Grand Strategy of the Authoritarian Axis: How Will the West Respond?  (Page 2 of 3)

Policies in Axis Grand Strategy

To translate this grand strategy from theory into practice, the axis states employ several political, military, and economic policies.

Political Policies

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Step one is to implement policies whose singular purpose is to build and sustain a politically cohesive axis. Politically, its strategy is to build a functioning consensus on the value and benefits of opposing and counteracting the West’s policies. Strategically, the axis hopes to put the West on the defensive and keep it there. In practical terms, it encourages more effective foreign policy coordination among the axis states.

Axis states pay careful attention to U.S. policies. China, for instance, is reportedly so concerned about pursuing policies seeking to limit U.S. power that observers have asked whether “China’s foreign policy…is all about the United States.” Russia’s policies align quite well with the political strategy of the axis, as Moscow opposes threats of sanctions against Syria.

Axis states also work closely with one another. China and Russia work closely with their allies and trading partners to develop more effective political coordination. China works closely with client states, such as North Korea, while other axis states oppose the West’s policies in the cases of North Korea, Iran, and Syria. These states use multilateral relationships to strengthen their power and bolster the axis.

Axis states work closely together. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia and China for blocking UN efforts to remove Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, saying that Russia and China should “pay a price” for supporting Syria. Both Moscow and Beijing responded in concert. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said attempts to “slander” China are “totally unacceptable.” In a reference to Russia, China’s spokesman warned that, “any words or deeds that…sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain.” Immediately after Clinton’s comments, Russia criticized her comments as “incorrect.”

Axis states deeply distrust the Arab Spring, often blaming the West for provoking these movements. Putin specifically warned that the West was behind the Arab Spring democratic uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. It is fundamentally uncertain whether these states will become democracies or edge toward authoritarianism.

The risk is that democratic movements pose an immense opportunity for the axis. If governments, such as Egypt, wrestle with extremism, it is a short step to authoritarianism. If the Arab Spring gains momentum, leading these societies to slide toward greater authoritarianism, this would weaken the West and bolster the axis.

It is no exaggeration to say that the balance of power is at risk. Axis states understand what is at stake, which explains why Russia and China support Syria, and why Moscow effectively blocks Western efforts to pressure axis states – whether pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program or pressure on Syria to stop attacking the political opposition. Ultimately, the axis political strategy seeks to protect its own by aggressively preventing the spread of democracy and quarantining democratic movements.

Military Policies

Step two is to develop policies that strengthen the military capabilities of axis states. In practice, their military strategy seeks to improve military coordination and share technologies. Its strategy is to build up axis military capabilities to counterbalance the West’s military advantage and put the West on the defensive.

These military policies involve threats by axis states to intimidate, and on occasion, attack other states. For example, Iran threatened to attack U.S. military bases in the Middle East – and Israel – if attacked. Warning that U.S. military bases were within range of its ballistic missiles and that its missiles could strike states in the Middle East, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards conducted several days of missile test-firings (in its “The Great Prophet 7” drill). Tehran routinely threatens to block the Strait of Hormuz, which rattles global energy markets. Oil prices increased by $2 per barrel the day after the U.S. Navy fired on a boat in the Gulf.

Russia has harshly criticized U.S. and NATO missile defense policies. In May, a senior Russian general threatened pre-emptive strikes against missile-defense sites in Europe in “the event of a crisis.” Recently, Russia conducted operations with nuclear-capable strategic bombers in the Arctic during a military exercise. Russia is working on new ICBM, SSBN, and long-range bomber programs, and a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft (T-50), which it hopes to export.

We see many examples of military sales and transfers between Axis states. For example, Russian engines likely power China’s J-20 stealth fighter, while China buys ultra-quiet Kilo class submarines from Russia. Furthermore, reports suggest that China sold anti-ship ballistic technology (ASBMs) to Iran, which Tehran likely refashioned for Hezbollah to attack an Israeli naval vessel in 2006.

These policies strengthen military ties and expand the axis sphere of influence. Until very recently, Russia sold military technology to Syria, including helicopters and anti-ship missiles.

In Latin America, President Hugo Chavez announced plans that Venezuela will buy amphibious tanks from China, which subsidized this loan in exchange for oil. Venezuela plans to buy significant numbers of fighter aircraft, helicopters, and surface-to-air missiles from Russia. Venezuela supports terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, and retains close ties to Iran.

Economic Policies

Step three is that axis states pursue policies designed to strengthen their economic power and influence and promote greater economic coordination.

Axis states actively increase the level of economic coordination. Recently, Cuban President Raul Castro met in Beijing with China’s president, Hu Jintao, to sign economic agreements. To strengthen the axis economic base, China’s State Grid Corporation signed a $1.3 billon deal with Venezuela’s National Electric Corporation, which is Beijing’s largest electric power transmission project in Venezuela and first overseas project.

Russia, predictably, works to build a closer relationship with China to make it a critical partner for business and military investments. China is an economic dynamo whose economy dwarfs Russia by every standard. However, China faces serious economic problems amid reports that its export economy is weakening and not performing as well as advertised. Russia’s economic weakness disqualifies it from becoming an economic superpower.

The energy sphere, however, reverses somewhat this economic relationship. Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest energy supplier, while China is among the largest energy consumers. Facing this mutual dependency, both states seek to strengthen their energy coordination. Russia is creating stronger economic ties with China. Gazprom’s East Siberian-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, which opened on January 1, 2011, this direct pipeline from Russia to China provides a guaranteed supply of significant amounts of oil. Yao Wei, general manager of Pipeline Branch of Petro China, said, “the China-Russia crude oil pipeline is the start of a new phase in China-Russia energy co-operation.”

China is unquestionably the economic center of gravity in the axis – a fact that must rankle Moscow. As the most powerful economy in the axis, China recently passed Japan as the state with the largest number global companies. With its weak command economy and public pledges by Putin to privatize its economy, Russian leaders, such as Prime Minister Medvedev, understand that Russia’s “petro-state” economy condemns it “second tier” economic status. The decision to ratify the agreement for Russia to join the World Trade Organization reaffirms that policymakers realize that Russia’s weak economy impedes its ability to be a world-class power.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief