Despite all of the hand wringing in the United States about Russia's soft invasion and annexation of Crimea and its intimidation of eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama's tour of East Asia demonstrates why U.S.-Russian relations probably will avoid plummeting into a new Cold War.
Although President Obama insisted during his trip to four East Asian countries worried about China's rapid rise (while not visiting China) that, "We're not interested in containing China," some experts nevertheless were correctly calling it the "containment tour." Obama visited Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia -- the first three being nations that the United States has pledged to defend and the last being a nation that would like U.S. support in its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. Similarly, the Philippines and Japan would also like American support in their territorial disputes with China in the South and East China Seas, respectively. The U.S. has pledged to defend South Korea against North Korea, a major Chinese ally. In addition to past strengthening of U.S. Cold War-era alliances in East Asia, Obama, on this trip, is bringing back American military use of Philippine military bases, from which Filipinos ejected the United States in 1992 after the Cold War ended.
But what does all this have to do with Russia? Foreign policy realists make a good case that most countries, whether democratic or autocratic, behave similarly on the global stage. The United States fears a rising China, and thus Obama's "pivot" to Asia has renewed and revitalized America's East Asian alliances that were originally directed against the Soviet Union. Russia has long border with China and also fears its rise, especially because Siberia is resource rich and sparsely populated and may thus be vulnerable to penetration by a populous China.