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The Unholy Alliance vs. Pax Americana
Yes, the designs of Russia, Iran, and China are part of the same fight, and the outcome of this fight will set the tone for world peace or spiraling regional instability for the rest of the century.
At first glance, Russia, Iran, and China seem to have little in common. They are not united by political ideology, the way the global Communist revolutionaries were during the Cold War. They are not united by a radical theology, as the Islamist militants and terrorists were during the Global War on Terror. Communist China, Nationalist Russia, and Islamist Iran are not natural allies and, in many ways, seem more natural enemies.
Russia is a decadent and largely non-church-attending society ruled by a former Soviet thug who maintains his power through networks of powerful oligarchs supporting his rule. The sense of purpose in Russian aggression under Putin largely takes its cues from Stalinist nationalism, sans Communism, and the even older legacy of the Russian empire. These realities of Russia hardly seem complementary to Iranian theocracy or Chinese Communism.
Iran has been led by committed Islamist militancy since the revolution of 1979, brutally enforcing the most extreme form of religious orthodoxy on its population and exporting both militancy and terrorism to the Middle Eastern region and the world. Russia’s moral decadence and China’s Communist commitment to placing the state ahead of any moralistic considerations would seem to place them in the crosshairs of Iranian designs more than anything.
China has now been committedly Communist since 1949. To the CCP, thou shalt place no other Gods before Mao. And their sense of Sinocentricity in how the world works, or at least should work, makes them uneasy allies with anybody (even during the Cold War, China and the Soviet Union were far less committed partners than might be assumed given ideological commitments).
So, what unites these disparate countries into the “unholy alliance,” the term many of us are beginning to use for their growing cooperation? It is this: their joint commitment to challenging and dismantling the Pax Americana that stands in the way of their various designs for regional hegemony.
It is difficult for current generations to appreciate the unusual status quo of international affairs that has existed since the end of World War II. We are now more removed from the devastation of world war than the flappers of the ‘20s were from the killing fields of the American Civil War. It is exceedingly hard for modern conventions to understand a world where wars of conquest were nearly perpetual and where regional instability could explode into global conflict overnight.
By the end of World War II, America’s military might and manpower had been the deciding factor in prosecuting two world wars to victorious conclusion, and its industrial base and power were virtually untouched (while all the rest of the industrial world lay in ashes). And with the descent of the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe and the rise of Communist China in Asia, the Cold War immediately ensued. America was thrust into the role of “leader of the free world” in opposition to Communist designs for world revolution, whether it wanted to be or not.
While the specter of global conflict perpetually hung over the world during the Cold War, the second half of the 20th Century nevertheless ended up looking quite different from the first half. Under America’s global leadership, a world order arose in opposition to the Communists built on sovereignty and self-determination. These values discredited the designs for conquest and empire, delegitimizing aggression and wars of dominance not only of Communist designs but of all irresponsible actors. The stark difference in sheer terms of wars, death, and territorial acquisition by the sword between 1900-1949 and 1950-2000 presents one of the most night and day adjacent periods in world history. Thus, the term Pax Americana.
But the post-Cold War era has presented a challenge for America’s conception of itself. At times overly certain of itself, America over-extended its military commitments (such as in Somalia or Iraq). At other times, completely hesitant to lead, America failed to act altogether (such as Rwanda, the early rise of ISIS, or Russia’s early aggression against Ukraine). Specifically, three successive US Presidents who exhibited retreatist tendencies (Obama, Trump, and Biden) have led to an unprecedented vacuum in world leadership. That vacuum has been filled with aggressive actors across the world, with the largest and most powerful being Russia, Iran, and China.
Pax Americana stands upon the edge of a knife, and the unholy alliance of Russia, Iran, and China believe they are on the cusp of dismantling it altogether. Each of them directly challenges sovereignty and self-determination in their spheres of influence, seeking to shred these enshrined values that avoided global conflict in the post-WW2 world. Their various regional designs would overturn Pax Americana and return the world to a time where the rise and fall of nations was decided by the sword, and the weak succumbed to the dominance of the strong.
While there are many who recognize the threat coming from Russia, Iran, or China, there are surprisingly few who are willing or able to understand the joint threat they all present as an unholy alliance with shared and cooperative goals to dismantle the Pax Americana. A troubling trend on all sides of the political equation is the desire to splice the unholy alliance. Many on the right, for example, are hawkish on China but dismissive of Russia. And on the left, we’ve seen a dramatic rally to the defense of Ukraine but a stunning lack of moral clarity, and even moral bankruptcy, in response to the October 7th pogrom perpetuated by Hamas.
But the unavoidable reality of today’s international situation is that if Russia wins in Ukraine, China and Iran win. If Hamas, and Iran, by extension, wins in Israel, Russia and China win. If China wins in Taiwan, Russia and Iran win. And if any of these actors succeed in their designs to undermine sovereignty and self-determination in their respective spheres, America and the world lose because Pax Americana will have unraveled to a troubling degree.
The history of the 20th Century tells us that avoiding World War III, the ostensible desire of extreme isolationists, is a matter of maintaining the Pax Americana, not abandoning its perpetuation and defense. And the Pax Americana was established and maintained through strength, deterrence, and willingness to act in support of regional allies against the designs of disruptive and aggressive forces. The policies of appeasement, retreatism, and isolationism will not avoid broader conflict or “keep us out of World War III,” they are invitations to aggressive actors to dismantle the premises of Pax Americana and recreate the regional and global conditions that predicated the era of world war before America asserted itself as the leader of the free world.
We are presently engaged in both a hot and cold contest on the world stage between democracy and authoritarianism, between sovereignty and dominance, between peace and ongoing war and conquest. Today, Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan are the literal frontlines in the fight to preserve peace, freedom, and prosperity in our time. We can not afford anything short of victory against the designs to descend us into a new age of conquest and empire.
Justin Stapley received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Utah Valley University, with emphases in Political Philosophy and Public Law, American History, and Constitutional Studies. He is the Founding and Executive Director of the Freemen Foundation as well as Editor in Chief of the Freemen News-Letter. @JustinWStapley