Spring 2022 will mark Professor YU Bin’s last semester before he enters retirement following more than three decades of teaching political science at Wittenberg. While he looks forward to retirement, the world, he knows, is being turned upside down with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.
- Read Wittenberg Magazine Story: The Accidental Professor (Spring 2007)
These days, Dr. Yu Bin, who holds a doctorate in political science from Stanford University focusing on Soviet/Russian foreign and defense policies, finds himself engaged in many Russia-related online forums around the world. Media inquiries for his sought-after expertise are also ongoing, including from CNN, Washington Post, Voice America, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, as well as many foreign sources in South Korea, Australia, Iran, Russia, China, Poland, UK, etc.
The current public attention on Russia is in sharp contrast to much of the post-Cold War decades “when Russia was neglected,” noted Yu. Russian studies also declined considerably in the United States after the Soviet fall as U.S. government funding dwindled.
“Foreign studies in the U.S. earned the nickname of ‘enemy studies,’” he said. “As a result, U.S. public attention to foreign affairs tends to oscillate between too little and too much.”
Russia, however, has always been Yu’s focus in both his teaching and research at Wittenberg. Author and co-author of six books, 150 professional pieces, and numerous media articles, Yu has been firmly in the real world as a regular contributor to the Pacific Forum in Honolulu (with strong ties to the U.S. Pacific Command) on Russia, China, and Central Asia. Every quarter since 1999, Yu has provided an assessment (about 4,000 words) of the two large powers and their relations with the United States.
“I never thought that I’d write such a column for so long,” Yu said. “While documenting in great detail the rise and fall of great powers in the post-Cold War decades, I also noticed that both (Boris) Yeltsin and his successor (Vladimir) Putin started as pro-West, but ended up as strong nationalistic rulers. This indicates the enormous difficulties, and the West’s naiveté, regarding the difficult social transformation of the post-Soviet space. Russia’s current war in Ukraine is, therefore, not a surprise to me.”
Even before the Russian invasion, Yu saw the writing on the wall as the world was increasingly being torn by the emerging faultline between the Eurasian land powers (Russia and China) and the U.S.-led, and mostly maritime, alliances. Perhaps more than any other assessment of superpower relations, this current issue reflects Yu’s pessimism with the title: “Not So Quiet in the Western Pacific.”
“In the 2nd half of 2021, intensifying strategic maneuvering by both sides and arms race (hypersonic missiles, nuclear submarines, etc.) led to the precarious and somewhat reversed ‘hunt for the Red October’ in the 21st century when the USS Connecticut, perhaps the most sophisticated and most expensive nuclear attack submarine in the world, was seriously damaged in the highly sensitive South China Sea,” he said. “By the end of 2021 when Russia officially presented to NATO draft documents – comprehensive security guarantees, including the principles of equal security and no further eastward expansion by NATO – I predicted that the future would be “colder” than the previous Cold War (1947-91).”
Russia’s war in Ukraine, for all of its destruction, throws Yu back 54 years to 1968 when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. Shortly after that, he was drafted into the Chinese infantry ready to engage the mighty Soviet-motorized divisions from the north. This was also the beginning of his journey to eventually become an “accidental professor” (Wittenberg Magazine, Fall 2007). The tense Soviet-China rivalry not only started his interest in Russia, but also let YU Bin “accidentally” pick up the English language in the summer of 1971 when Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger secretly traveled to Beijing. And the rest was history.
Yu never thought he would eventually study at Stanford with those great theorists, such as Gabriel Almond and Alexander George. Stanford was also a place where many outstanding Soviet/Russia scholars were accessible, including David Holloway (Soviet military), Alexander Dalin (Russian history), Condoleezza Rice (Soviet foreign policy), John Stephan (Soviet Far East), Martin Malia (Berkeley, Russian history), etc. It was the “good old days” when Soviet leaders such as (Mikhail) Gorbachev twice visited the Stanford campus as part of his official U.S. tours.
“The Cold War, with all of its ideological and military confrontation between the two superpowers, ended as a quite stable and predictable ‘long peace’ international system as both sides created and followed a series of former and informal rules of the game (arms control, verification, etc.). In that sense, the world is now in uncharted waters,” Yu remarked.
“The turbulent world also means more dynamics in my last class (POLI-350 US Foreign Policy),” he continued. “Weeks before the outbreak of the Ukraine war, students were reading historical background and various theories regarding U.S. foreign policy, including relations with Russia. Many chose Ukraine-related issues as topics of their research papers. This is what I have done for decades, and I am trying to equip my students with both historical knowledge and analytical skills for the complex world and for the rest of their life.”
Beyond Wittenberg, the world is getting chaotic and unpredictable. Yu’s retirement, too, will be busy as he continues to engage in multiple research projects, publishing, and conferencing with multiple institutions. And to put a twist on the famous Douglas MacArthur’s statement, YU Bin says “perhaps this old scholar won’t even fade away.”
If interested in reading his recent publication on Russia in Global Affairs, which is the leading journal on foreign affairs in Russia, both Russian and English versions are available at the following links: