The Xi–Putin summit in Moscow has ended with the signing of joint statements lauding the “deepening … comprehensive strategic partnership” between China and Russia and their bilateral cooperation in the economic, agricultural, scientific, and technological realms. Russia stated its support for China’s interests and goals in relation to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. China demonstrated its continued support for Russia in its war with Ukraine. “China and Russia,” according to China’s foreign ministry, “have natural responsibilities to make joint efforts to steer and promote global governance.” Both countries pledged to support each other’s “core interests” and to “enhance … coordination on international affairs” to “oppose hegemonism” (i.e., the United States). The Diplomat’s editor-in-chief, Shannon Tiezzi, notes China’s “constant and overt declarations of long-term partnership with Russia, no matter what.”
Fifty years ago, during the first Cold War, years of inter-communist wrangling and skillful diplomacy by the Nixon administration launched a diplomatic revolution in which China effectively switched sides in the Cold War by becoming a de facto ally of the United States and the West. That diplomatic revolution ended what was once called the Sino-Soviet bloc, which had formed in the wake of World War II and the Chinese Civil War. Richard Nixon’s and Mao Zedong’s successors built upon their diplomacy to achieve victory in the Cold War — a victory that probably wouldn’t have happened had the two Eurasian giants remained allies.
Three decades of American diplomacy and policy errors have effectively led to the re-formation of the Sino-Soviet (now Russian) bloc.
The Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s threatened the prospect of control of the Eurasian landmass by an alliance of powers hostile to the United States and its Western allies. Raymond Aron was France’s most insightful strategic thinker of the 20th century, and his most important work was The Century of Total War, first published in 1954. It was a geopolitical tour de force that combined an understanding of communism with an appreciation of the need to maintain the geopolitical pluralism of Eurasia. The Sino-Soviet bloc was formed just four years before Aron wrote the book, but he already sensed the geopolitical implications of an alliance between the two Eurasian giants — an alliance that has re-formed in the first three decades of the 21st century.
The Sino-Soviet alliance, Aron wrote, had “nearly achieved the ‘world-island’ which [Halford] Mackinder considered the necessary and almost sufficient condition for universal empire.” This development, Aron explained, was a result of the failed Anglo-American diplomacy of World War II, whose leaders waged war with “such blind fury” and provided inadequate assistance to China’s Nationalist forces during the Chinese Civil War. The two leaders most responsible for this diplomatic calamity were Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, yet most historians rank both of them as great or near-great presidents. Aron knew better. “The road to error,” Aron wrote, “was paved by the crusading spirit which traditionally inspires the foreign policy of the United States.” FDR and Truman approached war and China’s Civil War in terms of “ideals” instead of in recognition of the importance of the balance of power on the Eurasian landmass.
The FDR–Truman diplomacy, aided and abetted by the insidious communist infiltration of the American government later exposed by the Venona intercepts, resulted in enemy powers gaining control of a huge swath of the world-island, including the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and parts of Indochina. As Aron noted, Mackinder’s strategic nightmare was coming true: “Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”
Three decades of American diplomacy and policy errors — the ideological hubris produced by the West’s victory in the first Cold War, the financing of China’s rise, the distractions of endless wars in peripheral regions, the desire for a “peace dividend,” and the belief that communism was dead — have effectively led to the re-formation of the Sino-Soviet (now Russian) bloc: the 21st century’s diplomatic revolution. And the combined economic, scientific, technological, and military power of today’s Eurasian bloc is much greater than it was in the 1950s.
We are now in the midst of a second cold war with essentially the same adversaries that we faced at the beginning of the first. If we learn from the past, we will endeavor to follow Aron’s advice to conduct our diplomacy so as to maintain the geopolitical pluralism of Eurasia. As Mackinder counseled, we must temper and adjust our democratic ideals to meet the realities of the geopolitical balance of power on Eurasia. Our long-term security depends on this.
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