In a speech at last week’s annual conference of the Center for a New American Security, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Russia and China as presenting a common challenge to the U.S.-backed “global order,” a characterization that echoes that of various Western think tanks and scholars in recent months. Elaborating, Blinken said, “In both eastern Ukraine and the South China Sea, we’re witnessing efforts to unilaterally and coercively change the status quo . . .” The United States, he said, would counter by “seizing America’s unique capacity to mobilize against common threats and lead the international community to meet them.”
It is true that Russia and China have pursued some similar revisionist strategies along with comparable “hybrid” techniques that have combined kinetic and nonmilitary instruments. However, the two countries differ in certain of their national strategies, assets and tactics. An effective approach to managing their combined and separate challenges must reflect not only these similarities, but also the differences.
Both countries’ revisionism is fueled by a combination of principle and opportunism. The governments of Russia and China are genuinely dissatisfied with various elements of the U.S.-led global order, which they believe unduly constrains their power and prestige. Both have promoted alternative institutions and norms that they consider more favorable.