In the very, very, rare corners of the internet where informative discussions are taking place, one topic gaining momentum is the supposed risk of Russia and China forming an axis based on the ideological promotion of what might be termed Universal Nationalism.
This supposed ideology might be defined along lines described by this article (although its focus centers around China by itself, not the durability of a Russia-China partnership which is the focus of my article) –
In some respects, China resembles the old, defunct Soviet Union, as both a great power and ideological rival of the West. But China is something the world hasn’t seen since the end of World War II: a dictatorial, anti-democratic power that is, unlike the Soviet Union, an economic powerhouse. And it has used its diplomatic strength to weaken the efforts of the liberal democratic countries to promote human rights while defending and protecting authoritarian practices throughout the globe.
Elsewhere, there is discussion of Russia joining China in this effort to promote Universal Nationalism.
This flicker of a poorly thought out idea deserves to be extinguished with ice water; if for no other reason than Chinese and Russian analysts themselves think such an arrangement is impractical.
Only Western commenters are foolhardy enough to believe this unlikely scenario is probable. These fools fall into three main categories – mainstream Left and mainstream Right who (for moderately different reasons) oppose an alliance between Russia and China, and the American altright that supports it.
That America’s bumbling altright produces the same mistake on an important question as the political mainstream, despite operating from different assumptions, is yet more evidence the altright is no viable alternative to US mainstream opinion but merely an alternate route to arrive at complete failure.
We Hamiltonians do not make such mistakes because Hamiltonian foreign policy is in harmony with game theory.
The trick to maximizing the usefulness of game theory to diplomacy (or usefully apply it to any non-diplomatic field) rests on the ability to correctly understand a diplomatic actor’s preferred objectives.
Game theorists usually begin analysis by constructing a table grid holding the preferences of each player and the risk-reward payoffs of each possible action in the grid.
An actor’s objectives determine their series of actions; conversely, their actions reveal their objectives. And the better an actor’s objectives are understood, the more accurate will be predictions about what actions the actor will take to reach their objective.
Game theory predictions are most dependable when objectives are derived from observable player actions; the more objectives are derived from psychological analysis, the more speculative and, therefore, unreliable game theory predictions are.
Western foreign policy pundits – both mainstream and fringe – are terrible at this.
Instead of objectively analyzing the actions of foreign actors to determine their true goals, pundits engage in objective projection where the pundit analyst wrongly imposes their own attitudes towards an objective onto a player.
As far as this mistake relates to the feasibility of a Russia-China axis, Western analysis is faulty because mainstream Left and Right pundits impose this hypothesized axis as an objective of Russia and China because those pundits oppose it.
As for altright pundits, they wrongly impose it as an objective of Russia and China because those pundits support it.
But enough about them; on to solid game theory.
The first thing a competent game theorist notes about this “Universal Nationalist” axis is that “Universal Nationalism” is a bogus concept because Universalism is by definition incompatible with Nationalism.
Nationalistic states pursue their national objectives. The problem for a universal form of Nationalism is that the objectives of other Nationalists will often conflict with the national objectives of Russia and China.
Case in point, the conflicting objectives between the Nationalistic states of Central Europe and Russia and the relationship between China’s sponsorship of North Korea, and the rest of Northeast Asia.
Since the end of the Cold War the primary objective of Central European diplomacy has been preventing Russia from ever again occupying their nations. To achieve this Nationalistic objective, Central Europe tied itself to America’s alliance system. Their national objectives are in direct conflict with Russia’s diplomatic objectives to expand its influence over its “near abroad”. Russia’s recent actions to expand itself have, predictably, further deepened Central Europe’s cooperation with NATO.
Similarly, China’s long-standing national policy of using North Korea as a buffer state between it and a Democratic, reunified, Korean Peninsula has conflicted with the security interests of South Korea and Japan. The latter two’s diplomatic priority has been to defend against North Korean aggression. As North Korea has become more aggressive, South Korea and Japan have tightened their security cooperation with America to the detriment of China’s national objective.
When the national objectives of Russia and China’s neighbors conflict so easily, the hopes of universally aligning the objectives of Russian Nationalism with Central European diplomacy or aligning the objectives of Chinese Nationalism with South Korean and Japanese diplomacy are enough to dismiss the possibility of any Nationalism becoming Universal.
And this assumes Russia and China can form an “axis” in the first place.
From a game theory point of view, the risks to Russia of cooperating excessively with China outweigh any potential rewards. Likewise, China has little to gain because of limits to how much China can trust Russia.
The supposed rewards Russia and China stand to gain from this alliance are less risk of a Western backed Democratic revolution, and support for pro-“Axis” dictators around the world.
The obstacle is that none of this is a justification for an axis because Russia and China already have these advantages.
