According to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Americans give Russia too much credit when it comes to thinking about an international rivalry.
Now 81, Albright served under the Clinton administration in the 1990s. In an interview with The Washington Post, she challenged the conventional perception of Russia being a major adversary to U.S. interests, saying that China poses the greater threat.
“China is really a power that is evolving in a big way, penetrating various places. The Russians are not there,” Alright said on May 31, giving her take on the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy, a document that singles out Beijing and Moscow in its overall assessment of America’s geopolitical challenges. Albright said:
“The new [National] Defense Strategy of the United States has now said Russia and China are our major adversaries. I think that is a gift to Putin because they are not the equivalent of China.”
After the Soviet Union reformed and collapsed in 1991, Russia lost most of its economic and military strength.
Despite President Vladimir Putin’s reviving some aspects of Soviet political repression and aggressive international relations, Russia is a shadow of its former self. It has less than half the population of the United States, and its economy is the size of Italy’s.
By contrast, China rose rapidly as Russia declined, using its billion-strong population as a cheap labor force to fuel massive GDP growth and reinforce the power of the Communist Party.
Unlike the former Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact or the U.S.-led NATO, the Chinese government does not have an international military alliance, but it is able to use its sheer economic weight to build influence in countries around the globe. China is investing trillions of dollars in infrastructure projects across Eurasia, and Chinese state-run companies have a strong presence in African countries.
China’s growth was partly aided by the United States, which gave Beijing favorable trade status during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose administration Madeleine Albright was a part of. But even though China is a major trade partner for the United States, its government remains communist and continues to commit widespread human rights abuses, sometimes using technology acquired from U.S. companies.
Internationally, Beijing has supplied weapons to terrorists, supported oppressive regimes, seized islands in international waters, and made threats against its neighbors and American allies.
Pakistan and North Korea, two impoverished and repressive dictatorships friendly to Beijing, developed nuclear weapons with Chinese aid. Half of the weapons used by the ISIS terrorist group have been traced to the Chinese military, and Chinese synthetic drugs have made their way into the United States, usually via Latin America.
According to Albright, the flaw of the new National Defense Strategy is that it puts Russia on equal footing with China, which could push Moscow further away and make it more difficult for the United States to mend relations. Still, she recommended that Washington continue to guard against Russia’s attempts to expand into Europe.
In 2014, Russia launched a covert invasion of Ukraine and annexed Crimea, a peninsula that used to belong to Russia but was given to Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union, in the 1950s. Earlier, in 2008, Russian troops invaded Georgia, another former Soviet republic, when it showed interest in joining NATO.