OPINION / VIEWPOINT
US is not an anchor of stability for anything anymore: former US intelligence officer
Published: Jan 04, 2023 08:41 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

From many perspectives, the world is in danger of being drawn into long-term trouble right before our eyes. Greater risk of outbreak of new conflicts bubbles amid a lingering pandemic, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the plague of soaring inflation and an energy crisis. Against this complex backdrop, what will 2023 look like? Who should we look toward as the anchor of stability in the world? Global Times (GT) reporters Yu Jincui and Xing Xiaojing recently interviewed Scott Ritter (Ritter), a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, over these pressing issues. This is the fourth piece of the Global Times series - "Looking for an anchor of stability in 2023."

GT: What's the black swan event in 2022 in your eyes? 

Ritter: The Russian-Ukraine conflict is the black swan event of 2022. I think when we looked at 2021 moving into 2022, there was a lot of talk about the potential of Russian military action against Ukraine. But I believe that many in the West did not think that Russia would actually go through with it. They believed the consequences of a Russian military operation against Ukraine would be so severe and disastrous for Russia that Russia would be deterred from doing this. This is why the greatest emphasis that the West placed on trying to deter Russia wasn't military, but economic, the threat of economic sanctions. 

Another indication that the West was not taking Russia seriously was the absolute failure of the West to undertake anything that can remotely resemble serious diplomacy to seek a diplomatic solution to this problem. Russia made a concerted effort to see the Minsk accords implemented, but this was rejected by the West, by the US, Germany and France, despite the promises of all the leaders of those three nations, to put pressure on Ukraine to accept the Minsk accords. Had the Minsk records been accepted and been implemented in full, there would not have been a war. This was a very simple solution, one that the West did not seek, because I don't believe they thought Russia was serious about a military operation. 

Likewise, in December, when Russia provided the West with two draft treaties, one to NATO, one to the US outlining their concerns about the need for a new European security framework. If the West would only read this and sit down and talk with Russia, that a conflict could be avoided. 

We now know that neither Ukraine, Germany, nor France was ever serious about Minsk, that they were only using it as a sham, as a cover to build a NATO army capable of solving the Donbas problem militarily. And the Russian attack preempted the Western plans. I think this is why it is the black swan event. It's an event that nobody really anticipated. And when it occurred, it shook up the entire world. There is not a single part of the world that has not been affected by this conflict. China has been affected by this conflict. Asia has been affected by this conflict, South America, Africa, Europe, the US, the entire globe has been affected by this conflict. 

GT:What implications does the Russia-Ukraine conflict have for 2023? 

Ritter: First, no longer can the West, NATO and the US be described as the bully who no one dares to stand up to. Russia has stood up to the bully. Russia has sent a signal that there are limits to what a major power can accept when it comes to the irresponsible actions of the West. Nobody thought Russia could survive this long. The main feeling was that Russia's economy would collapse, that the economic sanctions would bring Russia into economic ruin, and that this would create domestic political turmoil that could see Vladimir Putin's government overthrown. The West has never been more wrong than they were on that. 

The Russian economy, while not thriving, is surviving, strengthening and growing.  And the Russian military, despite some serious mistakes made early on, has learned, adapted and the Russian nation has made the determination that what is happening in Ukraine is not a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but a conflict between Russia and the collective West, Russia versus NATO. And they are willing to fight this fight to the end. 

GT: Which issue concerns you most in 2023 and why?

Ritter: Taiwan. The November elections seem to have mitigated against the rush toward conflict. But the US may opt to double down on pressuring China, forcing a conflict that doesn't need to be fought.

Before November, I was very afraid that the mainland would be compelled to act militarily against Taiwan, because of the irresponsible policies of the US. Washington was behaving in a manner which deviated from the one China policy and the principles that are inherent in the one China policy. And instead, it's seeking to create the impression that Taiwan was an independent nation, and that Taiwan was a nation capable of establishing military relationship, alliance with the US. These are all red lines for China. While China seeks a peaceful outcome to the Taiwan question, if these red lines are crossed, then they will seek a non-peaceful means. We know that means war.

