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A ceasefire in Ukraine is in America’s interest

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the foundations of the international order, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would lead to a profound global geopolitical reordering — including ending America’s global preeminence.

The longer the Ukraine war continues to distract the United States from the growing challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, the greater the risk of a Chinese attempt to throttle Taiwan through an informal blockade.

It is clear that the single greatest threat to American security is posed not by a declining Russia but by an ascendant China that is seeking to supplant the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power.

Still, President Biden rightly emphasizes the importance of talks with Beijing, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calling dialogue “not a reward” but “a necessity” after his Chinese counterpart declined to hold a meeting with him on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit in Singapore.

Oddly, however, the Biden administration shuns dialogue and diplomacy with Russia, thus prolonging a war in Ukraine that, far from advancing America’s long-term interests, is a drain on U.S. resources. The war is revealing Western military shortcomings, with America’s critical munitions being depleted and capacity to restock proving insufficient. 

The last thing Chinese President Xi Jinping wants is an end to the Ukraine war, because that would leave the U.S. free to focus on the Indo-Pacific. 

Biden’s strategy is to continue bleeding Russia in Ukraine. In fact, Biden’s joint communiqué with the other Group of Seven leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, May 20 committed to “increasing the costs to Russia” while pledging “unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes.” 

In a separate statement on Ukraine issued a day earlier, the G7 leaders announced steps to “further restrict Russia’s access to our economies” and tighten the unprecedented sanctions against Moscow. 

More ominously, Biden and the other six leaders put forth maximalist demands for an end to the war in Ukraine, including that Russia “completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops and military equipment from the entire internationally recognized territory of Ukraine.”

But, with the conflict settling into a war of attrition that inhibits either side from making significant battlefield advances, a complete and unconditional Russian withdrawal is unlikely to ever happen. In fact, after formally annexing the vast swaths of Ukrainian territory it has seized, Russia has been fortifying its defenses to hold on to its war gains.

In their joint statement, Biden and the other G7 leaders have also committed to efforts to ensure “Russia pays for the long-term reconstruction of Ukraine.” 

Their statement states that the G7 states “will continue to take measures available within our domestic frameworks to find, restrain, freeze, seize, and, where appropriate, confiscate or forfeit the assets of those individuals and entities that have been sanctioned in connection with Russia’s aggression.”

It continues, “We reaffirm that, consistent with our respective legal systems, Russia’s sovereign assets in our jurisdictions will remain immobilized until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine.” 

Not only is the unilateral impoundment of Russian assets contrary to a rules-based international order, but the maximalist demands set out by the G7 leaders are a recipe for an unending conflict, which can only benefit China economically and strategically while weakening Russia and sapping Western strength. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 20, 2023 (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin)

With the age of Western dominance already in retreat, a long war in Ukraine would accelerate the shift in global power from the West to the East.  Meanwhile, CIA Director Bill Burns’s recent clandestine visit to Beijing exemplifies Biden’s efforts to placate China as he ramps up sanctions and military pressure on Russia.

While seeking economic collapse and regime change in Russia, Biden has tried to reassure Xi with what Beijing says are “Five Nos”: No to changing China’s communist system; no to seeking U.S. economic decoupling from China; no to a policy of “one China, one Taiwan”; no to containing China; and no to a new Cold War with China. 

The White House may not have directly corroborated such commitments, but similar formulations can be found in the Biden administration’s public declarations, including an assurance in the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy that the U.S. “objective is not to change the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the world’s most populous, strongest and longest-surviving autocracy.

Biden is mistaken if he thinks he can bring around China or dissuade it from ganging up with Russia against America. Xi is determined to make China a world power second to none. Indeed, China and Russia, with important allies like Iran, are in the process of forming a “Eurasian Axis” to challenge the American-led global order, including the status of the dollar as the world’s primary reserve currency. 

Against this backdrop, it would be in America’s interest to encourage quiet diplomacy to explore ways to bring about a ceasefire in a war that is having a negative worldwide impact by triggering energy and food crises, which in turn contribute to high inflation and slowing global growth. Ukraine’s impending launch of its long-planned counteroffensive, meanwhile, promises to heighten the risk of a direct Russia–NATO conflict. 

Even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warns that “a large number of soldiers will die” in his country’s counteroffensive because Russia retains the upper hand in air power, Kyiv, with U.S. backing, continues to reject proposals of peace talks that do not center on Russia first vacating the areas it has occupied.

After more than 15 months of war, it is clear that neither Russia nor Ukraine and its Western allies is in a position to achieve its primary strategic objectives. A ceasefire is the only way out of the current military deadlock. 

In the Korean War, it took two years of military stalemate to achieve an armistice agreement. A similarly long delay in reaching an armistice agreement in the current war would mean greater bloodshed and devastation without either side making any significant strategic gains. 

An extended Ukraine war will help formalize a Sino-Russian strategic axis while increasing the likelihood of Chinese aggression against Taiwan. By contrast, a frozen Ukraine conflict arising from a ceasefire will keep Moscow preoccupied while letting America focus less on Russia, the world’s most-sanctioned country, and more on a globally expansionist China.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press).

Source: The Hill

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