The Ukraine crisis and NATO's risky signal to Asia Pacific security
By Clifford A. Kiracofe · 2022-05-18 · Source: China Focus
Now that Europe is destabilized by the war in Ukraine, will the United States promote same in East Asia using Taiwan card? President Joe Biden has said that Washington seeks to maintain its global “leadership”, meaning hegemony.
Although the US is in relative decline, it seeks “full spectrum dominance” militarily. Changes in the international balance of power owing to the rise of China and to the recovery of Russia cut against this hegemonic goal.
The war in Ukraine and US hegemony
The war in Ukraine however it may go indicates a new phase in international relations and in the international system. Simply put, the war reflects growing multipolarity. But this inevitable multipolar evolution of the international system poses a direct challenge to US hegemony. Thus, Washington seeks to weaken Russia in a drawn-out quagmire as the US secretary of defense and other leaders have said.
For the United States, the rise of China and the recovery of Russia under Putin mean relative decline in its power position. This situation makes it more difficult for Washington to impose its will on the rest of the world and to maintain its empire. Russia’s leadership has clearly stated that one of their objectives in the Ukraine intervention is to undercut US hegemony and accelerate multipolarity which Moscow often calls “polycentrism.”
Multipolarity and polycentrism can also refer to the promotion of pluralism in the international system. This means that sovereign states may choose their own internal system and development path depending on their historical, cultural, and political circumstances.
Washington, however, rejects this progressive understanding of international relations because it runs counter to a policy of hegemony. The US imperial system is a system resting on finance capitalism and a development path associated with it. This includes maintaining the US dollar as the global reserve currency and one can say the ubiquity of US Treasury notes in foreign central banks as reserves.
Because the recovery of Russia challenges US hegemony the United States unleashed a regime change on Ukraine in 2014. The strategic concept was to use Ukraine against Russia. Since 2015, the United States and its NATO allies built up Ukraine’s military capability through significant training and weapons transfers. This is why Ukraine today has armed forces trained to NATO standards and interoperability with NATO.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (R) and visiting North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on October 25, 2021. (XINHUA)
With the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the US and NATO have massively reinforced Ukraine with weapons and financial aid. So, the proxy war that had been prepared over the years finally broke out. Despite very heavy casualties Ukrainian armed forces reportedly have performed very well under the circumstances. Some analysts believe that this will make for an extended conflict but that remains to be seen.
A clear danger is that the Ukraine war could expand geographically in Europe. Instead of being limited to Ukraine’s geographic space the battle space could include Poland and Romania, for example. With the accession of Finland to NATO, despite a 1992 treaty in force with Russia, the battle space could expand into Finland.
Asia Pacific and the war in Ukraine
Whatever the outcome of the hostilities in Europe, there is clearly a warning to Asia. Not only is Asia negatively impacted economically by the fallout from the war in Europe but it is negatively impacted security wise.
One reason for this is that US hawks use Taiwan island as a proxy. For this reason, US policy is to build up Taiwan’s military strength and to encourage separatist sentiments under the guise of “democracy promotion”.
Increased tensions in the Asia Pacific owing to a reckless and provocative US policy on the Taiwan Strait are a result. With the US proxy war ongoing in Europe, it is not unreasonable for East Asians to have concerns about their own region. Will the West’s Ukraine card be an example for a Taiwan card against China?
There are lessons to be learned from the Ukraine crisis.
First, Russia gave clear warnings over three decades about security issues in Europe and NATO expansion. These were ignored by the West. Second, Western diplomacy failed to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2202 of 2015 which called for the implementation of the Minsk 2 process to defuse the Ukraine situation. The West ignored the UN and instead exacerbated the situation. Third, the West continuously upgraded Ukraine’s military capability since the 2014 regime change thereby exacerbating the European wide security situation.
The lessons here are that the US and West do not engage in serious diplomacy, that they do not recognize the UN and international law as at the core of the international system, and that they do not hesitate to engage in provocative military action and proxy war.
Photo taken on July 21, 2019 from Xiangshan Mountain shows the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China’s Taiwan. (XINHUA)
US Pacific policy
The Biden administration is making the Taiwan island issue more difficult and precarious. US policy is less clear in its diplomacy regarding a one China position than in the past. To some analysts, Washington appears to be moving away from a clearly stated one China position toward more than just ambiguity and nuance. It appears that Washington is in effect promoting separatist tendencies, they say.
This promotion of separatist tendencies on Taiwan island combined with escalating arms sales and military training suggests a pattern similar to Ukraine, some analysts say.
While Russia was drawn into its intervention in Ukraine by several threatening factors of immediate concern the situation is not the same regarding Taiwan island for many reasons. While Russia believed that it had to intervene with force to stem threatening factors, China can be patient and restrained and not fall into Western traps.
The US, however, appears to want to stir the pot in the Asia Pacific. Expanding NATO into the Pacific has been ongoing in small initiatives and steps for several decades. QUAD isn’t going so well owing to India’s non-aligned legacy so now there is AUKUS and also intensified security relations with Japan and South Korea.
Photo taken on March 11, 2021 shows the White House in Washington, D.C., the United States. (XINHUA)
The recent ASEAN summit was thought by Washington to provide an opportunity for anti-China and anti-Russia positioning but Biden’s overtures were rebuffed. Asians certainly do not want the fate of the presently destabilized Europe heading into recession owing to a regional war. Asians out of self interest seek to avoid picking sides on geopolitical issues. The central focus is on economic and social development which is practical and logical.
One new factor of interest is the Philippine election result. With the Marcos-Duterte victory, Philippine foreign policy may well see continuity rather than any abrupt change or reversal. Thus, diplomacy to have good relations with China seems likely. This has economic benefits as well as security benefits.
The older generation in the Philippines certainly remembers the US regime change of 1986. Details of the US overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos are little remembered. But one interesting aspect in his removal by Washington was the literal kidnapping of himself and his wife by Washington. They were offered a US flight out of Manila to Luzon for safety given instability in the streets. But the flight took the unsuspecting couple to Hawaii instead.
Is it likely that Bongbong and Imelda have forgotten the US regime change back in the day?
Given the Ukraine crisis and the simmering Taiwan island issue, Asians today have good reason to reflect carefully on their future and the regional situation. In the face of sharpening global tensions, Asians must support the United Nations and international law and strive for peace and development.
The author is President of the Washington Institute for Peace and Development and former senior professional staff member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.