Russia and China each possess sufficient political power already to stamp out whatever Democratic movements they encounter without needing help from either partner.
They also each support various dictators when it suits them.
An axis gives them nothing they lack today.
For Russia, the negatives of taking their relationship with China beyond the current tactical, case by case, basis of cooperation are substantial.
In a very close partnership, Russia would have less leverage as the weaker party to control the direction of the axis. It would also potentially jeopardize Russia’s interest in keeping Central Asia and its vast energy reserves within Russia’s economic sphere of influence as well as potentially invite a Chinese territorial threat to Siberia.
Nor is it clear why Russia would want to tilt the balance of power in Asia too far in favor of China. Because China is surrounded by powerful American allies, most of the attention of the Chinese military is given to America’s allies and nearby US bases. If power shifted too far towards China, China’s military would have more resources to potentially dedicate against Russia.
Based on risk-reward analysis, the optimal game theory strategy for Russia is to more or less maintain the status quo with China, not gamble on an axis that could easily backfire by becoming a second Molotov-Ribbentrop.
For China’s part, although Russia would be the weaker member of an axis, Russia would still retain too much freedom of maneuver for the Chinese to count on Russian loyalty. Russia could easily respond to dissatisfaction with Chinese power by flipping into a cooperative relationship with the United States in exchange for America agreeing to look the other way at Russian human rights abuses.
Russian opportunism and Chinese risk-reward analysis predicts their coordination will remain opportunistic as it has been since the Soviet-China split orchestrated by Nixon and Kissinger in the 1970s.
The final obstacle to a Russia-China axis is the limited appeal it would have to advanced nations.
As discussed, the Nationalist objectives of Central Europe and America’s Asian allies would be contradictory to the goals of an axis and only firm up their security cooperation with the United States military industrial complex. Liberal First World states would certainly tie their security to America.
Both advanced Nationalistic and Liberal nations states would prefer America because America’s Hamiltonian diplomacy acts as guarantor of their economic and physical security without the downside risk of America ever becoming a threat to their territory or sovereignty – a risk that was always present for weak states that allied with hegemonic powers.
This American strategy is known as Hamiltonian Regionalism –
A Realist strategy where a great Capitalistic power uses regional alliances with other Capitalistic states to check any threat from a hostile power to either the physical security or commercial interests of the allied Capitalists. Minor powers have the option of being part of this alliance, neutral outside of it, or hostile. Regardless whether minor powers join or not, the great power is able to exercise this strategy so long as other advanced powers agreed to the system.
Because a majority of advanced nations (whether Nationalistic or Progressive) would default to America as the central pillar of their security, a Russia-China axis would be left to string together a collection of corrupt Third and Second world states interested only in bribe money flowing into their offshore bank accounts and protection from humanitarian interventions –
From Russia to Venezuela, Thailand to Turkey, Hungary to the Philippines, Ethiopia to Cambodia, elected strongmen, military juntas, and one-party dictatorships are in power, in many ways reversing the trend toward liberal democracy that followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
China didn’t bring about this authoritarian resurgence. Nor does it seek actively to spread its own authoritarian system around the world. But the means that China uses to consolidate its own regime, combined with its economic power and its formal disavowal of what it calls “Western values,” have made it almost automatically the leading country, and the center of gravity, in what some political scientists are calling the Authoritarian International.
Venezuela and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee.
Many, many, many cups of coffee. But it will not yield a serious challenger to America’s First World alliance system which collectively holds the vast majority of the world’s wealth, diplomatic clout, and military power.
Whatever satellite states from that list (sans Russia for reasons already explained) China manages to pull into its orbit are not a challenge to American hard power.
Violations of human rights, as far as Hamiltonian Realists are concerned, are not the business of American power when those “Liberal values” are incompatible when applied to Third World states.
Maduro implemented the Bolivarianism he inherited from Hugo Chavez; and their program – to the great applause of Progressive Internationalists everywhere from the Obama White House to Jeremy Corbyn campaign headquarters – was voted into power by Venezuelan DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS.
If Third World “Democracies” continue to usher in freedom crushing tyrannies, then the problem with Progressive foreign policy is its promotion of Democracy for nations too backwards to support it.
Ethiopia like Venezuela, can be ignored without America’s military industrial complex losing a moments sleep.
But if Progressives absolutely insist on having Ethiopia in America’s camp lest Addis Ababa fall into the clutches of Moscow and Beijing, then the answer to a tyrannical Ethiopian Mossadeq serving as an “axis”-puppet is a tyrannical, Ethiopian Shah serving as an American-puppet.
The answer is certainly not a Democratically elected, Progressive approved, Khomeini worse and more anti-American than the dictator he succeeded.