CAMERON LECKIE. The Real China – Russia Threat

Mar 9, 2020

The real threat posed by China and Russia to the Western world is not a military one.

In my last P&I article I critiqued Professor Paul Dibb’s recent report on the military threat posed by the Russia and China against the West. I concluded that his report was little more than fear mongering. China and Russia do however pose a threat to the United States, and more generally the Western world, but it is not an offensive military threat.

The nature of the threat posed by Russia and China was recently highlighted in the Report (pdf) from the 2020 Munich Security Conference. The report stated that:

In the post-Cold War era, Western-led coalitions were free to intervene almost anywhere. Most of the time, there was support in the UN Security Council, and whenever a military intervention was launched, the West enjoyed almost uncontested freedom of military movement.

Parsing this statement identifies a number of factors that help define the threat posed by Russia and China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was the single pole of world power, an unprecedented situation in modern history. This period of time has been described as a ‘unipolar moment’ and lasted for several decades. The unipolar moment is now over. The United States, and the Western world more generally, is no longer the single pole of power. As demonstrated in Ukraine, Syria, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and arguably even Venezuela; the United States can no longer wield it’s still formidable power in large parts of the world without consequence.

Once bitten, twice shy. Both Russia and China abstained from voting on the 2011 United Nations Security Council Resolution that imposed a no fly zone over Libya, subsequently enforced by a United States led NATO mission. Whilst being framed as an intervention to protect Libyan civilians, the United States and NATO abused the Resolution to achieve regime change. Duplicity such as this has consequences, as demonstrated by Russia and China’s repeated vetoing of Security Council Resolutions against Syria. It seems clear that both Russia and/or China will continue to veto resolutions that use humanitarian intervention as a mask for regime change. As a result Western nations must either limit their use of military power or act, as it has done in Syria via airstrikes, without United Nations authorisation. This opens up serious questions regarding the legality and legitimacy of the actions of Western nations.

The West no longer has uncontested freedom of military movement in large parts of the world. As described in Andrei Martynov’s recent book, The (Real) Revolution in Military Affairs, the modern weapon systems, such as hypersonic missiles, available to both Russia and China render the United States and Western world’s current warfighting methodology largely obsolete. Major force projection capabilities such as Carrier Battle Groups, particularly in the littoral approaches to Russia and China, are extremely vulnerable, as are the hundreds of the military bases located throughout Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Even the continental United States is vulnerable to a conventional weapons threat with Russia’s Avangard hypersonic missile systems having recently entered operational service.

These factors highlight that the actual ‘threat’ posed by Russia and China is to the United States’ global hegemony.

The re-emergence of a multipolar world is something that appears intolerable for the leadership of the United States in particular and incomprehensible for many of Australia’s defence and strategic leadership and commentators. This is what drives the rhetoric that suggests that Russia and China are a threat.

From a military perspective a threat can be defined as capability plus intent. It is true that China and Russia have the capability to harm the Western world including Australia but what is lacking is intent. Whilst the conventional wisdom in the Western world cites the South China Sea and the Ukraine as examples of aggression by these ‘revisionist powers,’ this is a fundamental, and perhaps deliberate, misunderstanding of the situation.

Professor Dibb has in the past described Russia as being paranoid. It is not paranoia however, but rather the hard earned lessons of history that influence many of the actions which Dibb and his ilk describe as aggression. Russia has been invaded at extraordinary cost multiple times from Western Europe. When NATO expansion creeps right up to Russia’s borders despite all its promises not to then of course Russia will react, as it did in the Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea after the 2014 Western supported coup d’etat. From the Chinese perspective, the South China Sea is the route via which Western militaries attacked and humiliated China during the Opium Wars of the 19th century so the establishment of a buffer zone against the United States Navy’s Carrier Battle Groups is a logical defensive measure against a potential aggressor (As an aside, during Army officer training in the late 1990s, I wrote a strategic studies essay on the tensions in the South China Sea. Over 20 years later there are still tensions, but it has not resulted in war. No doubt in another 20 years there will still be tensions). These actions are primarily defensive in nature and indicate that both China and Russia when challenged can and will defend themselves.

