Vivek Ramaswamy is an intriguing political outsider running for President in the 2024 election as a Republican. Vivek has never been a politician or served in political office, he is a very successful investor and company founder in the pharma/biotech space. His campaign is gaining steam and he is steadily getting more media exposure. At the time of this writing, he is polling in third place among Republican presidential candidates and will qualify for the first round of presidential debates for Republican candidates. One of the primary drivers for his popularity and exposure are his unconventional views on international relations. This article won’t cover all of Vivek’s background, policies, or politics but will focus on some specific foreign policy statements.
To state it bluntly, he is a train-wreck on foreign policy. The way in which he explains his positions is misleading based on incomplete context or inaccuracies. The logical conclusions he draws based on his beliefs are illogical, don’t serve America’s interests, and fly in the face of real-world observations.
His views are mostly expressed in terms of Russia’s war against Ukraine and a potential conflict against China. Below are several clips of interviews with him on those topics as well as a statement in his own words. These sources will be somewhat repetitive but it is important to show that Vivek is very clear and very consistent in his views.
Vivek outlines his geopolitical views in a tweet at: https://twitter.com/VivekGRamaswamy/status/1666093523299598338. What he wrote is clear, detailed, and well-structured so I will go through it section-by-section below.
“Shockingly, almost the entire GOP field supports Biden’s strategy of blind support to Ukraine. I disagree & predict this will become *the* key distinguishing issue in our primary. As U.S. President, I will end the war by ceasing further support for Ukraine and negotiating a peace treaty with Russia that achieves a vital U.S. security objective: ceasing Russia’s growing military alliance with China. This strategy is the mirror-image of President Nixon’s diplomatic maneuver that distanced China from Russia in 1972, except this time Putin is the new Mao.”
I’ve previously questioned what it means to negotiate a peace treaty in this context and won’t restate all of my arguments on this position. The people and government of Ukraine value being independent from Russia more than a peace treaty which rewards Russia’s aggression and subjugation to Russia. What if the US stops aiding Ukraine and Ukraine decides to continue to resist the Russian invasion? What if Russia gladly takes its conquest and, based on the increased standing of a successful imperial expansion, refuses to engage the USA on any other geopolitical topics? After all, what use is there of engaging with the USA if Russia was successful in achieving some measure of victory either way? Would Vivek threaten to ramp up support to Ukraine if a Russian peace treaty can’t be concluded?
This opening paragraph by Vivek sets the tone for the way he views this topic and geopolitics: the danger of the Russian-Chinese alliance. The way he views the problem statement and the solution space to that problem statement is how to split apart the alliance. While close Russian-Chinese cooperation is not a benefit to the United States, it is not a major threat either and is actually being played up in significance by Vivek.
“In 2001, Russia and China entered their Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation and in February 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a more expansive “no-limits partnership.” Collectively, these agreements effectively commit each country to defend the other militarily if either is attacked.”
The TGNFC does not contain mutual defense clauses and the countries are under no obligation to do anything with each other except talk (Article 9). The countries have no obligation to take any action if the other is attacked. China and Russia conduct joint military training exercises of their land, naval, and air forces on a regular basis and have been doing so for almost 25 years. This is not new nor specifically threatening to America. Russia has also been a vendor of arms and technologies like advanced fighter jets and missiles to China for decades (although this is being phased out as China catches up and surpasses Russia in its domestic arms capabilities).
The “no-limits partnership” phrase was a media-targeted sound bite that came out with a new memorandum on cooperation. This basically called for increased military-technical partnership and ongoing bilateral military consultations, increased economic cooperation, and cooperation in areas like IT and energy. There is nothing that breaks new ground in the 2022 memorandum. China and Russia also mutually engage in other geopolitical forums like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – a multinational group mainly focused on politics and economic policy for emerging economies) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a multinational group focused on political, economic, and defense issues in the Central Asia region) and have done so for decades without it being a threat to America.
