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Exit from HegemonyThe Unraveling of the American Global Order$

Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190916473

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190916473.001.0001

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Exit from Above

Exit from Above

Russia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

(p.80) 4 Exit from Above
Exit from Hegemony

Alexander Cooley

Daniel Nexon

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Russia and China are engaged in substantial efforts to contest existing international architecture while building alternative infrastructure. A desire for greater influence and status drives some of these efforts. At the same time, a number of autocratic regimes, including Russia and China, now consider international political liberalism—especially when supported by the United States—as a direct threat to their security. Moscow and Beijing first developed ways of insulating themselves against liberalizing pressure. They next turned to contesting and reversing that international political liberalism. This chapter traces specific ways that Moscow and Beijing have “exited from above,” such as via the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It shows how such efforts have already transformed the ecology of international order, creating a parallel “world without the West” and disrupting the jurisdictions and functions of existing, more liberal, international government organizations.

Keywords:   Russia, China, New Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Color Revolutions, Arab Spring, counter-norms, election monitoring, democratic backsliding

In April 1997, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese General Secretary Jiang Zemin signed a declaration in Moscow that pledged “to promote the multipolarization of the world and the establishment of a new international order.”1 At the time, the declaration attracted little attention from American policymakers who, during the previous year, had aggressively supported Yeltsin in his 1996 re-election bid and were busy laying the groundwork to admit China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a full member. In a now forgotten op-ed, former US secretary of state and realpolitik advisor Henry Kissinger warned that Clinton administration officials lacked an appreciation of the structural balance of power. In their post–Cold War euphoria, Kissinger charged, Washington had allowed Russia and China to separate themselves from the US orbit.2

Twenty years later, Kissinger’s observations appear prescient, but with a twist: Russia and China managed their rise as strategic competitors to the United States primarily by targeting international infrastructure that benefits American power while constructing their own alternatives. These efforts accelerated considerably following the Ukraine crisis in 2014, when Moscow theatrically pivoted toward the East; but the building blocks of this cooperation were well in place even before the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

(p.81) Both Russia and China now refer to the “multipolar world” in two ways: as the state of the current international order and as one of their key foreign-policy priorities. Both call for the “democratization of international relations,” oppose unilateral US action, seek an elevated international status, and denounce Western hypocrisy—especially the American self-image as a promoter of political “values” such as democracy and human rights. For Russian policymakers, the quest for a multipolar (or polycentric) world is intimately tied to its broader desire for status as a great power, one with a regional sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and position as a global player.3 China’s rhetoric has, to date, become more assertive since the rise to power of President Xi Jinping. Some believe that Beijing has abandoned the principle of “peaceful rise,” in favor of flexing its geopolitical muscles while asserting its preferences in the system of global governance.4

Russia and China both worry that the American hegemonic system, particularly if unchecked, poses a threat to their geostrategic interests. Russia faces NATO to its west, China a system of American-centered alliances and partnerships to its east and south. Both Moscow and Beijing view a number of the liberal norms and standards baked into current global governance arrangements—particularly involving human and political rights, democracy, and transparency—as threats to their regimes. They both would like to see the architecture of the post-US international order oriented toward stronger norms of sovereignty and non-interference, at least as it concerns the rights of citizens.5

Thus, while Russia and China do not yet form a classic alliance, their cooperation has so far proven durable and adaptive. It has increased in scope across different governance arenas (security, economic, cultural, and informational) and regions (Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East). Yet the notion of Russia and China forming a counter-hegemonic and order-revising entente continues to meet with some skepticism, especially within Western academic and policy communities. This skepticism focuses on three main objections.

First, skeptics argue that regardless of whether Moscow or Beijing intends to disrupt the American hegemonic system, both would still like to preserve key aspects of existing international order. They contend that while China, in particular, seeks greater accommodation, voice, and influence when it comes to international ordering, it does not want to upset the main institutions of the international order; it seeks to “play by the rules of the game.”6

(p.82) Second, some focus on the relative capabilities of Russia and China, respectively, arguing that they lack the military and economic power to actually dislodge the United States from its dominant position in world politics, let alone undermine the American system or fundamentally alter the architecture of international order. In many Washington think tanks and policy circles, analysts dismiss Russia as a “declining power” with only regional reach. A number of recent studies seek to dispel the notion that China’s rising trajectory will ensure its superiority in military, technological, or other domains.7

Third, another group of scholars and analysts argues that the China-Russia relationship is itself fraught, merely an “axis of convenience.”8 The superficial entente masks a number of ways in which Moscow and Beijing compete with one another, Russian insecurities about becoming a junior partner to China, and historical legacies of distrust that, over the long run, cannot be overcome by common concerns about American power. At some point, the argument goes, Sino-Russian rivalry will likely reassert itself.

In this chapter, we argue that Russia and China, both as individual and cooperating challengers, have already undermined liberal international ordering in several critical ways. The question of whether “China or Russia will play by the rules” is already overtaken by events. In the UN’s General Assembly, China and Russia voted the same way 77.4 percent of the time (China voted only 24.5 percent of the time with the United States) between 1991 and 2005; between 2006 and 2018, that number rose to 85.4 percent of the time (versus China’s voting 22.2 percent with the United States).9

The question also misses the point. Beijing and Moscow are already altering the ecology of the international order. They have introduced a number of new international and regional organizations, forwarded counter-norms within global governance institutions, and undertaken unilateral military and economic actions aimed at redefining international understandings of what constitutes “shared rules.”

Measures of Chinese and Russian military capabilities and spending matter, but raw military power is only one element of the broader toolkits by which Moscow and Beijing influence their immediate regional environments and project power and influence farther afield. Along the way, they have learned from both successes and failures. Moreover, even if ongoing and future Russian and Chinese efforts to promote their own respective (p.83) global projects end in failure or stagnation,10 they will still have contributed significantly to alterations in international ecology. They will also continue to do so, even if the United States remains, in terms of gross capabilities, a major power without serious peer competitors.

Finally, we agree that growing asymmetry characterizes the China-Russia relationship. Moscow does fear that it has become Beijing’s “junior partner” and that its relative position will continue to erode.11 But that very growing power imbalance is, for now, less a source of tension than a catalyst for their joint efforts to target international order. In essence, and over a growing number of issue areas, Moscow has increasingly accommodated itself to China’s strategic ambitions and initiatives and redefined its own foreign policy interests in the process. These efforts reflect a deliberate effort to mitigate potential areas of tension and rivalry.

