Russia, China, India: A New Strategic Triangle for a New Cold War?

Article excerpt

Russia's inability to impede the eastward expansion of NATO and its frustration over NATO's unilateral military action in Kosovo have forced Moscow to seek closer strategic understanding with China and India. While Yevgeny Primakov's controversial reference to a "strategic triangle" among Russia, China, and India might not materialize, it is a fact that each of these states is involved in a somewhat similar dynamic. Each is consolidating its relationship with the others, while also expanding its relations with the United States. In terms of strategic payoffs, this partnership will yield them, at a minimum, enhanced benefits of bilateral cooperation with each other and, at a maximum, it can serve to circumscribe US influence. This potential partnership is a blueprint for the next Cold War and poses a threat that could affect the lives of everyone in the United States in a significant way. This article discusses the motivation for a triangular strategic partnership among Russia, China, and India, the challenges to US international strategy resulting from such a partnership, and suggestions for avoiding a return to the days of Cold War tensions.

Of course any speculation about future international relations must be made with caution in the weeks and months after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. At this writing, it is unclear what will be the full course of the US retaliation for those acts of terror, and how other nations around the globe will ultimately respond.

Motivation for an Alliance

Joint opposition to Western dominance is one motivation for a Russia-China-India strategic partnership. NATO enlargement, as well as the West's renewed strategic interest in the southern republics of the former USSR, became a new powerful catalyst for Russia's move eastward. In November 1995, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev warned that in response to NATO's planned eastward expansion, Russia would also turn to its east to seek new allies.(1) It was conceived in Moscow that the strengthening of ties with China would lead to the formation of a new balance of power in Asia that could be advantageous to Russia. Plans were made for a strategic partnership not only with China, but also with India and Iran. One of the goals of such an alliance would be to prevent the West from gaining a foothold in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The progress reached in Russian-Chinese-Indian relations in recent years cannot be attributed purely to their joint opposition to a unipolar, US-dominated world. Such an approach would be simplistic and would underestimate the great potential for complementary ties--military, economic, political, and cultural-- among the three neighbors sharing more than 4,000 kilometers of common border.

Operation Allied Force spurred Russia and India to consolidate their friendship further, with the two countries signing a Declaration of Strategic Partnership and other agreements of importance during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in the first week of October 2000. Military technical cooperation, joint research and development, and training constitute the main aspects of the strategic partnership. This partnership brings Russia and India another step closer to a triangular strategic alliance with China. (2) India and Russia pledged to work together for the establishment of a multipolar world based on the sovereign equality of all states. The two sides expressed their "determined opposition to the unilateral use or threat of use of force in violation of the UN Charter, and to intervention in the internal affairs of other states, including under the guise of humanitarian intervention." (3) This reflected the general unease in the international community about NATO's war on Yugoslavia a nd the economic blockade against Iraq.

Military sales play a prominent role in the relationship. During 1990-1996, India's arms purchases from Russia totaled $3. …