The Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute and Valdai Club expert Richard Weitz gave an interview to News.ru in which he shared his take on Russo-Chinese military cooperation, assessed the prospects of a new arms race, explained the political context of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system sales to the Middle Eastern countries and gave a forecast on the deployment of medium- and shorter-range missiles by Moscow and Washington.
— Could the uncertainty with the New START treaty extension lead to a new arms race?
— The current uncertainty is unlikely to have a strong impact, but the situation could become much worse if the New START treaty is not extended given that the arms race is already underway. This is the last treaty restraining the nuclear forces use by Russia and the United States. There will be only certain restrictions without it, for example, the financial ones, like the reluctance of some people to spend additional funds on defense. The situation will depend on other factors, including the ones within the Russian Ministry of Defense. I believe that both countries will not take destabilizing steps, but nonetheless, there will be more global challenges without the New START treaty.
Defense cooperation with China
— Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is helping China to create the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). According to the head of the state, so far, only Russia and the USA have such a system. How will BMEWS's presence in China change the existing balance of power?
— It is not yet clear how exactly will Russia help China: will it sell more advanced radars or equipment? In general, this step will not necessarily have a destabilizing effect. If China feels more confident with a new defense system, it will no longer need, for example, to hide its military forces or strengthen them. This may even make China feel more confident about arms control. But the cooperation between Russia and China as a whole is a challenge. It helps China become a powerful state and therefore Beijing must be included in arms control agreements. The cooperation on missile warning systems should not be destabilizing.
— What are the prospects of Russia and China joining their BMEWS? Can Moscow and Beijing create a military alliance?
— I could point out three aspects when looking at the interaction between Russia and China in the defense field. First of all, this is Russia's arms sales to China. It helps Beijing become a powerful military force and strengthen its missile defense. Moscow is providing substantial assistance to China: joint military exercises have become larger in number, more diverse in the type of weapon and are conducted more often than before. Thus, the PRC army took part in the Russian «East-2018» and «Center-2019» drills.
There is also general cooperation — a roadmap for resolving the North Korean missile problem. The collaboration has come very close to what we call the alliance. The one thing that is missing is a joint defense agreement. The United States will have to defend South Korea if the North attacks according to the defense agreement. It is still not clear and I'm not sure whether Russia will be ready to defend China if it gets in a war with the United States, or vice versa. This is the main difference. Overall the cooperation resembles alliance or military bloc but formally is not.
— Can Russia share its military technology with China?
— This has already happened and has helped China a lot. I think that in the future we can see a reverse flow when Russia will use certain technologies, in particular, drone production or cyber technology. The relationship between the two countries may go beyond only partnership in the future. For now, China benefits greatly from Russia's assistance.
— But can Russia share the latest weapons production technologies with China?
— The level of armaments is growing every few years. At first, Russia sold China old Soviet weapons. During the Cold War, this made sense since China could not buy American weapons. Now Russia is already selling S-400 to China. In the future, the sales of more advanced technologies are possible, at the same time China can help Russia as well.
S-400 system as an element of political influence
— You mentioned the S-400 anti-aircraft system. It is believed that the sales of this system have a political connotation.
— Yes. I think there are several reasons why Russia sold the S-400 to China. First of all, it shows that Russia does not consider China a threat and therefore is ready to help it. Secondly, Russia can weaken US security by arming others if it wants. The sale of the S-400 also gives Russia inside information about China’s military development.
— Russia plans to sell the S-400 not only to China but also to several countries in the Middle East, while the United States is trying to prevent this.
— Yes, and the United States also imposed sanctions against China for the purchase of this system and plan to introduce them against Turkey and, possibly, India. But the fact that China decided to buy the Russian system will encourage other countries to buy S-400 as well.
— Can the purchase of S-400 by Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Egypt, change the political balance of power?
— It is hard to say. But this is one of the reasons countries sell weapons. It helps to strengthen its political influence. Middle Eastern countries do not need Russian oil and gas, but they are interested in Russian weapons and can buy it. If the American reaction will be too harsh and Washington decides to impose sanctions, this will bring the countries that bought S-400 closer to Russia. But it will not necessarily last long. Recall the time when USSR sold weapons to Egypt and then everything changed when Anwar Sadat came to power. In this regard, the arms sale is not the best tool.
— Returning to the relations between Russia, the USA, and China: Washington announced plans to deploy its air defense systems in the Asia-Pacific region which Moscow and Beijing are concerned about. Do they have enough political influence to prevent the deployment?
— China has already told South Korea: if you don’t like the way we treat you, then we will respond even stronger if you host the systems. This made the air defense system deployment to South Korea a very difficult task. Japan is a country where it is still possible. Many other countries, including the Philippines, will not agree to the offer not to upset China.
— President Putin recently announced Russia's readiness to deploy medium- and shorter-range missiles to the other countries following America's example. What countries are we talking about?
— Some Russian MPs named Venezuela and Cuba. But I'm not sure that these countries would like to host Russian systems. If you are ready to host such weapons, your relationship with the United States will be ruined.
From a practical point of view, Russia does not need to do this, because it can simply send its submarines to the US coast. If Russia increases its missile capacities in the Asia-Pacific region, it will be perceived as an additional threat to the United States and its forces in Guam and Japan.