Altering the Global Governance Ecology: The Rise of Post-Western Regional Organizations

Dreaming of the BRICS

In June 2001, Jim O’Neill, chief economist of the prominent investment bank Goldman Sachs, released a highly influential report in which he argued that the international institutions of governing the global economy no longer represented the changing distribution of world economic power.12 O’Neill specifically singled out the rapid growth and economic rise of four emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The “BRIC” group (as he termed them) should be represented in an upgraded G7 “in order to allow more effective policymaking.”13 The grouping was first realized in 2006 when, at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the foreign ministers of these same countries founded an informal group that met on the sides of the UN General Assembly.14

In 2009, in the midst of the disruptive global financial crisis and in the high-profile G-20 meeting that year, the BRIC group held its first formal diplomatic gathering in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Though, the group’s initial communiqué does not explicitly make reference to the United States or “the West,” the document does use the Sino-Russian formulation: the signatories (p.84) pledged to support a more democratic and just multipolar world order, one based on the rule of international law, equality, mutual respect, cooperation, coordinated action, and collective decision making of all states.15 Two years later, the group admitted South Africa. The BRICS became, at least for a time, an actual thing.

Since 2009, the BRICS have held annual summits, rotating through the member countries. They have announced several high-profile global governance initiatives. Although it initially focused on fostering dialogue and coordination to weather the global financial crisis, the group came to promote “non-Western” global governance in an eclectic fashion. It continues to serve as an informal forum for consultations within the meetings of established international organizations such the WTO, IMF, and World Bank. At the same time, the group has also opposed US primacy in some global governance areas—most notably internet governance by the American private agency the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).16

In 2014 the group made headlines by founding the New Development Bank (NDB), an international financial organization paid for by the BRICS (but mainly by China). The NDB explicitly adopted as its institutional mission the funding of infrastructure in developing countries but without Western-style conditions.17 The group has also launched an extensive dialogue about monetary issues, including developing its own payment system to reduce dependence on the US-led SWIFT system.18

The future of the BRICS remains uncertain. Brazil backed it strongly while under left-wing leadership that vigorously embraced alternative-ordering building. In 2018, Brazil elected a right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro. Despite his own rejection of aspects of liberal ordering—early indications suggest Brazil is at high risk of serious democratic backsliding—Bolsonaro holds strong anti-China dispositions. Whether those translate into a demobilization of BRICS alternative-order building remains to be seen. Brazil’s foreign minister emphasized continuity after the BRICS summit in July of 2019.19 But the BRICS provide merely a single example of current trends; Beijing’s efforts to push the group in its preferred direction reflect a broader pattern. The BRICS represents one of a plethora of new regional and international fora, founded, and promoted by regional- and great-power challengers angling to expand their global influence and erode the power of Western institutions in global governance.

(p.85) New Organizations under Chinese and Russian Leadership: Developing Counter-Order Infrastructure

Russia began to craft its own regional institutions as a means of re-establishing its primacy and leadership over post-Soviet space in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The most important of these regional institutions are the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the security and defense field and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in the economic realm. For Moscow, leadership in these organizations provides infrastructure for asserting hegemony in its immediate neighborhood: its sphere of influence (or “privileged relations”), a pillar of Russian foreign policy publicly announced by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev shortly after the Russian military’s triumph in the August 2008 war with Georgia. In turn, establishing such a sphere of influence justifies Russia’s self-image as a great power in an increasingly multipolar, or polycentric, world.20

For China, the 2001 establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2001 provides a template for a non-Western organization dedicated to multilateral governance (liberal intergovernmentalism) but that places norms of noninterference over political liberalism in both the economic and security spheres. China also subsequently helped found the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB launched with 56 state members in 2016, with the mission of promoting lending for the purposes of investment in physical infrastructure.21

In addition, China has created a slew of new fora and dialogue groups to structure its engagement with overseas regions, including the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), founded in 2006, the Forum for Ministerial of China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which hosted its first ministerial forum in 2015, and the China-Central Eastern European States Cooperation forum, which launched the 16 + 1 group in 2012 that features 16 countries from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, including 11 EU members.22 Again, such efforts mimic the multilateral form, but not necessarily the political content, associated with liberal ordering.

We provide visual renderings of the network properties of these new Russian and Chinese-led IGO (intergovernmental organization) infrastructures in Figures 4.1 and 4.2 (with a detailed list of these (p.86) organizations and their membership in Appendix 1 at the end of the chapter).

Exit from AboveRussia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

Figure 4.1 Percentage Increase in Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) Co-membership with Russia from 1999 to 2018 (through organizations in Chapter 4, Appendix 1)

Exit from AboveRussia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

Figure 4.2 Percentage Increase in Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) Co-membership with China from 1999 to 2018 (through organizations in Chapter 4, Appendix 1)

Taken together, these renderings suggest an increasingly dense networking of non-Western IGOs, especially in regions such as Central, South, and Southeast Asia, underscoring that the that the international ecology of these areas is becoming both more dense (with a growing number of IGOs) and contested (with more Russian- and Chinese-led groups whose norms and values are, in some domains, incongruent with those generally pushed by liberal-democratic states)

(p.87) Observers vociferously debate the implications of all these new regional organizations. For now, American and Western European leaders refuse to recognize or engage with the Russian-led CSTO and EAEU. In both cases, they point specifically to Russia’s coercive role in these organizations. Then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even dismissed the economic bloc as an attempt to reconstitute the Soviet Union.23 Similarly, analysis of much of Chinese-backed alternative infrastructure remains more speculative than grounded in strong evidence. The jury is still out on the SCO. It remains unclear whether new international lenders like the AIIB and the New Development Bank (NDB) will challenge or complement their Western counterparts, such as the World Bank and IMF.

Russian and Chinese scholars tend to represent these “post-Western” regional organizations and their significance in very different ways.24 Russian scholars like to portray groups like the BRICS and EAEU as challengers to Bretton Woods institutions, even while noting how they often attempt to mimic their Western counterparts.25 Chinese scholars usually adopt a more measured tone, presenting new organizations like the AIIB and NDB as complementary to existing international institutions and the roles that they play in global governance.26 Some evidence suggests that Chinese-led development banks are adopting similar practices to, and cooperating with, the World Bank. This suggests that we should see the AIIB and the NDB as more of a response to Beijing’s lack of clout in older international development institutions than a desire to “ ‘change the rules.” China “has an effective veto in” the AIIB, and the NDB gives the BRICS a voice that they lack in the Bretton Woods institutions.27 But, as we argue below, even if such alternative-order building does not directly contest existing ordering principles, it still has implications for the American hegemonic system and the broader ecology of international order.

