IntelBrief: The Daunting Prospects of a Growing Sino-Russian Entente
February 8, 2019
Bottom Line Up Front
• On January 28, intelligence officials warned of a Sino-Russian entente, with China and Russia more closely aligned than at any point in decades.
• A strengthened Moscow-Beijing axis poses serious security challenges to the West in general and to the United States in particular.
• The Sino-Russian entente appears across many spheres, including science and technology, military, energy, and foreign policy.
• In response to this growing threat, the U.S. must ensure its commitment to diplomacy, alliance maintenance and strengthening multilateral institutions.
When U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, presented the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy on January 28, he highlighted the threat to U.S. national security posed by an increasing Moscow-Beijing alignment. Aside from conventional challenges, the report emphasizes the need for the intelligence community (IC) to counter threats stemming from technological advances. The part of his testimony that perhaps garnered the most attention, however, was the assessment that ‘China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.’ According to U.S. intelligence leaders, this alignment stems from a desire to counter what is perceived as American actions to contain Russian and Chinese interests beyond their traditional sphere of influence. As a result, Moscow and Beijing are vying for dominance across a variety of sectors in the international system.
Along with science and technology, Chinese President Xi Jinping has increased spending for military modernization. Over the past decade, Chinese defense spending has increased five-fold with the aim of having a ‘world-class force’ by 2050, readily deployable both at land and at sea. China has entered into the space race competition—a true sign of global power aspirations—announcing several ambitious space exploration projects for the next decade. In early January, China announced it had become the first nation to land a rover on the dark side of the moon. With five-year plans and strategies such as ‘Made in China 2025,’ Chinese investment in critical future technologies, including artificial intelligence, gene editing, big data, and augmented and virtual reality, aims at challenging U.S. supremacy in industrial and military research and development.
Moscow is pursuing similar goals. In 2018, Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command, warned that Russian military capabilities in Europe could seriously challenge U.S. and NATO superiority. Moscow’s proxy war in Ukraine and military engagement in Syria has provided Russia with modern warfare experience and demonstrated improved military capabilities since its disastrous showings against the Chechens in the late 1990s. President Vladimir Putin publicly boasts about Russian superiority in the development of hypersonic missiles, though no actual proof has been given of this feat. Representatives from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have warned that U.S. developments in the area of hypersonic weapons are not keeping pace with Russia and China.
Russia and China have taken several steps towards rapprochement since the Sino-Soviet split that began in the mid-1950s. At Vostok-2018 in eastern Siberia, the largest Russian military exercise of the modern era, China contributed 3,200 troops. In 2016, China effectively sided with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his international partners, Russia and Iran, when Beijing pledged military and medical training and equipment for his regime. In Central Asia, Moscow and Beijing have reached a tacit agreement to exclude the West from the region: China dominates the economic sphere and Russia the security sphere. Beijing and Moscow are also leading and increasing multilateral security cooperation through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Sino-Russian alignment is occurring at the same time that the West is growing more isolationist while Washington is rejecting global leadership. The U.S. alliance system and U.S.-led multinational institutions ensured America’s superiority in the Cold War. It is pivotal that the U.S. strengthens its alliances and continues its support and commitment to global leadership as a necessary counterbalance to a growing Beijing-Moscow axis.
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