CNN reports that in a joint statement released by the Kremlin on February 4, 2022, China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in a pre-Olympic meeting in Beijing, called for a halt to further NATO expansion. The statement said that China and Russia “oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other states.” The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that President Xi “stressed in the face of profound and complex changes in the international situation, China and Russia are committed to deepening back-to-back strategic coordination.…” A Kremlin spokesperson described the summit meeting as “a very warm, constructive meeting of partners and allies.” The Sino-Russian bloc is an international reality, and the United States and its allies need to prepare and act with that in mind.
The Biden administration has seen fit to make enemies of both Russia and China, and has helped push the two Eurasian giants together in opposition to the United States-led world order.
U.S. foreign policy has come full circle since the shrewd diplomacy of President Richard Nixon, who not only opened U.S. relations with China in the early 1970s, but who also implemented policies that successfully exploited the Sino-Soviet rift that had been building since the late 1950s. Nixon’s diplomacy recognized that U.S. national security depended on the geopolitical pluralism of the Eurasian landmass. So, with the help of his top foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger, Nixon brilliantly positioned the United States closer to China and Russia than they were to each other (despite their shared communist ideology). Nixon’s geopolitical approach in the early 1970s in this respect set the stage for the winning of the Cold War in the 1980s, as Henry Kissinger explained in the third volume of his memoirs, Years of Renewal.
“Once our opening to China was completed,” Kissinger wrote, “the Soviet Union faced a coalition of all the industrialized nations in the world in tacit alliance with the most populous nation. Sooner or later this equation would work in favor of the democracies, provided they could contain Soviet adventures by deterrence and give the Soviets a chance to reduce confrontation by opportunities for cooperation.” He credited Nixon with being the “pivotal figure” in the middle period of the Cold War, between the bookends of Truman and Reagan. Nixon’s diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union, Kissinger explained, “transformed Moscow’s geopolitical position overnight because it consolidated a tacit coalition of all the world’s major powers against it.” The Soviet Union, situated in the geopolitical “Heartland” of Eurasia (to use Sir Halford Mackinder’s terms), was stifled in its goal of commanding the Eurasian landmass by a coalition of Eurasian powers in Western Europe, Russia’s declining influence in the Middle East (again, a Nixon accomplishment), and China’s tacit alliance with the coalition’s geopolitical anchor, the United States.
But international relations are never static. The end of wars and the diplomatic resolutions that result are always only temporary. The U.S. and Western (and Chinese) victory in the Cold War set in motion developments, such as the rise of China, that changed the global balance of power. Several successive U.S. administrations thought that China’s rise could be accommodated by the West because China was supposedly changing — becoming a market economy which would presumably lead to a more pluralistic political system. But that didn’t happen. China rose economically, militarily, and geopolitically, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remained firmly and exclusively in control. The first U.S. administration to recognize this and act upon it was the Trump administration, which sought to improve relations with Russia and more assertively confront China.
The current U.S. administration, however, has seen fit to make enemies of both Russia and China, and has helped push the two Eurasian giants together in opposition to the United States-led world order. President Biden and his national security team have failed to learn from Nixon’s accomplishments (and are loath to give Donald Trump credit for anything), and would be well-advised to consult one of the Cold War’s founding documents — NSC 68.
NSC-68 was submitted to President Truman in April 1950, a few months before the outbreak of the Korean War, but more importantly, a few months after the CCP established the People’s Republic of China and just two months after the signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance (February 14, 1950). George Kennan’s Long Telegram and containment paper described the threat posed by the Soviet Union. NSC-68 described the threat posed by the Sino-Soviet bloc.
NSC-68 recognized that the Soviet Union was the dominant power in the communist bloc, and asserted that the goal of Soviet leaders was “the domination of the Eurasian land mass.” It noted that the addition of China as a Soviet ally provided a “springboard” for further “communist expansion in Eurasia.” After noting the success of the communists in the Far East (i.e., China), NSC-68 stated, “The shadow of Soviet force falls darkly on Western Europe and Asia and supports a policy of encroachment.” Should U.S. power be greatly lessened or removed from Eurasia, we would face either “capitulation or a … defensive war from unfavorable positions — against a Soviet Empire comprising all or most of Eurasia.” The Sino-Soviet bloc in control of the immense “resources of Eurasia” would increase its “relative military capabilities, and heighten its threat to our security.” NSC-68 concluded with a reaffirmation of NSC 20/4 (November 1948), which stated: “Soviet domination of the potential power of Eurasia, whether achieved by armed aggression or by political and subversive means, would be strategically and politically unacceptable to the United States.”
Or the Biden national security team could consult James Burnham’s Containment or Liberation? (1952), where Burnham described the geopolitical implications of Sino-Soviet command of most of Eurasia. The power potential of the Eurasian landmass is so great, Burnham argued, that “[i]f the communists succeed in consolidating what they have already conquered, then their complete world victory is certain.” And three years later, writing in National Review, Burnham paraphrased and updated Mackinder by suggesting that communist (Soviet and Chinese) control of a huge swath of the Eurasian landmass could permit the use of the resources of the “Great Continent” to add predominant sea power and air power to its already predominant land power. Fortunately, due to the emerging Sino-Soviet split, which as noted above, Nixon’s policies exacerbated, the Sino-Soviet alliance faltered and the Eurasian landmass as a consequence remained geopolitically divided.
The Biden administration’s two-front Cold War approach to Beijing and Moscow has had predictable consequences that major news organizations have recognized. The New York Times and the Financial Times emphasized that Putin and Xi are showing a “united front” against the U.S. The Wall Street Journal portrayed the recent Beijing summit as a Sino-Russian “challenge” to the “U.S.-led global order.” The Associated Press described the meeting as a Sino-Russian “push back” against U.S. pressures. Al Jazeera noted that the two leaders “reaffirmed their support for each other’s foreign policy” and “agreed on wider security issues.” While the Guardian headlined: “Fifty years after Nixon and Mao’s historic handshake, the geopolitical world order is again being reshaped.”
And that “reshaping” of the geopolitical world order does not favor the United States.