Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation which took nearly two years is finally over: in his report Mueller wrote that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”. Considering the trade war with China an opportunity to establish closer ties with Moscow could benefit Washington, as it would be very foolish to try to fight both Russia and China at the same time – says Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe John L. Harper. The expert explained what the US and Moscow need to do to establish contact, how high is the probability of a nuclear conflict between them and what will happen to Afghanistan after American troops return home.
- Prof. Harper, former US Secretary of State George Schulz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Senator Samuel Nunn in a joint article for the Wall Street Journal called on US President Donald Trump to review the United States policy toward Russia. What do you think about it? Are there any favorable prerequisites for the normalization of US-Russian ties?
- Now that the Mueller report has confirmed that there was probably no collusion between Russia and the Trump camp in 2016 it might seem like an opportune moment to review relations.
I think Trump has always had in mind a relationship of cooperation with Russia as a way to try to counter-balance China. The problem is that conservative Republicans, the Pentagon, and many Democrats remain deeply suspicious of and bitter toward Russia.
Democrats point out that even if there was no explicit collusion with Trump, Russia helped Trump by working against Hilary Clinton in 2016. There was a de facto alliance between Russia and Trump. To break the ice I think there has to be some gesture on the part of Russia that would start to change public opinion toward Putin and Russia in the US.
- Some experts believe that relations between Russia and the United States are at an impasse, and this can lead to dangerous confrontation and turn into the use of nuclear weapons. In your opinion, is a nuclear war between Russia and the USA possible? Is there such a risk?
- There is always a risk when both sides have nuclear weapons, but under what circumstance might they be used? The only scenarios under which they might be used would be if Russia invaded a member of NATO, or if a member of NATO started a war with Russia. Such scenarios seem very unlikely to me, and even if they happened, both sides would make every effort to avoid escalation to the nuclear level. The risk therefore is quite low.
- Some Western media have written that the United States is preparing a strategy for the Trojan Horse against Russia and China. What can you say about this? What is the essence of such a strategy?
- The Pentagon is shifting its emphasis toward preparing for conflict with Russia and/or China but I don't know what is meant by a Trojan Horse strategy.
Certainly it would be very foolish to try to fight both Russia and China at the same time.
This is one reason why Trump has always favored better relations with Russia in the context of worsening relations with China.
- US opens a second front of trade war. President Donald Trump threatens Europe with duties on goods worth 11 billion dollars. In parallel, the White House continues to discuss import charges on European cars. What is the reason for the new round of trade wars?
- I think we are seeing another of Trump's periodic outbursts to please his political base in the US, and perhaps a warning to Europe to negotiate seriously with the US--rather than the beginning of a new trade war. The warning may also be related to Xi's recent trip to Europe and probable closer co-operation between Europe and China on certain BRI projects. But most US experts believe that in order to be successful in its trade war with China, the US needs to form a common front against China with the EU.
- In the US, they spoke of a possible extension of the Treaty with Russia on the reduction of strategic offensive arms (START-3), and also pointed out the need to include China in the agreement - as one of the parties. Why does the US want China to be a party to this treaty? What are the interests of Americans in this matter?
- It would certainly be in the US interest to put a cap on the Chinese strategic nuclear arsenal, which has been growing, and is being modernized, in recent years. The US is also very concerned about the threat of intermediate range and shorter range non-nuclear-armed missiles to the US fleet and US bases in the Western Pacific.
- A meeting of representatives of Russia, the USA and China on Afghanistan is scheduled for April 25 in Moscow. This was announced on April 11 by the special envoy of the Russian president for Afghanistan, director of the second department of Asia at the Russian Foreign Ministry Zamir Kabulov. What are your expectations from this meeting?
- I am not aware of previous meeting of this kind in the recent past, so it is a positive sign. But I don't think anything concrete will emerge from the meeting. Probably an exchange of views.
- Representatives of the United States and the Taliban* movement agreed on general principles for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, said State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. According to the New York Times, the Taliban* must guarantee non-use of Afghan territory by terrorists, negotiate with the official government and cease fire. In your opinion, will the Americans leave Afghanistan? How much is such a scenario real?
- I think Trump and Khalilzad are serious, and determined to pull all or practically all US forces out of Afghanistan. But needless to say the Pentagon isn't happy, the Afghan government isn't happy, and it's not clear that the Taliban* are prepared to meet all US conditions — especially the one about negotiations with the government.
Things may play out as they did in South Vietnam in 1972-75, with the US making a deal with the enemy, forcing its ally to accept it, and abandoning the country to its fate.
In any case, no one in the US today believes the Taliban* can be defeated, and few believe that its take-over of the country would be a disaster for the US. A humiliation, perhaps, but smart countries don't throw good money after bad forever.