I was very concerned that these red lines were going to be crossed sometime last year, or maybe early this year. But then Taiwan held local elections. The results showed people in Taiwan don't want the Democratic Progressive Party to be more aggressive in cross-Straits policy. This doesn't mean that everything is going to be wonderful between the mainland and Taiwan, but I don't believe that the current Taiwan authorities can aggressively pursue these policies given the results of the elections. I believe that the immediate danger of a conflict has been removed.

Now, you would say, Scott, if that's the case, why are you concerned? I'm concerned about America. I'm concerned about how the US will respond to this. The US put a lot of political weight behind the visit of Nancy Pelosi and the visit of US lawmakers to Taiwan. The US was pushing aggressively for this policy. Now, their Taiwan partner appears to be saying not so fast. We have domestic political problems that we have to worry about. What is the US going to do? If they can't work with the Taiwan authorities to create confrontation, then they will, I believe, seek to directly confront China. 

GT: How do you see the possibility of a China-US military conflict in 2023? What will be the flashpoint, the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits?

Ritter: The South China Sea has become a very difficult problem for the US. And I don't believe the US is looking for a general war with China. I think the US is looking for an opportunity to militarily embarrass China, to send the signal to China that you're not as strong as you think you are, not as capable as you think you are, to send the message that America is still the dominant power in the pacific, and you should never dare to challenge it. But a conflict in the South China Sea could send the exact opposite signal that it's the US that is not as powerful as it thinks. 

Now, let's talk about the Taiwan Straits. China's policy from my perspective is a policy that is very mature. It's a policy that seeks a peaceful outcome. In the US, you have to understand that we don't normally pursue policies that seek a peaceful outcome. Our No.1 choice for policy resolution is war. Any nation that actually pursues a policy of peace is considered weak by the US. So China is in a difficult position. The more it pursues a policy of peace in Taiwan, the more it's perceived by the US as being weak. So the US continues to push to challenge it. The more China avoids direct confrontation, the more the US becomes involved, because they say China is weak, so we will be more aggressive.

The Chinese are saying we don't want a war, we want a peaceful resolution, so we don't overreact to the American provocations. But at some point, this stops. China is gonna say enough, we're done. I don't think the US has the ability to understand when that is about to happen. Normally, when you have good diplomats, when you have good strategic thinkers, people who understand China, you will know. But in the US, because we interpret Chinese patience as a sign of weakness, I don't believe our leaders know when to say enough, when to stop, they'll always try to go one step further, one step further. And that's the danger. Not that China's looking for a confrontation, but the US will push China too far, enforce a confrontation. 

GT: Which country do you think will contribute more to global stability in 2023 and be the anchor of stability, the US or China? 

Ritter: China. The US is not an anchor of stability for anything anymore. To be honest, we're better positioned than China to be a global leader for stability. China is an economic power, but only the US can project itself militarily, politically, and economically throughout the entire world.

So the US is actually in the best position to influence nations for stability. But we're not doing that. We claim to be promoting democracy, but we don't promote democracy, we promote American hegemony. We claim to come into nations and say we want to give democratic ideals, but all we want is a government that does what we want, regardless of what happens to the people of that country. We don't respect not only the individuals, but also the collective of the world. We have no desire to make life better for an individual in China or Indonesia or Africa, or even Europe. All we want is for them to do things that make America richer and stronger. We wanted to be a one way relationship. And this is poisonous. The world is recognizing just how poisonous this is. There are many nations that are so closely intertwined with the US, they can't break free. Europe comes the mind. No matter how much logic dictates that Europe should free itself from this abusive relationship with the US, Europe, like an abuse spouse keeps coming back, hoping things will be better in the future.

China operates differently. The Chinese government cares about China first and foremost, just like any other government does, but in order for China to succeed, others must succeed as well. I believe China is looking for a mutually successful relationship. That's the key to stability. 

Even though China is not positioned to replicate the US, China economically is already ahead of the US. One only has to look at the Belt and Road Initiative. Trillions of dollars of investment. The West can't match this. So China has a huge advantage here. I believe that China's intent will not be to use this advantage to dominate the world, but to use this advantage to work in cooperation with the world into a mutually beneficial relationship. That is the key to stability. If China was like the US, there would be no hope for a multipolar world, because China would simply be seeking to replace the US and make the whole world revolve around China. That's not what China is doing. The key to future stability is cooperation, not domination. That's why China is my pick for the most stabilizing influence in the world in the coming years.