How New Organizations Transform the Ecology of Global Governance

How are such Russian- and Chinese-led institutions transforming the liberal international order? We see two major ways: first, by networking among themselves and, second, by disrupting the functional activities and jurisdictional reach of Western-controlled IGOs.

(p.88) Defining the Contours of the World without the West

First, as new regional organizations proliferate, they establish mutual contacts and confer recognition upon one another. Their contacts, dialogues, and cooperative initiatives with other non-Western organizations contribute to a networked infrastructure that bypasses, or at least parallels, the existing “Western” infrastructure. Barma, Weber, and Ratner refer to this process as the creation of a “world without the West,” and note that these networks take on particular significance as they come to comprise a greater share of overall global governance and economic exchange.28 In our terms, they add up to a major shift in the ecology of international order.

Russian- and Chinese-led international organizations treat mutual recognition as a high institutional priority, and thus emphasize various forms of coordination among elements of new infrastructure, including holding plenty of joint summits and meetings. For example, the 2015 BRICS summit (in Ufa, Russia) took the form of a joint summit with the SCO and the EAEU, while the SCO takes care to list its memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with various UN bodies, the CSTO, ASEAN, CICA, and even the Red Cross.29 Moreover, all of these groups appear committed to expanding their membership and external partnerships.

After the EAEU launched, it sparked an argument over whether the United States and the European Union (EU) should confer legitimacy on the group by engaging with it, despite its own self-image as a regional counterweight to the EU within the post-Soviet space.30 Western reluctance to engage helped push Moscow to seek partnerships more globally. The EAEU concluded a free trade agreement with Vietnam (in 2016) and has reached accords to negotiate similar agreements with Iran, Egypt, and Serbia. At the same time, Moscow has undermined its own rhetoric about the EAEU by, for instance, bypassing consultations with other members when it imposed countersanctions on EU agricultural products in 2014.31 The United States aggressively but unsuccessfully opposed the AIIB at the behest of its Treasury Department but, as noted above, the AIIB, now boasts a framework for co-financing projects with the World Bank and cooperative memoranda of understanding with both established and new international financial institutions including the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Eurasian Development Bank, and New Development Bank.32

Russian- and Chinese-led institutions also alter international order by producing new intergovernmental groupings and new forms of interactions (p.89) among states that were previously unaccustomed to dealing with one another. Such state groupings amount to important geopolitical constructions. In hegemonic systems their formation and boundaries owe much to the ordering efforts of the leading power. As international-relations scholar Peter Katzenstein shows, and we discussed in Chapter 2, American hegemony rests on regional groupings of alliances and proxy powers: a multilateral system with Germany in Europe and a hubs-and-spokes systems with Japan as its center in Asia.33 But as Figure 4.3 reveals, from 1999 to 2018 the growth of state ties with Russian- and Chinese-led IGOs as a percentage of their overall IGO affiliations is particularly acute in Central and South Asia. Interestingly, about half of these countries exhibit new network ties with predominantly Chinese IGOs, about half with Russian and Chinese-led IGOs, but very few with the Russian-only group. In other words, the network map suggests that while we are seeing a considerable increase in non-Western ordering infrastructure, very little of it exists within a clear, exclusive Russian sphere of influence.

Exit from AboveRussia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

Figure 4.3 Combined Increase in Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) Co-membership with Russia and China from 1999 to 2018 (through organizations in Chapter 4, Appendix 1)

Because the BRICS is perhaps the most prominent of these new “post-Western” groupings, it has spawned some imitators—such as the next tier of emerging economies, also identified by O’Neill as the “MIST” (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey).34 The Trump administration’s abandonment of the TPP accelerated negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Trade Partnership (RCEP), a mega-trade agreement of 16 states comprising 50 percent of global GDP that would link China with Japan and (p.90) include India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members.35

On the security front, beginning in 2016 China has convened annual meetings of the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM), a counterterrorism group dedicated to training and information sharing. Its membership includes China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. This grouping is interesting for two reasons. First, the countries are either confirmed or rumored hosts for Chinese military or counterterrorism facilities. Second, it cuts across traditional groupings of South Asia, post-Soviet Central Asia, and East Asia. Thus, it provides further indications of potential reconfigurations of the boundaries of regions. Similarly, the 2017 official expansion of the SCO to include Pakistan and India signaled a shift from the organization acting as a forum for cooperation in the post-Soviet Central Asian region to a much broader engagement with Eurasia and South Asia.36 In this light, Chinese efforts to resurrect and promote Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures (CICA) appears aimed at establishing an Asian-wide security dialogue that also adopts the language of “confronting unilateralism” and promoting “fairer multilateralism.”37

Disrupting Jurisdictions and Functions of Existing IGOs

By entering the ecology of international order, these new organizations also may disrupt the traditional activities of Western actors and undermine their ability to use membership in international organizations as carrots and sticks. Russia aimed to use the EAEU and CSTO as institutional mechanisms for checking the influence and activities of Western organizations in its perceived sphere of influence. Accordingly, in 2013 Russia openly pressured Armenia and Ukraine not to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership agreement and, instead, negotiate for membership in the EAEU. Similarly, European Commission officials in Brussels have treated the 16 + 1 initiatives with suspicion. They have expressed particular concern that China might leverage the forum—and promises of investment in European physical infrastructure—to water down EU common positions on China-related policy, such as human rights declarations.38 In the field of international election observation, across Eurasia, both the SCO and the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have, since 2003, sent election observation missions to member countries. These observers (p.91) consistently pronounce obviously flawed elections acceptably free and fair, or at least provide much more positive assessments than those traditionally offered by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights.39

The proliferation of these organizations also affords opportunities for states to demand more concessions or better terms of engagement from Western organizations, thereby potentially altering the routines, standards, and conditions usually imposed by them as organizational practices. We will explore this dynamic of “international goods substitution” in greater detail in Chapter 5, but here we note that even relatively weak states—ones that traditionally lack leverage with Western organizations—can increasingly use the availability and partnership of a new institution to demand better terms. For example, the historian Peter Frankopan observes that Balkan states have invoked Chinese interest and engagement to try to push the EU to take greater interest in the region.40

In sum, public pronouncements about the intention of these new regional organizations suggest little to challenge most elements of contemporary international order. But in practice their networking efforts, combined with how they disrupt the functional and regional monopolies once enjoyed by their Western counterparts, means that, over time, those pronouncements may not matter. Even those designed for congruence with contemporary international architecture and infrastructure may begin to alter the ecology of international order in profound ways.

