Sino-Russian Missile Committment Raises Balance of Power Concerns

Russia and China have agreed to strengthen their missile defence capabilities in response to America’s growing missile presence around the globe. This is the latest in a series of bold statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the country’s military. As others decry the brutal Assad regime in Syria, Russia continues to offer unconditional support for the embattled government and has bolstered its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Some suggest this is to prevent Western military intervention in Syria in the coming months, others that it is a safeguard for Russian national stranded in the country. Simultaneously, large-scale naval manoeuvres have been announced for both the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets in 2013 and a variety of missile tests will be carried out. All this points to a renewed confidence in Russian military prowess, something not seen since the Cold War. Vladimir Putin’s firm grip on power, and ruthless suppression of any opposition, has ensured political freedom for him and his cronies.

Russia's Baltic Fleet will carry out significant naval exercises this year
Russia’s Baltic Fleet will carry out significant naval exercises this year

The Chinese, meanwhile, are not short of confidence themselves. Continuing to buck the trend of global economic malaise, the PRC remains the world’s foremost developing nation. The single greatest beneficiary of China’s persisting economic growth is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Having already increased military spending exponentially in the past few years, the Chinese are acquiring more advanced weaponry in greater quantities, particularly its navy. The Liaoning, the country’s first aircraft carrier, new Type 052-D destroyers and more sophisticated anti-ship and radar systems have hauled the PLA Navy into the 21st century. Harnessing the missile defence capabilities of the Russians is the next smart move, particularly with volatile neighbours such as North Korea and the potential military force of Japan.

The change in Japanese government – back to the conservative LDP – may have provoked China into seeking a missile defence alliance with the Russians. Shinzo Abe has already spoken of the need for Japan to abandon its pacifist constitution and acquire a military force capable of reaching beyond the “Self-Defence” duties its current army is restricted to by law. Whilst a highly militaristic Japan, comparable with the Imperial era of WWII, is unlikely to return, Sino-Japanese relations remained sour, especially with recent territorial disputes in the East China Sea. The news that Japan is seeking to increase its defence budget, despite far more pressing concerns in a country suffering from over a decade of economic stagnation, will also have heightened Chinese and Russian fears. For Japan has an ever-willing ally in the Pacific; the United States.

The USA remains the world’s predominant military force and has missile defence systems of the highest sophistication. The Pentagon leads the way in 21st century warfare and the American-Japanese alliance is one of formidable potential. In September 2012, Washington and Tokyo agreed to construct an advanced missile early warning radar in Southern Japan, the latest in a series of missile defence shields in the country. It is therefore unsurprising that Russia and China should seek to counteract this intimidating partnership. The Pacific, in particular, abounds with strategic interests; North Korea; Taiwan and the South China Sea to name but a few. All these are potential security dilemmas on which the Sino-Russian and American-Japanese alliances would likely stand opposed.

Japan's military power is restricted by its constitution, yet remains formidable
Japan’s military power is restricted by its constitution, yet remains formidable

Should the Russians and the Chinese honour their commitment to shared missile defence around the globe, other military cooperation would doubtless follow. This raises the spectre of arms races, strategic regional blocs, forward military bases and intensified recruitment in a way reminiscent of the Cold War. Currently, the prowess of America’s military tips any balance of power comfortably in the favour of the US and Japan, which also maintains a territorial dispute with the Russians over the Kuril Islands.

Nevertheless, Pentagon spending will have to decrease sooner rather than later; any fiscal manipulation and delaying tactics in the US can only go so far. Similarly, Japan’s government may not receive the public support needed to increase military spending, given its generally pacific sentiments and overbearing concern regarding the economy. Should Chinese growth continue and Russia expand economically in a way its natural resources and manpower will allow, we could be looking at a new strategic power balance across the globe.

The Sino-Russian relationship may no longer be underpinned by wary communist solidarity but, with many global strategic interests contrary to that of America and its allies, the unity between the two states could someday usher in a renewed period of global unease.

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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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