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Beijing and Moscow need a strong demonstration of US and allied resolve

BY JOSEPH BOSCO, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR

Ukraine’s new defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, told the Washington Post that it is unclear whether Putin has decided to attack. As with China and Taiwan, the most effective way to deter that decision for aggression would be a clear statement of intent to defend Ukraine as a matter of general European security. Putin has been transparent in his desire to reincorporate all of the former Soviet-controlled territories, several of which are NATO members, into a new “Greater Russia,” so appeasement on Ukraine will not bring more than temporary peace to the European continent.

As of now, NATO is not prepared to take that declaratory measure, despite the statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that “Our support for Ukraine sovereignty territorial integrity remains unwavering.” The only commitment Washington appears prepared to make at this time is Austin’s pledge to “continue to advance our shared priority to counter Russian aggression and to deepen our cooperation in such areas as Black Sea security, cyber defense and intelligence sharing.”

The credibility of any U.S. warning to Beijing and/or Moscow is naturally weaker after the shambolic and tragic abandonment of Afghanistan. But that is also all the more reason the Biden administration needs to back up its strong words with a demonstration of its intent to take decisive action, with its allies and security partners, to halt this century’s most dangerous aggressive powers.

In their revanchist regional ambitions, each has proved adept at incremental aggression, the “salami slicing” strategy perfected by the Nazis in the 1930s. But unlike the impatient Adolf Hitler, Xi and Putin have protracted their moves over a period of years and avoided a timely Western response.

Aside from the escalating tensions with the West’s two major adversaries, North Korea continues to play the role of perpetually prepared provocateur with its advancing nuclear and missile programs and hostile policies toward South Korea, Japan and the United States. For decades, it has been a major distraction from China’s ominous activities and China may well decide it is time to play the North Korea card again.

At the same time, Washington had difficulty getting Iran back to the negotiating table to discuss its budding nuclear program, even as Teheran continues building its nuclear weapons capabilities. Here again, Defense Secretary Austin had strong words for the situation: “If Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also has said of Iran’s noncooperation, “Every option is on the table.” Iran may be the most attractive target for a forceful demonstration of U.S. resolve — and an appropriate signal to Beijing and Moscow.

 

Washington can avoid the strategic miscalculation that occurred in 1950, so that this time Henry Kissinger will not have cause to say, “We did not expect the invasion; China [and Russia] did not expect our response.”

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute.






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