The Future Belongs to Authoritarian States

After the great Western victory over the Soviet Union in 1991, many echoed Frances Fukiyama's view that the future belonged to liberal democratic states. And, much like after the Western victories in World War I and World War II, there was a period of significant expansion of democratic regimes around the world after 1991. But, now, 25 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the period of expansion of democratic regimes has similarly come to an end. Indeed, the three major rising powers in the world today -- Communist People's Republic of China, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- all have anti-democratic repressive regimes. All three revel in the glorious history of their ancient empires and predecessors: Imperial China for 2,000 years; Persian Empire for 2,500 years; and Tsarist Russia for 430 years. All wish to resurrect key aspects of those empires, old and modern. The Chinese Communists glorify Confucianism, Russia trumpets its Imperial ancestors and Iran stresses its Islamic history. Each claims significant territory of its imperial roots. China claims 700,000 square miles of the Russian Far East, and control of the South China Sea and East China Sea. Russia quietly claims parts of the 14 independent republics of the Soviet Union that it lost in the late 1980s and Iran openly claims Iraq so much that it wants to move its capital from Tehran to Iraq's Baghdad. All three have been working on their militaries and sending them into action. Russia, spending $80 billion on its military, has sent its military to wrest Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia (2008) and Crimea and parts of Left Bank Ukraine from Ukraine (2014-2016). China, spending $100-150 billion on its military, is claiming almost the entire South China Sea where it is building major military bases on rocky outcroppings. Iran, which has upped its military spending to 17 billion dollars, has its forces and allies (such as Hizbollah) in action in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen in what is called the Shiite Crescent. In addition, each country is emulating earlier rising powers in expanding its military bases abroad. While the United States has bases in over 50 countries, Russia has bases in 12 countries, including Crimea, Syria, Georgia and parts of Ukraine. China just opened its first overseas military basehttp://www.wsj.com/articles/china-builds-first-overseas-military-outpost-1471622690 in Djibouti and has declared its intention to build a network of bases abroad. Iran has bases through its allies in the Middle East. All three have worked hard on their nuclear weapons projects. China exploded its first nuclear weapon in the early 1960s and now is expanding its heretofore modest nuclear capabilities. Russia still retains 1,790 operational nuclear weapons, just topping the United States. Iran has been working on nuclear weapons since the mid 1980s and, thanks to the liberal American deal, should be able to gain nuclear weapons in the next decade. The three countries are also using their economic resources. China, with a $10 trillion economy, is expanding its economic reach to places in East Asia and much of Africa. Russia is trying - though so far without success -- to rebuild the old Russian-dominated equivalent of the EU with the 14 former republics of the Soviet Union before 1991. The Iran economy, with only $400 billion GDP, is using its economic resources to harden support for it in the Shiite Crescent. Finally, the three countries often work together against a common enemy: the United States. Russia is selling its S-300 anti-missile defense system to Iran and using an Iranian base for its bombers to attack Bashar Assad's enemies in Syria. Russia and China have multibillion trade relations. China is rather behind Russia in dealing with Syria but this will probably change. The next decade or two may well see the three powers gaining more prominence. But all three countries have economic difficulties and their rise will increasingly prompt other countries to oppose them -- most of all the United States globally, India, Japan, Vietnam and perhaps Taiwan in Asia, and Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. But, for now their rise as authoritarian powers will threaten democratic powers and breed increasing clashes in the international arena.