Over the past five years, most Americans have become familiar with what leading journalists and scholars have called the new era of “great power competition”: a reference to the increasingly complex and disturbing armed confrontation between the United States (and its allies), and China and Russia, the two main authoritarian powers. The alarming genocidal war launched in February 2022 by Russia against Ukraine has awakened us to the reality that our expectations for the end of the Cold War in 1991 were delusional and insane. It is not clear that the universal appeal of the democratic idea will not spontaneously allow a benign New World Order to take shape.
Today, we face a determined adversary in China bent on establishing a beholden global empire. President Xi Jinping is on track to achieve this goal, capping it with his longtime self-made Maoist “presidency”.
In Moscow, after two wars, Russia regained control of the Chechen Republic, then occupied Georgia (August 2008), then annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine (March 2014). Vladimir Putin has made it clear that having mastered eastern and southern Ukraine, he intends to move on to Transnistria and possibly all of Moldova, before launching a campaign to restore control over one or more of the Baltic States.
Let’s examine the similarities and differences between how these two regimes pursue their autocratic ambitions. Clearly, China and Russia, as well as the United States, are nuclear weapon states. This reality influenced the authoritarian powers so far avoid escalation actions to stay below the threshold of nuclear war.
The risk of escalation has had a profound effect on the development of their current strategies. While China and Russia have both bolstered their nuclear arsenals – and delivery platforms – in recent years, they have also amplified their strategies with complementary “liminal warfare.”
What follows draws heavily on the brilliant work of Professor David Kilcullen, an Australian combat veteran with long experience in the Middle East and in government here with the State Department and with US forces deployed in the Middle East. East.
According to Kilcullen, “liminal warfare involves the integration of politics, economics, justice, military, intelligence, and cybersecurity into a single, seamless mix of maneuver-oriented activities. shaping of operations with the adversary before launching an operation.
For example, several months before the launch of the Georgian campaign in 2008, the Russians engaged in a generous passport distribution program where they offered any Russian-speaking Georgian citizen a Russian passport. By the time the operation began, they had a huge number of contrived “Russian citizens” inside Georgia and were able to lend a false patina of legitimacy to their aggression by invoking a false responsibility to protect Russian citizens .
Russia then combined political and economic warfare in its operation in Crimea in the winter of 2014. Russia initially focused on Germany – to ensure that NATO did not react – by manipulating the price of Russian oil and gas, thus posing the problem for Germany like a Hobson. choice of fuel or nothing (embargo). In short, you can stimulate a NATO response, but it could have an effect on the availability and cost of our oil and gas.
The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy noted that after two decades of wasted strategic attention and resources in desert fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, great power competition with Russia and China is now the number one threat to US security and economic well-being.
One of the most important “arenas” (and not just a “marketplace”) where great power rivalry is intensifying with China and Russia – as a “tandem”, coordinating foreign policy – is the global arena for new nuclear power plants. DNI Director Dan Coats pointed out in his January 2019 testimony that China and Russia use energy and technology projects as an arm of foreign policy.
China pursues a more ambitious and deeper strategy in its pursuit of empire. It began by targeting emerging markets in Africa and Latin America, but also the United States and Europe. Ironically, by focusing on developing countries, it took a page on soft power from the American playbook and corrupted it. This involves making seemingly benign offers to build various infrastructure projects such as ports, pipelines and power plants and even offering seemingly generous loans (which usually involve predatory manipulation of terms). Their objectives in these contexts are to take control of critical raw materials (i.e. cobalt in Congo, lithium in Chile), strategic land such as maritime choke points (Djibouti at the extreme south of the Red Sea and Suez in the north) to ensure access to the two largest markets in the world (the United States and Western Europe), and to scattered ports in these countries. China now has ninety-six ports located in all maritime countries of the world.
For those of you wondering how long we have to prepare before China launches its liminal war campaign in our country, consider the following. We have run huge trade deficits with China since its awakening in 1980, to the tune of $500 billion a year. China literally has trillions of dollars to use to buy up American companies. Stop to consider the implications of China’s purchase of Smithfield Foods. Smithfield is the world’s largest pork producer and processor. It has facilities in twenty-six US states and employs tens of thousands of Americans. It directly owns 460 farms and has contracts with about 2,100 others. China bought it for $4.7 billion, meaning Chinese people will now be the biggest employer in dozens of rural communities across America.
Elsewhere, China is actually mining coal in the mountains of Tennessee. Guizhou Gouchuang Energy Holdings Group spent $616 million to acquire Triple H Coal Co. in Jacksboro, Tennessee. Despite the Paris Agreement’s emphasis on reducing carbon emissions, China will build new coal-fired power plants at home until at least 2030 (and likely beyond). So much for China’s environmental concerns.
China now controls Chile’s lithium reserves, around 40% of the world’s total, useful for vehicle batteries.
When you add up all the imports and exports, China is now the number one trading nation on the planet and has more foreign currency reserves than any country in the world. And don’t forget that China produces more than 90% of the world’s supply of rare earth elements and is now the number one supplier of components critical to the functioning of any national defense system.
My purpose in the preceding litany of China’s gains and capabilities is to signal to everyone that China’s control over critical commodities and strategic terrain, its penetration of our country and over seventy other countries, and its compromise of dozens of key American industries are matters that threaten our security and the supreme national security interests.
Add to that a twenty-year strategy to penetrate America’s research universities and engineering programs. More than 300,000 Chinese nationals are now enrolled in major American universities (few of them in “humanities” or “gender studies”). They (the Chinese Communist Party) pay all out-of-state tuition, which American universities are now dependent on. The pandemic has shaken the number of Chinese students a bit, but they remain a higher number than in any other country. To add insult to injury, China steals $400 billion a year in intellectual property according to the National Bureau of Asian Research.
What is the place of civil (commercial) nuclear energy (and not nuclear weapons) in this diagram? In the United States, certain aspects of “civilian” nuclear power clearly fall under “economics” and commerce, but in China all engineering and commercial nuclear power plants are owned and operated by the Chinese government. (China General Nuclear, CGN). These same state-owned companies (or subsidiaries) in China also manufacture the country’s nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel.
In addition, CGN bids internationally on nuclear projects abroad, such as in Pakistan. In the case of the Karachi plant, CGN is providing a Chinese undercover branch of the Pakistani government to support Beijing’s $46 billion investment in the “Pakistan Economic Corridor,” part of the “Belt and Route Initiative”.
Russia is more active in using nuclear power plants to expand its sphere of influence by securing military base rights with these deals, “to manage the fuel.”
Russia uses reactors already built in its former Warsaw Pact (now members of NATO): the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria. Since 2000, it has expanded to India (in Kudankulam), Turkey (in Akkuyu), Belarus and Bangladesh, and they have tendered for new factories in Vietnam, Iran, Egypt, Bulgaria and Africa . Above all, unlike the United States, nuclear power plant projects have been used as a strong arm of Chinese and Russian foreign policy. These are not decisions based solely on the Lowest Cost of Electricity (LCOE) framework.
To counter this aggressive “forward platform” strategy, the United States and its allies must counter this with an “allied nuclear partner” response that drives private investment in partnership with host nations, rather than the model of “domination of state enterprises” practiced by Rosatom and CGN. Russia and China are using nuclear power plant projects to directly subvert host nation sovereignty in their open campaign of predatory commercialism as a weapon of liminal warfare. Going forward, “energy sovereignty will be the Westphalian principle of the 21st century,” as Admiral Mike Hewitt of IP3 and Professor David Gattie of the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia assert. .