SEPTEMBER 11, THE BEGINNING OF A NEW CONJUNCTURE (*)
The general trend seems to be away from the vestiges of the Cold War and towards more international cooperation. If, at the end, the conjuncture consolidates this trend, it can make the World a safer place to live in.
The terror attacks of September 11 on the United States has marked the beginning of a new conjuncture. A unique constellation of forces is emerging. At the present time one can hardly predict what the world will look like when the process will completely settle and the conjuncture take shape.
A terrible force has struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. We have seen the most terrible kind of terrorism. This is what has been called asymmetric use of violence. Every country has experienced its impact. The whole civilised world has condemned it and is determined to fight it. Already political, military and legal measures are underway.
The conjuncture will eventually mature at a point in time when the basic components of the puzzle will be put in place. At this early stage we can determine that the process has been set in motion. All the same, there are already certain indications as to the direction in which things will be moving.
One such indication is the way September 11 shock was immediately perceived. Some said the horrific attacks might help usher in the “post post-Cold War era”. Some others talked of a second chance to bury the Cold War.1 The reference point was mostly the Cold War. This shows that the period in which we lived contained the remnants of that episode. There is awareness that despite all efforts we could not completely free ourselves from living under the spell of the Cold War climate.
Another indication is the attitude of the main players in the face of such a catastrophe. They were very quick to come forth. NATO countries immediately rallied to the cause. Russia and China were also in the forefront. On the way to a more stable world, September 11 made the road bifurcate. The relationship between US, Russia and China, would determine to a great extend how we shall proceed from that point on. They are the three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and most directly involved in Central Asia where the fight against terrorism has opened. We shall see how they will act to put in place the missing components of the puzzle; the final shape of the conjuncture will emerge accordingly. To be able to make a guess on the end result, it would be useful to look into the relationship between these three powers.
Relations between US, Russia and China
September 11 being the turning point in an analysis of the relations between these three countries, it would be useful to
1 A Second Chance to Bury the Cold War, International Herald Tribune, 5 Oct 2001.
divide each subject into two chapters: before September 11, after September 11.
US-Russia Relations Before
For our present purposes it would not be necessary to go as far back as the end of the Cold War. It may suffice to start with the Bush Administration. However, it would be useful to relate briefly how the Americans perceived the period since the Cold War. There are those who say that since the Cold War the American policy struggled to find the right approach toward Russia.2 There are others who are of the opinion that the consequences of the change brought about by the end of the Cold War still reverberate.3 Yes, the US is the single most powerful and influential country, but relations with Russia pose problems. A report submitted to the US Congress admitted that in 1992 and 1993 Yeltsin gave the West more than would have seemed possible under Gorbacev. The cutting of aid to the Communist regime in Afghanistan and ordering combat troops out of Cuba are mentioned as examples.4 That period was also described as the honeymoon period. But, slowly starting in 1993 the Russian Federation would take important decisions in foreign policy and the first indication was the declaration of the policy of “near abroad”. Again in 1995 there came a decree on the Russian policy toward CIS countries. The objective was further economic integration under Russian leadership. Russia would
2Senator Joseph Biden, US Foreign Policy Agenda, Department of State, March 2001
3 Robert J. Liber, ibid.
4 CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Sept 25, 2001
also try to have a CIS defence alliance. Then we see the “new military doctrine”. This doctrine foresaw the use of nuclear force when needed. Such an assertive policy would certainly put an end to the good relations between the US and Russia. Russia also started to balance the worldwide influence of the US by working to create a multi-polarworld.Among other things, Russia endeavoured to build a “strategic partnership” with China. When Kozyrev was replaced by Primakov in 1996 it became clear that the divergence of views between the two countries would deepen.
When Putin came to power it was already apparent that this trend would continue and be strengthened. The “Putin Doctrine” adopted in the year 2000, is contained in documents relating to foreign policy, defence, security and information. It will be useful for our analysis to have a closer look at the document called “The Foreign Policy Concept”. Russia is described there as the strongest Eurasian Power. It is asserted that the US strategy of unilateral action may destabilise the world.5 New threats to Russia’s national interests come from attempts to establish a unipolar world, dominated economically and militarily by the US. It is concluded that Russia will endeavour to establish a multilateral system for international relations. Russia would make a global effort to support the United Nations and its Security Council against US attempts to control the World.
