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FOREIGN REPORTFOREIGN REPORT
Heading to the New Apocalypse–Russia versus U.S.
Lim Hyon Yoo  |  hyonyooobest@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2017.09.03  16:27:20
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▲ U.S. passing a sanction against Russia. PROVIDED BY SHUTTERSTOCK.

A nuclear war. An apocalypse might have been the result of the clash of the superpowers during the latter half of the 20th century. It was indeed an intense era, where the rest of the world had to take sides under the pressure of the United States (U.S.) and the Soviet Union. No bullets were used, but that did not stop it from being the coldest war in history. Merely 30 years after the end of the Cold War, signs of a new Cold War are beginning to appear all over the world. Attention is focused on the recent escalation of tension between the two countries, whether it would mark the start of a new war.


On August 2, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted economic sanctions against Russia. It was one of the sanction bills that were meant to restrain the provocative actions of Russia, along with North Korea and Iran. The bill restricted any transaction with the people or corporations that are implicated with the hacking of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) server during last year’s election. Also, it strengthened regulation against Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.


Many assumed that Trump’s cozy relationship with the Russians would have prevented the acceptance of these sanctions. Whether there truly was Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election is still under investigation, and it appears to be a bad time for Trump to infuriate the Russians. They are suspected of having shared information about the hacking of the DNC, and many of Trump’s people—including Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and Trump Junior—are known to have secretively kept in contact with Russia. Even a dossier written by a former MI6 agent claimed that Russia held damaging information on Trump. 


However, the U.S. Senate pressured Trump by passing the sanction bill with 98 out of 100 votes in favor. The president said, “The bill is significantly flawed,” but was still unable to reject it from being accepted. It showed the determination of the Senate which even Trump, though reluctantly, had to yield to. To prevent future alteration of the regulation, the Senate even included restriction in the president’s authority to ease the sanction.


It would have made it more suspicious for Trump to reject the sanction, which he cannot handle at the moment. A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed that the approval rating of Trump fell to 33 percent, which is the lowest figure observed after his inauguration. The Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) even reported that the highranking officials ignore the president since he no longer has power in his government. Under this critical situation, Trump had no choice but to relinquish his friendship with Russia.

 

Deepening of the Conflict

Of course, the Russian government was highly offended by the sanctions. Dmitry Medvedev, the current prime minister of Russia, expressed on Facebook that he saw the acceptance as a declaration of economic war. “The bill is worse than the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,” said Medvedev, referring to the amendment introduced to affect countries of the Communist Bloc during the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, even warned the U.S. of a retaliatory action to banish 755 of their diplomats and technical personnel.


Criticism regarding the hidden intent of the U.S.’s decision has also been raised. Some political pundits point out that the sanctions were proposed to weaken Russia’s influence over the European continent. Lee In Sook of the Kyunghyang Shinmun reckons that Russia’s dominance in the oil business was the main target. Russia is currently supplying 34 percent of the oil in Europe. With the new Nord Stream 2 Project, co-developed with Germany and other European countries, it plans to take over more than 40 percent of the market.

   
▲ Protest against Donald Trump's relation with the Russians. PROVIDED BY SHUTTERSTOCK.

Lee mentioned that Russia’s growing influence over Europe’s energy supply seemed to have greatly concerned the U.S. as a competitor. The U.S.’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) lags behind in terms of cost-effectiveness, since it has to cross the sea. If Russia finds a way to supply their oil in a cheaper way, the U.S. will surely lose in the competition. The bill can be seen as a desperate move to secure its influence over Europe. Yet, the effectiveness of these sanctions is still up for debate. Medvedev assessed the sanctions to be meaningless, and even giant corporations of the U.S. such as the General Electric Company (GE) expressed their anxiety that it would backfire on them.


Also, the reactions of third countries should be taken into account. Europe, now restricted from economic cooperation with Russia, is showing mixed feelings. The Eastern European countries who were on the fence about the Nord Stream 2 Project are expected to welcome the bill. However, the rest of Europe is annoyed by the U.S.’s attempt to control their markets. Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, warned that defensive measures will be taken when the profits of European corporations are threatened. It seems that the conflict caused by the sanctions is now spreading to the entirety of Europe. 

