What's Behind the New Chinese-Russian-Iranian Alliance?

As the world awaits the outcome of the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran due on November 24th in Vienna, Austria, what is one to make out of Russia's decision to build two further nuclear reactors at the Bushehr in Iran with the possibility of six more in the future? The answer lies in Russia's determination to challenge the United States leadership and counter Western's efforts to isolate the Iranian regime.

The agreement between Iran and Russia came at a critical time as the West debates two key provisions: (a) what options the West has in case negotiations with Iran fail, and (b) whether the West will move forward with imposing additional sanctions on Russia. The West argues that Iran is working toward building a nuclear bomb, while Iran is challenging this assertion claiming its nuclear program, including the uranium enrichment activities, is intended for energy and medical sectors. What is at the heart of the matter is that the West wants Iran to limit its enriched uranium threshold below the level that allows it to produce a nuclear bomb. And that is exactly where the impasse between the West and Iran stands.

While the main objective of the West is not to allow the emergence of another nuclear state in the Middle East besides Israel, my analysis suggests these efforts might not yield the desired results the West and the United States -- for that matter -- hopes for. In light of the ongoing U.S. tense diplomatic relations with Russia over its annexation of Crimea, conventional wisdom suggests that the West's ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear pogrom provides the perfect political, diplomatic, and economic opportunity for Russia to further its geopolitical aspirations. President Vladimir Putin's vision includes (a) ability to reclaim lost territories following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991; (b) revival of the bipolar world order in which the USA and Russia played the dominant role on world stage; (c) Russia's ability to, once again, expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America; and (d) the call by Mr. Putin for rearmament and reorganization of the Russian military apparatus. While this might seem too ambitious and over optimistic on part of Mr. Putin, we should neither be naïve nor underestimate his determination to keep marching forward toward achieving his objectives.

I strongly believe the latest economic and diplomatic rapprochement between China and Russia is not only a response, at least from Putin's perspective, to sanctions the West continues to impose on Russia, but also a direct challenge to the United States leadership in the region. The $400 billion deal in natural gas both countries signed is a clear indication how Russia wants to avoid Western sanctions and save its economy from collapsing. The issue, however, goes beyond that. The reference is to the possibility of a military cooperation between the emerging China and the well established Russia which, I'll argue, will undermine America's leadership in Asia. Both countries understand that the U.S. entanglement in the Middle East provides an opportunity to strengthen their political, economic, and military alliance as America's credibility and global leadership is declining. What makes the matter even more challenging is that previous U.S. administrations have been warned not to antagonize emerging powers such as China and Russia. I could not agree more with former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski's, assertion in which he warned against such undertaking to avoid the outcome we are currently witnessing: A Chinese-Russian-Iranian alliance.

These dynamics suggest that the world has not reached the end of its history of conflicts, thus challenging American political scientist Francis Fukuyama's famous theory. Two decades ago he predicted that the rise of liberal democracies in which we the people played key roles in vigorous Western-styled capitalism would bring us enduring stability. Who 20 years ago could imagine what we see today? Fukuyama and others who concluded that Western liberal democracy triumphed following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991 were wrong. The rise of China; the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States; the invasion of Iraq; the war in Afghanistan; the financial crisis of 2008; the Arab Spring; the civil war in Syria; the fall out of the military coup in Egypt; the seemingly eternal Arab-Israeli conflict; and the turmoil in Libya all prove Fukuyama and others were way too optimistic.

It is time for the United States to engage in an honest debate and assess how it conducts its foreign policy as international dynamics have fundamentally changed. What I found perplexing and alarming is how the United States chose to turn a blind eye on the military coup in Egypt that ousted the only democratically elected president, but decided to apply sanctions on Russia when it annexed Crimea. There might not be a parallel comparison between the two illustrations, but they certainly share a commonality: U.S. foreign policy double standards.