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Evil, yes, but hardly an “axis”

Not much in common: Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Kim Jong-un

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the West over the growing “bonhomie” between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Is this “loose and putative” group becoming a genuine rival to our own? Come off it. The West is a “coherent entity”. It is largely made up of Christian or post-Christian nations, each practising a form of democratic capitalism. And it is held together not just by these “abstract values”, but by long-standing treaties and institutions. Nato has been around since 1949; the European project almost as long. Western countries “are willing to foot a bill – in membership fees, sovereign freedom and ultimately blood – for their geopolitical team”.

Contrast that with their rivals. Nothing at all unites Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang. The group includes “secular communists and the world’s leading theocracy”. They have no Nato or EU-style institution requiring “tangible sacrifices” from members. Even the “one shibboleth of autocrats” – state sovereignty – barely holds after the invasion of Ukraine. Of course, it “takes a while for states to congeal into an axis”. But look at the last two times democracies have come under threat from an autocratic grouping: in World War Two, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact “didn’t make it to its second anniversary”; in the Cold War, Mao and Khrushchev began diverging over Marxist doctrine “as soon as the 1950s”. We obviously shouldn’t ignore the threat from our adversaries. But hailing them as another “axis of evil” gives them much more credit than they deserve.