ONE OF the defining features of the post-cold-war era is the absence of a peer or near-peer competitor to the United States. This reality, combined with the military inferiority of regional adversaries, has meant that the United States and its allies have enjoyed considerable freedom of action in imposing their will on midsize and smaller states that persistently pursue policies either in gross violation of international norms or counter to U.S. and allied interests.
Unfortunately for America, this is unlikely to be a permanent feature of the international security landscape. So what could the future hold? What should we be preparing for?
One very plausible-and very less-than-desirable-scenario looks something like this. We call it the "Eurasian entente."
The Eurasian Entente
THE EURASIAN entente would be a loose alliance between Russia and China aimed at thwarting the interests of the United States. Instead of seeing the United States as a positive force for global stability, the elites of Russia and China would see the United States primarily as a global actor that stands in the way of their pursuit of important interests. Neither nation is strong enough to challenge the United States on its own, hence their predilection to cooperate in efforts to check U.S. power. One area of cooperation would be widespread collaboration in the field of military modernization, allowing both sides to reduce the gap between themselves and the United States. This relationship would be based upon Russia's still-formidable military-industrial capabilities and China's growing fiscal resources. Among the major elements of the Eurasian entente are a series of industrial agreements institutionalizing strategic partnerships among Russian and Chinese aerospace companies.
By 2015, China and Russia could have evolved the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into the Eurasian Treaty Organization (ETO). However, despite their concerns about the United States, both governments still believe the global economic system is working to their benefit. As authoritarian-state capitalist powers with very large sovereign wealth funds and a dependence upon the global trading system, they will seek to limit international disruptions.1 However, Russia's and China's integration into the global economy is a double-edged sword. While they are less likely to cause large-scale disturbances, their vital role in the global economy limits Washington's ability to impose economic costs upon them when they challenge U.S. interests.
Both nations seek to project an image of strength internationally without appearing too menacing. They will want to encourage states, even U.S. economic and military allies, to work with them or at least remain neutral in their confrontations with the United States.
Two Trigger Crises
MOVING FROM our current geostrategic environment to one dominated by the American confrontation with the Eurasian entente requires a trigger. The key variable for whether we will be in this shift is the viewpoint of China's and Russia's political and economic elites. Do they see the United States as a relatively benign international actor? Or do they see the United States as a direct threat to their vital national interests? A shift in the thinking of these key groups could be caused by at least two crises-both eminently plausible-that would serve as the catalyst for the Eurasian entente.
The first crisis arises over Taiwan. A surprise victory by the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2012 is followed by a series of steps that Beijing interprets as putting Taiwan on a course to de jure independence. In early 2014, as the date for a second nationwide referendum on independence in Taiwan approaches, hard-line elements in Beijing insist that "decisive military action" is required to forestall the loss of the island. The PRC combines belligerent rhetoric with a large-scale buildup of forces in the military districts closest to the Taiwan Strait. U.S. forces keep pace with this buildup, surging air, naval and missile-defense assets into the western-Pacific region.
Tensions run high as U.S., Taiwanese and People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force fighters engage in dogfights over the strait with some losses on all sides. The PLA's Second Artillery launches limited, but very damaging, cruise- and ballistic-missile strikes against key Taiwanese military infrastructure. Simultaneously, Beijing announces that it will not attack the civilian infrastructure of Taiwan. Just as it appears that the Chinese invasion fleet is poised to launch, the government of Taiwan announces a "postponement" of the referendum, pending negotiations with other political parties in Taiwan. Privately, the political leadership in Beijing is relieved by this face-saving outcome, as the more sober-minded military commanders had informed them that an invasion of Taiwan was unlikely to succeed because "the United States is still too strong." The Chinese leadership has to crack down on a variety of nationalist organizations and Web sites after a series of anti-American and anti-Japanese demonstrations break out in several major mainland cities. Throughout this crisis period, the Russian Federation remains strongly supportive of Beijing's positions. The leadership in Beijing, which is not optimistic that the Taiwan issue has been put to rest for long, resolves to accelerate its military buildup so that it can confront Taiwan and its patron the United States with greater confidence in the future.
Another crisis in the same year pushes Russia and China closer together. During its presidential election of 2014, the government of Ukraine protests large-scale interference by Moscow. On the day of the election, Kiev accuses Moscow of providing millions of euros to the pro-Russian candidate and using bribes and other means to inflate the vote in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. After the Ukrainian-nationalist candidate wins in a very close vote, there are major riots in the Donetsk region, which are brutally suppressed by national-police units.
The Russian government threatens to intervene militarily to protect the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine appeals to NATO for military assistance while conducting a national mobilization. After considerable debate, the EU rapid-reaction force is deployed to Romania with U.S. Air Force airlift assistance as a "deterrence maneuver." This prompts an acute diplomatic crisis between Moscow, the major EU capitals and Washington that is finally diffused, but that sours relations. Both crises have features of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis where the "loser" vows "never again."
Global Features of the Entente Scenario
BY 2025, what might be some of the features of a global system defined by this Eurasian-entente scenario? We might project that China has become the dominant Asian economy and is the leading trade partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan, but it continues to clash with Japan over marine boundaries and marine oil and gas extraction. China has also become the leading investor in East Asia and the central hub of pan-Asian business networks. Although authoritarian in politics, its economy is market driven.
China maintains complex, dynamic relations with its traditional ally, Pakistan, and with India. It has greatly expanded its economic ties with India. On the other hand, the degree of geostrategic rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing is heightened by China's greatly expanded military presence along the Indian Ocean littoral. China will have dramatically broadened its military and economic ties with Pakistan through the development of the port of Gwadar and modernized road and rail networks leading into western China and eastern Iran. To the east, both China and India vie for strategic influence in Myanmar (Burma), which has become a major transportation link between southern China and the Indian Ocean.
In the Greater Middle East, Africa and Latin America, the "Chinese will have arrived" with major investments to acquire resources and expand trade to fuel their dynamic economy. With economic influence, China's military presence will expand if only in the form of substantial military and military-industrial ties. Noteworthy could be greatly expanded ties with key regional powers such as Iran, Egypt, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil.
Based on current trends, one might predict that while the Chinese economy has continued to grow strongly, Russia has run into problems, and these constitute a source of friction in their relationship. In particular, labor shortages by 2015 have led to high levels of immigration, with workers streaming in from throughout Asia. Some, such as Ukrainians, have been welcome. Others, such as members of central-Asian ethnic groups and the Chinese, have been a source of social tension. By 2020, the Chinese represent the largest group of foreign laborers in Russia. They have arrived in such large numbers that many Russians view them with suspicion: "Are they here to work or are they here to colonize and then rule territory?" Tensions emerge especially in the Far East, where Russia maintains strict control of pipelines and resource-extraction industries, carefully vetting the number of Chinese who can work in such strategic sectors. Tensions throughout Russia have led to disputes between Russia and China over the treatment of Chinese workers.Essay Types: Essay