The US and Russia are structural adversaries


Before writing this post I googled the term “structural adversaries” to see whether I’d coined it. I didn’t. But generally it means what I thought it should mean: people or entities that are bound to be adversaries by virtue of the system in which they exist.

If you ask most Americans today why Russia and the United States are adversaries, I’d bet that most would talk about the 2016 election, about the Cold War, about Vladimir Putin’s hostility towards democracies, about violent repression of gays and free speech and free press in Russia, and so on. But what about a hypothetical future Russia that’s run as democratically and transparently as, say, India?

When I first had the (as it turns out, not original) term “structural adversaries” bouncing around in my head, I wanted to weave it into a wider narrative about recent history, not-so-recent history, and what might happen in the near future.

But I think it’s a clear enough point to be made on its own: in today’s world, there are extremely powerful forces and interests not only inside both Russia and the US, but in almost every other country, that resist, and will resist, anything approaching an alliance between the US and Russia.

The reason is simple: only two countries in the world possess the capability to blow up the world with nuclear weapons. These same two countries, though they’re worlds apart in terms of military expenditure and force projection capability, are nevertheless viewed as the two top countries in terms of military technology, manufacturing capacity and strength of existing forces.

This includes China. And it even includes situations where war isn’t even on the table. Other than China, Russia is the only non-Western country with permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Both Russia and the US have immense leverage over China in terms of finances and resources. It’s possible that if Russia and the US were to become allies, China would reach out to France and the UK to seek an alliance. A lot of configurations are possible if the US and Russia were to be allies, but today’s system of alliances would probably not survive. How could Europe remain defenseless with the US on one side, its ally Russia on the other, and China looming off in the distance? Europe has too much business with Russia, and too many potential points of conflict, not to have leverage over Russia or a backer like the US to provide muscle.

To every other country in the world, and particularly the countries that border Russia and even more particularly Europe, which lies geographically, commercially and culturally between Russia and the United States, the prospect of a true alliance between Russia and the US is extremely scary.

And that’s irregardless of whether Russia ends up with a government that everyone agrees is democratically elected and espouses liberal values. Just the fact that these two countries possess such destructive capacity is enough for the rest of the world to make sure they’re not on the same team.

You could come up with a million schoolyard analogies for this situation, but I think it’s clear even without an analogy. Listen to me now and hear me later: no matter what, the closer Russia and the United States become, the more third countries will do to push them apart.

And I’m not saying this is evil or even wrong. If the US and Russia happen to be ruled by like-minded leaders with supportive populations at any time in the future, it’s easy to see that they could pursue a course of world domination, whether by invasion or by military, commercial or political leverage.

This has most certainly been gamed out by more experienced, knowledgable analysts at the CIA and intelligence agencies all over the world. It’s possible that, without following exactly my train of thought, American presidents and Secretaries of State are briefed to tell them: don’t waste your time trying to be friends with Russia, it won’t happen, it can’t happen.


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