In the first post-cold war decade, the international system has experienced a period of relative peace among the great powers not seen since the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic wars nearly two hundred years ago. The United States is enjoying a period of international dominance even greater than that after World War II, and there is no imaginable competitor on the horizon for at least a decade or two. The most economically and technologically advanced countries in Europe and Asia, which aligned with the United States during the cold war, continue to ride the bandwagon of U.S. power. Imminent decisions that the Bush administration will make on key security issues, including nuclear arms reductions, national missile defense, and further NATO expansion, will have considerable influence in shaping the policies of existing and emerging great powers with ambivalent attitudes toward the United States--notably Russia, China, and India. The system may look overwhelmingly unipolar today, but history suggests that such moments are ephemeral, and we should expect and prepare for a more complex and perhaps dangerous multipolarity to emerge in the first quarter of the new century.(1) Russia, China, and India all express support for a multipolar international system not dominated by the United States, and rhetorical support for multipolarity has been a staple of joint statements issued in recent years after Russian summits with China and India.
In 1997, I concluded that the emergence of some kind of Eurasian, anti-United States security alliance led by Russia and China was a highly unlikely scenario that could only come about as a result of "a series of major foreign and security policy blunders by the United States and its allies."(2) Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of the U.S.-British bombing of Iraq in December 1998, the expansion of NATO's membership and mission, and the 1999 Kosovo war, but the net result is further alienation of Russia from the West--which has been codified in Russia's foreign and security policy doctrines enunciated in 2000.(3) In December 1998, just after the Anglo-American bombing of Iraq, then-Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, in New Delhi, broached the vague notion of a "strategic triangle" composed of Russia, China, and India that would serve as a stabilizing force in international security.(4) The proposal was not received with great enthusiasm in either Beijing or New Delhi, and most Western commentators similarly did not take it very seriously for a number of masons. A triangular strategic alliance is not imminent, but the coincidence of interests among China, Russia, and India has grown in the past three years. For Russia, the "strategic partnerships" it is developing bilaterally with China and India constitute increasingly important components of its overall foreign policy.
Before discussing the significance of Russia's strategic partnerships with China and India, I must point out the obvious yet crucial point that Russia today enjoys no alliance relationship with any state remotely resembling a great power. Not since the short-lived Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s has Moscow embraced another great power in an alliance relationship, and since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact Russia has been bereft of alliance partners except among failing or deeply troubled states. In the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the founding of the independent Russian Federation, Russian liberals, including many in the Yeltsin government, anticipated, if not an alliance, then a close partnership between the United States and Russia that would provide a stable foundation for a "new world order," to borrow the rhetoric of the first Bush administration. Those hopes foundered on the shoals of Russia's traumatic domestic economic plight and its opposition to numerous U.S. and NATO policies, most notably in the Kosovo war in 1999.(6)
To date, Moscow has not been successful in shaping the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into an effective alliance or even quasi alliance. …