Many Democratic presidential candidates are convinced that Russia is the United States’ biggest geopolitical threat—but their outdated reading of foreign affairs only proves that they aren’t qualified to be in the White House.
During the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was indisputably the United States’ most dangerous enemy, leading Democrats such as Sen. Ted Kennedy ignored the threat and collaborated with the Soviet government to undermine U.S. elections. While serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1988, Sen. Bernie Sanders—who is currently running for the Democrat presidential nomination—even traveled to the USSR, where he reportedly praised his totalitarian hosts in effusive terms.
Now, nearly 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Democrats are suddenly viewing Russia as America’s most threatening adversary.
Remarkably, when the moderators of the second night of the first Democratic primary debate asked the participants to identify what they consider to be America’s greatest foreign threat today, several of the candidates insisted that Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. elections represent a greater danger to our country than China’s rapidly expanding power, wealth, and influence, which Beijing expects will one day allow it to eclipse the United States at the top of the international order.
“[T]he biggest threat to our national security right now is Russia, not China,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), insisting that Moscow poses a bigger foreign policy challenge “because of what they’ve done with our election.”
“Russia is our greatest geopolitical threat, because they have been hacking our democracy successfully and they’ve been laughing … about it for the last couple of years,” agreed entrepreneur Andrew Yang, arguing that “we should focus on that before we start worrying about other threats.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) also weighed in on the issue, stating that his first foreign policy objective will consist of “breaking up with Russia and making up with NATO.”
Economy and Demography
In reality, China has become by far the most menacing threat to U.S. interests, due in large part to its rapidly expanding economy, which has allowed the regime to invest heavily in military modernization. This reality isn’t a classified secret, either — for years, leading U.S. foreign policy scholars and experts have publicly warned about China’s rise, arguing that Washington’s calcified Cold War mentality needs to be updated to address modern geopolitical realities.
Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t address China during the debate, but he has previously scoffed at the notion that China poses a threat to U.S. interests, even claiming that “they’re not competition for us.”
It may come as a surprise to the Democrats, most of whom spent the Cold War as dupes and apologists for the Soviet Union, but Russian Facebook ads aren’t exactly the greatest contemporary threat to America. China, with its hostile efforts to weaponize international trade and undisguised desire to supplant the United States as the preeminent power in Asia, is a far more capable and ambitious adversary.
In recent years, China has dramatically escalated its spying activities in the United States, recruiting U.S. intelligence analysts to help it steal not just government secrets, but also intellectual property and academic research. Russia, conversely, can’t even manage to purloin emails from a laughably naive Democrat political operative without being caught red-handed.
The main reason for this imbalance is that China’s economy dwarfs Russia’s.
In 2018, China’s GDP totaled an impressive $13.6 trillion, while Russia’s economic output was less than $1.7 trillion—slightly weaker than the GDP of Texas. The economies of both countries have also been growing at drastically different rates—in 2018, China’s GDP grew 6.6 percent, while Russia’s economy grew at just 2.3 percent.
China’s growing wealth has enabled it to snap up billions of dollars worth of U.S. farmland, compel U.S. companies to hand over sensitive technology as a condition of doing business in China, and enlist its multinational corporations—such as telecom giant Huawei—to serve as quasi-official agents of the state.
While China aims to eventually surpass the size of the U.S. economy, Russia’s economy keeps falling further and further behind, with South Korea, Australia, and even lowly Spain now nipping at its heels.
Russia also is confronting a monumental depopulation problem. For years, the country has been plagued by low birth rates and high emigration, forcing Moscow to encourage immigration from Central Asia and other parts of the world just to stave off a complete demographic collapse.
Analysts at Stratfor, a foreign affairs and intelligence publisher, however, warn that Russia’s strategy of mitigating its population decline by encouraging immigrants is highly problematic, predicting that it will cause Moscow to face “greater difficulties associated with managing domestic ethnic tensions and political instability” in the future.
While China is also facing significant demographic challenges as a result of its “one-child” policy, Beijing has plenty of time to develop meaningful policies that would stabilize long-term population growth. Moscow, on the other hand, doesn’t have this luxury.
In short, a declining population and an unstable economy mean that Russia will be unable to keep up its current rate of military modernization in the coming years. While Moscow has undoubtedly made progress in updating its strategic offensive capabilities, including its nuclear arsenal, Russia’s pace of military innovation will be naturally limited by its feeble socio-economic outlook.
Competing with the U.S. military, in terms of both size and technological advancement, is a lot easier for China. Beijing has used its rapid economic growth in recent decades to fund an ambitious military buildup, take advantage of its trading partners, and bind smaller countries to its orbit with infrastructure investments that have strategic strings attached.
China’s bellicose behavior on the world stage also is far more impactful and consequential than Russia’s. For decades, Beijing has controlled North Korea as a geopolitical puppet, providing economic aid and diplomatic cover for Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Chinese military has also become increasingly aggressive in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, building artificial islands and military bases in areas claimed by U.S. allies, such as Japan and the Philippines.
In just the past few years, in fact, the Chinese navy has grown to become the world’s biggest fleet, as measured by the total number of combat vessels, and experts say it’s now able to outmatch the U.S. Navy in the three seas adjacent to the Chinese mainland. With China expanding its navy at a faster rate than any other country, the U.S. security situation will continue to deteriorate unless U.S. leaders assertively respond to the threat.
While Russia’s territorial ambitions in Eastern Europe—especially its illegal annexation of Crimea—should rightfully concern the United States and its allies, NATO exists specifically to counter that very threat. The global security tensions created by China in East Asia, on the other hand, are truly unprecedented, and there is no established institution to coordinate the free world’s response.
President Donald Trump’s policy of expanding the U.S. Navy to 355 ships is expressly designed to contain the Chinese threat, yet the Democrats running for president apparently aren’t interested in tackling this challenge, because none of them even mentioned China’s military buildup during the presidential debates. While a few candidates at the first debate did identify China as America’s greatest geopolitical threat, they focused exclusively on the economic side of the issue, and didn’t explain how their approach to China would differ from Trump’s.
American policymakers can’t afford to ignore Russia entirely, of course. But the president has been far more aggressive toward Moscow than his predecessor, imposing strategic sanctions in response to Russian expansionism and cyberattacks, while simultaneously cajoling our NATO allies into meeting their defense spending commitments so that the Western alliance remains prepared to deal with any future bellicosity from Russia. The president is also actively trying to prevent NATO allies from signing agreements to purchase natural gas from Russia as the United States becomes the world’s largest source of this strategically critical resource.
Many Democrats seem to think that Russia is America’s most formidable geopolitical foe, but that’s just another naive, outdated, and dangerous foreign policy vision from the Party that has made mishandling foreign affairs its trademark. China is the real threat to U.S. interests today, and any presidential candidate who fails to grasp this basic fact shouldn’t be running for the highest office in the land.
Steven Rogers is a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer and a former member of the FBI National Joint Terrorism Task Force. He is a member of the Donald J. Trump for President 2020 Campaign Advisory Board.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.