Commentary

McCain Talking Too Tough on Russia, China

John McCain recently vowed to work with Russia on nuclear disarmament. “Russia and the United States are no longer mortal enemies,” the Republican presidential nominee said in a speech May 27 at the University of Denver.

But there is a gaping chasm between McCain’s objective of nuclear disarmament and the means with which he wants to achieve it. Until recently, McCain called for excluding Russia from the G8, the informal association of the world’s leading economic powers. That would have been a gratuitous snub and short-sighted, considering it’s the Russians he’d have to persuade to give up their nuclear weapons.

[T]here is a gaping chasm between McCain’s objective of nuclear disarmament and the means with which he wants to achieve it.”

In a speech at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in March, McCain said that the G8 should become “again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia.” McCain has made similar pronouncements in the past.

The fact is that if the U.S. wants to secure Russia’s loose nuclear material, it’ll have to continue cooperating with the Russians. Russia is a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and a member of the six-party nuclear talks with North Korea. If Washington is serious about limiting the spread of nuclear weapons and dealing with rogue regimes, reordering global institutions to exclude Russia is not how to do it.

Another top priority on McCain’s foreign-policy checklist is ostracizing China. McCain has warned the American public on a number of occasions that China’s rise creates “concern” and will eventually warrant an expanded U.S. military. In April, McCain went further by stating that if he were president, he would not attend the opening ceremonies this summer of the Beijing Olympics. “It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”

The PRC’s authoritarianism is troubling, but McCain appears to preclude the possibility of building better relations with it unless it becomes fully democratic. What better way to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of Chinese antagonism than continually warning Americans of a “red scare” on the horizon?

China is the world’s manufacturing hub, an enormous export market for the U.S., and it has extensive ties throughout Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Ostracizing China will not entice its leaders to become “responsible stakeholders” in those regions.

U.S. policy-makers are committed to integrating China into the global economic system and inducing it to play by the rules. Officials on both sides of the Pacific believe that by forging stronger ties, they can create a web of economic interdependence and reduce the possibility of war. McCain’s blustery rhetoric plays right into the hands of China’s most ardent nationalists, marginalizing the few Chinese who want stronger ties to the West and greater liberalization at home.

There is no question that China and Russia have objectionable policies. China’s deplorable human-rights record and Russia’s authoritarian structure leave much to be desired. But McCain’s policy prescriptions will prevent the U.S. from working with them in areas of common interest, and preclude cooperation in meeting shared threats.

While the next president need not establish close friendships with policy-makers around the world, if he wishes to secure America’s global interests he will have to continue cooperating with China and Russia.

Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.