Discrediting Liberal Norms and Spreading Counter-Norms

Of course, Moscow and Beijing have not been passive reproducers of prevailing liberal norms. Instead, they have sought to discredit aspects of contemporary international architecture—particularly those related to human and political rights. One way that they pursue this goal is through the creation and diffusion of counter-norms within their IGOs and other ordering infrastructures.

As we discussed in Chapter 2, observers have long (and with good reason) criticized the United States for its inconsistency in promoting liberal democracy across its network of allies and partners. During the Cold War, US officials publicly championed liberal democracy as ideologically (p.92) superior to Communism, but they regularly supported anti-Communist authoritarians and readily intervened in the domestic affairs of political clients.41

In the post–Cold War era, the collapse of the Communist bloc gave new impetus to liberalism. It created the impression that democracy had triumphed. Certainly, many American actions (military intervention in the Balkans) and inactions (the Clinton administration’s passive role during the Rwandan genocide) drew strong criticism about Washington’s actual commitment to upholding liberal principles and human rights. But the default position of the United States was to openly advocate greater democratization and political reform. It fostered a large and international democracy promotion apparatus, with the two major party affiliates—National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI)—both playing visible international roles as advocates and government contractors.42 Certainly, Moscow and Beijing, even in the mid-1990s, remained cynical about Washington’s professed normative commitments. Recall that they openly called for the democratization of international relations, but they lacked the capacity to build significant global or regional networks of opposition to liberal-democratic values. But since the 2000s, important trends have undercut Washington’s ability to promote liberal democracy.

Democracy Becomes Conflated with Regime Change

The Bush administration routinely invoked the spread of democracy—what later became its “freedom agenda”—as a justification for its disastrous 2003 Iraq War. In doing so, it confirmed a willingness to unilaterally topple governments and reorder entire regions in the name of democratization. For Russia and China, the notion that the United States sought to directly undermine authoritarian regimes received further substantiation by Washington’s support for “Color Revolutions” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (see below).

During the Obama administration, Washington attempted to reassure Moscow (and other autocratic governments) that it had no interest in actively pursuing regime change. Moscow and Beijing remained wary, and their skepticism seems justified by American behavior during the Arab Spring (2010–2012). The Obama administration abandoned, for example, long-time allies like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the face of (p.93) widespread street protests, and while it remained relatively mute in some cases, such as severe repression in Bahrain, it generally seemed supportive of the aims of activists.

For several Russian commentators, Libya marked a watershed moment in post–Cold War foreign policy.43 As noted in prior chapters, Washington persuaded Russian president Medvedev to abstain on, rather than veto, a UN resolution that authorized Western bombing strikes in the country. Although the resolution was open-ended, Washington emphasized it was for the limited responsibility-to-protect purpose of preventing Libyan forces from massacring the population of Benghazi. Instead, the United States joined French and British forces in dismantling the Libyan military; President Muammar Qaddafi was tortured and killed by a rebel mob as he tried to flee a battle scene. Libya underscored that the American penchant for militarized regime change was inexorable—as Clinton, Bush, and Obama had all used force to overthrow autocratic governments.

Grounding the Activists: Cracking down on NGOs

In the mid-2000s a wave of largely peaceful uprisings swept post-Soviet space. Demonstators protested the results of fraudulent elections and managed to topple entrenched leaders—most of whom were more supportive of Moscow than their successors. American and European backing played a significant role in the fall of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in 2000, and then in the so-called Color Revolutions that produced regime change in countries like Ukraine and Georgia.

These developments not only alarmed Moscow but also Beijing. Both regimes took note of how fast and easily post-Soviet governments crumbled. For China, the March 2005 collapse of the regime in its small Central Asian neighbor, Kyrgyzstan, proved particularly worrisome. In consequence, Western civil-society building efforts and liberal NGOs went from being mere annoyances to security threats. Russia imposed a series of restrictive registration laws that many of the post-Soviet states—including the Central Asian states, Belarus, and Armenia—subsequently emulated.

Soon after the Color Revolutions, Russia and China embarked on what became a global effort to stigmatize, restrict, and even ban the activities of NGOs. The Kremlin’s concerns mounted following the Bolotnaya protests in Moscow in 2011, which broke out in reaction to the announcement that then-prime minister Putin would run again for president. In 2012, Russia (p.94) passed a law mandating that all NGOs receiving foreign funding would have to self-declare as “foreign agents.” In 2015 Moscow went one step further and passed the “Undesirable Organizations” law that effectively criminalized the activities of a number of groups, including the George Soros–funded Open Society Foundations, National Endowment of Democracy, National Democratic Institute, and International Republican Institute.44

Beijing, which enacted its first major restriction in 2009, passed a more restrictive law in 2016. It mandated that all foreign groups working in China—even in philanthropic and cultural spheres—had to find a sponsoring Chinese organization and register with the police.45 We further explore this blockage of liberal transnational advocacy networks in Chapter 6. Here, we note that Russia and China have led a seemingly successful global effort to delegitimize and curtail the activities of liberal NGOs engaged in political issues, especially democracy, anti-corruption, and human rights.

Supporting Counter-Norms in the International Arena

Russia and China not only learned how to better insulate themselves from political liberalism ordering, but they also developed ways to go on the offensive. Moscow and Beijing now openly highlight the weaknesses of Western democratic political systems and offer alternative ordering principles.46 Across much of the globe, liberal democracy appears in retreat. But in the post-Communist space, according to Freedom House, since 2007 more countries have declined in terms of democracy scores than improved; countries once viewed as consolidated democracies, such as Hungary and Poland, saw substantial backsliding in 2017 and 2018.47

Analyst Christopher Walker argues that Russia and China are increasingly practicing “sharp power”: informational practices that “limit expression” and weaken “the health and credibility of democratic regimes.”48 These include targeting formal democratic processes (such as Russia did when it interfered in the 2016 US presidential election) and the broader “spheres of culture, academia, media, and publishing—sectors that are crucial in determining how citizens of democracies understand the world around them.” Walker thus sees clear patterns in, for example, Beijing’s successful efforts to pressure private actors, including Hollywood, to censor how they talk about or represent China; the aggressive targeting of journalists and Western publishers; the flooding of social media and online stories about Russia and China through the use of paid trolls and bots designed to (p.95) control the information space; and the penetration of US academic and cultural space by networks of Chinese Confucius centers.49 In one of the first systematic analyses of the global impact of Confucian centers on the “grassroots” image of China, Samuel Brazys and Alexander Dukalskis found that the proximity of an active Confucius Institute improves the tone of local media reporting on events involving China.50

Critics worry that the “sharp power” argument overemphasizes the novelty of the basic logics at stake, the effectiveness of these efforts, and the degree that they actually come together into a pattern of behavior. For our purposes, what matters is the degree that they represent a reversal of the dominance of liberal ordering in the 1990s and 2000s—and sometimes by appropriating techniques that the United States and Europe used to spread liberal norms and values.

