identité "anticapitaliste, anti-impérialiste et pour le socialisme".

e) Lutte contre les bureaucraties politiques, et pour la démocratie directe et conseilliste.

f) Sauver la vie sur Terre, sauver l'Humanité.

(Janvier 2010)

* * *

a) O fim não justifica os médios, e os médios utilizados devem reflectir a essência do fim.

b) Apoio às lutas de todos os povos contra o imperialismo e/ou pela auto-determinação, independentemente das direcções políticas deles.

c) Pela autonomia e a independência respeito total para com os projectos políticos do capitalismo.

d) Unidade do mundo do trabalho intelectual e físico, sem discriminações ideológicas de nenhum tipo, fora da identidade “anti-capitalista, anti-imperialista e pelo socialismo”.

e) Luta contra as burocracias políticas, pela democracia directa e dos conselhos.

f) Salvar a vida na Terra, salvar a humanidade.

(Janeiro de 2010)