So, when President Bush took over suggestions were mostly about the way his Administration could use to discourage the Russian behaviour. In December 2000 Condoleeza Rice would say that US
5 Ariel Cohen, Putin’s Foreign Policy and US-Russian Relations, The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Jan 18, 2001
policy should concentrate on the important security agenda with Russia.6 However after one year in office, the Administration started to give more positive signals. Colin Powell in his remarks on March 2001 said that the US wanted to be good friends with Russia.7
Oil and gas
Oil and gas resources of the countries of Caspian and Central Asia are important for US, Russia and China. They have already become a bone of contention between US and Russia. China is slowly entering the game. It would therefore be appropriate to look into this question here in the section dealing with US-Russian relations.
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rich in oil and gas. How rich? Estimates of oil reserves vary between 25 to 85 billion barrels. Natural gas reserves are quoted 6 to 11 trillion cubic feet. Production figures may give us an idea as to their capacity.
Azerbaijan oil fields are Chiraq, Guneshli and Azeri. Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project envisages the transportation of oil with a capacity of 50 million tons per annum. Kazakhstan is developing the Tengiz and Korolev oil fields in partnership with the Chevron Company of the US. The production of the Tengiz field is already being taken to the Russian port of Novorossisk trough a pipeline formed by international companies. The pipeline is 1.500 km long and will carry initially 28 million tons of oil per year and later 67 millions tons. Turkmenistan produced 0.5 trillion cubic feet of gas in 1998.
6 Condolezza Rice, Chicago Tribune, Dec 31 2000, ibid.
7Colin Powell, Remarks to the National Newspaper Association, March,23,2001, ibid.
For the time-being transportation of oil from the Caspian region is mainly to the West, therefore the rivalry has been mostly between the US and Russia regarding the export routes. Soviet Union was one of the largest oil exporters. Russia would like to carry the new oil output of the region through her facilities. The US, on the other hand, seeks to diversify the number of outlets. US Assistant Secretary of Energy said that moving Caspian energy supplies into the global market was important from the point of view of US national security. He also declared that Russia was an important partner in this field and that they encouraged it to participate in the development of multiple transport routes.8 Russia on her part in a formal policy declaration in 1996 said energy was major factor in safeguarding Russia’s security.9 We see that both countries consider energy matters so important as to constitute a question of security.
This rivalry between the US and Russia that people called the new “Great Game”10 was studied by the officials and scholars of the two countries in October 2000 at a conference by the Caspian Studies Program of the Harvard University. American officials said US wanted to promote the independence and the economic development of the countries in the region and they do not intend to alienate Russia.
8 David L. Goldwyn, US Assistant Secretary of Energy, Testimony, April 12, 2000
9 Stephen Blank, Every Shark East of Suez: Great Power Interests, Policies and Tactics in the Transcaspian Energy Wars, Central Asian Survey, 1999
10 Bruce R. Kuniholm, Geopolitics of the Caspian Basin, The Middle East Journal, Washington, Autumn 2000
However, it was clear that Russia perceived US efforts in the region as impinging on Russian security.11 Other American scholars are of the opinion that Russia thinks that US is purposefully weakening Russia’s strategic position and even wants to constrain it.12
Although we are dealing here with US-Russian relations, it would be useful to point to the implications of China’s interest in Central Asian oil and gas. This may create competition first between Russia and China and eventually between China and US. As a matter of fact, China has acquired several fields in Kazakhstan and wants to build the longest pipeline in the world, from Western Kazakhstan to the Xinjiang province in China. China also has another ambitious project to build a gas pipeline from Eastern Turkmenistan to the Pacific Coast of China. An oil pipeline is also being considered from Kazakhstan along the same route.13
US-Russia Relations After
We may now turn our attention to what has transpired since the September 11 attacks. It has been reported that the same day of the
11 Emily Van Buskirk, Power Politics in the Caspian, Harvard Newsletter, March 13, 2001
12 Fiona Hill, Policy Brief, Brookings Institution, May 2001
13 Ariel Cohen, Testimony in the House of Representatives, US Interests in Central Asia, March 17,1999
terrorist attack President Putin telephoned President Bush to express his condolences. From that moment on things between the two countries developed in a positive way. A week after the attacks, Mr. Armitage went to Russia to ask Russia’s help on tracking down Osama bin Laden. Again it was reported that he also enquired whether Russia was prepared to transform their still antagonistic relations.14 He would inform the Russian side that US intended to send its forces to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. US wanted a green light from Moscow before doing that. Russia’s cooperation in this field was essential.15
