In October 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at a future military alliance between Russia and China that would be stronger than the US (Kontan, 27 October 2020). The two military forces of Russia and China combined will outnumber the US Army by about two to one, have three times as many tanks and warships, and have a larger stockpile of nuclear weapons. China and Russia have the second and third most powerful militaries in the world, followed by their formal alliance that can help fight the US and its allies in open conflict, a deepening relationship between Moscow and Beijing as both have ongoing tensions of interest with Washington.
Russian actions since 2007 appear increasingly to constitute a realist approach to international affairs. Russia appears to be behaving as a rising power, attempting to become a regional or global superpower. Feinstein and Pirro (2021: 1) stated, essential to this pursuit, a state must gather information strategically. While, Manurung (2019: 25) stated that, from 2017 to 2018, the world has been living through a period of progressive erosion, or collapse, of international orders, have inherited from the Cold-War. Through the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the rapid increase of the U.S aggressive containment policy of Russia and China, which is both a consequence of the gradual erosion which represents deep internal and international contradictions as this process, entered its critical point. Therefore, in responding to the dynamic changes in International Relations, Kremlin has proactively proposed the Greater Eurasian Partnership for the international cooperation agenda to adopt within Belt and Road Initiative
Post-Alaska meeting on 18 to 19 March 2021 and Guilin meeting on 23 March 2021, Kremlin and Beijing have united against Washington ambition to dominate the new international order during COVID-19 pandemic. Washington's pressure on Beijing and Moscow through various confrontational statements and foreign policy met with fierce resistance (Kompas, 24 March 2021). The two world major powers considered the US to have damaged the international political order. China and Russia openly and frontally say that the US has damaged the international world order. Both countries urgently want a summit of the United Nations Security Council permanent member amid what Moscow and Beijing call the increasing world political turbulence.
Russia and China's leaders provocatively have signaled their dislike of United States arrogant behavior and perceive the destructive nature of US and allies' willingness to undermine the UN-centric international legal framework, using the previous cold war political-military alliances and building similar alliances in all regions of the world. This statement was clearly stated by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov when met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Guilin, China (Kompas, 23 March 2021).
Moscow and Beijing need to cooperate with other countries to safeguard the international norms system. The West is trying hard to push unilaterally related to a new world international order, this may threaten international peace and stability. The US should stop damaging and meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries, stop alliance-building efforts directed at other major powers countries. All countries in the world must follow the UN Charter to promote democratization in international relations that are peaceful and harmonious.
Wang Yi met Lavrov after meeting the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken in Alaska from March 18 to 19. Blinken meets Wang after visits to Japan and South Korea. In Seoul and Tokyo, Blinken was accompanied by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose visits were aimed at building an alliance to counter China's expanding influence. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Austin and Blinken are rallying tough joint US and Japanese statements against China in disputed areas of the East China Sea and the South China Sea. In fact, in Seoul, Blinken and Austin emphasized the issue of North Korea's nuclear ownership.
Further, it is suspected that before the visit of the US Secretary of State and Secretary of State, Tokyo together with New Delhi and Canberra had a virtual dialogue with the US. The forum, known as the Quad, discusses ways to block China's growing power in the Asia Pacific. Beijing calls the two series of Washington maneuvers an effort to impose an international order according to the version of the US and its allies. During the meeting in Alaska, Wang Yi also mentioned Washington's unfriendly behavior.
Russia continues to attempt and issue new arms deals while facing accusations of ongoing election interference in the US along with military tensions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East regions. China has seen relations with the US fall to new lows due to the coronavirus pandemic accusations and strife in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Russia and China emphasize their strategic partnership but have so far rejected talks about a possible military alliance.