Finally, Moscow and Beijing have also introduced alternative principles of international order to those associated with political liberalism, both as ways of contesting aspects of international architecture and as a roadmap for shifts in global governance.51 Beijing has been a vocal advocate of the principle of “civilizational diversity.” The argument is that since countries all enjoy distinct and important cultures, they do not have the right to make value judgments about one another’s domestic conduct. These same principles form the basis of the so-called Shanghai Spirit, the founding principle of the SCO that seeks to promote cooperation through “mutual respect and mutual trust between the states belonging to different civilizations and having different cultural traditions.”52

Political scientist David Lewis observes that in Central Asia these SCO principles have steadily displaced the liberal values espoused by the OSCE. East European leaders, including Hungarian illiberal champion Viktor Orbán, have also invoked these principles. Moscow has promoted a so-called traditional values agenda, which it pushed at the regional and international level; this includes emphasizing the importance of organized religion in public life; the centrality of the family unit; and opposition to Western attempts to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights. Moscow itself worked with political allies to pass a declaration supporting traditional values in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Finally, both Russia and China forward strong notions of national sovereignty, especially with respect to foreign interference in domestic affairs, broadly understood to include pressure and criticism on human, political, and civil rights issues.

(p.96) Developing Competing Infrastructures: Two Interventions and a Global Plan

Beijing and Moscow have established new international organizations. They have directly challenged liberal democratic norms. But since 2014 they also have pursued individual unilateral foreign policy initiatives that promote their preferred visions of international order. For Moscow, unilateral military actions in Ukraine and Syria affirm Russia’s status as a great power, one capable of making its own rules concerning the use of force and territorial annexation. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has provided President Xi Jinping with a way to build physical and ordering infrastructure that connects multiple countries and regions to China. Xi has used it to stake a claim to global leadership and proactive international ordering.

Russia’s Interventions in Ukraine and Syria as “Rule-Changing” Acts

The 2014 Ukraine crisis marked a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West.53 The immediate cause of the conflict was the collapse of the regime of Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was Moscow’s preferred candidate in the disputed 2004 election that led to the “Orange Revolution.” Yanukovych went on to legitimately win the 2010 election. He relied on a network of Western advisors, including Paul Manafort, to present a more Western-friendly image while consolidating power. But in 2013 Yanukovych found himself caught between the EU and Russia. Ukraine had been negotiating an EU Eastern Partnership Agreement (EPA), which would include a trade arrangement and facilitate visa-free travel for Ukrainians to EU member states. But as the November 2013 Vilnius summit approached, at which Yanukovych was supposed to sign the EPA, Russia intensified pressure on Yanukovych to abandon the agreement and endorse future Ukrainian membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Moscow used a combination of carrots and sticks. It first closed down trade and then offered an economic assistance package that included Russian purchases of Ukrainian bonds and additional discounts on energy purchases.

When Yanukovych announced his withdrawal from the EPA, his decision triggered a wave of demonstrations in Kyiv’s Maidan Square. After Yanukovych’s interior forces shot protestors, EU negotiators brokered an (p.97) agreement calling for early elections and the restoration of the constitution, but soon afterward Yanukovych fled the country as his authority over the Interior Ministry and troops collapsed.

Moscow responded on two fronts. First, it launched an operation to take control of the heavily Russian-speaking province of Crimea. In March, the Russian-backed government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum, observed by friendly election monitors and regarded with skepticism in Europe and the United States, that approved membership in the Russian Federation. Second, Moscow funneled support to separatists mobilizing in the Eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. In the summer of 2014, as the Ukrainian army threatened to overrun the rebels, Russia increased its support, effectively freezing the conflict as separatist forces consolidated control over eastern areas. The United States and the EU imposed rounds of economic sanctions on Russia, triggering Russian countersanctions.

Western and Russian interpretations of the longer-term origins could not be more different. EU officials claim to have been completely surprised by the unfolding of the crisis. Indeed, Russia failed to communicate its opposition to the EPA in regular meetings between the EU and Russia.54 For the United States and the EU, the conflict represented a blatant case of Russian aggression as Moscow violated the sovereignty and security of a neighbor in contravention of the norms and rules of the post–Cold War European security architecture. Russia committed to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity when it signed the Budapest memorandum (1994) and the Black Sea Fleet accords, which apportioned the Soviet-era Black Sea fleet and leased naval facilities in Sevastopol to Russia for a period of 20 years (1997).

But for Moscow, events in Ukraine represented nothing less than a crisis of the US-led international order itself. President Putin’s own speech following the annexation of Crimea featured a laundry list of Russian grievances about the American-led international order and post–Cold War developments, including a denouncement of US exceptionalism, NATO expansion, Western recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral intervention, and Western military interventions.55 Tellingly, Putin described Russia as a coil, ready to snap back.

Despite coming under a robust package of economic sanctions, Russia found narrower international opposition to its annexation in Crimea and its support for breakaway republics in Ukraine than for its similar support (p.98) of independence for the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. Then, despite an extensive global diplomatic lobbying campaign by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow proved able to secure recognition only from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and a handful of small Pacific states.56 However, when the United Nations considered a non-binding resolution affirming “Ukraine’s territorial integrity” following the March referendum and annexation (UNGAR 68/262), 100 states voted in support and 11 countries in opposition.57 Strikingly, 68 countries abstained from the vote (and 24 missed the vote), including all of the other BRICS members—a fact that Putin himself acknowledged in his Crimea speech and pointed to as demonstrations of support for the Russian position from India and China. Though Russia by no means secured widespread support for its action, it found itself significantly less marginalized than it had been in the aftermath of the Georgia conflict.

Syria: Protecting Traditional Clients, Projecting Global Power

In 2015, Russia intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war to support the government of Syrian president Bashir Al-Assad. Syria had been a longtime client of the Soviet Union, and, after a period of engagement with the West in the 1990s, was once again a major purchaser of Russian military equipment. But for Moscow, the Syria conflict represented its most important concerns about international order and provided a prime opportunity for challenging American primacy in international “rule-making.”