We have seen first-hand the very limited results of the partnership as it relates to actual, active hostilities. Since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, China is buying more oil from Russia than before, but at a nearly 15% discount to the market price. China is shipping dual-use (potential civilian and military applications) equipment to Russia but so far hasn’t provided Russia with direct military aid. Recent Russian missile strikes against the Ukrainian city of Odesa destroyed thousands of tons of grain that was going to be exported to China as well as damaged the Chinese consulate in Odesa.
Link to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence report on the support China has been providing to Russia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: https://democrats-intelligence.house.gov/UploadedFiles/ODNI_Report_on_Chinese_Support_to_Russia.pdf
Clearly, this is not a full mutual cooperation. China is relishing the opportunity to buy natural resources at discount prices but isn’t doing anything to help ensure a Russian military victory. China hasn’t even fully supported Russia in practically meaningless but symbolically meaningful UN votes.
“The Sino-Russia alliance presents the greatest military risk the U.S. has ever faced. Russia and China together outmatch the U.S. in every area of great power competition: geographic footprint, economic potential, industrial manufacturing might, conventional military power, and nuclear weapons, including super-Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons, which could destroy critical U.S. infrastructure resulting in hundreds of millions of American civilian casualties.”
Calling the Russia-China alliance as the greatest military risk that we have faced is pure hyperbole. China is certainly a formidable geopolitical rival, Russia barely contributes in any way except for its nuclear weapons stockpile.
Geographic footprint: Yes, China and Russia cover more square miles together than the USA… so what? What is the argument here?
Economic potential: Russia has an equivalent GDP ($1.78T, 144M person population) to the state of New York ($1.70T, 20M person population). Russia’s GDP ($1.78T) is smaller than that of Italy ($2.17T, 60M person population). Russia’s economy has also been impacted by the sanctions against it and is contracting. It doesn’t have any exports of note except natural resources (which America and other countries have as well). Russia’s economy is pretty inconsequential; America and Europe have distanced themselves economically without significant pain. Even rejecting Russian energy during last year’s winter was not destabilizing for Europe.
China has a mighty economy and doesn’t need Russia to maintain its economy. As Russia’s situation continues to get worse, China’s economy could get weighed down by trying to support Russia. China is Russia’s #1 export market, Russia is China’s #5 export market. Russia needs China much more than China needs Russia.
This analysis by Kamil Galeev breaks down Russia’s export market as of 2019 and compares that with a diversified export market like Turkey’s. Russia doesn’t offer much to the world except resources, which are not unique or differentiated.
The USA’s trade with China is ~$690B ($154B exports to China, $539B imports from China). This is the largest trade relationship in the world. The USA’s trade with Russia is ~$30B in 2022, down from $46B in 2014 before sanctions started ($7B exports to Russia, $20B imports from Russia in 2022). This is negligible in comparison to the USA-China relationship. The China-Russia trade is $147B ($71B exports from Russia to China, $76B exports from China to Russia). If the USA and China have an economic conflict, the levers and knobs of that conflict will be between the USA and China, Russia is a minor factor either way.
Industrial manufacturing might: Russia does not have industrial manufacturing might. It is not a major exporter of industrial goods like cars, consumer goods, electronics systems, civilian aviation, etc. Russia’s Rosatom does have a significant 38% market share of worldwide nuclear energy projects (selling refined uranium, constructing energy plants) but has specifically been exempt from any international sanctions. American, British, and Japanese companies would be able to fill a commercial nuclear gap if Rosatom were to be sanctioned. Russia also has a significant defense sector as the world’s #2 arms exporter (16% market share), but that sector is highly dependent on electronics and precision manufacturing equipment from the West. Substituting those items for Chinese ones will take time and effort. In this regard, Russia needs China, China does not need contributions from Russia. Russia is also unable to fulfil defense export orders because it needs to replenish its own stocks due to its war in Ukraine. This reduces its standing and reliability as a defense vendor while also reducing income flowing into its defense companies.
