Guest Column – Some foreign policy problems are awaiting Trump

Date Published: 
Jan. 20, 2017

Critical to United States foreign policy will be issues that Russia and China pose for the new incoming Trump administration. Russia, recently, has deployed 225,000 troops, military equipment and missiles to the enclave of Kaliningrad, between Lithuania and Poland, which the U. S. has characterized as “destabilizing.”

Retired U.S. military commander Jack Keane, a four-star general, has argued that Vladimir Putin, president of Russia and a former KGB leader, is planning an invasion of the Baltic states. President Barack Obama has ordered a small contingent of troops and equipment to Poland to counter the Russian threat. Russia’s aggressive intent will pose one of the first foreign policy problems for the Trump administration.

Putin has used a model which uses disinformation and disguise in its invasion of its neighbors. In 2008, Russia played an important role in the succession of two Georgia provinces: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With Russia’s protection, they declared their independence.

Secondly, Putin annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian territory, in 2014 after Russian troops, in disguise, took over the Supreme Council of Crimea and installed the Aksyonov government. Thirdly, Putin, in 2014, deployed Russian troops again, in disguise, into Eastern Ukraine, ostensibly to protect demonstrations by pro-Russian groups.

Understanding Russia and Putin means understanding its overall strategic plan. Putin’s goals are to recover the “near abroad” of the former Soviet Union and recover its prestige and place in the world order that it believes it lost in the fall of the Soviet Union.

This model of retaking Crimea and parts of Ukraine has led to European fears that he will move on the Baltic states, arguing that he is protecting ethnic Russians in these Republics, in a move similar to Georgia, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. must state very clearly that the Baltic states are off limits to Russian advancement and must back up its statement with deployment of troops to the Baltic states. Military strength is something that an autocratic leader like Putin will understand.

Similarly, China’s recent foreign policy in the Far East is equally frightening. China’s President Xi Jinping has claimed 3,000 acres of land in the South China Sea, establishing airstrips and ports, and basically laid claim to the South China Sea.

The United States, historically, has defended freedom of the seas, and China has challenged maritime rights in the region. China has also demanded military flights seek permission to fly through the region. Over $5 trillion in trade flow though the South China Sea, raising the importance of the U.S. freedom-of-seas argument.

Several incidents, including the taking over of the Scarborough Reef, confronting the Philippians over the attempt to take over the Thomas Shoals, China’s attempt to construct a deep-sea oil rig within Vietnam’s economic zone and provoking Japan over the Senkakus islands manifest China’s aggressive approach in the South China Sea.

China has done very little in holding back North Korean aggressive moves. On New Year’s Day, North Korea announced that it was “in the final stages of test-launching the intercontinental ballistic missile.” North Korea’s tests will push this foreign policy crisis to the forefront in the Trump administration.

President Obama, rightly, has recognized a rebalancing of its Asian policy and future Trump policy should include the deployment of combat troops to the region. Australia, which has hosted U.S. military exercises in its northern region would be the logical place for this deployment. This deployment should be used to back up its diplomacy to seek agreement to defuse these issues and propose risk reduction measures. Ultimately, China must be persuaded to abandon its claim to the South China Sea.

Trump’s Secretary of State will have to take office facing some challenging and explosive issues.

Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View who has taught international relations for 35 years.