 

To avoid further strife, Trump tried to focus attention on the sanctions against North Korea and Iran, by mainly criticizing the acts of the two countries during his interviews. Yet, his attempts seem to have been of no use from a political perspective. For people like Ron Paul, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, it appears as a mere attempt to avoid the Russian scandals. The economic sanctions will last for decades, and whether the relationship with Russia and Europe will ever recover is being questioned.

   
▲ |Nord Stream 2 Project. PROVIDED BY BIZNESALERT.

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming, indeed. It is not just the relationship of the U.S. and Russia that has turned cold. Engaging in the growing polarity between the two countries, the recent atmosphere within East Asia has also become tense. The old allies of the Cold War—the U.S. with Japan and South Korea against Russia with China and North Korea—have once again turned the continent into a silent battlefield. One of the recent biggest feuds was that between China, South Korea, and the U.S. regarding the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).


THAAD was a controversial subject ever since its introduction to the Korean Peninsula. To protect South Korea from North Korea’s missiles, the U.S. has sent THAAD, which can detect and intercept incoming missiles within 40 to 150 kilometers in altitude. However, this came across as a major threat to China’s national security. Its concern is that the AN/TPY-2 radar of THAAD can reach their territory when in forward deployment. This was why the Chinese have requested the South Korean government to withdraw the deployment of THAAD. Yet, the government maintained the weapon, and China showed fierce economic retaliation, greatly damaging Korea’s economy on many fronts.


The strong enmity between the U.S. and North Korea also cannot be ignored. North Korea’s typical show of force, launching missiles to threaten the U.S., has recently escalated to a dangerous level. North Korea has reached the final stage of its nuclear weapons development, and is aggressively lashing out to gain recognition. The U.S. has showed a firm stance that it will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Instead, it passed one of the strongest economic regulations to cut their source of funds. Professor Lee Dong Sun (Department of Political Science and International Relations) said, “The problem has proven itself difficult to solve. Simply no points for compromise can be found between the U.S. and North Korea at this state.”

   
▲ Professor Lee Dong Sun. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL.

These diplomatic conundrums that have been brewing for centuries are nothing new. Distrust between the U.S. and Russia was easily observed in the past century, and 10 years have passed since North Korea conducted their first nuclear test. The chronic problem of East Asia has slowly built up to cause great fear of another war. Of course, according to Professor Lee, such fear might be unwarranted. A war does not occur when no one is willing to risk it, and indeed, none of the related countries seems willing to endure a war. Yet, he admitted that the tension within the continent has grown significantly higher. 

   
▲ Picture of THAAD. PROVIDED BY DEFENSE NEWS.

To Survive the Winter

If the winter cannot be avoided, it is important to at least not catch a cold from it. President Moon Jae In and his administration have promised to find salvation with conversation and understanding. It has been only several months, but they have attempted to tackle the imminent problems by participating in summit conferences with the U.S. and China. Regarding North Korea, President Moon announced the Berlin Initiative—which pursues economic cooperation and denuclearization of North Korea by promising a peace system. Yet, no serious action has been taken in the matter.


It is too early to assess President Moon’s foreign policies, since most of them are under the veil, but the driver’s seat theory is attracting the public attention. According to Herald Corporation, the driver’s seat theory refers to the government’s plan to sit in the driver’s seat of the international situation and benefit by mediating the conflict in East Asia. However, Professor Lee considered this theory as overly optimistic. Lee said, “It will be a delusion to believe that Korea can not only mediate but even benefit between the two great powers.”


Indeed, the situation seems to be above the control of the Korean government. Under the pressure of the two countries, the government has been incoherent with their stance regarding THAAD. It has been shunted aside from discussion, indecisively changing words according to the opponent of the conference. Also, against the nuclear threat of North Korea, President Moon promised to take a leading role in solving the problem in his congratulatory speech of the Independence Day of Korea. Like his words, there have been attempts to pass sanctions, separately from the U.S., but no detailed proposal has been made.


Acknowledging the fact that China and the U.S. are the ones who control the international arena, not Korea, is important. The current situation is unlikely to be directed under the hands of a middle power, and such an act might even damage Korea in the attempt. Thus, from Professor Lee’s perspective, the driver’s seat theory is both unrealistic and risky. It would be best for the government to be satisfied with the passenger seat. To observe the situation carefully and to focus on minimizing damage should be the priority, rather than fighting over the steering wheel against two great powers. 

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