The primary argument supporting the view that Russia and China do not pose a military threat to the West is that it is not in their interests to do so. This should be self-evident but is rarely mentioned. The primary policy objectives for both Russia and China are economic development with the aim of raising living standards and alleviating poverty. For example President Putin’s latest address to the Federal Assembly lays out an enormous domestic program with objectives including increasing the birth rate, training more doctors and achieving high speed internet to all Russian schools. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which Russia is also deeply involved in, is based on five principles of peaceful coexistence, including equality and mutual benefit. Whilst there are legitimate concerns about how this initiative is being implemented, it is difficult to develop a logically coherent argument that reconciles these overriding economic development objectives with the threat of military aggression against the West. Military aggression would in fact be highly counter-productive and risk undermining what both Xi and Putin have been working on for decades.

Considering national security in its broadest sense, Australia faces multiples threats that rank far above that posed by Russia and China. These include: climate change, water, dependency on imported oil, the debt laden and increasingly unstable global financial system, pandemics, being dragged into nihilistic military adventurism at the behest of the United States and the ever present threat of nuclear war. All of these demand significant investment of resources and governmental attention to mitigate, adapt to, or avoid. The massively overhyped China/Russia threat detracts from the ability to address these actual threats and thus is a negative influence on Australia’s national security.

One of the founding principles of the United Nations is the sovereign equality of all members. The United States belief in its own exceptionalism runs counter to this foundational principle and is a root cause of many of the geopolitical tensions existing in the world today. The end of the United States’ hegemonic power and the re-emergence of a multi-polar world is not without its challenges but it only poses a threat to Australia if we make it one.

Cameron Leckie served as an officer in the Australian Army for 24 years including three operational deployments. He maintains a keen interest in strategic affairs.

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5 thoughts on “CAMERON LECKIE. The Real China – Russia Threat

  1. Many thanks to Mr Cameron Leckie for presenting a new view of the world in a sober and calm manner which accurately describe the status quo of geopolitics without bias.
    Military power and political influence of the US to determine unilateral actions, is on the wane as shown by the impasse of the military actions in Syria and perhaps the desire to withdraw from Afghanistan.
    Whilst the impasse with military & politic actions have been reached, the new Cold War front has opened up between US-China via the trade (trade war), technology (Huawei 5G) and propaganda (restricting foreign correspondents) fronts. Such fronts including the military arms race (including Space) could lead us to WW3.
    A return to multilateral would mean that US would have to share world domination and hegemony with Russia and China, and this will be heavily resisted by US.
    The assertiveness of Russia and China could change global participation from “playing according to rules instituted by US during their unilateral reign” to “playing to news rules mutually agreed upon by the new super powers”.
    Predictably, this change will be apparent in Phase II and beyond, of the US-China trade negotiations and will apply to international organisations such as WHO, IMF etc. The other alternative is to have twin organisations, one controlled US & allies and by China & allies. An analogy would be 2 global platforms for 5G telecommunications.
    I do agree with Mr Leckie that all the potential threats to Australia can be avoided if we have our own independent foreign policy that can accommodate China’s rise without scarifying our national security or sovereignty.

    1. “Military power and political influence of the US to determine unilateral actions, is on the wane as shown by the impasse of the military actions in Syria and perhaps the desire to withdraw from Afghanistan”.

      Withdraw? Too much for the USA to lose. Yes, they are going through the motions as they do with so many other matters, both politically and military, but I do not think it will ever happen until the empire has finished sliding further down the slippery pole than they have in 2020. Some years yet.
      In the meantime, billions to be made from precious metals and heroine.
      Now that’s the name of the game together with military bases to threaten China and Russia.

      How do you turn your back on bases that close to China; installing and controlling a Taliban “government” which to their naive way of reckoning will be of their own making in some way or another (little chance of that ever happening); the mineral wealth such as Lithium that is recognised as being there in abundance for which there will be an ever-increasing need in years to come; next door to Iran and their oil, Iran being a current Israel-designated target for the US to attack, soon (and we all know that the US does what Israel demands); and last, but not least, the control of the world’s supply of heroine per courtesy of the CIA and the military, a subject that no one in the media ever mentions.
      It would not surprise me if the Australian contingent has a role in protecting the crops for processing. We’ll do anything for the Trumps and White House dinners.

      One would have to compare Afghanistan to Syria, (still there for all the oil) and the other 800 military locations for US ‘influence’ around the globe, including many in Australia, now on the increase and welcomed with open arms by our weak, subservient government.