This analysis shows just how dependent Russia is on the West to maintain any manufacturing capability and the analysis here points out that China still a minority player in terms of supplying key items for Russian industry.
Conventional military power: Russia has demonstrated that its conventional military forces are weak. They have struggled mightily against a well-motivated but outdated Ukrainian army. Even a trickle of Western equipment several generations out of date was enough to help ensure Ukraine’s defense. An even smaller trickle of new Western equipment like Storm Shadow cruise missiles and HIMARS rocket artillery has been enough to allow Ukraine to liberate some territory in 2022 and 2023. The effectiveness of China’s army is largely unknown. China’s military has not been deployed in any action and we do not know how effective their modern weapons systems or troop training is. It is possible that they have a quantitative and qualitative edge over the USA but it is also possible that (following the Russian tradition) none of their systems work as advertised, that training is inadequate, and morale is low. Either way, combined Russian-Chinese military size would certainly be a challenge, but it is unlikely that is a realistic scenario.
Russia and China have been conducting joint military exercises since 1999. This includes land, naval, and air forces. Some of these exercises are bilateral and some are unilateral and include other BRICS or SCO partners. While this reality is not a positive one from the American perspective, friendly countries carrying out joint exercises is a pretty normal and accepted thing internationally. America and its allies certainly do the same thing within both our own borders and in international areas. Maintaining our military and diplomatic strength is the greatest deterrence to any unilateral/bilateral/multilateral exercises catching us unaware.
Nuclear weapons: Russia alone has a larger nuclear stockpile (~6,200 warheads) than the USA (5,550), UK (225), and France (290) combined. An alliance with China (350 warheads) does not change anything there; there are still more than enough nuclear weapons in any nuclear-armed country’s arsenal to destroy an adversary.
Bringing up a speculative weapon like an EMP (and not just an EMP, but a SUPER-DUPER-ULTRA-EMP! Whatever that means…) is pure fear mongering for the uninformed on the part of Vivek. Hundreds of millions of American casualties? America’s population is ~350M, is Vivek implying that a super-EMP would annihilate all of America?
The premise that China and Russia would together take coordinated aggressive action against America and we should be worried about this is also not rooted in any mainstream analysis. China and Russia have not individually nor jointly demonstrated a desire to attack America or direct American interests. The concern about American defense arises in the context of a military engagement somewhere else in the world. The geopolitical tension arises in cases where the USA would defend third party countries from Russian or Chinese attack, and that is seen as antagonistic by those governments. However, we already see that the alliance doesn’t work in this kind of scenario. The USA is helping Ukraine with money and weapons, is China helping Russia attack Ukraine or attacking the USA directly as a result? No. If Russia attacks Estonia and gets a NATO response, would China go to war against NATO countries? Would Russia participate in a Chinese attack on Taiwan? I have not seen a single analysis raising that as a possibility.
“Beijing’s alliance with Russia provides China with sufficient strategic depth to chance direct conflict with the U.S. in the context of Taiwan, on the credible belief that the U.S. would not dare risk a simultaneous war with two allied nuclear superpowers. Russia is armed with the largest nuclear stockpile in the world and supersonic ballistic missiles well ahead of U.S. capabilities. But in absence of Russia’s support, China would have to think twice before risking war with the U.S. over Taiwan.”
This is a stretch. The assumption here is that either Russia helps China attack Taiwan directly or that Russia would simultaneously stir up trouble in a different part of the world to divide the attention of America and its allies. On a logical level, these are reasonable concerns. But it is hard to overcome the practical questions.
What could Russia potentially contribute to an attack on Taiwan? Russia could send bombers with cruise missiles and naval vessels with anti-ship and/or land-attack missiles. China has its own equivalent assets with equivalent performance and capability so what would be the point?
