Russia vs America over Asia; Cooperation or Confrontation?

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Articles
Wednesday, 03 August 2016


The United States and Russia are two powers of the world whom the future of development and security, largely depends on their approach toward Asian regions. By 2014 Russian politicians did not care about this region as their American counterparts does, but that year’s events in Ukraine changed the nature of Russia-America relations dramatically, consequently the tensions rose to the the level which was seen during the Cold War.

Now, the possibility of America and Russia’s cooperation on the Asian region is extremely low and some parties in Washington and Moscow are fundamentally against any form of alliance. However, bilateral talks on the region in order to reduce misunderstandings and avoid the possibility of an unwanted war is quite important to both parties.

United States' Policy toward Asia

America's current policy toward Asia is a general multi-faceted approach, which in the Obama administration has been dubbed “rebalance to Asia”. Rebalancing, formed at the confluence of the of Asia’s significance increase and the America’s interventions decrease in west Asia, is a multilateral approach and is not limited to security interests.

Its priorities now include: Maintaining and improving the relations with traditional allies, Improving and managing the partnership between US and China, interaction with local institutions, with a particular focus on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), improving the economic policies, changing US’ priorities in east and Southeast Asia, and altering the military situation of US in this region.

However these priorities are also facing certain challenges like the following: Internal constraints especially the lack of budget, Exchange interaction in other areas particularly the Middle East and other regions, and China's assertive policy in the Asia-Pacific regions, which puts pressure on Asian countries to create balance in their relationships with Beijing and Washington. Additionally, if the Ukraine crisis fails to affect America’s policies in Asia, Russia’s actions in Crimea will have a bad influence on China, in other words, Beijing will come to the conclusion that using force in order to make changes will not have many consequences.

Russia’s Policy toward Asia

By the collapse of the USSR, Moscow began improving its political and economic relations with their eastern neighbors. In the late 80's, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, decided on a triple plan which became the foundation of Russia’s strategies towards Asia. The first part consisted of “opening up” the “closed” areas in the Eastern Asia, areas like Vladivostok which because of security concerns were isolated from the outside world for decades. Secondly, Normalization of relations with China in the wake of a visit to Beijing in 1989, and the third consisted of establishing a diplomatic relations office between Moscow and Seoul in September of 1990, as part of a broader effort to improve relations in the region. In 1997, Russia joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) but actual economic cooperation between Russian and Asia remained limited, to the point that until a few years ago Russian companies were focusing only on the European markets and the Russian foreign policy was leaning more towards the Europe-Atlantic region. Nevertheless, the crisis in relations between Russia and the West in 2014 caused a dramatic increase in the importance of Asia in Russian foreign policy, As Russia’s shift of view towards “East”, from a motivation for diversification in relations and markets was turned into a necessity, since Russia faced sanctions and political confrontations both from the US and Europe, and security risks were increasingly felt. That being said, this sudden “turning to the East” plan of Russia is not merely a short-term maneuver to ease the impact of sanctions from West, in fact, it is a priority and part of a broader strategy, since Kremlin considers China, India, and other Southeast Asian countries its strategic allies in forming the “New World Order”.

Russia’s political approach to security in the Asian region is based upon the assumption that the current American coalition is not appropriate for the contemporary economic and security environment, and fundamental changes in the region require a new approach. Russian politicians are after a comprehensive and balanced system based on the principles of equality and "integral security" in which countries are not able to increase their security at the expense of decreasing another country’s security.

How America and Russia’s Policy on Asia is Different?

Moscow and Washington have certain similarities in their approach towards this region. Both consider themselves responsible for security and prosperity of the region and actively interfere in regional affairs. Multi-party cooperation and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the priorities of both approaches. Both avoid the rise of a regional hegemon and insist on peaceful settlement of disputes among regional states. These approaches differ in tactical policy choices, particularly in regional security structure. In Addition, some US-Russian disputes on global issues, including Russia's concerns about America’s missile defense program, are evident in Asia.

Also, Washington and Moscow are different in their approach towards China. The US-China relations are based upon cooperation and competition. America is after open confrontation with China on political, security, and economic issues and disputes, on the other hand Russia has deliberately minimized their conflicts and disputes with China, and has prevented the effect of their associates’ disputes on the relations between Moscow and Beijing. These differences still remain.

The US’ bilateral alliance system presumably is the most disputed issue between US and Russia. Russia speculates that the system emerged since the Cold War does not enjoy enough efficiency to deal with the current security challenges facing the region.

According to this view Russia proposes that the existing coalitions merge and form a comprehensive regional security plan, something like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Despite that, America has rejected the proposal, and coalitions in the region still remain under America's presence. Therefore, according to the level of distrust in US-Russia relations, achieving an agreement on restructuring the security system seems unlikely.

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