      Independent Australian foreign policy? Never in a Liberal or Labor environment, both parties now becoming images of the other.

      Now any one of those will keep the US in control, based in strategic locations. They don’t have to be in uniform. Hence the CIA, the revenue-generating arm of US government and their army of ‘guns for hire’.

  2. Excellent piece Cameron and I couldn’t agree more.

    The real tragedy is that strong and clear echoes of views similar to those Professor Dibb’s can be heard in all government statements on national security and defence policy and in those of many outside urgers crying for more and more defence spending. These views are also reflected in and underpin current defence spending which are directed at welding Australia ever closer to a fading hegemon.

    The quadruple barrelled threats of global warming, population growth, mass migration, and increasing instability caused by the breakdown of global order seem not to exist in the minds of those whose prejudices, past glories, and blinkered sight only allows them to see a small, distorted slice of reality.

  3. “Professor Dibb has in the past described Russia as being paranoid.”

    It can be said confidently that a detailed study of the good Professor’s career would identify who it is that is paranoid and in my opinion, it is certainly not the Russians. Adding to what Mr. Leckie has stated, any study of events in Russia over the past fifty years, the present intrusions into its borders by the US controlled NATO and the US bases themselves surrounding Russia, are enough to make any country remain on constant alert for any change in the strategies of the current USA hegemonic team of warmongers, deadly sanction installers, murderers, biochemical weapon makers, bullies and subservient Israeli sycophants.

    What wonderful achievements the US has had since the end of WWII. Must make successive Australian governments proud to be part of their team. Yes, a very junior part for sure, because we do know our place.

    Sadly, Academia is peppered with the likes of Dibb, all of whom subscribe to the idea of supporting our position as tame little US lapdogs, conforming to all the US generated wars and mouthing the policies of the likes of the arrogant Pompeo and his henchmen while at the same time blindly tolerating but never questioning the likes of the CIA /US Military and its massive international drug empire in Afghanistan and never uttering a word that hasn’t been approved by the so-called ‘intelligence’ agencies as well as the US State Department.
    Remember Julie Bishop? We now have Marise Payne, a political mirror image.

    Such people know no better and cannot flourish in a peaceful climate, needing and feeding on all that the disrespected US offers. Wars, wars and more wars with Australia tagging along carrying the bags, something of an international joke. And as for seeing both sides of a story, they are never wrong, always right.
    That’s extreme right, by the way.

    A perfect match for our present government with its pathetic leader

    A good analysis, Cameron Leckie. Interesting and well written.

  4. Sir,

    Thank you very much for putting the matter of “threat” to the Western democracies in such clear perspective. I agree with you that both China and Russia have more than their share of dealing with their own domestic problems. In the case of China, keeping more than 1.3 billion people of more than 52 ethnicities together and lifting the other half of the country out of poverty is in itself a monumental task. They do not need to bring more problems on themselves by gratuitiously creating more enemies or taking over other people’s problems. Why would the Chinese harm the Western democracies that have traded very well with them and to a very large extent played an important role in lifting their people out of poverty? If at all they had, rather clumsily I might say, attempted to interfere with the internal politics of other countries, it was to influence the opinions of these countries to a more positive one towards China. One must not forget that the fear, among the Western democracies, of the rise of a communist giant has generated a great deal of anti-Chinese propaganda.

    Chinese communism pre-Deng Xiaopeng was its own greatest enemy. It mired its own people in poverty for decades. The Commuist Party of China knows that and while they are trading with us they are also learning fast from us on a whole range of economic matters. Why should they upset the apple card? Long years of poverty and isolation had given them a “chip on the shoulder” complex. That is why they are very sensitive about statements like, “Sick man of Asia”.

    The anti-China rhetoric drummed up by the less experienced politician in Australia derives from the notion that the “external enemy” is a convenient tool in politics – for some. For the others, the world is only the “here and the now” and history is remote as the Himalayas.

    The Chinese government should do themselves a favour by renaming their party. Since with freedom of movement and private ownership of property, two of the most fundamental rights of a democracy, have been adopted by them, they can hardly be described as a communist country anymore. Wouldn’t “The Socialist Party of China” be less pointed? Like Friedrich Nietzsche who says “God is dead…” and heralds the rise of Superman; China should boldly say “Communism is dead!” and herald the rise of “Ultraman”. Then again, the Chinese are not known to have a great sense of humour.



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