Speculation: Putin Interfered in the U.S. Election of 2016 to Protect the U.S. Against China


Often, posts in this blog seek to present unusual or creative ideas, to stimulate thought and discussion. This post continues in that vein.

In a previous post, I suggested that Russia’s Vladimir Putin would ultimately like to join NATO, if doing so would mean that NATO would protect his Siberia from becoming the big target of long-term Chinese strategic military planning. That post suggested, however, that Russia in NATO would greatly enhance a Chinese fear of encirclement, and might even provoke the Chinese to drop the pretense that their dramatic military expansion is directed primarily against the United States.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has recently concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election of fall 2016, with the goal of helping Donald Trump to win. At present, the prevailing belief is that Putin favored Trump because the isolationism Trump emphasized, during the election campaign, would give Russia more latitude for unopposed military action in various international settings.

That belief depends on the dubious assumption that Trump meant what he said and would deliver on what he promised. During the campaign, and in his history of business dealings, Trump did not emerge as a man of his word. A more plausible belief would be that Trump seemed likely to discard the established — one might say somewhat sclerotic — postwar order. Under recent presidents, the American public has become increasingly indifferent to, and ineffectual in, its nation’s foreign military engagements. There has been a growing prospect that the public would reject almost any military action for almost any purpose. That was, indeed, a part of Trump’s public appeal — that he seemed to understand that public fatigue with foreign military adventures.

If a Chinese land grab in Siberia is Russia’s biggest long-term geopolitical threat, Russia’s best protection is a strong U.S., linked with an effective network of encircling partners in East and Southeast Asia. A strong U.S. is more likely if its military expends less of its energies and funds on relatively minor skirmishes here and there, and becomes more intensively focused on China as a rising great-power threat.

It appears that the U.S. remains, and perhaps will always be, quite vulnerable to cyberwarfare. Despite numerous and sometimes enormous digital intrusions, it is not clear that American planners have yet committed themselves to development of robust systems capable of carrying on a fight after being digitally hacked. The cyber threat joins other threat areas in which the U.S. has long continued to indulge remarkable vulnerability (e.g., Franks, 2015).

Russia’s visibility, in the interference with the U.S. presidential election, suggests that Putin may have decided it would take an extraordinary and blatant intervention, in one of the most highly publicized facets of American public life, to generate serious public concern about the nation’s digital vulnerability. If the public and the policymakers cannot be jolted into action by an intervention of this nature, there may be no hope that the U.S. will be an effective if implicit partner in protecting Siberia from the Chinese. If that is the net outcome, Putin may have to find some other means to that end.


One Response to “Speculation: Putin Interfered in the U.S. Election of 2016 to Protect the U.S. Against China”

  1. As a follow-up, the recent brouhaha about Trump and Putin seeking to expand the nuclear capabilities of the U.S. and Russia can be interpreted as a ploy leading toward modernization of tactical nuclear forces, with China in mind.

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