The reasons behind the cooperative attitude of Mr. Putin have been the subject of intense debate. According to Russian sources, the Russian government is demonstrating its willingness to be a military and political ally. A Russian newspaper editorial commented, “In a strange way, the Kremlin is trying to get from the West what the West has always dreamed of extracting from Russia. Moscow is talking about joining the World Trade Organization and about strengthening ties with NATO”.16 An American think-tank official described it as a strategic decision of President Putin. He knew that Washington needed Moscow as a military and political ally, and he would not find a better opportunity for rapprochement with the West. Putin also tried to make the agreement of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to make their skies and bases available to US as a concession from Russia itself.17 Observers from neutral quarters were quick to say that the price for his support to the Afghanistan campaign was the acceptance by the US of his war against the Chechens. It was an alliance for realpolitik.18
14 A Second Chance to Bury the Cold War, International Herald Tribune, 5 Oct 2001
15 Russia, Why Is It Needed? Time Magazine, Oct 8, 2001
16 A New Rapprochement Between the US and Russia, The St. Petersburg Times, Oct 27 2001
17 Putin’s Bold Move, Time Magazine, Oct 29, 2001
18 Le Monde, 19 Oct, 2001
Following these first contacts the two governments were starting to reshape a new form of relationship. The US-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan gave the first signals of such a change when they met in November 2001 in Moscow. They issued a statement which talked about the “extraordinary depth and breadth of cooperation and consultation” between the two countries.19
The major development that has taken place in the relations of the two countries after September 11 is the Summit meeting between President Bush and President Putin in the United States on November of 2001. There, many decisions and actions taken by the two countries separately following the tragic attacks culminated in a basic agreement. The Joint Statement issued at the end of the talks is titled “New Relationship between the US and Russia”.20 In this document they both state they have overcome the legacy of the Cold War and that they don’t see each other as an enemy or threat. They would work together to promote security in the world. This, of course, is a fundamental commitment. Even if they have previously taken steps in this direction, this time they undertake to form a partnership for the leadership of the world.
This constitutes a real change towards a new international conjuncture.
The two leaders in the same document say they are determined to meet the threats to peace. And they enumerate them: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, militant nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and regional instability. This is a
19 US-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan; Joint Press Statement, Washington, D.C., Nov 2001
20 The White House; Joint Statement by President George Bush and President Vladimir Putin on a New Relationship between the US and Russia, Nov 14, 2001
broad spectrum. When such diverse issues are enumerated one by one, the question arises whether the two powers will be able to agree on the methods to deal with them. Again, to deal with these challenges they talk of creating a new strategic framework. Will that be a new mechanism? That remains to be seen.
A most interesting part of their agreement is the new emphasis they put on the relationship between NATO and Russia. They go as far as envisaging joint decisions, not only in the fight against terrorism but also on matters relating to regional instability and other contemporary threats. Following on that understanding the British Prime Minister has written to the NATO leaders and President Putin and proposed such a new security framework under which Russia would take part in decisions on key security issues. Already in 1997 NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was set up to discuss such matters. However, it was not intended as a decision-making body. This time, according to senior British officials, the proposal of the British Prime Minister is designed to create a problem-sharing partnership “to ensure that Russia never feels out in the cold when security emergencies occur in the future”.21 Later, NATO Secretary General had further talks in Moscow on the same question.
The paragraph of the Joint Summit Statement on missiles has been overtaken by events, and it seems it is not a subject to disturb rapprochement between Washington and Moscow.
Although relations between the United States and Russia looks likely to be for the time being the cornerstone of the international arena in the years to come, one should not underestimate the part
- The Times, Nov 17,2001
to be played by the People’s Republic of China. Firstly, because China is a major power in Asia and the World. Second, China historically influenced very much the relations between US and Russia.
