russia and china
Weitz is senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military
Analysis at Hudson Institute.
clashes in Ukraine, Syria and the South China Sea indicate the
magnitude of the challenges that revisionist powers Russia and
China present to the Western powers. Using ‘hybrid’
techniques, Russian and Chinese policymakers have skilfully mixed
military and non-military tactics to achieve geopolitical gains
at the expense of the United States and its partners and allies.
major dissimilarities in terms of their national assets, methods,
objectives and world visions, Russia and China present comparable
challenges to global security. In particular, both authoritarian
states have applied various military, paramilitary, legal, economic
and information tools in the western Pacific and Eurasia to expand
their regional influence, divide potential opponents and otherwise
seize the strategic initiative.
has yet to develop an effective response to what can be variously
termed their asymmetric, sub-conventional, hybrid, non-linear,
ambiguous, unrestricted, unconventional and next-generation warfare
tactics. Chinese and Russian instruments of influence have included
economic coercion, proxy actions, sophisticated propaganda and
exploitation of ethnic and other societal tensions. The aggregate
effect of these tools has presented a potent hybrid mix that other
countries have found difficult to counter.
Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Beijing’s moves in
the South China Sea have deliberately fallen below the threshold
necessary to trigger collective defense countermeasures by the
United States and its allies. Through such salami slicing tactics,
China has gradually expanded its control over contested islands
in the South China Sea. Like Moscow in eastern Ukraine, Beijing
has disrupted the status quo and presented the world with a fait
accompli, in this case by declaring an air identification
zone and, more recently, by constructing artificial islands that
could provide forward operating bases for the Chinese military.
of aversion and opportunity fuels Russian and Chinese revisionism.
The leaders of both countries are dissatisfied with the US-led
global order – embodied in various rules and institutions
such as the international financial institutions established immediately
after World War II and the network of US-led security alliances
in Europe and Asia. They have offered a range of objections to
current practices, but assume that the current global order unduly
constrains power and prestige for Moscow and Beijing. Another
shared reason for revisionist stances is that both great powers
are surrounded by weaker and divided countries, presenting an
attractive security vacuum.
Russian leaders resent their limited influence on European security
and economic developments due to their exclusion from the continent’s
dominant institutions, NATO and the European Union. Likewise,
Chinese leaders see enervating US alliances in Asia as essential
for expanding their regional power and influence.
of China and Russia have each supported norms, such as resistance
to Western conceptions of human rights and limited sovereignty,
offensive to Western values and interests. They are also building
multinational institutions, such as the Moscow-centered Eurasian
Economic Union and their co-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization,
that exclude any meaningful Western input. They hope that these
structures, including those associated with the BRICS bloc, will
eventually provide the multilateral foundation of an alternative
like Russia, is a great power with enormous multiple dimensions
of military strength. Like many Russians who maintain that Ukraine
should be under Moscow’s control for historical, cultural
and geopolitical considerations, many Chinese have territorial
grievances and ambitions that fuel expansionist tendencies. While
Beijing has long claimed that the South China Sea should fall
under its control due to considerations of history and geography,
it has only been in recent years that China has attained the coercive
power to press its claims.
of national assets, China and Russia are both military great powers.
In particular, they have nuclear weapons, powerful conventional
forces, and an ample portfolio of sub-conventional and non-kinetic
resources. Whereas the Kremlin has employed paramilitary ground
forces without insignia in Ukraine, Beijing has been employing
naval militia posing as fishermen and other civilian maritime
vessels for coercive purposes in the Pacific.
China does not have formal military allies and foreign military
bases as Russia does, the nation’s economic clout and other
assets have persuaded many Asian states to do whatever they can
to avoid confronting Beijing. Instead, they lobby Washington behind-the-scenes
to stand up to China on their behalf.
China has much greater overall economic power than Russia, the
Russian Federation has a larger economy than any of the other
former Soviet republics, enhancing Moscow’s leverage over
these states. Beijing and Moscow have built deep economic relationships
with their surrounding states that give their partners strong
incentives to avoid confrontations. Many neighbouring countries
of Russia and China depend heavily on sustaining access to their
markets or have deep commercial ties with them. However, both
Russia and China are constrained by globalization, which creates
reciprocal interdependencies and offers many alternative economic
partners to even neighbouring states. Their communist-era economic
autarky has long eroded.
difference between Russia and China is that only Moscow has been
formally annexing new territories, supporting armed proxies in
neighbouring countries, and regularly making implicit and explicit
nuclear threats against other states. For almost a decade, Russian
leaders have been threatening European countries with conventional
and even nuclear strikes if they host US missile defenses or take
other actions deemed to threaten Russian security.
leaders are more subtle in their language, eschewing explicit
military threats and only suggesting negative implications –
that others’ actions will threaten regional stability. In
the Asia-Pacific region, though China’s activities are considerably
greater in scale than those of its regional rivals and Beijing’s
agenda is openly revisionist compared with the status quo orientation
of its neighbours, the country is but one of several involved
in reclaiming land and erecting military facilities in disputed
territories, making it more difficult for the United States and
other third parties to single out Beijing’s bad behaviour.
worrisome, despite the publicity surrounding Russian actions in
Ukraine and now Syria, in many respects, China is better positioned
to employ hybrid tactics successfully across a wider range of
scenarios than Russia. For example, whereas NATO is the world’s
most powerful military alliance and can partner with a European
Union rich in civilian power, China faces a divided Asian security
landscape without a cohesive countervailing coalition against
the revisionist power. In the past two years, the Kremlin achieved
some short-term successes but at the expense of long-term strategic
isolation and containment. Beijing, on the other hand, has seen
its strategic influence grow, both in the Asia-Pacific and globally,
without the formation of a powerful regional coalition as a counterweight.
has launched a long-term effort to develop new defense technologies
and concepts designed to offset China’s and Russia’s
growing military power, but progress in negating their sub-conventional
challenges has been slower. Any effective Western approach to
managing hybrid challenges must appreciate the similarities and
differences in how Beijing and Moscow pursue hybrid tactics. For
example, Russia is more vulnerable to targeted economic sanctions
and counter media-messaging. Nonetheless, the West should not
become so preoccupied with Russian revanchism as to overlook China’s
superior potential, if not yet propensity, to cause trouble.
© 2016 YaleGlobal and the MacMillan Center