The US Secretary of State Tony Blinken got 10 minutes with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, sidelines of the G-20. The first meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine, Blinken raised Ukraine, Russia rejoining the New START Nuclear Arms Treaty – which they just quit, and Russia holding a US Marine. What did Blinken get? Nothing. Why? The Biden team is negotiating from weakness.
Ronald Reagan, who brought the Soviet Union down, stood by “Peace through Strength.” By this he meant you do not beg, borrow, overpromise, underdeliver, cower, or courtesy to an adversary. You do not beg for meetings as Blinken did in China, Biden did with Saudis, and now Blinken did with Lavrov.
The formula is clear, simple, effective. As Reagan said in 1986: “We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations. George Washington’s words may seem hard and cold today, but history has proven him right again and again. ‘To be prepared for war,’ he said, ‘is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.’”
Not only has the Biden team disparaged US defense, homeland security, and law enforcement budgets, morale, readiness, recruiting, retention, ship building, carrier aircraft replenishment, and strategic planning, they have signaled a lack of political will, awareness of real threats.
Specifically, while they push money at Ukraine – for which there is no oversight – they signal no intent to bring Russia to terms by demanding of China they back off support for Russia. As China dumps direct and indirect aid on Russia, including drones, Biden does nothing. Russia sees that.
Instead, Biden increases trade with China, increases US dependence on the country, refusing to demand accountability for what even his own FBI and Energy Departments admit was COVID’s “likely” China origins, blithely excusing China.
Biden failed to punish China for supporting Russia’s war Ukraine, including at the UN. But that is just the latest. Biden has been China’s doormat, excusing egregious human rights violations as cultural differences, allowing trade distortions, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, illegal militarization of shipping lanes and space, military operations to intimidate Taiwan (and our regional allies), and last week nearly downing a US surveillance plane in international waters.
In short, Biden – and Blinken – have offered little or no genuine pushback against China for supporting Russia, or for offending countless international law provisions, from release, inaction, deception, and suppression of critical information tied to spread of the Wuhan virus, and China’s “likely” responsibility for continuing global devastation via COVID-19, to military violations.
So, when Blinken “asks” Lavrov to please – with a cherry – consider negotiating peace with Ukraine, rejoining the dead New Start treaty – which is useless as a limitation on ICBMs if China does not also join it, which is why Trump pushed the three-way option and refused to extend it – and return of a US Marine held by Russia – Lavrov gave him nothing.
In the end, geopolitics and diplomacy are just human nature, human interactions taken to another level. If your leaders say what they mean and mean what they say, they are heard. If they are true word, insist you be the same, and deliver consequences for bad acts, including hammering your allies for supporting your bad acts, things start to change.
The principle is elementary – but apparently too much for Biden’s team to process, accept, or act upon with conviction: Negotiation from strength wins, from weakness fails, period. If we want action from Russia, we need to bring China around with consequences.
Truthfully, chances of this are narrow since the other shoe has fallen. Biden negotiates from weakness with China about China, not just about supporting Russia. The other Reagan principle is this: Stand for something, or you stand for nothing.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.