A new report on the increasing threat from China got me to wondering about what we would face if China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea were to combine into a new axis to oppose the West like the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan opposed the Allies in World War II.
The report called the Chinese Communist Party an “existential” threat to the U.S. and “an adversary even more capable and dangerous than the Soviet Union was at the height of its power.” Earlier this month, Xi Jinping warned China will quick elevate his country’s armed forces to achieve a “world-class” military. Xi formed a friendship with “no limits” with Vladimir Putin last year and the two agreed in writing to challenge “the United States as a global power, NATO as a cornerstone of international security, and liberal democracy as a model for the world.” When the two met a couple weeks ago, Xi told Putin, “Right now there are changes, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.” Their summit also featured talks on “military-technical interaction”.
China is already helping Russia avoid Western sanctions by exporting navigation equipment, fighter jet parts, and other equipment for the war in Ukraine. China is getting energy supplies from Russia and is investing heavily in Iran’s energy industry.
One observer predicts Russia may soon give China access to its advanced submarine technology in exchange for various kinds of assistance. China’s industrial and dry dock base is positioned for a rapid buildup in nuclear submarine construction. Increased submarine activity would raise tensions in the Pacific and proliferation of such technology to Iran would raise tensions in the Middle East.
For its part, Iran is supplying Russia with drones to support the war in Ukraine. Iran has dreams of empire of its own that can be furthered through a new axis. Russia will soon deliver advanced Su-35 fighter jets and other military equipment to Iran. China recently brokered a normalization agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, changing the strategic calculus in the Middle East. Russia is helping Iran develop weapons-grade uranium and cyber weapons.
North Korea is supplying Russia with millions of rockets and artillery shells. Pyongyang previously supported Iran with weapons in the Iran-Iraq war in exchange for oil. Iran and North Korea cooperate in nuclear and ballistic missile development, explaining North Korea’s success in its missile program. Last year, North Korea touted its military cooperation with both Russia and China.
It remains to be seen whether weapons sales and military cooperation will grow into a formal military alliance among these potential new axis powers. But it would be naïve to stick one’s head in the sand and not ponder what a new axis could do and the new threats it could pose. National security experts say the U.S. needs to build up its navy and modernize its nuclear forces. They also say the U.S. must combine with allies and the forces of freedom in bilateral agreements and in other ways to meet the challenges a new axis of authoritarian powers would present. Somebody needs to be thinking about what the new axis powers would attempt, given their aims, and what they would be capable of achieving if they coordinated. For example, what would the U.S. and its allies do if Russia moved on Lithuania and Iran moved in the Middle East to pin allied forces down in order to facilitate China’s invasion of Taiwan? If, as the new report says, the CCP is an existential threat to the U.S., wouldn’t the threat be all that much greater from a formal military alliance between China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea?