By: Marvin L. Covault, Lt Gen US Army retired,
July 26, 2022
Control: To exercise authoritative or dominative influence over.
For decades during the post-WW II Cold War period, China and Russia were at odds with each other over which one was to be the dominant figure in transitioning the world to communism/socialism. Control of the world is no longer consumed by that single issue.
In 2001 the two nations signed a twenty-year Neighborly Friendship and Cooperation Agreement. It serves as a basis for peaceful relations and economic cooperation. Article 9 states, “When a situation arises in which one of the contracting parties deems that peace is being threatened and undermined or its security interests are involved or when it is confronted with the threat of aggression, the contracting parties shall immediately hold contacts and consultations to eliminate such threats.” Articles 7 and 16 emphasize increasing military cooperation. In 2021 the agreement was extended for another five years.
On February 4th, 2022, just before the China-hosted Winter Olympics, Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a joint statement laying out a bold declaration of their view of a New World Order consisting mainly of three conditions. First, China needs natural resources (principally natural gas and oil) and Russia needs China’s investment, goods, and market. Secondly, on the global stage, both countries stand against the U.S. dominance in the world and stand up for the feckless United Nations system. Third, they face similar strategic power plays; for Russia, the U.S. backed NATO expansion and for China the conflict over Taiwan. Both feel they are victims of the U.S.-led international order.
OIL, THEN AND NOW:
China’s Achilles heel has been and continues to be the availability of natural gas and oil. They currently import 10-12 million barrels of crude oil per day from two major oil sources, Russia and the Middle East.
Over the past ten years, Russia has increased the share of oil imported by China each year thanks in part to the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Oil Pipeline which links directly from Siberia into China. In 2021 China imported oil from 44 countries. About one-third (3.6 million barrels per day) was from Russia and about half (51%) from nine Middle East nations with the bulk of it from Saudi Arabia.
In 1973 the U.S. was providing support to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In retaliation, OPEC decided to stop exporting oil to the U.S. While the embargo lasted only six months, oil prices quadrupled (imagine if that happened today and crude oil prices quadrupled to $400 per barrel). The embargo became a dual-edged wake-up call to the world. First, it demonstrated the immediate and dramatic leverage the oil exporting countries held, and secondly, it demonstrated the importance of energy independence for those with the capability to do so. In 1973 the U.S. vowed to find a way to achieve energy independence. Unfortunately, it took until 2019 to achieve it.
LONG-RANGE STRATEGIC PLANNING:
Years ago, China set in motion a long-range strategic plan by doing the first thing first which is to define the end-state, “Control the World” and proceeded to define the operational phases to get there. And thus far they are getting an “A” in execution. For example, they have successfully transitioned to become an economic superpower. Additionally, China is shaping the future of economic development in about 100 countries with its Belt and Road initiative to better connect itself to the rest of the world through trade and infrastructure. By providing funding that the countries have long sought for roads, railways, power plants, ports, and other infrastructure, China has managed to gain control over critical natural resources such as natural gas, oil, and mining operations including rare minerals required by the remainder to the world.
There is another interesting piece to the long-range strategic planning process; that is, it is never a one-and-done process because as one moves from phase to phase you don’t know what you don’t know. Stated another way, strategic planers will likely encounter unanticipated obstacles or perhaps stumble onto a target of opportunity. During my second career, conducting seminars for corporate executives on how to do long-range strategic planning (Vision to Execution), I would call such a circumstance, the “DKDK factor” (you don’t know what you don’t know). It is critical because a particular DKDK event may cause you to accelerate to a new level of success or it could cause you to shift gears to avoid a disaster.
I believe there have been three unanticipated things that happened in just the past 18 months (DKDK) that impact China’s plan to “Control the world.” They are leadership in “the West”, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
ONE, THERE IS NO LONGER A LEADER OF “THE WEST.”
Background: A little over 100 years ago the U.S. sent its military to Europe to win World War I. We did it again about 80 years ago not only to save Europe in World War II but also to simultaneously fight and win in the Pacific region, an unimaginable feat. Following WW II, we were engaged with Europe and NATO for about 50 years of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The U.S. clearly led every military, political and economic aspect to victory in the Cold War. Given these events, it is no surprise that for decades the U.S. president has been referred to as, “the leader of the free world.” That title was not ceremonial, it existed because the free world believed it.
President Biden’s actions over the past 18 months have disappointed and disillusioned world leaders. For example:
· The embarrassing and unnecessary military/political collapse in Afghanistan.
