The United States faces the possibility of a global naval war around the Eurasian landmass. This is regardless of the Ukraine War’s outcome. Indeed, the perception of weakness and capacity limitations is a powerful incentive for hostile states to probe American capabilities and initiate a broader conflict.
The current geopolitical situation’s stakes are Eurasian. This stems from the nature of America’s two major competitors, China, and Russia. China’s partial about-face on Zero-Covid Policy indicates no fundamental change in the structure of its regime. The CCP remains an insular autocracy and Putin’s Russia has revealed itself as a neo-fascist dictatorship. The issue, however, is structural, albeit refracted through a historical prism.
Modern Russia and China are outgrowths of the USSR. The Russian Federation occupies Soviet Russia’s core territories, is the legal and moral successor to Soviet Russia, and most critically, is run by a coterie of Soviet-trained intelligence and security agents. Xi’s China is in part the outgrowth of the last Chinese Empire and Republic. However, the Chinese Communist Party was founded with the direct assistance of the Soviet Communist Party. The structures it employs are almost carbon-copies of their Soviet counterparts. The Political Bureau with its numerous committees, its Elite Consensus decision-making model, its rubber-stamp parliament, and especially the imbalance between the actual concentration of power in a small political elite and the pageantry of a mass electoral system, would be eminently familiar to Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria, and Georgy Malenkov.
The rulers of today’s Soviet-style states understand the geopolitical reality of autocratic power. Small autocracies can survive a significant amount of external pressure. Small pariah states can navigate the global landscape. Rhodesia and South Africa survived despite decades of international pressure, collapsing only in the context of a broader strategic competition. Libya and North Korea withstood, and in the latter’s, context still rumbles on, despite significant isolation. Their concerns are smaller, their leaders can, relatively speaking, maximize their internal control and ensure they process enough resources to shield their political economies from total ruin. By contrast, a state as massive as Russia or China will be subject to the pressures and stresses of a global system.
Prior to the Eurasianization of international trade, it was possible to monopolize one small corner of the world, even as a major power. But in a thoroughly internationalized economic system, one that stands on free trade and liberal commercial principles, the stresses of international interaction are too great. The paradox of power is that, with states as massive as Russia or China, the system must be reordered across Eurasia to ensure their domestic political systems can survive. This, in turn, requires the destruction of the U.S.-led international system.
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Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute. He served as a naval officer and as deputy Undersecretary of the Navy and is the author of Mayday and Seablindness.