Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'd Like an Aircraft Carrier for Christmas

Today's Washington Post seemed to be focused on arms sales.  And that brings me back to what could have been.  My first dissertation topic (yes, kids, topics change) was on arms sales, so it was a nice blast from the past to see not one but two articles on arms sales in the Christmas day edition.
  1. Front page story that China's military technological development is a bit uneven.  So much so that they have to buy planes of various kinds from Russia.
  2. Russia, in turn, is buying warships from France.  Amphibious ships, that is.  Which raises the question of where does Russia need to send troops across water?  Georgia, of course, says: us! 
What a strange world we live in now!?   Russia is now a NATO partner so France can sell warships to Russia (although not fighter planes that no one wants).  France can sell ships to Russia since it is unlikely that Russia would use the new amphibious ships to invade Normandy, but it does raise a few questions given Russia's relatively recent behavior towards Georgia.  Of course, selling off a smaller country to appease a bigger one would not be a first for France.  This is part of a larger process of trying to direct Russia towards better relations with the West, but I am not sure if this is going to work if NATO continues to extend membership processes to Ukraine and Georgia (which I am against, not because of Russian opposition, but because such a move weakens the essential meaning of NATO--an attack upon one is an attack upon all, caveats or not).  Anyhow, so the West is now selling significant military equipment to Russia, but only such stuff that really does not threaten the seller.

Meanwhile, Russia's export business seems to be pretty dependent on China, and China is pretty dependent on the Russian aerospace industry.  This is the case despite the reality that China and Russia ought to be rivals, given the usual theories of IR (proximity, changing power, etc. should make each the greatest threat of the other).  Yet commerce seems to triumph over security concerns.  Some might see Russia and China allying against the US which is a bigger threat to both.  I guess it depends on US diplomacy to convince these countries that the US is not that big of a threat so that the divides between them become more obvious and important.  Another way to look at this is as a test of IR theory--do countries balance against threats or power?  The US has more power, but it is limited from being a big threat in Asia (even if we have abridge the classic line from "never fight a land war in Asia" to "never fight more than two land wars in Asia").  And now that the US is less threatening in a post-Bush age of overcommitted militaries and budget deficits, I would think that Russia and China would see each other as the big threats.  Yet Russia sells all kinds of planes that extend China's power (fighters, airlift, inflight refueling).

Interesting times indeed.

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