· Disrespect for a leader who would instantly squander his nation’s energy independence to make a trite political point.
· Astonishment that President Biden would willingly and deliberately threaten our national security by opening our borders to millions of unvetted, untested criminals, MS- 13 gang members, terrorists, drug dealers, human traffickers, hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors, and millions of common folks with no known skillsets from over 170 countries.
· Inability to deal with growing lawlessness across the U.S.
· Obvious disinterest and/or inability to deal with North Korea’s ramped-up nuclear and long-range missile testing almost immediately after the January 2021 inauguration.
· His inability to speak to difficult and demanding world issues without a prepared script and/or staged Q and A.
· And finally, the icing on the cake. The world watched the Russian buildup of an invasion force on the border with Ukraine from October 2021 through 24 February 2022. While China and North Korea refused to condemn the invasion, the remainder of the world thought otherwise. But the shockwave instantaneously hit the world when President Biden, in a rare extemporaneous moment, said, “Russia will be held accountable if it invades. It depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up fighting about what to do and not do, et cetera.”The world’s interpretation of that statement, a little invasion will be OK. Biden’s minions moved quickly to issue a what-the-president-meant-to-say statement but the irrevocable damage had been done. Suspicions confirmed, that the president of the United States can no longer be trusted as the leader of the free world.
Our allies and enemies alike are wondering who is in charge. There are obvious global doubts about President Biden’s physical and mental capacity to deal with the rigorous demands of a “leader of the free world.”
TWO: LESSONS LEARNED OVER THE LAST SIX MONTHS FROM RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE:
Without condemning Russia for invading Ukraine, China could see that this unexpected world event could be instructional for them as they contemplate invading Taiwan.
Initially, China could see that the invasion could result in an all-out NATO military response. But that did not happen for one major reason, gas and oil. Russia has created a gas/oil dependence in Europe that can be turned on and off. Russia used that leverage to soften the sanctions imposed by “the West.” It prevented any NATO combatants from assisting inside Ukraine. And it caused European nations to lose interest in providing sufficient warfighting material to Ukraine as the war has extended in time and is no longer daily headline news.
China’s takeaway; in today’s complex geopolitical makeup, gas and oil can be the linchpin to success or failure either to influence short-term events or for the long haul.
THREE: BIDEN’S TRANSFORMATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST:
Background leading to today: The Obama/Biden approach to the Middle East was dominated by two issues, disregard for Israel and The Iran Nuclear Deal. Number one needs no elaboration; they simply abandoned the U.S. decades-old policy of uncompromising support to Israel, our most valued friend in the region.
The Iran deal: There is an old saying, “If you want something bad enough, that’s the way you will get it, bad.”
After a couple years of negotiations, the deal was signed in July 2015.
Background: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1970, was agreed to by 191 nations. The Clinton and Bush administrations vowed that Iran would never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. As the world’s greatest state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran had been hit hard with sanctions before 2013. During negotiations for the nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. lifted many of the most rigorous sanctions to get Iran to agree to the deal. After signing, Iran prohibited the UN from inspecting its nuclear development sites. The Atomic Energy Agency inspector Olli Heinonen said the agreement means “Iran will be a threshold breakout nuclear state for the next 10 years”. The agreement was a complete betrayal of the trust of Israel as well as close Arab friends in the region; Saudi Arabia and Egypt hated the agreement.
Because most believed Iran was fast producing a nuclear bomb, in 2018 President Trump canceled the agreement and hit Iran hard with new sanctions.
U.S./Middle East today: Iran may already have a nuclear weapon but does not want to disclose the truth for fear of an attack by Israel. Within days after his inauguration, President Biden formally offers to restart nuclear talks with Iran. It is obvious to the casual observer that Iran is playing the U.S. negotiators, stretching out the schedule, seeking more and more sanctions relief all the while putting the finishing touches on their nuclear weapon. Biden is blinded by his obsession to undo everything President Trump accomplished in the Middle East at any cost.
U.S./Saudi relationships then and now: Bilateral agreements, particularly in the energy and security sectors have endured for decades. Saudi Arabia is one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners in the Middle East. The U.S. has been instrumental over the decades in organizing, training, and equipping the Saudi military.
The Obama/Biden and now the Biden administrations bungling of the nuclear issues as they apply to Iran have created a deep mistrust between Saudi Arabia in particular and other Middle East nations in general towards the U.S. They do not want a nuclear Iran and believe Biden has facilitated it.
