29 Oct 2020 16:38

IMEMO, Interfax online event discusses expectations of governments for U.S. presidential election

MOSCOW. Oct 29 (Interfax) – The first online expert meeting as part of a new project of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and Interfax titled 'Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation' took place on Thursday, October 29.

The meeting addressed the expectations governments around the world have for the U.S. presidential election. Participants discussed what candidate is preferable for Beijing, Delhi, Brussels, Berlin, and Paris, how the global economic architecture will change, and what will happen in the sphere of strategic stability and arms control after the election.

Russia's missile proposal for next U.S. administration

Political games in the United States are an obstacle to the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), as policymakers in that country fear drawing criticism at home, Alexei Arbatov, the head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), said on Thursday.

"Certainly, politics has always influenced negotiations and agreements on arms control, but this crucial issue, actually an issue of human civilization's life and death, has never been turned into such a petty piece in domestic political and foreign political games before," Arbatov said at an expert meeting as part of the Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation joint project of IMEMO and Interfax.

Over the past few years, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized New START, "claiming that this was [former President Barack] Obama's mistake, that this is national treachery, and that this is actually an absolutely inequitable treaty that damages America's security," he said.

"It's very hard for Trump to agree to its extension now, because he'd immediately be exposed to a wave of criticism. This is the main reason they're holding back on this," Arbatov said.

"In order to look better both in the eyes of their allies and chiefly inside the United States itself, they're trying to pretend that not only are they extending this treaty for a year, as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has proposed, but that they've also gained huge concessions from Russia with regard to the way further negotiations will be held and want to oblige Russia in advance to make some pledges concerning a future treaty," he said.

Russia hopes to establish a constructive arms reductions dialogue with the next U.S. administration following the presidential election in the United States, Alexei Arbatov said.

The moratorium on the deployment of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin is addressed to the next U.S. administration, Arbatov said.

"Please note that this proposal is not meant for [U.S. President Donald] Trump. Obviously, less than a week is left until the [U.S.] election, and it is impossible to agree on such complex, multifaceted issues within that time. The proposal is intended for any administration that takes office after November 3," Arbatov said.

"This is the answer to the question of what we are expecting from the next administration. It could be either Trump or [presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe] Biden. Russia is awaiting the beginning of constructive dialogue on this matter," he said.

A possible Russia-U.S. agreement to freeze the current quantities of nuclear warheads both countries have may bring inspectors to the relevant defense plants, Arbatov said.

"Verification issues are extremely complicated, so if a freeze is imposed, control will have to be exercised even at plants manufacturing nuclear munitions, which has never happened before and which has not been discussed until now," he said.

Russia's stance on arms reduction has been changing rapidly lately, he said.

"The Russian stance has been changing pretty fast lately. Russia has been demonstrating unprecedented flexibility and has been emphasizing specific subjects that were not highlighted before," Arbatov said.

At the same time, Moscow is no longer raising some issues that it has put before the U.S. in previous years, he said.

"We kept saying for a long time that there should be no strategic weapons, nothing tactical, and we wouldn't negotiate until you remove your tactical air bombs, 150 pieces, from Western Europe. That issue is no longer mentioned. However, consent has been given to undertake political obligations and to freeze all nuclear arsenals," Arbatov said.

EU's preference

The European Union is interested in seeing United States Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden's victory in the upcoming presidential election in the U.S., Alexei Gromyko, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe, said on Thursday.

"Such places as Brussels, Berlin, Paris, or London - and this list can well be continued - certainly prefer government change in Washington on the whole," Gromyko said at the online session.

Biden's victory in the U.S. election would be welcomed by the EU leadership in Brussels, and the capitals of the so-called old Europe are also looking forward to Biden's win for various reasons, Gromyko said.

"They have little illusions that this could bring about some radical changes in the United States' strategy," Gromyko said.

The U.S. rhetoric during Trump's presidency has changed significantly, but Washington's foreign policy has remained the same in many respects, he said.

The "highbrows" in the European Union would prefer government change in the U.S. for the benefit of new stylistics and a less painful transit in relations with Washington, "rather than because they expect history to turn back," Gromyko said.

"The Europeans expect that Biden would return to the Paris Agreement on climate and that the Treaty on Open Skies might possibly be saved. But as concerns the Iran nuclear deal, it's hardly reasonable for the EU to expect some reversal," he said.

There is no consensus within the EU as to whether it would be desirable to return to business as usual in relations with Washington, as the strategic autonomy ideas have been increasingly more popular in Europe, as well as the desire "to get out of that Procrustean bed of being told what to do," he said.

As for the countries of the so-called new Europe, they would not like Biden's victory that much, as Trump has shown his liking to them, first, to accommodate the anti-Russian sentiments at home, and second, to have a tool to put pressure on the so-called old Europe, he said.

"A change of the White House occupant is unlikely to radically affect the extremely complicated situation in which the European Union has found itself amid the growing confrontation between China and the U.S., or perhaps the situation might even worsen. If Biden wins, he is likely to be an even more ideologically charged president than Donald Trump. Trump is rather pragmatic, and this is what determines mostly a so-called transactional nature of relations between the U.S. and other countries," Gromyko said.

