04.04.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Kurt Campbell visited Japan and Mongolia: What it means for US foreign policy

Kurt Campbell visited Japan and Mongolia

From 19 to 23 March, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who only took up the post in February this year to replace Victoria Nuland, who resigned, travelled to Japan and Mongolia. In this context, let us make a few preliminary but, it would seem, fundamental observations.

First, given Campbell’s initial specialisation (both in his previous diplomatic work and in research organisations), we can confidently say that the very fact of his appointment to this very important post has given organisational form to the trend of a radical shift in Washington’s foreign policy preferences towards the Indo-Pacific region. This is a trend that will be followed by the next American administration, regardless of party affiliation, which will be determined by the upcoming general elections.

Second, this trend is becoming irreversible. Although its first signs were already visible in the noughties, when no less iconic figures such as Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick were in the same position. However, they had opposing views on the policy towards the new emerging global player China. The very fact of the latter’s emergence in this capacity had already been predicted by American political science in the late 1990s.

Р. Zoellick believed that the prospect of building constructive relations with Beijing was possible and, apparently, his views served as a basis for the G2 concept (voiced by G. Kissinger and Z. Brzezinski), which soon appeared, within the framework of which the management of world processes was supposed to be conducted in a tandem “US-PRC”. However, the failure to implement this concept, the subsequent political turmoil (Afghanistan and the Middle East in general, turbulence in Europe, Ukraine) delayed for 10 years the process of organising the mentioned trend.

Thirdly (and as a consequence of the previous one), European affairs in general and, in particular, the conflict in Ukraine are taking a back seat in American foreign policy preferences. In this connection, we should note that there were apparently some “personal” motives for Nuland’s removal from the post of Deputy Secretary of State, but they undoubtedly played a secondary role. The main thing, we repeat, is that this post should now be occupied by a specialist in Indo-Pacific region affairs.

Fourthly, the very fact of his first (after the above-mentioned appointment) trip abroad to visit two Asian countries, which are completely different in all respects, fully fits into the same process of a radical shift in US foreign policy preferences. Almost entirely motivated, we repeat, by the “China factor”.

Fifthly, it is not necessarily the case that this “factor” is assessed only from uncompromisingly hostile positions. The concept of “managed competition”, i.e. a kind of symbiosis of the approaches of R. Armitage and R. Zoellick, is in use today. This concept presupposes the maintenance of various types and levels (including the highest) of US-China contacts.

However, the main motivation for K. Campbell’s trip was conditioned by another component of the mentioned concept, which attaches special importance to the word “competition”. The latter was to be based on a regional military-political organisation. It should be noted that the need to create something similar to an “Asian NATO” was discussed as early as the early 1990s, but so far there are only separate (embryonic) fragments of such an organisation.

The AUKUS configuration, in which Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have remained since its creation in September 2021, is increasingly claiming the role of its core. The question of expanding this configuration and formalising relations within it is becoming central to Washington’s policy. The first candidate to join AUCUS is Japan, and the second is the Philippines (Canada, New Zealand, …). An important step in this process will be the US-Japan-Philippines summit to be held in April on the territory of the first of these three countries.

K. Campbell’s main focus during his visit to Tokyo was on its preparation. He expects Japan’s participation in AUKUS to bring “achievements in the field of robotics and cyber technologies”. At the same time, he sees the main obstacle to Japan’s full participation in AUKUS as the maintenance of the first of the known restrictions on working with nuclear technologies (the so-called “three no’s” principle). This configuration was created with the original aim of Australia acquiring a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

As for the Philippines’ participation in the preparatory process for the upcoming trilateral summit, the country was represented at the Tokyo talks by Deputy Foreign Minister Theresa Lazaro.

The second country Campbell visited on this trip, Mongolia, will of course not be a member of AUKUS. Not now and not in the foreseeable future. But it has its own special relationship with China, not least because of its difficult period of independence, which lasted almost half a century, starting with the Chinese Xinhai Revolution in 1912. Without going into detail, it is worth noting that it is this “specificity” that favours the (extensive) penetration of the PRC’s main adversaries, i.e. the US and Japan, into Mongolia, which has developed over the past two decades. However, the presence of other major players, such as India, the EU and some leading European countries, is becoming increasingly noticeable.

On the Mongolian side, the expansion of relations with the outside world takes the form of the “third neighbour” concept, which emerged in the course of the search for new partners after the loss of the former main support in the form of the USSR. This concept is also mentioned in the Foreign Ministry’s announcement of the forthcoming first foreign trip of the second person in that department, whose main objective in relation to Mongolia is to “strengthen the friendship between the peoples” of the two countries.

Finally, it seems appropriate to return to the general subject of the consequences of the well-known events of the turn of the eighties and nineties of the last century, a particular manifestation of which was the loss by the heir of the USSR, i.e. today’s Russian Federation, of the former’s undoubtedly dominant position in Mongolia (as well as in a number of other countries). The depth and extent of this period is demonstrated in particular by the preservation of the Cyrillic alphabet in the Mongolian alphabet, which was adopted during the period of Soviet-Mongolian friendship, and which is remembered with piety in present-day Mongolia.

The aforementioned loss by the Russian Federation of the positions of its great predecessor in Mongolia was, we repeat, a direct consequence, as well as one of the characteristic accompanying signs, of the fundamental factor caused by the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War. This always happens when one of the parties to a global conflict fails.

In this respect, the frequent reflections and doubts of the hysterically stupid propaganda about the nature of the end of the Cold War look ridiculous (if not shameful), since one can just as well doubt the correctness of the multiplication table. Already in the early 1990s, the so-called “surface” of the post-Soviet space showed all three main signs (“from Clausewitz”) of total defeat, i.e. the defeat of the army, the division of the defeated enemy’s territory and the suppression of the morale of its population. And reparations (“as it should be”) were paid at least until the 90s. In a specific way, however, in the form of no less notorious “robbery”.

As for the “betrayal” factor embodied in the “Chubais is to blame for everything” cartoon meme, it was (if anything) instrumental and auxiliary. In particular, the “Malta Summit” of late 1989 seems to have merely stated and formalised by that time quite obvious prospect of the USSR’s defeat in the Cold War. In the same way, the concept of “integration into Europe” (allegedly dominant among part of the Soviet elite) seems to have had the same accompanying (rather than “original”) character as the general feeling of the futility of further confrontation with the same “Europe” (“the West”).

In the second half of the 1980s, the mobilisation of latecomers and mere scum from various strata of Soviet society (primarily the “beacons of conscience” and “masters of thought” of the time) was carried out with the aim of striking the final blow against it, and was also instrumental in nature.

Be that as it may, we, the current heirs to the history and culture of a great country, should not be positioned as a capricious little child beating the floor with the palm of its hand (“but America will soon collapse”). Who can only listen to “simple explanations” of very complex phenomena in the format of fairy tales with a “happy ending”.

While adults not only rejoice in victories, but also honourably endure heavy defeats that no one has ever been able to avoid. All the more so as the post-defeat period seems to be coming to an end, and we should not be nostalgic for the times that are irrevocably gone, but should be building a new country under completely new domestic and foreign policy conditions.

Meanwhile, one of the most remarkable proofs of the radicality of these very “innovations” that are appearing on the world stage are the personnel changes discussed here in the very important, let us repeat, post of the foreign policy department of the leading (for the time being) world power, as well as the shifting of the focus of its interests from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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