Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Balancing Russia in the Pacific No Easy Task for Washington

The third year of the Ukraine conflict finds Russia continuing to establish spheres of influence, first with respect to the Syrian civil war, and now in the Asia Pacific. Historically, these campaigns mirror Russia's initial territorial expansion, first in Europe, then in southwestern Asia, and finally in the Russian Far East. In more recent times, Russia has attempted to leverage increased ties with the Asia Pacific region on several occasions in order to garner a more favorable relationship with its Western interlocutors.

The difference between those previous occasions and Russia's current Asia "pivot" is that Asia's increased economic heft has decidedly shifted the center of global economic and corresponding geopolitical import in its favor. This, combined with the belated realization that Russia no longer seeks to unquestioningly emulate the West and now considers itself a unique civilization unto itself, will only serve to magnify Russia's impact on the Asia Pacific security architecture.

Arguably, the Russian material presence is nowhere near Soviet naval levels in the region during the Cold War. This, however, should not lull the U.S. into a false sense of security by ascertaining that Russian pushback is limited only to the European and Middle Eastern theaters. Russia's recent missile defense system emplacement on the Kuril Islands should not be taken lightly as it mirrors China's recent missile deployment in the Paracels, while simultaneously hardening relations with Japan, a US ally which it still has not concluded a peace treaty with following World War II.

Lastly, the recent circumnavigation of this very same treaty ally by Russia may seem minor, but when taken in conjunction with the aforementioned moves, serves to put all players in the Asia Pacific on notice as to the permanent nature of Russia's interests in the region. The rising geopolitical weight of the Asia Pacific region is also complemented by the fact that it is also home to most of the world's great powers. Unfortunately for the U.S., none of these other powers are currently able and/or willing to help the U.S. check Russian power in the region.

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