Interview conducted by Jaime Ortega.
Robert R. Reilly
He is a writer and senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He has published on topics of US foreign policy and “war of ideas”.
1) When we look at history, one of the first signs concerning the collapse of any civilization is the weakening of its military core. Has the United States started to show this decline?
The weakening of the military is a symptom, not a cause of collapse. Civilizations decline when the core of their inner beliefs is eroded. Moral collapse precedes civilizational collapse. There is little question that the United States is suffering a moral decline.
2) Under the Obama administration, military enrollment has declined to dangerous low levels similar to what was observed during the Clinton Administration. It seems that the American youth, instead of admiring the military core, now demonize it. Has the faith once unifying nation and military come to an abrupt end thanks to American liberalism?
I think that is too extreme. I see no such demonization of the military by American youth. In fact, one of my sons is joining the Marines. The low levels of enrollment are the result of a deliberate policy of the Obama administration which thinks that a large part of the world’s woes are attributable to, and therefore can be solved by, US withdrawal. If you are withdrawing from the world, you shrink your military. Unfortunately, the way in which Obama has withdrawn US forces has exacerbated the very problems that he thought the withdrawal would solve. Also, under Pres. Obama, there has been a clear loss of a sense of mission. People are moved to join the military out of a sense of mission. If that is not there, they are less inclined to join. The problem is not with the military or the youth; it is with the political leadership.
3) Long ago a veteran told me that wars are won with man to man combat. Considering the imminent befall of militaristic values in the American youth, if a war erupted, would they be more motivated to fight than the youths in Russia and China that show great levels of nationalism? Would that motivation play a key element for America’s continuance as the leading superpower? Do you see the necessary motivation in today’s youth to fight for the country?
I think the answer to your question depends on how a war begins. If the United States is attacked, I have no doubt that American youth will fight. You would see how quickly militaristic their values became. However, misconceived overseas military excursions do not invite a comparable willingness to fight.
It remains to be seen what Russia can sustain in terms of military effort. The United States has its problems, but Russia is more clearly a declining power than is America.
Both Russia and China have lost the core of their communist ideologies, so they are seeking alternatives that can sustain their authoritarian regimes. Clearly, nationalism is one of those alternatives, and it is no surprise to see them both playing it up. I think Machiavelli would admire the political utility of Putin’s military adventures.
4) China and Russia have resurfaced from their ebbed communist past into a new future jointly embarked to become binary superpowers. Do China and Russia currently have any respect for the United States?
Russia has little chance of restoring itself as a superpower. Its demographics and the shape of its economy militate against this. However, Putin has played his hand brilliantly. It costs little to move into areas that the United States has vacated. These vacuums are easy targets of opportunity. Also, Putin’s willingness to use military force, both covertly and overtly, make Russia seem stronger than it is. A weak military power that is used is stronger than a strong military power that is not used – for example, Russia versus Europe. By any measure, it should be Europe telling Russia what to do, not the other way around. However, Europe’s populations seem to have lost any cause for which they might be willing to fight. Thus, their military power is relatively meaningless.
I think that both Russia and China see the United States as a declining power. Declining powers do not elicit respect. However, they know that Obama is likely to be replaced by a president with a stronger vision of the American role in the world and might not wish to push too hard against the United States in case the sleeping giant shakes off its lethargy and decides to reverse its decline.
5) China and Russia under the Obama administration seem to have spontaneously shown signs of global expansionism. How has the US and NATO responded to such motives? Have NATO and the US done a good job in dealing with both countries?
I think it was a mistake for Europe to attempt to entice Ukraine out of the Russian orbit. No Russian leader – whether a Communist Party secretary-general, a czar, or an authoritarian leader like Putin – could afford such a loss of influence in an area so vital to its national security. For instance, if Ukraine became a member of NATO, the distance from NATO’s borders to Moscow would be half of what they are today. Why would we wish to put a Russian leader in this situation when Ukraine is not a vital strategic interest of the West?
China’s push into the South China Sea with its construction of islands and claims of sovereignty seems to be a decisive provocation and will invite a test of strength with the United States and its allies. This is a very dangerous situation. If Obama actually had the naval and other military strength to make his pivot to the Pacific credible, I don’t think China would have embarked on such a provocative endeavor.
6) China has opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement summoned to end dependency from Chinese exports; will this agreement boil further tension between China and the US?
China is such an economic powerhouse in the area that I don’t see it getting overly exercised by this agreement.
7) China’s presence on the South East Sea to build artificial islands has raised red flags in Vietnam and the Philippines, could it spill into a larger conflict if the situation is not solved soon?
See number five above. China has a lot to lose in such a conflict, so it will be interesting to see how much farther it’s willing to push. Also, its aggressive behavior is solidifying an alliance against it by alarming its neighbors.
8 ) Russia has a similar problem. Poland, Finland, Denmark and Norway are very concerned with Russian expansionism and have started to increase their military capabilities. Do you see this spilling into a larger conflict?
I seriously doubt this. The more the nations you mentioned strengthen their defensive capabilities, the less likely it is to happen.
9) Are China and Russia jointly plotting schemes to substitute US global hegemony?
They are clearly aiming to be the regional hegemons in their areas. How far their ambitions reach will depend, in part, on the length of the US retreat from those areas. In general, both China and Russia have an interest in complicating the world situation for the United States.
10) Russian jet fighters have been caught illegally flying in different airspace around the world hasting concerns of Putin’s real intentions. From 2014-15 the amount of airspace violated by Russia has exponentially grown. What is Putin trying to prove to the world? And do Russians support his actions in Ukraine and Syria?
Putin is trying to demonstrate that if Russia’s strategic interests are challenged, Russia is in a position to challenge the strategic interests of others. Therefore, he demonstrates that he can fly strategic bombers off the Gulf of Mexico and deploy troops to Syria. He also likes the element of surprise, which keeps everyone off-balance and gives him a stronger hand. Putin’s basic message is: if you play in my backyard, I’ll play in your backyard. I am not trying to excuse Putin’s behavior, but to understand it.
11) There is sufficient evidence that China is already in the process of sending troops into Syria to protect oil fields in Iraq from ISIS expansionism. They have already send ships, tanks and jet fighters. Beijing is backed with Assad’s blessings, and Russian approval. What reaction would we expect from the US if China enters the Syrian picture?
I have seen no evidence of any of this.
12) Judging by their present actions, it doesnâ€™t seem as if China and Russia care about violating diplomatic agreements. Does China and Russia really believe in diplomatic means? Or do they use diplomacy to flake their real expansionist scheme?
Frederick the Great said that, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” Russia and China understand this and have developed sufficient arms to advance their diplomatic aims. The West seems to think that all diplomacy requires is playing music. Russia and China want changes in the international order. They know they cannot achieve this by diplomacy alone or by observing prior diplomatic agreements. Therefore, when the opportunity presents itself, they will set aside diplomatic agreements to form an international order more to their liking.
13) Has a new cold war started? United States gets in future war with China and Russia. Who wins? Would that war decide the faith of the new superpower? What happens if the US lost that war?
It does not appear that there is a global ideological struggle comparable to the Cold War. However, there are aggrieved powers, like China, Russia, and the new so-called caliphate of the Islamic State, that are anti-status quo powers. The United States and the NATO countries are status quo powers. Therefore, there is bound to be major friction here, and it could lead to wars.
Losing wars is a very bad idea. Si vis pacem, para bellum.