Wherever the US looks, says Hal Brands in Bloomberg, “its geopolitical rivals are making common cause”. Earlier this year, Russia and China signed a strategic partnership “without limits” – one that involves “robust arms sales, military exercises and technological cooperation”. Iran has been helping the Russians in Ukraine, “reportedly giving Moscow drones and lessons in sanctions evasion”, in exchange for help with its satellite programme and preferential access to grain supplies. Tehran and Beijing have their own relationship “several decades in the making”, which they formalised into a 25-year cooperation programme in 2021.
These ties aren’t like the dozens of formal military alliances America has made around the world. The three countries have made no public commitments to defend one another, and their interactions are “suffused with mistrust”. Whereas it’s impossible to see, say, America and the UK becoming enemies, it is “all too easy” to imagine these “expansionist autocracies” falling out. But that’s not the point. The question is whether these warming relationships are changing the “strategic landscape” – to which the answer is undoubtedly yes. Moscow, Tehran and Beijing know “there is strength in numbers when it comes to challenging a superpower: they can put American power under strain on multiple fronts at once”. That’s cause for concern, “whether they – and we – call it an alliance or not”.