China already has the largest number of 2,183,000 active forces and 1,000,000 ground troops due to its large population (GFP, 2021). Russia has 900,000 active Russian troops and 400,000 ground troops. In total, the combined Sino-Russian troops are 3,083.00 and 1,400,000, respectively. The US has 1,400,000 active troops, 475,000 ground troops, and 845,500 reserved troops (GFP, 2021). Russia's military strength is ranked 2 of 140 out of the world countries (GFP, 2021), and China is ranked 3 (GFP, 2021). The US will also have fewer armored vehicles, rocket artillery vehicles, fighter jets, and submarines, but the US is ranked 1 and has the largest aircraft fleet strength with 13,233 units (GFP, 2021), Russia with 4,144 units, China with 3,260 units, India with 2,119 units, and South Korea with 1,581 units.
Russia already has the largest nuclear reserves in the world, with an estimated 6,375 nuclear warheads. It is estimated that China's 290 nuclear warheads will bring the total potential nuclear weapons alliance to about 6,665 or 865 more than the US's 5,800 nuclear warheads. Despite the size of the potential force under the Russia-China military alliance, US military spending is still more than double that of Russia and China combined. But the US will also have advantages in some areas, such as having more fighters - with 13,264 compared to 7,373.
The aircraft carriers are also one of the most important ways of projecting power around the world, and the US has 11 with two more carriers under construction. China has two with one under construction, and Russia has only one aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Russia challenges the US to freeze its nuclear warhead program for a year. Russia is ready to freeze its nuclear warheads if the US is willing to do the same. Moscow's challenge was presented to Washington in October 2020 to extend control of a nuclear weapon called New START which was due to expire in 2021 (Kontan, 21 October 2020)
Post-Cold War momentum, Russia has shared military technology with China all this time. Moscow's cooperation with Beijing has strengthened China's military defense capabilities gradually to counter any of the US and allies sudden threatening attacks. President Vladimir Putin has been key in pushing Russia to develop new weapons, including modernizing its nuclear weapons, pushing Russia repeatedly to be at the forefront of developing technologies such as hypersonic missiles, which are seen as a new frontier in weapons technology.
Feinstein, S.G and Pirro, E.B. (2021). Testing the world order: strategic realism in Russian foreign affairs. International Politics. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-021-00285-5.
Manurung, H. (2019). Russia - China Strategic Partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region: Synergizing Greater Eurasia with Belt and Road Initiative, 2016-2018. Asia Pacific Studies, Vol. 3 No. 1 (2019): January - June 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33541/japs.v3i1.1033.
Kompas. (2021). China-Rusia: AS Rusak Tatanan Internasional. Accessed from https://www.kompas.id/baca/internasional/2021/03/24/china-rusia-as-rusak-tatanan-internasional/. on March 25th 2021.
Kompas. (2021). Setelah Pertemuan China-AS di Alaska. Accessed fromhttps://www.kompas.id/baca/opini/2021/03/23/setelah-pertemuan-china-as-di-alaska/, on March 25th 2021.
Kontan. (2021). Rusia menantang Amerika Serikat di perjanjian hulu ledak nuklir, ini isinya. Accessed from https://internasional.kontan.co.id/news/rusia-menantang-amerika-serikat-di-perjanjian-hulu-ledak-nuklir-ini-isinya, on March 10th, 2021.
Kontan. (2020). Putin: Gabungan militer Rusia-China akan lebih kuat daripada AS. Accessed from https://internasional.kontan.co.id/news/putin-gabungan-militer-rusia-china-akan-lebih-kuat-daripada-as, on March 20th 2021.
The Global Fire Power. (2021). Military Strength Ranking. Accessed from https://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.php, on January 30th 2021.
The Global Fire Power. (2021). Military Aircraft Strength. Accessed from https://www.globalfirepower.com/aircraft-total.php, on February 28th 2021.
The Global Fire Power. (2021). United States Military Strength. Accessed from https://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.php?country_id=united-states-of-america, on February 5th 2021.
The Global Fire Power. (2021). Russia Military Strength. Accessed from https://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.php?country_id=russia, on February 10th 2021.
Author: Hendra Manurung (Doctoral candidate in International Relations, Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung)
Editorial Credit: R.S