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  • Writer's pictureRichard Murff

The Ukraine Equation

Framed so even a Congressman can understand it


Ukraine Aid Equation
Chess, you'll agree, is a more dramatic visual than math.

In light of Iran’s slow-motion attack in Israel, US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson promised a vote on aid to Ukraine – pummeled for two years now – on Saturday. A $95bn aid package covering Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine was passed in the Senate, but Johnson is trying to peel it into separate bills avoid the far-right (opposed to Ukraine aid) and the far-left (opposed to Israel aid) from forming an unholy alliance to sink all single package. If it sounds like a big political wank to avoid the fire on our doorstep, well, there you go.


 Russia always had the capacity to outstrip Ukraine with military and industrial outputs. China is providing Russia with military support in the form of components for arms and revenue for its oil. It’s doing the same for Iran. Any conciliatory talk between Washington and Beijing isn’t going to change that. “Don’t” has come a geopolitical catch-phrase for the Biden administration, but it only moves the needle within the White House. This matters because but there is a lot more than Ukraine that is at play in the current crisis. At stake is the future of the Eurasian landmass that, if dominated by a single power, would outstrip the United States economically and militarily.


Beijing’s Calculations:

The strategy runs as follows: China is stronger than Russia (true); Russia – with Beijing’s support – is stronger than a stand-alone Europe (true); in light of a trade spat and rising tensions with the United States, China needs Europe as the last big, rich economy to absorb its industrial overcapacity (true). Therefore; if Russia dominates Europe, and China dominates Russia, then China dominates Europe. At which point the emerging powerhouse of India would be encircled eventually folded into the China’s Eurasian bloc. China dominates the entire Eurasian landmass, and the commodity wealth of Africa would be ripe for the picking.

 

The Knock-On:

The European outliers would be Britain and the Scandinavian countries, which would move into what is left of the old “West”: Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Latin America would benefit from its geographic position within that American bloc the way China did from becoming the “World’s Workshop” at the beginning of the 21st century. Still, the region would likely try to play the US and Beijing off each other. A tedious headache, true, but a tolerably one.


The obvious problem is Europe – something slightly more than half of the US House can’t get their quaffed heads around. Together the US & the EU represent 60% of global GDP. They are world’s largest bilateral trade relationship, with nearly a fifth of each other’s merchandise exports - going either way. China recently overtook Europe as the largest US trading partner for goods alone, factoring in services and investment, the EU is still America’s most important trading partner.


Beijing’s calculations may look like freshman algebra, but Washington’s mercifully, should be simple enough for even a Congressman to understand: Lose Ukraine, lose Europe; Lose Europe, lose America’s biggest trading partner.


 

It’s a grim outlook and it might all go wrong for China as Beijing does have a habit of over-playing its hand. Those Cult of Personality governments tend to do that. It is likely that, without US support, Russia will come to dominate Europe. And Beijing’s calculations follow.

Geopolitics, though, is a hairier animal that mathematics.


What does not follow is that a Russia that dominates Europe will let itself be dominated by China. One thing abundantly clear from Russia’s tortured history is that no matter who is running the place – Vikings, Czars, Soviets, Gangsters from St. Pete – the place  has a very deep Imperial leanings. Once Moscow hits a spot where it dominates Europe, it will start to push back against Beijing. The two countries histories do not engender cooperation: They’ve hated each other since 1652 in the way that only overbearing, racist neighbors can.  


With the United States throwing up walls against Chinese mercantilism (read: dumping), Europe is China’s last market rich enough to absorb China’s high-end overproduction until they feel confident to go to war about it. Without Europe, China’s growth will resort to its old model providing shower flip-flops and Western knock-offs to the Global South.  And that won’t be enough to maintain the current social order.


Stripping ideology and unhinged hatred for the West, China would be better off cutting aid to Russia and coming to Europe’s recue for the price of free trade (read: allow dumping) to ensure that Russia would remain encircled and subservient.


As it stands, the US is looking at a Eurasia dominated by China. For Russia to rebuild from its economic and quasi-military conquest of Europe to a point where it can actually push-back against China might take a generation. It's no good kicking the can down the road: That's 30-odd years where a single hostile rival controlled a land-mass that out-gunned the US both economically and militarily. Who knows what the world will look like at the end of that process, but the US would probably not be at the head of the table.


 

America won the long-game in the Cold War largely because the Soviet Union managed to isolate itself from the rest of the world and it couldn’t afford to maintain military parity with the US, Europe, and China combined. We’d do well not to let it happen to us.


The bright spot is that there is a flaw in the calculations that Beijing appears to not see: That it would be better off in the long run by backing Europe and containing Russia than the other way around. The US can and should exploit this blind-spot by supporting Ukraine, and Europe. It would strategically deny China its ability to dominate Eurasia and leverage free markets against America.


It’s also the right thing to do. 

 

 

 

 

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