Russian strategic bombers are reportedly testing American air defenses, invading U.S. airspace at least 16 times in the last 10 days. This sort of thing mostly disappeared with the Soviet Union but now Russia and China too, are resorting to military intimidation and defense testing once more. Few appear to be concerned, at least in the media. The elderly Russian TU 95s are less threatening than missiles, though they can carry nukes. But all this activity is recent.
It is likely timed by the fuss the U.S.has made about Russia’s move to reclaim Ukraine but this return to Cold War tactics was probably in the cards regardless. Having run out of money long since, the U.S. is shrinking its military and necessarily also shrinking its international influence, leaving new room for the planet’s lesser aggressors to come out and play. After all, the Soviet collapse and Chinese weakness after the Korean War left the room that the U.S. is now vacating; what is more logical than their moving into it?
The always-present voices deploring world power games will be heard as these changes develop, along with those deploring the U.S. pullback of its military power. Nobody important will pay much attention. Power games is part of the way the world works, like it or not. If you decline to play, others will take your place. And that is happening in front of us as the U.S. can’t afford the price of its ‘leadership’ anymore.
The new bully boys Russia and China are not only militarily infiltrating Ukraine and the China Sea, respectively but also using their commercial influences in Africa and Latin America, the latter once foreclosed by the Monroe Doctrine. They are competitive, aiming to sweep up the abandoned American marbles left on the ground. A sensible strategy seemingly but for one little flaw: Russia and China are each in its own way, much too poor to pull it off over time. They hold currently hot but rapidly cooling irons with which to strike.
Russia’s lack of economic progress seems a large part of President Putin’s need to rebuild the Russian empire; it’s lifting his popularity polls. China’s leaders are dealing with a carpeted-over bank crisis, popular reaction to corruption and a market that will no longer provide China’s recently high growth rates. They certainly need distractions but there are distinct limits on their ability to finance such distractions.
Whether these conditions will lead to circumspection or to an all-out, go for broke policy will have to be seen, and we are confident that it will be seen soon. Of the two, China has seemed the more cautious so far. But aggressiveness on these levels always run a risk of taking control of logic and developing a lifer of their own, trapping the players in a phase of the game that perhaps they have not wished. We can add that the Chinese are now joining the nuclear-armed strategic submarine club. And does anyone really believe that only Iran is developing its own nukes after Pakistan and North Korea have done so?
We are living in interesting times, as our species seems to prefer to do, no matter what we say about it.