Two important events took place recently with regard to Ukraine and Taiwan. President Biden spoke about the Ukraine situation and Secretary of State Blinken visited China and held important meetings with Chinese leaders. Initial reports indicated that the United States (US) was trying to dial back tensions and open the door to greater diplomatic negotiations. This was a step back from the more confrontational position the US has recently held, and one view is that the US “blinked” after seeing that the hardline approach was not achieving the desired results. Another viewpoint is that the two episodes were an aberration and not likely to have lasting effects. Blinken’s visit generated considerable negative response and Biden blew a hole in the Chinese negotiations by his comments.
In the case of Ukraine, President Biden reversed himself again, stating that Ukraine would have to go through the regular seven-step procedure in order to become a member of NATO. This is a very time-consuming process and one of the steps is to get a lid on corruption in the country. Since Ukraine is alleged to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the chances of fixing that problem are near zero. In effect then, Biden’s decision means that the chances of Ukraine joining NATO anytime soon are also near zero. Therefore, the US move more or less amounts to acquiescing to Russia’s demand that Ukraine not join NATO. The US action is a veto on the NATO Secretary General’s call for a speedy membership for Ukraine. It undercuts the German Foreign Minister’s newly issued national security strategy, as well as efforts to provide new weapons to Ukraine, such as the US F-16 fighter planes. Biden’s action, unless reversed yet again, will require re-tooling the agenda for the NATO meeting in Vilnius in July. The “narrative” put out by the West concerning the Ukraine War will also need to be adjusted, as this action by Biden may be a first step in taking the off-ramp from the war. However, NATO officials and European politicians are still calling for Ukraine to join NATO, and more weapons and money are being sent to Ukraine, so the impact of Biden’s statement is in doubt. It may have been just another gaffe by the President.
The latest fiasco in the Ukraine War is the reported attempt by the head of the Wagner mercenary group to march on Moscow. The latest reports are that Belarus was able to negotiate a ceasefire, that the Wagner forces have been told to return to their barracks and that the Wagner leader will go to exile in Belarus. It remains to be seen what the real facts are and to evaluate their impact on the conduct of the war.
In the case of Taiwan, Secretary of State Blinken announced during his visit to China that the US was not supporting independence for Taiwan and that the US would uphold the historical “one-China” policy. This effectively reverses the recent US position of supporting and defending Taiwan independence and amounts to acquiescing to China’s demands. Blinken’s announcement followed weeks of visits to China by a number of US CEOs of huge international companies. Presumably, the companies were not happy with the buildup of anti-Chinese actions by the US, as these measures would hamper getting goods produced by their factories in China and reduce sales of their products in China. While the multinational companies are trying to relocate production to other Asian countries, this takes time, effort and money. One can only imagine what the Chinese leader and one of the world’s richest men (Gates) talked about during their meeting in Beijing last week. Pressure on the Biden administration was likely from big retailers in the US–Walmart, Target, CVS, and the rest–who could foresee their shelves going bare in the event of a serious altercation between the US and China. Many US companies are still licking their wounds from having to pull out of Russia due to sanctions. The Western automobile companies lost their factories and sales in Russia, and these factories have been repurposed to build Chinese and Iranian vehicles. The same thing could happen to Western automobile companies in China. Other US companies are also warning about trade restrictions with China. As noted in this blog, Raytheon, a major US weapons manufacturer, points out that the company depends on several thousand suppliers in China as well as on several critical inputs for its weapons, including rare earth metals. Nvidia warns that chip restrictions will hurt the company, as it depends on sales to China and that China will just go ahead and develop its own advanced chips. Thus we see a repeat of the counter-results of sanctions on Russia: the sanctioned country just goes ahead on its own and becomes an even greater competitor to the US.
Shortly after Secretary Blinken’s visit, President Biden attended a private fund-raiser and in the course of his talk, he called the Chinese leader “a dictator.” The resulting uproar undercut the whole purpose of sending Blinken to China. The long term ramifications are not that clear on the amount of damage. For instance, Blinken would not have gone to China unless the Biden Administration had come to the conclusion that a change of course was needed in US-China relations. Blaming Blinken for “kow-towing” is only blaming the messenger. The Biden Administration would not have sent Blinken unless instructed to do so by the proverbial “Powers Behind the Throne” (or “behind the curtain” in modern terms). The “Powers” had obviously concluded that the US foreign policy was on a losing trajectory and needed to be revamped.
President Biden was either somewhat out of the loop on this decision, or forgot what was being done by the State Department, or simply was not capable of realizing when he should keep quiet. This is shown by Biden’s attempt to walk-back his comment and claim that it was no big deal, just some hysteria. The “Powers” are now on notice that the President is a major problem and that something needs to be done to prevent any more such missteps.