If Russia were to offer a distraction by starting/expanding a land war in Europe, that would only be useful up to a point. Russia has demonstrated that it struggles against an outdated military, how would it fare against modernized NATO militaries with greater combined manpower and using their latest weapons and defense systems? Would Russia assure the destruction of its conventional military capability in the West to provide a distraction for China to make gains for itself? Would Russia use aggressive nuclear blackmail against Western allies to prevent them from engaging China in the South China Sea?
The types of engagements and tools needed in a European land war are different than those needed in an Asian Pacific war. To fight against Russia, land and air assets are needed. Ground launched ground-attack, anti-air, and anti-armor missiles will be at a premium. To fight against China over Taiwan, naval and air assets are needed. Naval and aerial deployed anti-ship and anti-air missiles will be at a premium. The types of warfare, the weapons systems needed, and the combat units involved will be different. Island hopping and amphibious assets are not a consideration for a European war but a prime consideration for an Asian naval war.
A third possibility is instigating trouble in another part of the world altogether. This can be seen with current events in Niger. A Russian-supported military coup has toppled the democratically elected government of that country. A coalition of West African countries (ECOWAS) are claiming they may interject themselves into Niger to overthrow the coup government and restore the deposed democratic government. This coalition of countries is generally West-friendly. There are also several African countries (Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso) that support the coup government; these are non-democratic Russia-friendly governments which rely on Russian mercenaries to maintain their own internal order. A scenario like this could certainly be a distraction, but it is very unlikely that NATO forces would get drawn from Europe or Asia to participate in events like these at the expense of European defense.
The strategy of dividing attention will probably not have as big of an impact as Vivek assumes. China has made statements all along that it considers Taiwanese reunification to be its prerogative and its partnership with Russia has never been a factor in its rhetoric.
“President Biden’s ongoing support for Ukraine is pushing Russia into a closer military alliance with China which increases the risk of nuclear war: Russia has nuclear capabilities in Poland-adjacent Kaliningrad and soon in Belarus too, and China is bound by treaty to back Russia. My top U.S. national security objective is to disrupt this Sino-Russian alliance in a manner that weakens China without war.”
Again, so far this partnership has been very limited in its effectiveness and scope. Russia has had nuclear capabilities in Kaliningrad for decades, this is nothing new. Russia deploying nuclear missiles in Belarus is another violation of the Budapest Memorandum and is another reason why agreements with Russia are not worth the paper they are written on. Deploying missiles in Belarus does not have a major impact since there are already cruise and ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, which is closer to most of Europe. Russia has also been operating hypersonic Kinzhal missiles (which could be conventional or nuclear armed) from MiG-31 jets stationed in Belarus since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Separating Russia from China will not do much to weaken China since Russia doesn’t do that much to strengthen China in the first place. Everything Russia and China are doing together now is something that China can do on its own. Having this as a primary geopolitical objective is pointless. If the main fear/threat is China’s capabilities or a potential invasion of Taiwan, removing Russia from the equation will not have any impact. China needs to be dealt with “as China”. What are we doing about China’s policies to undermine us through systematic intellectual property theft, investment in strategic American businesses/infrastructure/real estate, lopsided economic policies in leveraging American debt bought with a currency devalued against international economic norms, systematic espionage and hacking efforts, and potential destabilization through illegal immigration and birth tourism? Russian support of China doesn’t factor into any of that.
“Specifically, the U.S. can offer a Korean war style armistice agreement that codifies the current lines of control which would cede most of the Donbas region to Russia. The agreement would suspend any further U.S. military assistance to Ukraine and a permanent moratorium on Ukraine joining NATO. Further, the U.S. and western NATO countries would end the Western sanctions regime against Russia, restore normal diplomatic relations with Russia with mutual security commitments, withdraw all troops from Ukraine, and close all their bases in Eastern Europe — returning to the reality that existed before the July 2016 Warsaw Summit. These concessions to Russia are significant.”
