A dramatic shift in international politics is unfolding before our eyes.
As the United States and the West veer from crisis to crisis, they have lost strategic momentum and a new bloc of countries — an authoritarian axis — is gaining ground.
This rising concert of repressive countries — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela — are hostile to democracy, free markets and human rights, precisely because liberal values threaten their governments and power.
And this group is increasingly aligned in its resistance to the West. The most obvious example came on July 19, 2012, when Russia and China vetoed a third United Nations Security Council Resolution to impose sanctions on Syria, allowing the country to continue the massacre of its own civilians.
Facing the rise of this authoritarian axis and a new geopolitical center of gravity, the West must ask itself two critical questions: What is the strategy of these axis countries, and can the West counter it?
Principles Of The Axis Grand Strategy
The axis states routinely oppose the policies and actions of the U.S., the U.N. and its allies. Facing more democracies today than at any time in history, the axis states are aware of how acutely vulnerable they are to revolutions and regime change. If the axis can stymie the West’s efforts to encourage democratic opposition movements, say in Syria and Iran, the number of authoritarian states might increase — or at least hold constant.
The West defeated authoritarianism before. The playbook has already been written — it just depends whether the West chooses to reread it.
The axis countries also seek to undermine the West’s values and influence. Using fairly provocative language, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently pronounced the West’s decline to a group of Russian ambassadors in Moscow, warning that “domestic socio-economic problems… are weakening the dominant role of the so-called historical West.”
The axis strategy elevates the principle of preserving like-minded authoritarian countries and protecting its members — at all costs. So North Korea survives because China provides food and energy subsidies. And the axis countries actively resist the West when it seeks to restrain other members of the group. For example, Russia and China oppose efforts to impose sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.
How To Defeat The Axis Grand Strategy
It is possible for the West to defeat the axis grand strategy. But first, the West must express, in words and actions, that it is supremely confident in its policies and that free societies and free markets are the best way to promote human rights and freedom. While the West faces a stalling economic recovery with large parts of the U.S. and Europe in recession, the cyclical nature of economics suggests that the West will rebound.
In addition, energy reserves in the U.S. and elsewhere are increasing as new oil and natural gas reserves are found. For the first time in decades, if the U.S. finds energy independence within reach, it will make the axis states highly vulnerable and increase the West’s leverage. Not only do axis countries face fluctuating oil and gas prices, but states such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela depend on high energy prices to keep their economies afloat and public expectations in check.
Demographically, China and Russia face serious difficulties. Russia is experiencing widespread emigration as talented people go to free societies. Why would the young and capable stay in a country where opportunity is stifled by an authoritarian government and moribund economy? China, on the other hand, whose leadership worries about political upheaval, faces the classic problem of rising economic aspirations that growth alone cannot satisfy.
The West must guard against over- and under-reaction. Just because axis governments use provocative language, does not mean that Washington, New Delhi, Tokyo, London, Jerusalem or Warsaw should reciprocate. However, the failure to respond will embolden the axis, so the West must find a way to respond in direct, measured, and statesmanlike tones.
The West’s resources, despite current economic difficulties, so vastly outstrip that of the axis states that the outcome is not in doubt.
We defeated authoritarianism before, and we can do so again. The playbook has already been written — it just depends on when the West chooses to reread it.
There may be skeptics who question whether an axis exists, but Iran’s government suffers no such doubts. In recent comments reported by Syrian state television, Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said, “Iran will not tolerate, in any form, the breaking of the axis of resistance, of which Syria is an intrinsic part.”