Russian operations in Syria amounted to its first significant attempt at power projection outside of its neighborhood since the collapse of the USSR. They required extensive political and military coordination with the other powers involved, including the United States (with which Russia established de-conflicting procedures), Turkey, Iran, and Israel. Moscow also actively pushed for the Astana peace process, which has excluded the United States as a negotiating party. And Russia actively shrugged off criticism from liberal-democratic governments and international NGOs concerning the devastating humanitarian consequences of its air campaign, particularly the mounting civilian casualties from Russian aircraft bombings in an effort to retake provinces from rebel hands.58

(p.99) Despite warnings that Russia would become bogged down in Syria, its intervention appears to have been decisive in turning the tide of the conflict and allowing Assad to re-establish control over broad areas of the country. In October 2019, President Trump impulsively decided to withdraw US troops embedded with the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. He thus allowed Turkey to establish a buffer zone in northeast Syria, ensuing events—including active cooperation between Syrian and Turkish forces to secure the region—seemed to underscore the success of Putin’s decision to commit to backing Assad, solidify his working ties with Turkey and Prime Minister Erdogan, and demonstrate to the world that Russia remained an influential power with extra-regional ambitions and military capabilities.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria involved the use of military force and information warfare to challenge the liberal international order and re-establish its position as a great power with the authority to participate in global affairs. The conflicts have also contributed to greater uncertainty in Russian relations with Western powers. As scholars Andrej Krijovic and Yuval Weber argue, the two sides are now at an impasse because Russia cannot commit to limiting its revisionism and willingness to use force, but the United States, NATO, and the European Union cannot reassure Russia that it will avoid exploiting Russia’s continuing structural weaknesses, such as its natural resource–dependent economy and insecure regime.59

China’s Turn to the Belt and Road

Just as the Ukraine crisis was escalating in September 2013, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping delivered a landmark address at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. There he invoked the ancient Silk Roads of the past to announce that China would launch a “Silk Road Economic Belt” across Eurasia intended to promote mutual trust, connectivity, and the exchange of people, development, and cooperation.60 Over the next year, Chinese experts and officials unfurled more details of a highly ambitious plan to fund a number of large-scale infrastructure projects, energy investments, and transportation upgrades to connect China with Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Together with a “Maritime Silk Road” that will upgrade and expand a number of overseas strategic ports, the two projects were referred to as “One Belt, One Road”; by 2015, Chinese agencies usually referred to the overall projects as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

(p.100) A 2015 government report further developed Beijing’s vision for the BRI. It called for the promotion of “the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas,” and proposed to establish regional partnerships, to set up “all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries.”61 As part of “embracing the trend to a multipolar world,” the paper refers to strengthening partnerships with new institutions like the AIIB, the NDB, the SCO, and the China-ASEAN Interbank association, as well as promoting “collaborative governance” with a range of other regional organizations and international financial institutions (IFIs). According to the South Morning China Post, the initiative would partner with 65 countries and would constitute “the most significant and far-reaching the nation has ever put forward.”62

Both strategic and domestic considerations drive the BRI. China seeks to more actively shape, on a bilateral basis, the political attitudes of its neighbors with the aim of making them friendlier and more responsive to Chinese foreign policy and strategic priorities. Beijing also wants to accelerate the internationalization of the renminbi and establish additional coordination mechanisms to elevate the role of its new institutions like the AIIB and NDB. Along with BRI investment, documents also discuss the harmonization and convergence of Chinese standards with its partners, including in areas such as public administration, technology transfers, and professional training. The BRI also targets new markets for Chinese industries already operating at overcapacity, especially steel and cement manufacturing. Chinese financing arms, such as the China Development Bank or the Export-Import Bank, can set terms that award project contracts to specific Chinese companies and mandate the use of Chinese labor. Finally, the BRI umbrella also offers opportunities to regional and local governments to expand their regional and foreign activities as they vie to become transit hubs.63

Western reactions to the BRI have been divided. Some emphasize the global economic opportunities afforded by the BRI—not only when it comes to improving global infrastructure but also to allowing Western companies and banks to play an active role in various projects. More geopolitically minded observers caution that the BRI represents a significant departure from the “peaceful rise” paradigm and, if left unchecked, will become a vehicle to rival Western-controlled Bretton Woods institutions as an alternative source of a Chinese-led economic order.

(p.101) How the BRI Transforms the Ordering Ecology

Western alarmists greatly exaggerate the coherence and unitary purpose of all the Chinese companies, political agencies, and parochial interests that have attached themselves to the BRI as China’s flagship national cause. But the BRI is likely to exert five significant impacts on the ecology of international order across its partner states.

First, the management and legal governance of this panoply of investments, loans, and contracts will require new legal forums and dispute-resolution mechanisms. Between January 2015 and August 2017, Chinese companies, as part of the BRI initiative, reportedly signed over 15,300 projects worth $303 billion.64 Rather than rely on traditional investment dispute mechanisms like international arbitration, in 2018 China announced that it will establish an “international commercial court” (CICC) with three tribunals—in Shenzen, Beijing, and Xian.65 These courts will be staffed exclusively by eight Chinese judges and will also be advised by a committee of experts. The CICC promises more efficient dispute resolution than the current system of international arbitration venues, which many Chinese companies use. Although international companies might find dispute resolution in China difficult to stomach, cash-strapped states might well accept these terms as part of an overall aid and investment package.66 When the government of Montenegro in 2017 halted an $800 million Chinese-funded road project due to excessive debts and cuts in government spending, it faced the prospect of a Chinese court enforcing the contract.67

Second, major BRI partners will likely prove increasingly reluctant to buck China and its foreign-policy priorities in the UN and in other international settings. In a possible prelude to future developments, in June 2017 Greece, a major BRI partner because of a Chinese firm’s investment in the upgrade of the Piraeus port, blocked a customary EU annual statement at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva criticizing China for its human rights practices.68 Indeed, Beijing’s growing normative influence via its economic power was on display in June 2019 when, in response to a UNHCR letter condemning China for its mass detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang that received 22 signatories (mainly advanced industrial democracies), Beijing countered by mobilizing 50 countries, spread over Africa, the Americas, and Asia, in a direct reply lauding “China’s contribution to the international human rights cause.”69 Figure 4.4 depicts the geographical (p.102) origins of the signers of the condemnatory and supportive letters (Qatar withdrew its signature in August 2019).