Vivek’s proposal is indeed one of very significant concessions. There are several layers to what he is describing. The first layer is the context. Vivek would be completely legitimizing Russia’s war of imperial conquest. In an attempt to get closer to a geopolitical rival, Vivek would be accepting the violent, destabilizing, aggressive action that Russia has taken against our geopolitical allies and interests. He would be setting a precedent that it is ok to launch wars to capture other countries’ land. He would be setting a precedent that the US would not even indirectly aid aligned democratic countries in their fight for freedom against our very rivals.
Vivek also incorporates several misleading (or to be less generous, straight lies) points here to legitimize what he is peddling. Neither Western countries unilaterally nor NATO as an organization have troops in Ukraine. There are no foreign militaries directly taking part in combat in Ukraine. Foreigners can voluntarily join organizations like the International Legion or the Georgian Legion to serve militarily in the fight for Ukrainian freedom, and many from South America, Europe, North America, and Asia have done so. There are no NATO or foreign military bases in Ukraine.
The concept of a “NATO base” is also misleading as Vivek portrays it. Troops and assets from NATO countries can be based and operate from facilities in each other’s’ countries. For example, America deployed Patriot air defense assets in Slovakia and Czechia and Poland conduct joint air patrols over Slovakia while that country beefs up its own air defense capabilities. This is one of the foundations of the common defense of NATO and what makes it effective in preserving peace and deterring war. What Vivek proposes is for Russia to be able to dictate the voluntary cooperation, internal defense postures, and military effectiveness of other sovereign countries within their own borders.
The other layer is the concessions themselves. All of these concessions are directly contrary to America’s interests and would essentially commit America to acquiesce and follow Russia’s foreign policy in a wholesale manner. Keeping Ukraine out of NATO is a near guarantee that Russia will invade Ukraine again to conquer more territory and/or install a Russian puppet government in the future; Vivek is committing us and Ukraine to a doomed repetition of history without learning from it. And again, Vivek would be committing to allow Russia to dictate internal, sovereign matters for us and our allies.
All of this is pretty bad from an America-first, strong foreign policy viewpoint. But maybe the flip side are concessions from Russia that would amount to a net benefit for America and worth what is being given up? If I’m asking the question, then you can guess the answer…
“In return, Russia would completely exit its military alliance with China, ending the 2001 Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation and the 2022 no-limits partnership. Russia would permanently suspend all military-technical cooperation and joint military exercises with China. Russia would agree to re-enter the pre-2023 New Start nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the U.S. that Russia abandoned earlier this year in the context of the Ukraine War. In addition, Russia would withdraw all nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities from Belarus, Kaliningrad, and all Russian-annexed regions of Ukraine, as well as all military forces from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua – effectively eliminating Russia’s nuclear threat to the U.S. and Europe.”
This is where Vivek’s arguments fall apart completely. Vivek has proposed for America and NATO to outsource its internal policies to Russia (sure, let’s let the wolf tell the sheepdogs what they should and shouldn’t do to protect the flock, makes sense) while getting absolutely nothing of value in return. The points that are brought up here are not very valuable to America.
I’ve gone through the points covering the alliance Russia has with China. Having China as a partner is absolutely vital for Russia. China can do just fine without Russia and China’s rapid economic, military, and foreign status growth hasn’t been on the back of its Russian partnership. America’s unilateral relationship with China and how we can influence our allies (India, the EU, etc.) to deal with China has a much greater impact on strengthening/weakening China than Russia’s interaction with China.
The point about getting Russia back to cooperation on arms treaties is an interesting one. On one hand it is good to have mutual compliance and inspections in accordance with treaties aimed at building trust and openness. On the other hand, asking Russia to get back into a treaty it unilaterally left on the condition of stopping support to Ukraine is giving in to Russian blackmail on the topic. Is this the vision for a strong, America-first foreign policy that Vivek wants us to buy into?