Nevertheless, the trade wars between the U.S. and China could somehow subside if Biden wins the presidency, Gromyko said. "This would be beneficial to the Europeans, because China plays an important role for them in terms of trade," he said.

Pavel Timofeyev, senior researcher at IMEMO's Department for European Political Studies, said the French elite also favors Biden on the whole.

"France's political and expert elites don't hide it that they are looking forward to Joe Biden's taking office as a proven Atlantist, who would turn the U.S. back toward trans-Atlantic unity and global allied leadership," Timofeyev said.

The French elites fear that, if Trump is reelected, the factor of China would come to the foreground and Europe would be marginalized regardless of whether Chinese-U.S. confrontation continues or whether new bipolarity led by the U.S. and China emerges, he said.

Pressure on China

The results of the upcoming presidential election in the United States will reflect on the trade war between Washington and Beijing, Alexander Lomanov, deputy director and head of the Center for Asia Pacific Studies of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

"There is a very popular expectation that the trade war started by [U.S. President Donald] Trump may end under [presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe] Biden. On the other hand, there have been no official, clear statements by Biden on this matter. It can only be assumed that America will avoid any abrupt moves in accordance with the general strategy of the Democratic Party, will reverse the steps taken by Trump that destroyed the atmosphere of Chinese-U.S. relations, but de facto did not give America any serious advantages," Lomanov said at the expert meeting.

Lomanov said he believes that, if Trump stays in power, "there is practically no chance that the increased tariffs and sanctions will be cancelled; things will either stay the same, or they will be toughened."

"If Biden wins, the probability of softening is very high. But we really don't understand the depth of this easing. Because, at least a technological war, a war in the sphere of innovations between China and the United States has already begun, and it will continue. And Biden will not reverse any steps that were aimed at deterring the scientific and technological progress of China," he said.

Lomanov said Biden has used the issue of relations with China in his election campaign.

"China's expectations changed with the changes in the positions of Biden, who started his campaign with criticism of Trump for excessive pressure on China and with promises to improve these relations. But after that, Biden's position obviously changed with the coronacrisis, and he started rivaling Trump in the sphere of anti-Chinese rhetoric," he said.

Generally, Lomanov said he believes people in China "like Trump much less than Biden." "That's partly because Biden and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping have had very good personal contacts. Although this contact was ten years ago [...]," he said.

The analyst spoke about possible changes in dialogue between Washington and Beijing should Biden win. "What will change under Biden? The general expectation is that Biden will start cooperating with China on behalf of the U.S. on 'common interests,' which are currently non-existent. It's something that Trump doesn't need at all - climate change. Biden is interested in that," Lomanov said.

"It's interesting that China gave several very sharp warnings to the U.S. literally several days before the election. China isn't waiting for anything to see who will come to power to continue dialogue later," he said.

Lomanov said the first thing is "the introduction of sanctions against three U.S. defense companies that were involved in the supply of weapons to Taiwan." "The second measure is restrictions on six U.S. media outlets as part of the 'exchange of blows' between the two countries in the sphere of the mass media. And a very important program speech by Xi Jinping on October 23 on the 'victory over America' during the Korean War," he said.

"This doesn't bode well for the future of Chinese-U.S. relations for the next few years," Lomanov said.

India as counterbalance to China

The political establishment and administration of India hope to benefit from any outcome of the upcoming presidential election in the United States, Alexey Kupriyanov, a researcher with the Department of International Political Problems of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

"India is working on the assumption that, no matter who will win the election, the strategic line towards confrontation with China will continue. There are certain concerns (in Delhi) that Biden may conclude an 'amicable agreement' with China. The Indians believe certain changes are possible in the policies, that the Democrats will put a stake on broader formats, will take the confrontation to the economic sphere," Kupriyanov said at the online meeting on Thursday.

The expert said he believes Joe Biden's victory will mean a more active role of New Delhi in the format under the patronage of Washington, which also involved Australia and Japan in opposition to Beijing.

"From India's viewpoint, it means that India, Australia and Japan will need to get more involved in the process of China deterrence. That means that the positions of India (in this format) will grow stringer. The Biden administration is expected to put pressure on ASEAN to take tougher positions on China," the expert said.

Kupriyanov said he believes the Indian administration will be capable of benefitting from Donald Trump's re-election as well.

"On the other hand, Trump's victory means a further line towards tough confrontation with China, a line towards U.S. companies' departure from China. India in this situation can become an alternative to China in the U.S. supply chain. In principle, the victory of any candidate is acceptable to India," the expert said.

The point of such policies in India is to use the relations with the U.S. to counterbalance China, while at the same time not assuming any obligations, adjusting the Indian foreign policies in favor of Washington's interests, the expert said.

"The Indians hope that the U.S. will support India in its dispute with Pakistan, especially China, but will at the same time pursue the policies of non-interference in the internal affairs of India and will not make attempts to adjust its foreign policies. The Indians will be ready to play the role of a counterbalance to China in the region, but at the same time they are not going to take on any specific obligations," Kupriyanov said.

Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation is a new joint online project of IMEMO and Interfax. The project will include a series of expert meetings dealing with key events in global politics and the economy. Discussions among academics, public figures, and government officials are planned for once a month in an online format.