The Moscow-Beijing-Tehran Axis

Oct 12th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, a new world order is emerging.  To some extent, the role of the US is diminished somewhat, but America remains the undisputed leader militarily.  The clout of the US economically and financially has been impacted by the trade and financial polices of President Trump.  The longer term impact of these policies remains to be seen.  But one given in this new order is an emerging axis of power centered in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.  The concerted aim of this axis is to diminish and disrupt the influence of the US and its allies—in the Middle East, in Asia, in Latin America and even in the South Pacific.  Arthur Herman of the Hudson Institute argues that “this axis is not a formal military alliance or even a coordinated conspiracy.  The three powers have different goals in international affairs.  China’s is global hegemony; Iran’s is to become a regional as well as nuclear power; Russia is struggling to stay in the superpower game.  China’s is on gaining economic power.  Russia’s is on asserting its geopolitical clout.  Iran’s agenda is largely ideological—to be the guiding voice of a regional Shiite revolution and of radical Islam.”

What do these three powers share in terms of goals and strategies?  Herman itemizes three:

  • All three use energy to manipulate other nations to their will. (Russia and Iran supply it; China uses it).
  • China and Russia use their growing market share of world arms sales—26.2% combined last year, compared with the US’s 36%–to cultivate clients and allies and to lure others away from the US (e.g., United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey).
  • All three see the US as the primary obstacle to attain their respective goals.

In addition, this axis often works together in ways that protect and guard one another when it comes to the US.  Consider:

  • For North Korea, Russia has taken over from China as host and patron for Kim Jung Un. North Korea’s missile tests reflect an “uncanny resemblance to an advanced Russian design.”
  • In Syria, Russia’s military support of the Assad regime has permitted Iran to arm clients such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
  • In Venezuela, both Chinese and Iranian investments under the late Hugo Chavez are protected by Putin’s support of Maduro’s corrupt regime.
  • China is already in the Middle East, not militarily but economically and financially. Robert Kaplan of the Eurasia Group reports that China is considering construction of a naval base adjacent to the Iranian border in the Gulf of Oman.  “While the United States contemplates war with Iran, the Chinese are engaged in trade and infrastructure building there.  Gwadar is central to the maritime aspect of the Belt and Road Initiative. But China’s interest in Iran is both land and sea.  The routes China has already built across Central Asia link China with Iran—an unbeatable combination in Eurasia, where Iran is a demographic and geographic organizing point . . . Iran is at the very center of 21st century geopolitics.  It dominates Central Asia trade routes and sits at the hydrocarbon nexus of the Indian Ocean.  Iran is the key to China’s plans, just as China’s plans are key to Eurasia’s destiny.”
  • As we reflect on the role of Russia in this axis, it is imperative that we understand Vladimir Putin’s self-understanding and how others in Europe and Eurasian Christianity view him. He is not an atheist, but a devout Russian Orthodox Christian.  Indeed, Putin has used Orthodoxy to spread political power at home and abroad, funding conservative organizations, TV channels and the construction of churches.  The Russian Orthodox leader, Patriarch Krill, has called Putin a “miracle of God.”  Putin has adopted St. Vladimir as an icon of the historic and cultural ties of the region.  He annexed Crimea in 2014 by saying that it was where the saint was baptized!!  Furthermore, Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist of religions, observes that Putin argues that a belief in human rights and religious liberty does not apply to Russia.  “Putin represents a medieval, pre-Enlightenment Christianity or at least pre-Vatican II view of Christianity.”  Jason Horowitz of the New York Times summarizes the view of many in Russia as well as Central and Eastern Europe:  “The most devout Putin followers talk of the Russian leader in mystical terms, comparing him to the Katechon, a Greek word referring to a force that keeps the Antichrist at bay.”  “Putin is katechonic,” said Alexander Dugin, a Russian public intellectual and traditionalist who maintains a following among nationalists and neo-fascists and European identitarians.  Katechon is from 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 and is normally translated “restrain” or “restrainer.”  It is a key text in the Bible depicting the antichrist at the end of time in the final rebellion against God right before Jesus returns.  Most expositors believe that katechon refers to the Holy Spirit.  That some of Putin’s supporters see him as katechon is astonishing.  It is twisting Scripture to provide biblical legitimacy to a brutal dictator.
  • The emerging partnership between Russia and China is much more advantageous for China. Russia’s GDP is comparable to Italy, while China’s economy is six times larger (at purchasing-power parity) and its power is growing, even as Russia’s fades.  China is Russia’s second-largest export market after the European Union.  It buys more Russian oil than any other country.  “In the energy sector China has access to some of Russia’s most valuable assets.  Chinese state energy firms own one-fifth of an Arctic LNG [liquid natural gas] project developed by [the Russian firm] Novatek . . . Nearly half of all drilling equipment used by Russian oil firms comes from China.”  Russia is growing dependent on China in technology, as well.  Huawei, China’s supreme technology company, is rolling out 5G technology equipment in Russia.  The Chinese company Alibaba is in a joint venture with Russian firms in the area of social media.  Russia’s draconian law on the “sovereignty of the internet,” is copied from China and Russia intends to use Chinese technology to implement it.

The United States must pay careful attention to this emerging axis.  Earlier this year, then National Intelligence Director Dan Coats warned that “Moscow’s relationship with Beijing is closer than it has been in many decades.”  Tehran is a junior partner in this club of revisionist autocracies.  Together they seek to chip away at American might.  If they succeed the result will be a darker and less free world system.  The current US government ignores all of this to its peril.  The stakes are immensely high in this military, economic and financial struggle.  May God give our leaders wisdom.

See Arthur Herman in the Wall Street Journal (30 May 2019); Robert D. Kaplan in the New York Times (27 June 2019); Jason Horowitz in the New York Times (5 July 2019); James Marson in the Wall Street Journal (23 August 2019); and The Economist (27 July 2019), pp. 7, 15-18.

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