For decades, the United States has actively pursued the containment and cornering of Russia with the goal of asserting its own power and influence. Instead of formulating a relationship with a major regional power, this process has brought the United States to the significant challenge of the Russian and Chinese coalition. Because of the active containment and cornering, Russia distrusts the United States and has been looking for a relationship elsewhere. While the United States offers Russia the door, China offers Russia partnership and a homogeneous viewpoint of the West. The United States had several opportunities to bring Russia into partnership – helping avoid China’s challenge to the United States as the major global power. United States foreign policy has tried to keep Russia at bay and the United States in a position of global power but has helped cement the rise of a feared, difficult to address, anti-Western coalition between Russia and China – The Grand Miscalculation.
The story of The Grand Miscalculation largely starts with declassified documents in the National Security Archive at George Washington University that show U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s "not one inch eastward" discussion about NATO with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Former CIA Director Robert Gates stated that the Soviets were "led to believe" that NATO would not expand beyond Germany. In 2001, President Putin stated, “The simplest [solution] is to dissolve NATO…The second possible option is to include Russia in NATO. This also creates a single defense and security space.” The United States missed its opportunity. To this day, NATO has expanded all the way up to Russia’s border and is now pushing for Finland and Sweden to join. Finland and Sweden provide the United States with no strategic advantage, but a security liability. Russia has repeatedly identified NATO expansion as a direct threat to its national security for decades. Further, the United States could have avoided the current destruction of already strained relations with Russia by seriously considering Russia’s security concerns for Ukraine in early 2022. Instead, the United States labeled most of Russia’s concerns in Ukraine as "non-starters." Earlier this year, Russia invaded Ukraine because of the hard push for Ukraine to join NATO. It is obvious why Russia does not trust the United States and is looking for a trusting partner elsewhere. This distrust has resulted into the formation of a coalition against the United States and its Western partners. The United States certainly has not benefited from its foreign policy towards Russia.
China is the only major world power that is benefiting from the actions of the United States. China wants to see the continued deterioration of the United States and Russian relationship. The balance of power in the world is shifting. There is no strategic benefit in pushing Russia into China’s camp. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia and China released a joint policy statement outlining their goal of cooperation against the United States and the West. China particularly admires Russia’s attempts to establish a "just" multipolar international system and asserts there are no "forbidden" areas of cooperation. Russia and China want to increase partnership in all political, security, and economic sectors. Threatening the dominance and stability of the Dollar, the Russian Central Bank has halved its dollar reserves and has moved towards the Yuan and Euro. Currently, Russia and China are in their last phase of de-dollarization by establishing alternative payment and messaging systems. All actions that have been taken are directly threatening the United States and have been predicted by realist thinkers.
George Kennan and John Mearsheimer predicted what would come of poor treatment of Russia by the United States. Kennan argued that NATO expansion would be "…the most fateful error of American foreign policy in the entire post-Cold War era." This fatal error can be known as The Grand Miscalculation. The United States has conjured nationalistic and anti-Western attitudes in Russia society. The world is seeing the direct results of this in Ukraine and in the formation of the Russian and Chinese coalition.
The United States foreign policy of containing Russia, disregarding Russia’s security interests, and trying to assert the power of the United States in Russia’s sphere of influence has caused the further development of the Russian and Chinese coalition. This coalition directly contradicts the goals of the United States and its Western allies. The stability of the international order is at stake. The United States and the West will increasingly struggle to counter the Russian and Chinese coalition in the future unless a change of policy is implemented. The United States must seek to split the coalition between Russian and China by resetting relations with Moscow. If the current course is maintained, then the actions of the United States will go down as the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the 21st century – The Grand Miscalculation.
Jacob Bosen is a graduate student of statecraft and international affairs at the Institute of World Politics. He participated in the Russian American Cooperation Initiative in Moscow in December 2021. Jacob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.