The New 'Big Four?'

One of the debates that has enlivened the (virtual) pages of In the National Interest for the past two months has concerned the future of the Euro-Atlantic security relationship.

One of the debates that has enlivened the (virtual) pages of In the National Interest for the past two months has concerned the future of the Euro-Atlantic security relationship. The United States and its European allies have increasingly divergent views about global security and the international order. David Rivkin and Lee Casey noted, "In part because of these differences in threat assessment, the Europeans have been mostly lukewarm in their support of the American military operations in Afghanistan, and outright hostile to the idea of a regime change in Iraq. These military disputes, coupled with other highly visible diplomatic estrangements - e.g., the jurisdiction of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto Protocol - have put considerable stress on the Atlantic alliance." (1)

No one questions that the trans-Atlantic relationship will continue to play an important role in the maintenance of international peace and prosperity. It is, however, no longer the sole "axis around which American grand strategy" revolves. American ties to Europe, both the bilateral relationships with individual countries as well as through collective institutions such as NATO, will remain a key component in American foreign and security policy. However, as Josef Joffe concluded, these ties will "still play prominent roles, but in a system that is now touts azimuts." (2)

Some have detected the first stages of a realignment in international affairs, leading to closer security and economic ties, and perhaps even a "security entente", between China, India, the Russian Federation and the United States, to complement the existing Euro-Atlantic partnership. In section eight of the National Security Strategy of the United States, we read: "The events of September 11, 2001, fundamentally changed the context for relations between the United States and other main centers of global power, and opened vast, new opportunities. With our long-standing allies in Europe and Asia, and with leaders in Russia, India, and China, we must develop active agendas of cooperation lest these relationships become routine and unproductive."

After all, all four countries believe that they have been targeted by Al-Qaeda (an impression confirmed by some of the documents captured in Afghanistan, which indicate that the transnational Islamist terrorist network has indeed aided or abetted violence in Chechnya, Xinjiang and Kashmir, as well as planning attacks against American interests around the world). Each government, while espousing the need for greater cooperation among states, remains jealously protective of its sovereign prerogatives. None plans to ratify the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, for example.

Some observers also feel that there are sound economic and political foundations for closer relations among the four. Within these four states resides half of the world's population. Three of the four are electoral democracies based upon federal principles, while the fourth--China--is widening its zones of economic and political pluralism. These four account for three-quarters of the globe's military expenditures, and a total of 41.6 percent of the world's gross domestic product. In short, an absolute majority of the world's military, and a preponderance of the world's economic, power lies in the hands of Washington, Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi.

Proclaiming a new "Grand Alliance", however, is grossly premature. The Bush Administration realistically recognizes that it will take time and a sustained effort to nurture and enhance strategic cooperation between and among these new partners. Nonetheless, there are several areas where focused, pragmatic proposals for cooperation between these four powers could pay important dividends. The training of anti-terrorist units is one such area. There are a number of areas in which American training methods and technologies could have assisted Russian special forces in their operation to eliminate the suicide terrorists and rescue the hostages in Moscow this past week and perhaps lessened the overall number of casualties. It is also true, however, that American units could learn valuable lessons in dealing with suicide bombers and religious fundamentalists from their Indian counterparts. A permanent "committee of experts", comprising Russian, Chinese, Indian and American experts and law enforcement officials, is one such step. Another is to formalize the sharing of intelligence related to Al-Qaeda.

The real test for cooperation, however, lies ahead--in Central Asia. Here, cooperation between these four states is essential if the threat posed by Al-Qaeda is to be contained and eliminated. A leading Indian newspaper recently editorialized: "If the war is to be won, sane strategy dictates that Central Asia be sanitised first. . . . Operations in Central or West Asia are unsustainable without partnerships. India in Asia is more valuable than many realise. The other element is to carry regional players along, whose security concerns must be included in a policy frame[work]." (3)

Patience will be required. Dimitri Simes' counsel to the administration concerning Iraq is apropos in this context as well. The United States must resist giving in to "the messianic unilateralist temptation rather than begin the complex and time-consuming task of humble but effective leadership. It is now clear that the latter approach is especially important precisely because the United States is the world's only superpower and, accordingly, suffers inevitably from suspicion of its motives and goals." (4) Much suspicion remains in Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi over America's intentions. (5) Thus, it will be crucial for the United States not to demonstrate any insensitivity toward the vital interests of the other three, especially when Central Asia forms a part of their immediate neighborhood.