States make alliances in order to balance the power configuration in international relations. When the balance of power seems to be shifting against a state and its national power appears to be dwarf vis-à-vis a dominant power or an alliance, such state, with the objective to equipoise the power equation, goes for either armament or join a counter-alliance.
Today, Russia and China are two regional powers. Both states have different ambitions. Russia vies for protecting its spheres of influence, keeping NATO at bay, maintaining its regional pre-eminence, and aspiring to overthrow the post-Cold War status quo, which was crafted by the US.
For attaining its objectives, Russia has pursued a policy of imperialism and aggression. It has infringed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Yet, diplomacy and dialogue would have averted this tragedy provided that Kremlin’s concerns were addressed.
China appears to be very circumspect in its approach
Its ambitions are long-term in nature. It aspires to reform the existing world order or refashion a new world order that best suits its interests, attain global exceptionalism, and expand its geo-economic footprints across the world through its Belt and Road Initiative. And the West considers both Russia and China strategic competitors.
Therefore, NATO and the US are inclined to tighten the noose around Russia and China. The policy of strategic intimidation certainly prepares the ground for the Russia-China alliance. With cooperation on shared survival interests, both states cozy up to make a strategic alliance that will not only divide the world into two competing camps but also tilt the global balance of power.
As a concomitant, major wars erupt when the balance of power shifts either between two states or alliances. Change in power equation brings about security dilemma for weaker states, so they will embark on a policy of armament to beef up their national security or bandwagon with other big powers to even up the power configuration. This action creates suspicion and miscalculation. To protect itself, a state or an alliance confronts the adversary. Hence, war breaks out.
If history is a guide, a shift in the balance of power in Europe led to two devastating world wars. On the eve of World War I, major powers in Europe were divided into two military alliances, the Triple Entente/Allied Power, which was comprised of Britain, France, Russia and Japan, and the Triple Alliance/Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey (and Italy) in 1914.
Similarly, before World War II, the world was again divided into major power alliances. The Axis Powers, which included Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the Allied Powers, which consisted of Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States, were engaged in a ruinous war, which almost obliterated the entire world.
In addition to this, during the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact of the Soviet Union and the NATO of US-Europe were two opposing military alliances. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. The reason that the Cold War ended in “hot peace” and there was no direct military confrontation between both military alliances was the bipolar world in which power was almost equally distributed between the two poles.
Thus, deterrence has created strategic stability. War would have resulted in mutual destruction under the shadow of nuclear weapons; therefore, both military alliances didn’t confront directly because of the fear of mutually assured destructions (MADs).
Today, the world is again being divided into military alliances and counter alliances. A multipolar world order, as it had been before both global wars of the twentieth century, too, is dangerous, for it contains several great powers with non-identical interests. Conflicting interests and power struggles among nations can make confrontation imminent.
In conventional war, there will be the risk of nuclear exchange when a nuclear state realizes its survival is threatened. For example, if Russia faces a defeat in Ukraine and it finds its survival is endangered, it may use nuclear weapons to protect its sovereignty and avoid state extinction.
Likewise, if Ukraine succumbs to Russia’s military offensive, NATO or the US may use nuclear weapons to check Russia’s assertive march toward Europe.
In both cases, nuclear war is inevitable
To counter-balance, NATO and the US, Russia and China are determined to extend cooperation with each other. The more pressure US exerts on Russia and China, the greater chances of their strategic alignment. Russia has been under pressure in Europe and the Atlantic region, while China is being hard-pushed in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region.
Although Russia and China have no formal defense treaties, both states are expanding their relationships through trade, connectivity, and mutual opposition to the West. If the US arms Taiwan and provokes war in the Taiwanese strait, or it may extend to the Indo-pacific region, China will increase its military cooperation with Russia. It will divide the world into two military blocs; smaller countries like Pakistan will be obliged to make a strategic choice between the two alternatives.
However, India is already in the US camp. It has increased its defense cooperation with the US. The BECA is the last of four foundational military agreements signed by both states. Besides this, India is also a member of Quad, a military alliance in the Indo-Pacific against China. The Indo-US strategic partnership will also shift the regional balance of power in South Asia.
Pakistan’s security challenges will be compounded in the wake of the Indo-US bonhomie. For regional strategic stability, Pakistan should boost its military ties with China. In fact, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is not a bluff, but it still needs to align with China to balance the sheer weight of the Indo-US alliance.
The writer is a strategic affair and foreign policy analyst. He tweets at @drsho_aib. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.