The Russo-Chinese alliance emerges
While the media remain preoccupied with the Syria crisis and the impeachment inquiry, equally if not more consequential events are happening elsewhere that deserve America’s urgent attention.
On October 3 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the next step in the Russo-Chinese alliance, revealing that Russia is now helping China build an early warning system for its missile defenses.
In doing so, Putin confounded the complacent opinion of the many experts who assert that such an alliance was unlikely if not impossible. He also expanded the scope of Sino-Russian challenges to U.S interests, values and allies.
The alliance, as Putin observed, is multi-faceted. China and Russia conduct joint exercises in Asia and Europe, hold regular and extensive staff talks and educate each other’s officers. Some 3,600 Chinese officers have undergone training at Russian military academies.
Russia and China also sell each other and third parties weapons clearly intended to threaten U.S. forces and allies. Likewise, they are building what appears to be a coordinated missile defense system in Northeast Asia that will both protect them from the U.S. and allow them to threaten Japan and defend North Korea against what they now call a preemptive strike close to their borders.
China and Russia also are each threatening prized U.S. interests in the Freedom of the Seas — in the South China Sea, the Arctic, the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait.
Simultaneously, they take part in an extensive range of inter-governmental meetings, jointly participate in global international organizations like the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, provide mutual economic benefits to each other (e.g. Russian providing energy to China in return for Chinese aid and investment) and sell arms to each other.
China has helped Russia develop its priority Arctic energy programs like the Yamal pipeline, and in return has been able to send its nuclear-missile submarines into the Arctic without opposition.
Globally, China and Russia either work together or in coordinated individual actions to challenge U.S. interests from Argentina to the Arctic and to undermine the hegemony of the dollar in international trade. There have also been cases of Russian information operations in Europe that are designed to support Chinese interests against the U.S.
China supports Russian policies in the Middle East, and the two nations cooperate in Central Asia. Moscow also follows Beijing’s lead on issues related to the Korean peninsula and its tangled knot of challenges.
None of these developments are new. They have all been in place for years. The alliance has strengthened since 2014 as the United States’ global presence has receded under the weight of the Iraq war and the 2008 financial crisis.
Yet few experts have been willing to call a spade a spade and depict the Russo-Chinese alliance for what it is.
Putin refuses to criticize President Trump, a telltale sign in a regime that is not shy about blackening the name of its political opponents. Putin ascribes Trump’s unwillingness to cooperate with him to Trump’s internal political struggle in the U.S., not to a sincere desire to take on Russia. Meanwhile, China clearly wants Trump to be reelected despite his rhetoric and sanctions, because he has proven to be so weak and mercurial.
Despite their many differences, and even with impeachment looming, the Trump administration and Congress must come to grips with the global and multi-dimensional challenges an allied Russia and China are now posing.
Moscow and Beijing have now effectively thrown down a gauntlet to Washington, and it must begin to respond now. At the very least, they must work together to strengthen our alliances across the globe.
Failing to rise to the challenge would not only put our alliances, values and interests at risk. It would also imperil future generations of Americans who will inherit the disasters we cavalierly leave behind.
Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College. Blank is an independent consultant focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia.
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