Withdrawing weapons systems from Russian conquered Ukrainian territory is a delusional fantasy on the part of Vivek and shows his complete lack of understanding of foreign policy as it relates to dealing with Russia. If Russia considers these territories as sovereign Russian land (which it does), then it would be arrogant Western imperialist aggression against poor, hapless, victim Russia to dictate what Russia can and can’t do within its borders. Just being in a position to deploy intermediate or long range nuclear delivery systems in Ukraine’s territory would be a sign of Russian strength and Western weakness, not a position that Russia would negotiate itself out of.
The deployment of (potentially nuclear armed) cruise and ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad is a reality that we have accepted for decades and Europe doesn’t view it as existential threat that needs to be negotiated against. In fact, Russia sent 2 proposals (one to NATO, one to the USA) in December 2021 that had multiple points about mutual steps that could be taken in NATO/Russia relations. These were ridiculous demand letters (they actually brought up many of the same points which Vivek raises including letting Russia dictate NATO deployments) that were rejected outright as a basis for negotiations. One of the points brought up was mutually removing missile systems from Kaliningrad which could strike Europe and removing missile systems from Europe which could strike Russia (the actual implication was for Europe to remove its missile defense systems to protect itself from Russian missile attacks). This point was so unimportant for European and American leaders that no negotiations occurred around it.
There is a very simple reality. Even if Russia removed its missile systems from Kaliningrad, Russia could launch nuclear missile strikes against Europe from missile silos within Russia, from bombers carrying long-range missiles operating within Russian airspace, and from naval assets including submarines operating in the Baltic/Northern/Black Seas. Our political and military leaders do not believe that removing weapons systems from Kaliningrad is an existential issue and one worth negotiating about with Russia given the associated concessions.
Russia removing its “nuclear threat” against America in the countries of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua is pure fear mongering on the part of Vivek. None of these countries are a threat to America nor do they host Russian weapons systems that threaten America.
Russia has had good relations with Nicaragua since the 1980s. Nicaragua is an important customer for Russia’s weapons industry and Russia has had various levels of staffing in Nicaragua to provide technical support and training to the Nicaraguan military. Russia may also have military training facilities in Nicaragua. These activities are not a direct threat to America and Nicaragua doesn’t host capabilities for a nuclear strike against America.
Much the same can be said about Cuba. Since Cuba’s Communist Revolution, Cuba has hosted Russian military and intelligence advisors as well as purchased Russian military equipment. Cuba doesn’t host nuclear strike capabilities. That was tried once before and the situation was negotiated peacefully.
Venezuela and Russia have had close ties since the time that Hugo Chavez rose to power in that country. Venezuela buys Russian military equipment and collaborates with Russia in other areas like oil production. Russian long-range bombers have visited Venezuela several times over the last two decades as a show of mutual cooperation. At one point there was a proposal for Venezuela to host a Russian air base but this proposal went nowhere. Again, Venezuela does not host Russian military assets nor nuclear strike capability.
Russia doesn’t threaten America by having its existing ties with these South American countries and asking for concessions in this area doesn’t make America safer or more secure. This is another worthless negotiating point that doesn’t ask Russia to give up anything of value to itself and doesn’t give us anything valuable in return.
“The U.S. would continue its security commitment to NATO while accepting Russia into the security infrastructure of Europe, reducing future catalysts that Russia could use as pretexts to invade its neighbors.”
Russia has demonstrated that fitting into the security architecture of Europe is not its goal nor is such a course compatible with Russia’s goals. Europe’s intercontinental political and military policies are based around mutual respect of sovereignty and cooperation. Russia’s outlook is colonial and expansionist. At no time since the Second World War has Russia’s security been threatened by external forces but Russia has used its military against surrounding countries on multiple occasions. Russia armed separatists, invaded Georgia, and stole its land in 2008 when there wasn’t any threat or action against Russia. Russia invaded Moldova, armed separatists, and has stationed its troops there since the early 1990s when there wasn’t any threat or action against Russia (Moldova doesn’t even border Russia). Russia invaded Ukraine, armed separatists, and stole significant chunks of land in 2014 when there wasn’t any threat or action against Russia. Russia has once again invaded Ukraine and stolen more land. Russia’s goals are to colonize and destabilize its neighbors to prevent them from pursuing relations with the West, respecting the sovereignty of weaker countries is a policy of inconvenience for Russia.