US-China Relations Before
Relations between China and the US go back to 1850’s. In this century the two countries have alternately been allies and foes. They fought the Korean War. Later Cold War circumstances led the US to alter its strategy. There was a need to contain the Soviet Union. For that reason President Nixon in 1972 visited China and signed the famous Shanghai Communique. China and US renounced the use of force in settling disputes with each other. On the critical issue of Taiwan, according to the negotiator of the text, Henry Kissinger, the paragraph was so worded that it was not a victory by one side over the other.22 In this way the Grand Triangle of US-Soviet Union-China was formed. A candid description of the triangle was made in a recent publication of the Shanghai Institute of International Relations. It says that the important part of the triangle was US-Soviet relations. Sino-US and Sino-Soviet Relations were subordinate to US-Soviet Relations.23 It was within this framework that diplomatic relations were established in 1978 and. the US recognised the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China. The US acknowledged that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China. Until 1989, relations continued in this vein and went even further. President Reagan in a letter to Deng Xiaoping in 1982 proposed to have a strategic relationship in the face of the Soviet threat.
22 Henry Kissinger, The White House Years, 1979
23 The Post Cold War World, The Shanghai Institute for International Studies, Shanghai, China, 2000
Following the end of the Cold War this relationship could not go on as before. Several factors came to pass before the strategic considerations. Taiwan issue, trade problems, questions of human right, all had their part in influencing relations. Still the two parties were trying to find a way to solve their differences. In 1996 President Clinton declared that he would sustain constructive engagement towards China. High-level visits ensued. President Jiang Zemin visited the US in 1997. He spoke of developing bilateral cooperation. Next year President Clinton went to China and spoke about strategic partnership. Later the two countries signed an agreement to open the Chinese economy to foreign competitors. In this way, after 13 years of negotiations US were terminating its opposition to China’s membership in the World Trade Organization.
US-China Relations After
The Chinese leaders expressed support for the US in the struggle against terrorism. The US acknowledged it as a good gesture. The US Secretary of State said that China’s cooperation in this field had bolstered the relationship between the two countries after a rocky period during the first months of the Bush Administration.24 Later the Presidents of US and China met at the APEC meeting in Shanghai. President Jiang Zemin at the joint news conference said they are opposed to terrorism in all forms and hoped any military action would be aimed accurately and would be guided by the United Nations.25 President Bush declared that China had agreed to cooperate with intelligence matters and interdict the financing of terrorist groups.26
As to what China wants in return, observers were quick to point that the aim of the Chinese was to obtain the understanding of
24 International Herald Tribune, Oct 18, 2001
25IHT, Oct 20, 2001
US on Xinkiang, Tibet and human rights questions.27 The position taken by China was described as an alliance for Realpolitik.28
An American scholar was cautious in his interpretation. He referred to the struggle against terrorism as a short-term opportunity for China, but said it would create long-term uncertainties. As of now, by insisting that America’s actions must receive the support of the UN Security Council, that US’s military action be limited, China wants to control the unilateral impulses in US foreign policy. However, in the long run US struggle against terrorism may threaten Chinese interests; already the alarmists in Beijing were talking about US possibly using the struggle against terrorism to tighten the chain of containment around China.29
China-Russia Relations Before
Chinese-Russian relations affect any development in Asia. This has been the case in the past centuries. It will probably be true in the future. After the People’s Republic was founded in 1949 China needed a strong ally and concluded a Treaty of Alliance with Russia. The Soviets relinquished their zone of influence in Manchuria and extended assistance to China. Later on Soviet demands caused China’s resentment. China also claimed territories lost to that country in the 19th century. This led to the border clashes between the two countries in 1969. It was following that episode that China turned towards the United Sates which was looking for an ally on the Asian continent.