That Blinken’s visit to China was a US attempt at some sort of detente is also shown by the words of Secretary of the Treasury Yellen. Yellen, at a press conference in Paris, said it was critical to maintain communication with China and to work together where possible. She and other US officials were trying to down-play the President’s remarks.
Detente will be more difficult to achieve due to actions by both countries. The US has been going out of its way to inflame the Taiwan situation and annoy China with the various Quad proposals and selling nuclear submarines to Australia, among numerous provocations. China has upset the status quo by brokering a peace agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, leading to a wholesale shift of Middle Eastern countries away from US influence and toward China and Russia. In addition, the agreement has gravely undercut the US policies concerning Iran, and perhaps fatally injured the Petrodollar. The US is also upset over reports that China is setting up a military training effort in Cuba.
The agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia has put Israel in a less favorable position, as it effectively nullifies the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump Administration. The agreement undercuts nearly all the bases of Israeli foreign policy in the Middle East. Furthermore, China is now embarking on a peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians. Both of these Chinese initiatives will force Israel into a major recalculation of its foreign and domestic policies.
The new US initiatives promoted by the “Powers” will lead to significant changes with regard to the Ukraine War and the Taiwan War, provided that the policies are carried out. There will be plenty of opponents to these new policies and no guarantee that they will succeed. The Council on Foreign Relations yesterday issued a report that called for stronger support for Taiwan, especially from a military viewpoint. This shows that there is a difference of opinion among the “Powers” and that some are pushing back against any detente with China.
There are other factors at work here, too, such as the loss of prestige of the US weapons makers following the destruction of their weapons in Ukraine. The Western tanks, artillery, personnel carriers, air defense systems, and rockets are being effectively neutralized by Russia, whereas the Western- supported Ukrainian Army has not been as successful in neutralizing the Russian weapons. The longer the war goes on, the worse it looks for the Western armament companies. The German Leopard tanks are a case in point, which is probably the main reason that the US Abrams tanks have not yet been supplied to Ukraine. As for the F-16 fighter planes, Russia says bring them on and we will be happy to shoot them down wholesale.
In addition, it is widely acknowledged that the sanctions on Russia, China, and Iran have failed to achieve any really useful results. Both Russia and Iran are moving forward with economic growth, new advanced weapon systems, and increased activities in space. This month Iran proposed a new natural gas hub on the Persian Gulf coast. Gas would come from major producing countries: Russia, Iran, Qatar, and Turkmenistan, and be delivered to India, Pakistan, and China. Iran is also in the news following the reported discovery of a massive lithium deposit which is claimed to hold about ten percent of the world’s reserves.
The US even admits that the sanctions have worsened the problem of de-dollarization. A huge case of shooting oneself in the foot. The dollar is under immense pressure as other countries increasingly use local currencies or gold to settle accounts. The BRICS and SCO are investigating alternatives to the US dollar and the oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia are accepting Chinese money, thus ending the Petrodollar regime.
Countries across the Global South are wanting to join the new international organizations sponsored by Russia and China: BRICS, SCO, new transport corridors, and banks. The US wars and regime changes in West Asia (Middle East) have been a failure and Israel is more isolated and in the midst of internal disagreement. The Central Asian counties are more and more working together with Russia, China, and Iran to sort out problems and seek progress together.
It is clear that the US plan of world-wide hegemony has run aground and a new plan is necessary. This realization has penetrated the US Defense Department, where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that there are three superpowers in the world today, the US, China and Russia. In other words, the US cannot use military power against the other superpowers without blowing up the world. This fact has been slow to percolate through the US political class and the mainstream media, but it appears that the White House and the State Department have also finally gotten the message. The US military is mostly impotent in its ability to preserve the “international rules-based order” of the past American Century.
However, just because the Biden Administration has apparently tried to change course, it is not clear that all the other political factions in the US and Europe will fall in line. There has been an enormous investment in promoting the alternative reality of US exceptionalism and triumphalism, coupled with the supposed weakness of Russia and China. The whole narrative in the official reports and the mainstream media would have to be changed. There is some indication that this is already happening. News articles are pointing out the problems and lack of success of the Ukraine counter-offensive and beginning to put the blame on the head of the Ukraine Army, as well as the head of Ukraine intelligence. The next head to be blamed, so to speak, could well be the President of Ukraine, especially since Russia would like him to stay in office in order to sign the surrender papers.
Of course, there is no guarantee on how long the Biden Administration officials will remain in office, but these latest “blinks” provide a glimmer of hope that, behind the curtain, the US is diverting onto an off-ramp instead of continuing the reckless drive toward a wider war.