The Biden administration faces a dangerous anti-American triad
Even as the United States and its allies attempt to formulate coordinated policies to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran are signaling to Washington that they are diverting East Asia’s attention. East and Middle East at their own risk. Moreover, they do it a lot in coordination, reminding the Biden administration that, despite its best efforts, it cannot compartmentalize crises.
In mid-December, the Russian President Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinYes, US can legally intervene if Russia invades Ukraine Russian-Ukrainian conflict threatens US prestige China warns US to ‘stop interfering’ in Olympics MORE held a video call with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Both agree as xi said, that “China and Russia should step up joint efforts to more effectively safeguard the security interests of both sides.” Indeed, Putin’s senior national security adviser, Yuri Ushakov, a former ambassador to the United States, told reporters that Xi had offered his support for Putin’s stance against the West. The two leaders are to hold an in-person summit in China February 4on the opening day of the Winter Olympics.
Putin also met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi last week. While the visit was not particularly substantial, it certainly signaled growing warmth between the two countries. Raisi provided Putin with an updated draft 20-year cooperation agreement between Iran and Russia. If successfully concluded, this agreement would follow the completion in March 2021 of Iran’s 25th anniversary”cooperation programwith China. Two weeks ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited China to discuss the deal. Implementation; already, at the end of December, Tehran had given its agreement to the opening by Beijing of a general consulate in its strategic port of Bandar Abbas.
This week, Russia, Iran and China held their third joint naval exercise, dubbed CHIRU, the first of which took place in December 2019. They conducted the three-day exercise in the Gulf of Oman, just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a critical choke point for the passage of oil from the Gulf Persian to the Indian Ocean. Russia sent three ships to the exercise: a Varyag missile cruiser, an anti-submarine warfare vessel and an oil tanker. China has sent the guided-missile destroyer Urumqi – named after the capital of Xinjiang, home to most of its Uyghur population – a supply ship, embarked helicopters and 40 Marine Corps personnel from the Navy. People’s Liberation Army. Iran has sent 11 ships, along with smaller vessels commanded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is Tehran’s usual vehicle for harassing Western navies and commercial shipping.
The timing of the exercise could not have been more propitious, at least for Russia. Moscow Ministry of Defense describe the exercise as “joint tactical maneuvers and artillery fire practiced on a naval target, as well as search and rescue missions at sea”. What the Russians called “tactical maneuvers” Tehran described more bluntly as “night fighting”. The Iranians also said the exercise included firefighting drills, which would be essential in any firefight with a Western navy. For its part, China’s Defense Ministry said the exercise was aimed at “jointly safeguarding maritime security”, presumably against US predators.
Around the same time the three countries were conducting their exercise, the Chinese air force once again entered the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone. Like the exercise, the message was clear: Washington would do well to be wary of the ability of each of its adversaries to exploit its preoccupation with one of them. Indeed, earlier this week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi address Ukraine and Taiwan in conversation with the Secretary of State Antoine BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Inside Austin’s Civilian Harm Directive North Korea Draws U.S. Condemnation With Latest Missile Launchstating that, with regard to Ukraine, “regional security could not be guaranteed by the strengthening or even the expansion of military blocs”, and that the United States should “stop playing with fire on the question of Taiwan and stop creating various anti-China cliques. ”
Moreover, the tripartite exercises, the meetings, the new agreements, the declarations are all intended to convey the message that none of these three countries is as isolated as Washington often asserts. For Putin, in particular, this means he has a fallback option if Washington imposes sanctions intended to “cripple” the Russian economy. It can turn to Beijing for high-tech cooperation and to Tehran for arms sales. For the three states, this is another indication of the extent to which they are preparing to fill the regional vacuum that Washington began to create when it withdrew from Afghanistan.
There are, of course, differences between the three – for example, between Russia and Iran in Syria, between China and Iran over Beijing’s close ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and between Moscow and Beijing on China’s growing presence in Eastern Siberia. Nevertheless, their shared hostility towards Washington and their common desire to expel the United States at least from the Middle East and the Indian Ocean probably overcomes any differences they might have. Washington would therefore do well to consider how to ensure that the sanctions it imposes in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine will overcome Putin’s ability to mitigate their impact on his country’s economy by tapping into the resources that his anti-American partners are certain to make available to him.
Moreover, as he prepares its defense budget for fiscal year 2023, the Biden administration should consider that it can no longer assume that it can deal with multiple threats consecutively and thus reduce the pressure to increase defense spending. Rather, it should recognize that deterring the anti-American triad requires additional budgetary and material means to respond to crises in multiple theaters, which these states are certain to generate in a coordinated manner.
Alternatively, if it decided not to make enough resources available to deter Russia, China and Iran, the Biden administration would have to accept that over time it would effectively cede influence to them not just in the Middle East. , but possibly also in Europe.
Dov S. Zakheim is Senior Advisor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Foreign Policy Research Institute. He served as Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.