In 2017, President trump’s first overseas trip was to Saudi Arabia and was described as, “A pro-American extravaganza” where Trump and the King signed a $110 billion arms deal.
Saudi Arabia is engaged in a war with its southern neighbor, Yemen. The terrorist group, Houthi, engaged the Yemen government forces in 2014 and succeeded in capturing most of the country. The ousted Yemen president asked Saudi Arabia for assistance. The Saudis put together a coalition of nine Middle East nations to assist. During the conflict, the U.S. provided intelligence and logistical support as well as the sale of arms to coalition states. The Houthi terrorist group is totally sponsored by and equipped by Iran. They routinely attack Saudi oil-producing areas and oil refineries. Because of all that, President Trump put the Houthi on the international terrorist list.
Enter the Biden Administration. They immediately removed the Houthis from the terrorist list and canceled a Saudi order for military equipment needed to fight the Houthis. Biden went on to announce an end to American support for Saudi-led offensive operations against the Houthis. A perfect lesson on how not to treat friends and valued allies.
Additionally, during his 2020 campaign Biden labeled Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” over the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity against eleven million Uyghur Muslims in northwest China (imprisoning more than a million) and Biden refers to China President Xi Jinping as, “my old friend.” This hypocrisy is not lost on Saudi leaders and other Middle East nations. Given those underpinnings, Biden’s trip last week to Saudi Arabia to beg for oil ended up being all about a fist bump and was a national disgrace.
SO, WHERE ARE WE NOW IN THIS GEOPOLITICAL JIGSAW PUZZLE?
How do the geopolitical shifts in the past eighteen months as suggested above relate to China’s ongoing plan to “control the world?” Three points to consider;
One, to control the world China has to have greater influence over relationships with individual west nations; Germany, France, the UK, U.S. Italy, etc. Without a leader in the West, subtle divide-and-conquer initiatives could be China’s next move.
Secondly, Russia’s leverage over Europe right now, resulting from gas and oil dominance, may be a wake-up call to China. They might be concluding that unanticipated circumstances in the Middle East could result in the reduction or loss of oil from Saudi Arabia; a potentially catastrophic situation for China just as it is now for Europe.
Third, Biden has succeeded in fracturing U.S. influence in the Middle East; does this open a door for China to gain greater control over Middle East oil exports?
In July 2015 China and Iran agreed to expand trade to $600 billion in ten years; an increase of 1,000%. In March 2021 Iran and China signed a 25-year cooperation agreement that will strengthen their relationship concerning political, strategic, military, and economic components. China has contracts totaling hundreds of billions of dollars in Iran’s gas and oil industry including exclusive rights to several Iranian oil and natural gas fields. It is not lost on China planners that Iran ranks as the fourth-largest reserve of oil and the second-largest reserve of natural gas in the world. Iran has signed on to China’s One Belt and Road program as a key part of China’s geopolitical ambitions in central Asia and the Middle East. They are also linked militarily with China providing advanced systems to include control technology for long-range missile development. In January 2022 Iran, China and Russia held their third joint naval drills in the northern Indian Ocean. There also continue to be Chinese nuclear experts, scientists, and technicians present in Iran.
RUSSIA/ IRAN RELATIONSHIP:
Russia and Iran have had a close relationship for many years. Last week Putin visited Iran for talks on expanding ties between the two nations. Sanctions imposed on Russia and Iran by the United States will strengthen their resolve for stability and economic prosperity in the region. In 2016 Russia agreed with Iran to build nuclear power capabilities in Iran. A few days ago, the National Iranian Oil Company and Russian gas producer Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding worth about $40 billion. Iran may be delivering armed drones to Russia for the Ukraine war. Iran, Russia, and Turkey are discussing joint car production. The strength of the Russia/Iran advancing relationship is a common enemy, the United States.
Thirty years ago, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait. Most believed this was a stepping-stone action on the way to taking down Saudi Arabia, controlling the world’s largest exporter of oil and thereby having enormous leverage against Europe and the United States. What happened shocked the world. In short order, the U.S. demonstrated an unprecedented 3500-mile force projection capability and defeated Iraq’s highly publicized armor forces in about two days of combat. If Iran evolves as the new leader in the Middle East, few would foresee that type of U.S. response occurring again, which provides China and Russia almost free rein to have greater influence in the Middle East with Iran as their proxy.
