By Paul Shields
In a recent interview on 60-minutes, President-elect Joe Biden claimed that Russia is currently the biggest threat to the United States.
But this is wrong. Despite the continued bemoaning of Russia from the left, the fact is Biden’s chief adversary is a really a country in breath taking decline. Compared to the United States, Russia’s economy lacks the market dynamism to compete globally. In terms of soft power, Russia hardly poses a threat, as its own sphere of influence barely extends beyond its own borders into countries like Belarus, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Russia may be an American adversary, but it is certainly a small one.
Russia As It Really Is
If Russia really is a significant competitor with the United States then lets consider a few facts.
Just in terms of nominal GDP, Russia is one-tenth the size of the US economy. Let me repeat that: one-tenth. France and Brazil have larger economies than Russia.
This is likely not going to change soon either. Russia remains dependent on natural resources and – thanks to a corrupt bureaucratic class – continually fails to transition to a vibrant economy based on modern technology.
As a result, the country is hemorrhaging its best talent, as some 750,000 people leave its workforce every year. This is a serious issue for Russia. Could you imagine nearly one million of America’s best and brightest leaving every year to work elsewhere?
A low birth rate and an aging population only make the future look bleaker still, as the Russian ruble continues a spiral downward to obscurity.
Any claimed international influence that Russia hardly extends to the small former Soviet republics on its borders. And even then Putin does a poor job at maintaining stability in his own neighborhood. Just on Russia’s border there is a potential democratic revolution in Belarus, a war in Eastern Ukraine, a violent relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and consistent political instability throughout Central Asia. Russia’s large geographic reach is hardly enviable.
Compare this with the United States, which dominates an entire hemisphere.
Moreover, Russia’s international investments into places like Syria and Ukraine may make Russia look big in the headlines, but have provided negative returns. For instance, Putin poured billions of dollars into military intervention in Syria, which ultimately bought him an alliance with the world’s most-hated dictator who leads a failed state. In Ukraine, Russia gained a few beaches in Crimea but paid for it through crippling sanctions, NATO revitalization, and a pro-Western Ukraine, which didn’t exist before.
So you tell me. If Russia really were a great threat, would you dare trade the U.S. economy for Russia’s? Would you trade our military for Putin’s? Would you swap our alliance system for close ties with Syria?
Moving Beyond Russia
Russia is still an adversary, a country whose grand strategy and interests will continue to collide with the United States. But Biden fails to see that we already are managing Russia quite successfully on a bipartisan basis.
U.S. foreign policy towards Russia in the last four years has been strong and the Trump Administration took the right strategy. NATO’s defense capabilities have improved and funding from other countries has increased. Furthermore, we offer military assistance to Ukraine while operate a strong sanctions regime that is followed up with robust diplomacy.
It seems that Joe Biden’s greatest threat to America is a declining power with an anemic economy, tepid global influence, a streak of bad international gambles, and no significant alliances.
Such clear misrepresentation of Russia’s challenge is not surprising though. What else would you expect after years from the media screaming Russian collusion, Russian interference, and Russian influencing campaign?
The worse part of all the left’s Russia drama is that it has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. We are not having the more important debates of our time. Instead of focusing on a country whose economy is smaller than Texas, shouldn’t we be talking about China? Instead of screaming Russian disinformation, shouldn’t we be finding ways to expand economic opportunity at home?
Ultimately, we need to find a way to talk about Russia in a way that doesn’t dominate headlines and abandons our more important priorities.
Paul Shields graduated from Stanford and completed an MPhil at Oxford University.