The logic about reducing future pretexts as Vivek presents it is not workable. On one hand, Vivek essentially admits that Russia invades its neighbors based on pretexts, not based on its real security concerns. On the other hand, he is disregarding how the logic of pretexts works. If Russia wants to invade a country and you remove one pretext for doing so, then another pretext can be fabricated. If you remove 6 potential pretexts, then a 7th can be fabricated. Reducing pretexts is not how to approach the problem; reducing Russia’s ability to invade its neighbors or providing enough military capability (either directly or through treaties) to those countries to effectively repel a Russian invasion is how to deter a Russian invasion.
Vivek’s tweet boils down to: America should validate an authoritarian geopolitical rival’s war of aggression against a friendly democratic country in return for worthless concessions that aren’t geopolitical concerns for America. How is it in America’s interests to bow down to weaker rivals? How is it in America’s interests to make our geopolitical rivals stronger at the expense of our allies and ourselves? How is it in the interests of America and the world community to destabilize world peace by providing a playbook for how dictators can profitably launch wars and consolidate their gains against our interests? How does America deter China from launching an aggressive war if we demonstrate that we won’t stand up against (and in fact we’ll legitimize!) that kind of behavior?
When given the opportunity to speak on these topics, Vivek is very consistent with his message. These interviews are examples of this and are worth watching to see a more engaging, dynamic statement from him than the written tweet.
Beyond the problems already identified, Vivek opens up on more of his views in a long-form interview on the All-In Podcast.
The hosts on this podcast asked him questions beyond Ukraine, specifically whether it would be his policy to protect Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. Vivek’s response is that he would defend Taiwan for 5 years because that is how long it would take the USA to ramp up its own semiconductor industry. After the US is self-sufficient in terms of semiconductor production, he would not defend Taiwan any more. This statement is ridiculous on multiple levels.
The USA’s policy on a potential defense of Taiwan is and has always been one of strategic ambiguity. The US government and other presidential candidates always make a point not to say specifically what they would do in this Chinese aggression scenario. What Vivek has done runs contrary to decades of military and foreign policy and makes the US and its allies weak. By opening up our playbook to a potential adversary, that adversary can freely calculate its most profitable and least risky path to achieve its goals at our expense. Now, the Chinese government can circle a date on a calendar. Before this date, they will likely not invade to avoid a confrontation with America. After this date, China can invade freely with minimal consequences. This is exactly how you end up with a situation like Ukraine; signaling to a potential aggressor country that there will not be resistance to aggression will invite aggression.
We have to ask “what is the purpose?” of such a policy. What are we trying to achieve? Who gets what out of it? It sounds like Vivek’s purpose is to secure a supply of an important economic commodity, not to actually stand for a broader ethical, moral, strategic, or political goal. If the purpose is to assure a continued supply of chips, then why defend Taiwan at all? The factories might be destroyed or damaged in a protracted military confrontation; just let the Chinese invade and then we can buy those chips from the Chinese-administered territory of Taiwan, right? And once we no longer need a long-time ally for a resource that they can provide, we will not stand with them. What does this say about the value of being an American ally? And what does it say about Vivek’s thought process that his assertion is China is our major adversary while providing that adversary a timeframe for when they could invade Taiwan and become even more powerful?
