A Sino-Russian alliance, perhaps an informal one might drive the flow of geostrategic events of the coming days of this century. Only the combined power of China and Russia can challenge the authority of American superpower. The current geopolitical environment is forcing them to have better relations with each other.The American policy of primacy is instrumental in constructing the current patterns of great power relations. Russo-Chinese entente is a direct outcome of the expansion of NATO and the US rebalancing to Asia-Pacific.
The United States has foolishly extended the border of NATO towards Russia. Western Europe and the US had no strategic imperatives to push NATO’s frontier towards Russia. Moscow was not a threat to the United State or its allies in Western Europe when NATO enlarged its membership in 1999, 2004 and 2009. So there was no sound rationale behind its enlargement. We should not forget that NATO is not an economic or social institution to promote human rights, democracy or economic well-being, it is a military alliance to provide collective security for its members which are supposed to facing dangerous military threats.
Now, with the backing of NATO, small countries in Baltic and Eastern Europe are behaving assertively with their much larger and powerful neighbor; as a result, the Russian bear is responding Provocatively when the situation demands. As long as those countries have the membership in NATO, they would continuously poke Russia and Moscow would respond accordingly. The United States does not have any magical formula to resolve the complexity of the issue. Washington can neither withdraw itself from NATO nor it can dismember those countries from the alliance. The situation is a classic example of “alliance security dilemma“.
The United States should recalibrate its foreign policy to address the economic, military and political rise of China. Considering all the categories of power, China will be the peer competitor of the US in the foreseeable future. If Beijing continues to rise economically, it will translate its economic resources into military power. Economically, China will be three times as powerful as the United States when China’s per capita income would look like that of Hong Kong’s.
Europe no longer holds vital interests in American geostrategic calculus. Since the demise of the USSR in the early 1990s, there is no great power in the continent to challenge America. So it would be unwise for Washington to spend billions of dollars to defend the rich European countries. Needless to mention, combined GDP and population of Western Europe are greater than the United States. Europeans are capable enough of defending themselves from any kind of Russian aggression.
Tensed relations between Russia and small NATO countries would unnecessarily drag Washington into European conflicts. Baltic and East European states’ membership in the trans-Atlantic alliance has empowered them to behave aggressively towards Moscow, in retaliation when Russia strikes back, those countries go to Washington for help. In case of an aggression on any member state of NATO, America is committed to defending the alliance under article 5 of the Transatlantic Treaty, thus it would be forced to spend its scarce resources in the European theater instead of in East Asia. If the US denies honoring its commitment to NATO, it would undermine the confidence of its allies in Europe as well as in Asia. If the allies, especially in East Asia think that Washington cannot be trusted, then they will not follow the lead of the United States. Instead of challenging assertive China, they will try to accommodate or bandwagon with their much powerful neighbor. If it happens, the United States would lose its valuable allies while containing the rise of China.
Russia and China would not formalize their relations until the US press them hard to do so. If Washington continues to bolster the prescience of NATO in Russia’s backyard and supports East Asian countries against China regarding the South China Sea, it will give Moscow and Beijing the incentives to combine their power to counter American geopolitical design.
If the United States does not mount enormous pressure on them, it is highly unlikely for China and Russia to form an alliance because even a defensively oriented alliance would be viewed as an offensive alliance in the eyes of a large part of the international community. If things come out this way, it will threaten the peripheral countries of Russia and China. The countries in their periphery would behave differently. Their strategic behavior will be shaped by their national power and size of their Geography, population and economy. Small countries might bandwagon with Beijing and Moscow because their weights would not considerably affect the existing balance of power. They would not join American led alliance as they are physically located near the source of the threat and they would not have any meaningful defensive capabilities if China or Russia decides to attack them. But the medium and great powers would join a balancing coalition against Beijing and Moscow because their weights will change the equation of balance of power in favor of them. Another reason for those countries to join the balancing coalition would be their sensitivity to prestige and status. Great powers are always highly sensitive when it comes to the issue of national honor and prestige. Acting against threats would enhance their security, international standing and status.
Besides, a China-Russia alliance will prevent Beijing and Moscow from cooperating in some areas with the United States and Western Europe. Both Beijing and Moscow want to develop their economies because economic development or prosperity is the ultimate guarantor of security, sovereignty and peace. Without working relations with the West would damage their export-oriented economies.
Another side of the picture is, China is converting its economic might into the military might, but it is a slow and painful process. By combining its military with Russia will provide them with enormous military firepower to challenge anyone, including America. Needless to say, Russian military technology and immense energy resources would help China to overcome its technological backwardness and energy vulnerability during a crisis with the United States. A rapprochement between China and Russia will continue to grow but it is highly unlikely for them to form an official alliance, considering the current geostrategic environment.