CENTERS OF GRAVITY:
A final comment about long-range strategic planning. A critical step for the plan as a whole and also as the organization is about to transition into another phase is to stop for a moment, take a deep breath and consider what will be the centers of gravity. Centers of gravity defined: “A person, place, thing or circumstance that is CENTRAL to success or which could cause the plan to fail.” VISION TO EXECUTION. For example, in China’s overall plan a center of gravity is the continuous ability to import large quantities of natural gas and oil from the Middle East in general and from Saudi Arabia in particular.
The rule is, once a center of gravity has been identified it must be continually assessed. In the current China phase of their long-range plan to control the world, China planners should be reassessing the dynamics in the Middle East; reduced U.S. influence, their friend Iran emerging as the Middle East’s first possessor of a nuclear weapon, Israel’s long-time threat to take out a nuclear weapon in Iran, Saudi Arabia preoccupation with their war against the Yemen Houthi terrorists, etc.
The current question for China is, will the dynamics in the Middle East potentially threaten gas and oil exports to China? If so, that could portend disaster for the current phase as well as the overall end-state. It, therefore, becomes a center of gravity that must be dealt with immediately. Conversely, perhaps they see an opportunity for Iran to supplant Saudi Arabia as the principal gas/oil supplier to China. If so, that becomes a center of gravity to be exploited.
If we look at the world in three categories, it makes it easier to see where China is concerning its desired end-state, Control the World.
China/Russia alliance: China and Russia are now committed to moving forward as a formidable team; strength in numbers. China needs gas and oil and other natural resources. Russia needs to be able to lean on China’s economic growth. The end-state is considerable leverage against other nations and regions.
Other small nations: To date, China has quietly gone about gaining levels of control in up to 100 nations through its ongoing Belt and Road initiative. These nations can provide value-added principally in terms of natural resources; gas, oil, and minerals to include most of the lithium and rare-earth-metals on the planet.
The West: Lumping together the major nations (U.S. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, most of Europe, Korea, Japan, and Australia) who collectively produce a significant share of the world’s GDP, they are currently without a presumptive leader, and therefore, unable to collectively counter China’s long-range control agenda.
The U.S. has rapidly become more of an observer and less of a mover-and-shaker in world events. We have forfeited our military deterrent status. “The West” is leaderless. China’s military is stronger, larger, more lethal, and more deployable than ever before. NATO is expanding but does it have the united will to be a formidable force? The UN remains powerless and essentially under the control of China and Russia because of the one-vote veto in the Security Council; i.e., nothing favorable to the West will happen and nothing unfavorable to China/Russia/Iran/North Korea will happen.
A China/Russia/Iran cabal controlling the Middle East could be disastrous for the West in general and the U.S. in particular if we choose to remain energy dependent. They could leverage all gas/oil-importing nations just as Russia is currently leveraging Europe. China would have free rein to take over Taiwan.
China is executing a plan to control the world and this administration has either chosen to not acknowledge it or we are aware but are clueless as to what to do about it.
It is not a pretty picture but it is food for thought.
Author’s note, new subject:
I have published a new book, FIX THE SYSTEMS, TRANSFORM AMERICA. I believe many of you will agree that our country can/should be better than it is today, some examples: Education results are pathetic, race relations are a mess, illegal immigration is a national security nightmare, voter fraud does exist but shouldn’t, the size and scope of the Executive Branch is harmful in too many ways, federal deficit spending is out of control, Congress is dysfunctional, existing term limits do not adequately serve we-the-the people, universal service for young adults can make us a better nation and wouldn’t it be nice if we had a way to almost guarantee world peace.
The book is not political, there is plenty of blame for everyone involved in these ten issues. I intend to thoroughly define the problems and then present a solution in as much detail as possible. Since publication in May 2022, I have sent copies around the country to leaders and well-known, well-positioned spokespersons in the Republican Party. My message to them is that solutions to these problems should be of interest to all voters and they represent what I believe could be a proper and valuable 2024 Republican Party platform. In total, these solutions will save hundreds of billions of dollars for the American taxpayers.
I self-published the book and there is no marketing plan; my intent is not to be a best-seller or to make a pile of money. What I would ask is that if you get a copy and agree with some of the solutions, would you please take the time to make your thoughts known to your Congressmen and women as well as your two Senators. Available on Amazon for $11.99.
Marvin L. Covault, Lt Gen US Army, retired, is the author of two books, VISION TO EXECUTION and FIX THE SYSTEMS, TRANSFORM AMERICA as well as the author of a blog, WeThePeopleSpeaking.com.