I would love to see an interview with Vivek with more questioning along these lines. Would America defend South Korea against a North Korean invasion? Would America help Japan or the Philippines against Chinese aggression? Would Vivek’s USA come to the aid of treaty allies? If Latvia, a NATO country, is invaded, will the USA help fight off the Russian invasion? If yes, why? Latvia does not have any resources that the USA needs and Latvia becoming a Russian colony again doesn’t directly threaten the security of America. Is it because of a treaty, a piece of paper? If it is because of a piece of paper, doesn’t that prove the value of that piece of paper in terms of maintaining peace and deterring aggression since Russia hasn’t invaded a NATO country yet (based on the premise that NATO mutual defense is a deterrent) and that we should include more countries in that treaty to preserve peace? If America would not live up to its NATO treaty obligations, then what does it say about the value of being an American ally/treaty partner? America would lose international credibility and all of its soft power overnight while allowing a geopolitical adversary to improve its position.
There is another noteworthy statement that Vivek made on the podcast, starting at the 32:40 mark of the video.
“I don’t think American Exceptionalism is foisting our values on anyone. I think American Exceptionalism is demonstrating through our example how America flourishes and is strong when we live by our own ideals. And I think the best way we give hope to the free world is by being that shining city on a hill. Not going somewhere else and talking about it with tanks behind us.”
Vivek either lacks the self-awareness to see how nakedly cynical this statement is in the context of his proposed policies or doesn’t care if people pick up on it. What are our values if we are indifferent to democratic allies getting destroyed by authoritarian dictatorships, especially consequential ones that we view as geopolitical adversaries? Do we only back other countries if there is a transactional gain for us? 30 years ago, America repulsed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (Iraq’s smaller, weaker, non-belligerent neighbor) with American muscle and blood. Kuwait is not a democracy, does not aspire to be one, and does not share liberal Western values. Ukraine is a democracy which actually aspires to be more like America and more Western. Ukraine wants to move away from an American geopolitical adversary to be closer to the West. The Ukrainian people have shown that they are willing to fight and die to preserve democracy against a foreign currently invading dictatorship and a past internal repressive government.
This situation is not like the invasion of Afghanistan or the second invasion of Iraq. America is not going somewhere and bombing people that don’t want or need us, don’t want to ally with us, and don’t want to be like us. Ukraine is reaching out its hand for aid so that they can realize their dream of being like us and join us on that hill. Ukraine needs aid, it doesn’t want us to fight for it. But according to Vivek’s ideals and values, we would only help countries if there is a transactional benefit for us. And if there isn’t, then its fine that expansionist, authoritarian countries benefit from our inaction at the expense of those who want to be like us and ally with us.
Vivek seems to have a transactional outlook on international affairs and doesn’t agree with America’s current course in supporting Ukraine. To him, the costs are high and the benefits are negligible. What he fails to consider is the cost of the flip side and the consequences of that. If he has identified two geopolitical adversaries, then why propose a plan that benefits them in the long term at the expense of us and our allies? What about the reputational cost of not supporting our allies, especially those that share similar values and actually want our help? The more that our rivals conquer and subjugate, the richer and stronger they become and the weaker and less valuable our position becomes. The more our rivals conquer without a response, the more they are incentivized to keep conquering, upending world peace, and destroying the lives of those who would consider America as a friend.
Looking back at history could help guide Vivek here. When the United States was fighting for its independence against England, our great benefactor was France. France was a geopolitical rival of England at that time and provided financial backing and aid to the American Revolution to weaken the position of its European rival. It turned out pretty well for us, gained France an ally on a territory that previously belonged to a foe, and helped spur the spread of more democratic systems throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Starting our journey towards becoming the shining city on a hill is the opportunity that Vivek would deny to other countries that want to join us on the hill. What kind of morals, ideals, leadership, and example does that send to people that aspire to have our freedom and need our help (but not our blood!) to not have those aspirations crushed by oppressive, belligerent regimes?
Vivek’s foreign policy is not pro-American, America-first, America-centric or any other way that he wants to spin it. His policy appeals to those who are uneducated about history and ignorant about current world affairs. His policy is one of appeasement and weakness to our rivals at our expense and the expense of our allies. This behavior will only court more confrontation and war, not stave it off. It does not strengthen America’s interests to allow our geopolitical adversaries to strengthen themselves by upending peaceful order for our democratic allies.