Exit from AboveRussia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

Figure 4.4 United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Members Who Condemned or Supported China on the Xinjiang Re-education Camps (as of July 30, 2019)

Third, large injections of Chinese lending into already indebted economies threaten to explode recipient states’ external debt. A report by the Center for Global Development found that of the 68 BRI partners, 23 are significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress and that eight of those—Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan—were placed in “particular risk of distress” because of a BRI-associated pipeline project.70 In turn, mounting debt obligations raise questions about whether China would coordinate with IFIs over terms of debt relief and what Beijing might demand to repay or restructure these debt burdens. For example, the decision of the Sri Lankan government in 2018 to restructure its debt incurred for upgrading the Hanbantota port into extending a 99-year lease sparked anti-government and anti-China demonstrations in the country. A subsequent investigative story revealed that large payments from the Chinese construction fund had been funneled into the 2015 campaign of the Sri Lankan president who negotiated the deal, (p.103) while the Sri Lankan authorities were pressed by the Chinese side to grant more equity in the port in exchange for $1 billion in debt relief.71 One report suggests that China has learned from the backlash and generally imposed much less harsh terms or even forgiven debt, but how this ultimately will play out remains unclear.72

Fourth, it seems increasingly likely that certain BRI partners are now also becoming major security partners and even basing hosts for Beijing. For example, in 2017 China established its first formal overseas military base in Djibouti (also host to a major US strategic facility), while in 2018 China formally unveiled a naval facility in Gwadar, the southern port city of Pakistan that has been one of the largest recipients of Chinese funds for the construction of highways and power plants. Indeed, one of the concerns in Sri Lanka over China gaining more control over Hambantota was the potential of using it for military and strategic activities not readily agreed to by Colombo. The co-mingling of BRI funds as unofficial quid pro quo for security and access agreements with China remains an additional potential lever for Beijing.

Finally, the global reach of the BRI has already prompted responses from other major powers who either find themselves threatened by the BRI or want to support China’s geo-economic foray. After the Obama administration maintained a relatively sanguine view of China’s efforts to promote “connectivity” in third regions, the Trump administration announced in December 2018 that it would actively seek to counter “predatory” Chinese and Russian practices in Africa that are “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage.”73 Similarly, Japan and India have also advanced their own development and transit corridors intended to mitigate the geopolitical impact of the BRI. In short, the BRI is now being widely understood as China’s attempt to profoundly shape international order.

Tellingly, the one major power that seems to have adjusted its own regional ambitions to align with the BRI is Russia. Over the last 10 years, Russian planners have consistently recalibrated their own regional plans to accommodate Chinese initiatives. In 2016, Russian and Chinese officials announced a coordinating mechanism between the EAEU and the BRI designed to harmonize tricky questions like tariff levels, standards, and regulations. But perhaps the most important evidence to date of Moscow’s increasing acquiescence to China’s geo-economic ambitions came in 2017, when Putin called for a “Greater Eurasia,” a concept that leading analysts (p.104) now use to describe Russia as occupying a central role in the integrating super-continent.74 This move to “scale up” from Russia’s immediate post-Soviet neighborhood to the Eurasian landmass appears to concede that Chinese-led economic initiatives on the continent are unstoppable. Rather than openly oppose China or even formally negotiate and delineate spheres of economic interest, it now seems that the Kremlin is satisfied with, or at least resigned to, claiming that even Chinese-led Eurasian integration is in Russian interests. Russia’s embrace of the Greater Eurasia concept also suggests that whatever concerns Russian officials might have over growing asymmetries of power with China, they prefer a strategy of accommodation and a focus on collaborative efforts to create new institutions of international order, to confrontation or even hard bargaining with Beijing.

Indeed, on July 23, 2019 Russia and China engaged in a joint operation to violate airspace claimed by South Korea and Japan in the Sea of Japan.75 Some more hawkish analysts see this as evidence that Sino-Russian cooperation has passed a major inflection point. As one put it, “The latest incident should not be dismissed as an isolated event. It is further confirmation that a military quasi-alliance between China and Russia is emerging where both countries assist each other in undermining the U.S. and its allies despite the absence of formal commitments to defend each other against attack.”76

Conclusions: Exit from Above

It is almost a cliché of international-relations theory to view international orders in terms of a series of great power transitions, where declining hegemons give way to revisionist challengers, often as a result of major power conflict or even hegemonic war. This brief survey of Russian and Chinese post–Cold War activities suggest that these states have targeted key features of the American hegemonic system and the broader international order without directly confronting the United States militarily. By establishing new regional and international infrastructure, challenging liberal democratic architecture, and entering into unilateral assertive foreign policy initiatives, Moscow and Beijing have taken important steps to shape the ecology of international order in line with their own preferences. The ecology of the 1990s—when the US ordering infrastructure was nearly congruent with the overall ecology (recall Figure 2.4)—has given way to a far more crowded and contested ecology of international order (see Figure 4.5).


Exit from AboveRussia and China Seek to Transform the International Order

Figure 4.5 Ecology with Chinese and Russian Counter-ordering Infrastructure, c. 2019

To be sure, neither Russia nor China has replaced the United States as a new global hegemon. Opinion surveys suggest global skepticism about their revisionist intentions and relatively low public favorability ratings.77 Nevertheless, the key wager that China and Russia—through their socialization into the rules, institutions, and standards of the international system—would become “responsible stakeholders” that largely accept the ordering principles established by the United States and its allies now appears to have been wrong. American advocates for China’s WTO membership in 2000 and the architects of the US-Russia reset policy of 2009 both maintained that through interaction with established international institutions, China and Russia would develop a shared interest in upholding existing pillars of international order. These assumptions appeared to be founded on a 1990s view of the liberal order, where international integration seemed nearly congruent with the expansion of the American hegemonic system.

But, contra such expectations, integration has produced experimentation and adaptation in ways to block and reverse elements of liberal ordering. At times, Russia and China have openly challenged prevailing (p.106) aspects of international order. But, perhaps much more consequentially, they are also more subtly repurposing its institutions, replacing its norms, and creating parallel institutions that fundamentally alter the interactions and network connections of global governance actors.

This push “from above” by great-power challengers seems to have accelerated since 2014. But it has also been affected by policies and actions of the Trump administration. Washington’s National Security Strategy of 2017 argued that great-power competition with Russia and China now presented the most pressing threat to US security. The Trump administration’s “trade war” with China has underscored, for Moscow and Beijing, the importance of coordinating their responses to the United States.78

Yet, these developments are just one of several pathways that have facilitated exit from American hegemony. As we explore in Chapter 5, those smaller countries being courted by emerging global and regional powers play an equally consequential, though perhaps less visible, role.


