Second, Russia is resurgent with a government and politics creeping inexorably toward what many see as authoritarianism. This shift under President Vladimir Putin with his “cult of personality” gradually dominates Russian society. Putin’s increasingly strident rhetoric toward the United States, past predatory energy policies towards Europe and support for authoritarian governments in Iran and Syria are sources of growing concern for states in Eurasia. Seeing the rise of yet another anti-democratic leader, many in Russia and elsewhere fear another era of hostility.
2. Destabilizing “Middle” Powers
The sources of disorder include the expected but nonetheless demanding challenge of destabilizing middle powers. Hardly a new problem, these smaller states are not simply proxies for larger adversaries, but represent powerful sources of disorder on their own. Such states threaten the West by undermining peace and security.
A prominent case today is Iran. Tehran’s nuclear weapon and missile programs and often strident and reckless rhetoric, threaten Israel and the United States – and could provoke other states in the region to develop their own nuclear deterrent. America now faces the delicate task of balancing between the West’s dependence on Middle East oil and the consequences of a military attack against Iran’s nuclear industry, particularly if Tehran unleashed terror groups after such an attack. Washington’s failure to be exquisitely clear about its intentions only makes matters worse.
North Korea is the perpetually difficult case. It’s isolated and insular regime, inexperienced leader Kim Jong-un, active ballistic missile and nuclear weapon tests, moribund domestic economy, prolific international trade in illicit goods, and demonstrated aptitude for winning diplomatic concessions from the international community – all underscore Pyongyang’s ability to create disorder.
Next is Pakistan. With Afghanistan slowly unraveling as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw, Pakistan remains an immensely dangerous case. The West sees political instability, active support for extremist groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, and fears of its nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of extremists.
Lastly, the civil war in Syria, which easily could escalate into a crisis involving Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, remains a powerful source of disorder. Tens of thousands of civilians have died, while Russia and China largely insulate President Bashar al-Assad’s government from United Nation’s sanctions. Syria sits astride a region with the potential to become a flashpoint for war.
3. Authoritarian Axis Rising
A third source of disorder for American grand strategy is the rising “authoritarian axis.” This axis or bloc describes an imperfect but still tangible coordination between such great powers as China and Russia, and the destabilizing smaller states of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others.
Its foremost members, China and Russia, continue to forge stronger bonds that strengthen their strategic partnership. Recent rumored defense purchases such as advanced fighter jets and near silent diesel electric submarines along with support for nations like Iran, Syria, and others all point to dangerous sources of disorder that no nation can afford to disregard.
Another recipient of significant coordination among the axis powers, Iran, is a deeply worrisome source of disorder. Its radical ideology and virulent hostility toward the U.S. and Israel may well end in confrontation. As it moves closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, Iran’s language and actions remain so provocative that the West cannot indefinitely ignore its threats to annihilate Israel.