Chinese-Soviet relations took a long time to recover from these border clashes. It was only in 1985 with Gorbacev that relations could
27 Time Magazine, Oct 8, 2001
28 Le Monde, 19 Oct 2001
29 Harry Harding, IHT, Oct 18, 2001
be normalised. His Vladivostok speech helped smoothen the atmosphere and Gorbacev visited China in 1989. However, according to the Chinese, Russia was leaning towards the US and the West in the early 1990’s and kept China at a distance30 Later President Yeltsin paid a visit to Beijing in 1992 and the basis for a comprehensive cooperation was laid. During those years China was experiencing a very rapid economic development and this has greatly impressed the Russians. Trade volume was expanding. Border questions were being negotiated. The two countries were trying to find common ground on several fields. Still there were many questions to be settled. Some Russian officials and scholars were asserting that China was claiming Russian territory.31 Despite problems, slowly a political rapprochement was taking place. At the end in 1997 they entered into a strategic partnership. During the visit of the Chinese President to Moscow a declaration was signed. They announced a New Multipolar World. In 1999 the two Presidents forged a strategic and cooperative partnership.32
The last and important episode of this rapprochement has taken place in the period just before September 11. Last July the two countries signed a Treaty for Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty settled many issues. The demarcation of the long-disputed border of 4.000 km was decided. Cooperation against militant Islam in Central Asia was foreseen. Arms sales were another important item. But, of interest for the purposes of our analysis was their determination to offset the perceived US hegemonism.33
Prior to this episode the Chinese were presenting their rapprochement with Russia as something not being antagonistic to
30 The Post Cold War World, The Shanghai Institute for International Studies, Shanghai, China, 200
33 Ariel Cohen, The Russia-China Friendship and Cooperation TreatyA Strategic Shift in Eurasia, The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, July 18, 2001
the United States. They were describing it as sharing strategic interests in maintaining stability along their periphery regions and especially in Central Asia. They were asserting that both were afraid of the fundamentalism developing there and its spread to the adjacent areas in China and Russia.34 The comparison between this stated objective and the text of the new treaty would not be missed by the Americans. The American scholar who was following this development would say that the treaty signalled a big shift in geopolitics and the Eurasian balance of power. He would counsel the Bush Administration to closely monitor the implications of this treaty and take the appropriate steps, i.e. to increase regional security and try to induce Russia to scale down its military cooperation with China.35
The Shanghai Five
At this juncture it would be appropriate to say something about an initiative directed towards Central Asia. The initiative was taken originally by China, was later joined by Russia and recently has grown into a full-scale organization. China started a series of border demarcation and demilitarisation talks with four of the Central Asian countries. It evolved into an economic, military, and diplomatic process. The countries involved held their first presidential summit meeting in Shanghai in 1996. In 2000 they pledged to jointly crack down on liberation movements, terrorism and religious extremism in their borders. According to the assessment of a Director of the Brookings Institution, through this process China and Russia try to assert themselves more effectively in a world they see as dominated by the United States.36 In the summer of 2001 China, Russia, Kazakh-
36 Bates Gill of the Brookings Institution, Shanghai Five: An Attempt to Counter US Influence in Asia? Newsweek Korea, May 2001
stan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This new development was perceived by another American scholar, as a sign of the willingness of China and Russia to be the decision-makers in Central Asia and to exclude Turkey, Iran and the United States. The scholar in his study published just after the formation of the Organization prophetically asks how effective the two countries will be against the Taliban, the Islamic Front of Uzbekistan and the organization of Osama bin Laden.37
China-Russia Relations After
For the time being both countries are satisfied with the war that is being waged against terrorism in Afghanistan. But later developments in Central Asia will probably favour one country over the other and that may alienate one of them. As we have seen, after many years Russia and China have finally established a certain balance between the two countries; they can start a really serious cooperation. Now the question is whether this cooperation can be put aside for a while, trying to benefit from the fruits of the American action in the area. Or is this cooperation really so important as to forsake the benefits that may accrue from the military action and its consequences?
The analysis in this paper was limited in scope; still it could give useful indications. We have looked into the relationship between the United States, Russia and China both before and after September 11. The impact of the tragic event on this relationship gives enough evidence that a new conjuncture is in the making. The developments on the US-Russian front are very impressive. There are promising
37 Ariel Cohen, The Russia-China Friendship and Cooperation Treaty: A Strategic Shift in Eurasia, The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, July 18, 2001
signs on the US-China side. The colour of the relations between Russia and China will be determined by developments in Central Asia. Throughout the analysis we have of course kept in mind the positive responses coming from Europe and other regions of the World. But, the fight against terrorism is only beginning; so the conjuncture to settle will have to wait the evolution on many fronts.
For the moment there are good indications things may move in the right direction. The general trend seems to be away from the vestiges of the Cold War and towards more international cooperation. If, at the end, the conjuncture consolidates this trend, it can make the World a safer place to live in.
(*) Published in the fpi Quarterly “Foreign Policy”, Vol. 26, Nos. 3-4