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Thank NATO for the New Russia-China Pact

While the U.S.-led NATO alliance was pursuing its muddled approach to Russia, Russia and China started patching up the holes in their relationship.

Russia and China announced the formation of a “no-limits” partnership last week, the predictable consequence of America’s misguided policy towards post-Soviet Russia and ill-advised embrace of a rising China.

Putin and Xi publicized the agreement, spanning over 5,000 words in English, just before the two leaders were seen at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which  is under diplomatic boycott by the U.S. and other Western nations over the CCP’s human-rights abuses. “Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation,” the signatory nations said in a joint statement.

In the new bilateral pact, the nations pledged mutual support on issues that are sure to enflame the U.S. and its allies. Russia proclaimed its support of the One-China principle—the idea that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China—and expressed opposition to Taiwanese independence. For its part, China joined Russia’s call to end NATO enlargement. The pair also reiterated their opposition to the trilateral “AUKUS” agreement, which would help provide the Australians with nuclear-powered submarines, and “the advancement of U.S. plans to develop global missile [defense] and deploy its elements in various regions of the world, combined with capacity building of high-precision non-nuclear weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives.”

Further, China and Russia pledged to cooperate on the development of artificial intelligence, information security, and space technologies. The nations also unveiled an energy deal worth $117.5 billion that will bolster Russia’s gas exports to East Asia.

Evolving circumstances in Ukraine and the South China Sea provide the backdrop, and considerable incentive, for the new agreement between China and Russia. Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine over the past few months. The Biden administration has responded by announcing the deployment of about 3,000 additional U.S. troops to Europe, keeping another 8,500 on standby. Aside from the AUKUS agreement, things have grown more complicated in the South China Sea due to an increased number of Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and rumors that Washington might shed its strategic ambiguity with respect to Taiwan. These developments are the latest in a long line of miscalculations by the U.S. foreign policy apparatus over 30 years.

In 1949, many core European countries were still recovering from the Second World War. The Soviet Union was, too, but its economy had recovered more rapidly than expected and it was developing and testing nuclear weapons. Thus, trans-Atlanticists saw a need for a defensive alliance to stave off whatever territorial ambitions the Soviet Union had in Western Europe. Et voilà, NATO was born. Originally, the alliance had 12 members. Only one, Norway, shared a border with Russia. The Soviets responded with the creation of their own alliance, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955. By then, NATO had already added Greece, Turkey, and West Germany.

Thirty-six years later, increased pressure from the West and contradictions within the Soviet system resulted in the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The U.S. and its NATO allies outlasted the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact. Just like that, NATO’s raison d’être disappeared. NATO was forced to reckon with the consequences of victory. More than four decades of bureaucratic entrenchment and military-industrial expansion made the thought of ending NATO unpopular—not to mention the fact that the United States, unquestionably the leader of the NATO alliance, saw the alliance as a means to cement its global hegemony. 

So, instead of going out of business, NATO went out of area, wading into conflicts in the Middle East and micromanaging European instability. Since the fall of the USSR, NATO has pursued a dual track of diplomacy with Russia—simultaneously cooperating with Russia on its chosen campaigns to remain relevant and maintaining the Cold War frame that Russia is the main menace in Europe.

From 1994-1997, it appeared NATO and Russia were making real efforts to find areas of mutual cooperation. Russia entered into NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994, and three years later, the two parties signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, stating “the reasons why NATO and Russia believe that it is in their shared interest to cooperate more broadly and intensively.”

In 1999, however, NATO returned to its old ways, accepting Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic as members of the alliance. The move angered the Russians, as NATO expansion was still a sore point for even post-Soviet Russia. The Russians had already felt betrayed by the fact that, in subsequent negotiations between the USSR and president George H.W. Bush’s administration, then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s alleged promise to the USSR that NATO would move “not one inch” eastward never reappeared. NATO’s expansion in 1999 confirmed Russia’s fears. 

Nevertheless, NATO continued to court Russian cooperation. At the 2002 NATO Summit in Rome, the alliance and Russia signed another agreement to create the NATO-Russia Council, which produced results in issue areas such as counterterrorism.

Yet NATO continued to undercut its progress with Russia in other areas by its continued expansion. In 2004, NATO expanded for the fifth time, adding Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), two of which share a border with Russia. NATO then made Albania and Croatia members in 2009, Montenegro in 2017, and North Macedonia as recently as 2020. “Not one inch” turned into nearly 1,000 miles pretty quickly.

Russia believes NATO expansion won’t end there. Given the precedent NATO has set, it’s hard to blame them. In fact, NATO and some of its key member states like the U.S. have openly expressed desires to keep expanding up to Russia’s western border. NATO has been courting Ukraine and Georgia, two vital nations in the Russian cultural imagination, since 1994.

While the U.S.-led NATO alliance was pursuing its muddled, incoherent approach to Russia, Russia and China started patching up the holes in their relationship left by the Sino-Soviet split. The two nations solved a decades-long border dispute, increased trade in vital industries like machine goods, textiles, energy, and other natural resources. The U.S. encouraged China’s rise to global prominence by, among other things, allowing it to enter the World Trade Organization. As one Joe Biden said in 2011, “a rising China is a positive, positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large.”

Which brings us to the present moment, in which the trans-Atlantic foreign policy elites, bolstered by their beneficiaries in the military-industrial complex, refuse to offer any prudent course-correction to prevent the formation of a full-fledged axis against the United States. This could end with America’s sons and daughters dying overseas to solve the problems they created. But it doesn’t have to.



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