America’s Top Geostrategic Threat?

Russia is the most significant geopolitical player actively opposing significant American interests.

 

We had a spirited discussion here yesterday over Mitt Romney’s declaration that Russia is Our “Number One Foe”.

Responding to a Los Angeles Times survey, two of my Atlantic Council colleagues make a pretty good case that Iran is the top contender for that title. In a follow-up blog, “America’s Number One Geostrategic Threat?” I defend Romney.

Romney is certainly right that Russia is the most significant geopolitical player actively opposing significant American interests. While China is generally touted as the bogeyman for those desperate to find a “peer competitor” against which to justify massive military spending, it’s a regional power with limited global ambitions. Russia, by contrast, has ambitions which directly counter our own in the area that has traditionally been the focus of American foreign policy: Europe.

Iran is an isolated player with no reach beyond its neighborhood. Yes, it’s a major supporter of terrorist groups. Then again, so is Saudi Arabia. Yes, it’s seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon. Then again, Pakistan and North Korea already have them. Yes, it uses its status as an energy exporter to gain leverage beyond its weight. Then again, so does Russia.

Russia is certainly seen as a threat by the countries in its “Near Abroad.” It invaded and occupied Georgia months after NATO declared its future membership a sure thing. Many if not most of NATO’s newest members see Russia as far and away the number one threat facing them and wish the Alliance would turn its focus back to Article 5.

Further, as Romney notes, Iran would be less of a threat if Russia were on our side in seeking to contain that threat.

I include two rather major caveats, however. First, I dismiss Romney’s posturing against Obama’s Russia policy, specifically on nuclear weapons,  as unserious “election year hype.” Second, I contend that the notion of  ”America’s #1 geopolitical foe” is an “outmoded concept.”

But the core of Romney’s argument here is meritorious.

Photo: Race For Iran.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Europe, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I don’t see Iran as a strategic threat. A regional one, maybe. Worse, it was a minor threat that the US by its actions, have enabled to grow.

  2. legion says:

    Personally, I consider China’s history of state-sanctioned industrial espionage and corporate/government cooperation more destabilizing & a bigger threat to the US and global economies than Russia for the foreseeable future.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    And Sarah Palin can see it from her house!!!

    Israel’s actions, counter to America’s interests, are far more dangerous than Russia’s actions are to America’s interests.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    Second, I contend that the notion of ”America’s #1 geopolitical foe” is an “outmoded concept.”

    But the core of Romney’s argument here is meritorious.

    Critiquing a literal interpretation of JJ’s pretzel logic here is beyond me (summary: Romney is posturing about an obsolete concept but his remarks are meritorious?) so I’m going to limit myself to commenting on JJ’s two hard propositions which are simply preposterous. History has not (pace Fukuyama) ended. Great power rivalry is alive and well, and will be continue to be a feature of geopolitics into the forseeable future. Secondly, casting Russia, the sadly shrunken successor state to the USSR which has major economic and demographic problems, as our principal geopolitical foe is laughable. Our major rival (our only rival) for world hegemony is not Russia or Iran (which seeks only a regional hegemony) but China. This is a nation with approaching 1.5 billion people, a rapidly expanding economy whose GDP will surpass ours in ten years or so, and military expenditures at around 120 billion which are second only to ours (Russia’s military expenditures are around 60 billion). I’ve little doubt for example we’re going to see a major Chinese surface fleet operating in the Pacific in the next 20 years. None of this means co-existence and co-operation isn’t possible but the notion that anyone other than China represents a serious rival for global power and influence is ridiculous. Russia like Iran is a minor potential irritant not our number one foe.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: There’s nothing contradictory about arguing that a concept is outmoded and that someone’s answer to the concept is right.

    As to your argument, I don’t think great power politics has ended. (Neither, for that matter, did Fukuyama.) Rather, I argue that we remain a hyperpower and that China’s goals are limited to being a regional hegemon. They have no ambitions beyond economic ones in Europe, Africa, or the Middle East.

    I’m not someone who thinks we’re fighting the Cold War under another name or that Russia is an existential threat. Indeed, I note that in the piece. Rather, I think Russia is a threat to some of our NATO allies and a greater thorn in our side than China in securing our objectives in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. China is annoying primarily in the negative, in that it inexplicably refuses to throw its weight around in places like North Korea where doing so would seem to be mutually advantageous.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    Rather, I argue that we remain a hyperpower and that China’s goals are limited to being a regional hegemon. They have no ambitions beyond economic ones in Europe, Africa, or the Middle East.

    JJ….our ambitions in the middle east, South America, Asia and Europe are entirely

    economic.

    We don’t have vast naval and military forces deployed around the world for the purpose of showing the flag or encouraging the natives to watch US movies.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    JJ….our ambitions in the middle east, South America, Asia and Europe are entirely

    economic.

    I’ll qualify this by saying almost entirely economic. I can think of a couple of cases where sentiment or security are important factors. But it’s mainly economic.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: The US and China have economic interests in a variety of places. But that doesn’t make China a geostrategic threat, merely a competitor. Indeed, the Chinese are loaning us money hand over fist. A really odd move if they see as us a threat.

  9. Babeouf says:

    ‘Russia, by contrast, has ambitions which directly counter our own in the area that has traditionally been the focus of American foreign policy: Europe.’ Perhaps that’s because Russia has a part labelled European Russia. The US by contrast has a NATO centred engagement that is less than a century old. In any case the contest for European hegemony will be decided by the European hegemon Germany. And Germany’s interest are quiet different from the US traditional European ‘Friend’ Britain. If and when Romney becomes US president his anti Russian crusade won’t capture Berlin(because the Red Army did and the Germans have a long memory with respect to these acts).

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    But that doesn’t make China a geostrategic threat, merely a competitor. Indeed, the Chinese are loaning us money hand over fist. A really odd move if they see as us a threat.

    I note you avoid recognition of the fundamental fact that the principal purpose of all this military power is to protect our economic interests. And what exactly is the substantive difference between a global competitor and a global rival for power and influence? There’s none as far as I can see. As for money. For the entire second half of the 19th century the principal investor in the US was Britain and yet we came close to war with the British empire at least twice. In 1914 Germany had major investments in Britain while the Germans had major investments in Russia. Furthermore their royal familiies (two of them autocracies) were closely related but it didn’t make a dimes worth of difference where national priorities were concerned. We’re clearly heading back into a bi-polar world if we’re not there already. Quite honestly I find your refusal to recognise this as extraordinary.

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    @James Joyner:

    Indeed, the Chinese are loaning us money hand over fist.

    Smal quibble: the Chinese do not loan the U.S. money. When China sells goods and services to the U.S, it gets paid in dollars which are deposited in its checking account at the Department of Treasury. China can then: 1) buy assets in the U.S. 2) exchange their dollars for another currency, or 3) deposit those dollars in a savings account.

    Congress blocks Chinese acquisition of anything having real value, so option #1 is mostly out. Option #2 would cause the yuan to appreciate vs. the USD and would harm China’s trade surplus with us, so that is limited as well. What China has chosen to do is put most of those dollars into a savings account which consists of U.S. Treasuries paying out roughly 2.00% interest. It’s a straight asset swap of dollars for bonds; the money doesn’t “fund” anything. It’s always available to the Chinese, just as the money in your savings account is available to you.