Year Founded

Membership (later Members)

Issue Area

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)


Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia (1994–2009), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan


Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA)


Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain (2011), Bangladesh (2014), Cambodia (2011), China, Egypt, India, Iraq (2010), Iran, Israel, Jordan (2008), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar (2014), Republic of Korea (2006), Russia, Sri Lanka (2018), Tajikistan, Thailand (2006), Turkey, UAE (2008), Uzbekistan, Vietnam (2010)


Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)


China, Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Commission of the African Union


Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)


China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India (2017), Pakistan (2017)


Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)


Afghanistan (2012), Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Bhutan (2004), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran (2004), Japan, Kazakhstan (2003), Republic of Korea, Kuwait (2003), Kyrgyz Republic (2007), Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia (2004), Myanmar, Nepal (2016), Pakistan, Philippines, Oman (2003), Qatar, Russia (2005), Saudi Arabia (2005), Singapore, Sri Lanka (2003), Tajikistan (2006), Thailand, UAE (2004), Uzbekistan (2006), Vietnam, and Turkey (2013)

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)


Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan (2006–2012)


China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF)


Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq,

Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Yemen


Eurasian Development Bank (EDB)


Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan

Development Finance



Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (2010)


China-Central Eastern Europe (17 + 1) (China-CEE)


China, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia

Trade and Investment

China-CELAC Forum (CA-CELAC)


China, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Panama, Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Uruguay

Trade and Investment

Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)


Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan (2015)

Economic Integration

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)


Afghanistan (2017), Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain (2018), Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada (2018), China, Cyprus (2018), Denmark, Egypt, Fiji (2017), Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong (China), Hungary (2017), Iceland, Ireland (2017), India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Luxembourg, Madagascar (2018), Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania (2018), Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia, Samoa (2018), Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan (2018), Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste (2017), Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu (2018), and Vietnam.

Development Finance

New Development Bank(NDB), formerly BRICS Development Bank


Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa

Development Finance

Lancang-Mekong Cooperation forum (LMC)


China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam

Water management, Investment

Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM)


China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan

Security (p.107) (p.108) (p.109)


(1.) “Letter Dated 15 May 1997 from the Permanent Representatives of China and the Russian Federation to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General,” May 20, 1997, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/docs/52/plenary/a52-153.htm.

(2.) Henry Kissinger, “Moscow and Beijing: A Declaration of Independence,” Washington Post May 14, 1996.

(3.) See Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). On the importance of status and prestige for Moscow, see Andrei P. Tsygankov, Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin: Honor in International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Deborah Welch Larson and Alexei Shevchenko, “Status Seekers: Chinese and Russian Responses to US Primacy,” International Security 34, no. 4 (Spring 2010): 63–95.

(4.) At the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’s 2018 Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, Xi Jinping called for China to reform the global governance system, promoting the concepts of fairness and justice. See http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201806/28/WS5b34179da3103349141df593.html.

(5.) See, for example, Ryan D. Griffiths, “States, Nations, and Territorial Stability: Why Chinese Hegemony Would Be Better for International Order,” Security Studies 25, no. 3 (2016): 519–45, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2016.1195628.

(6.) See, for example, Edward S. Steinfeld, Playing Our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(7.) See especially Michael Beckley, “China’s Century? Why America’s Edge Will Endure,” International Security 36, no. 3 (Winter 2011/2012): 41–78; Michael Beckley, “The Power of Nations: Measuring What Matters,” International Security 43, no. 2 (2018): 7–44; Michael Beckley, Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).

(8.) Bobo Lo, Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009).

(9.) Data on UN voting convergence from the Votestar visualization tool at the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, http://votester31.du.edu.

(10.) Milton Ezrati, “China Retreats Globally,” Forbes, July 26, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/y2znxlxp; Derek Scissors, Derek Scissors, China’s Global Business Footprint Shrinks (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, July 2019), https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Chinas-Global-Business-Footprint-Shrinks.pdf.

(11.) See Stephen Kotkin, “The Unbalanced Triangle—What Chinese-Russian Relations Mean for the United States,” Foreign Affairs, 88 (2009): 130–38.

(12.) Jim O’Neill, “Building Better Global Economic BRICs,” Goldman Sachs: Global Economics Paper no. 66 (2001).

(13.) O’Neill, “Building Better Global Economic BRICs,” 10.

(15.) “Joint Statement of the BRIC Countries Leaders,” Yekaterinburg, Russia, June 16, 2009, http://infobrics.org/document/3/.

(16.) See Hannes Ebert and Tim Maurer, “Contested Cyberspace and Rising Powers,” Third World Quarterly 34, no. 6 (2013): 1054–74.

(17.) Vikram Nehru, “The BRICS Bank: Now Comes the Hard Part,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 14, 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/07/17/brics-bank-now-comes-hard-part.

(18.) Natalia Khmelevskaya, “BRICS Financial and Payment Arrangements: A Locus of Intragroup Trade Development,” in BRICS and Global Governance, ed. John Kirton and Marina Larionova (London: Routledge, 2018), 106–28.

(19.) Gabriel Stargardter, “Brazil’s Courtship of U.S. Need Not Worry China: Foreign Minister,” Reuters, July 26, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brics-brazil-idUSKCN1UL2DO.

(20.) Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Claims Its Sphere of Influence in the World,” New York Times, August 31, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/world/europe/01russia.html.

(21.) Lai-Ha Chan, “Soft Balancing against the US ‘Pivot to Asia’: China’s Geostrategic Rationale for Establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 71, no. 6 (2017): 568–90, https://doi.org/10.1080/10357718.2017.1357679; David Dollar, “China’s Rise as a Regional and Global Power: The AIIB and the ‘One Belt, One Road,’” Brookings (blog), July 15, 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/chinas-rise-as-a-regional-and-global-power-the-aiib-and-the-one-belt-one-road/; Sebastian Heilmann et al., “China’s Shadow Foreign Policy: Parallel Structures Challenge the Established International Order,” China Monitor, no. 18 (October 28, 2014): 9.

(23.) Charles Clover, “Clinton Vows to Thwart New Soviet Union,” Financial Times, December 6, 2012.

(24.) See, for example, Marcin Kaczmarski, “Non-Western Visions of Regionalism: China’s New Silk Road and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union,” International Affairs 93, no. 6 (2017): 1357–76; and Bobo Lo, Russia and The New World Disorder. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2015.

(25.) See Alexei D. Voskresseni and Boglarka Koller, eds., The Regional World Order: Transregionalism, Regional Integration, and Regional Projects across Europe and Asia (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019); Alexander Lukin, “What the Kremlin Is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia,” Foreign Affairs 93 (2014): 85–93. On Russian regionalism and emulation, see Yulia Nikitina, The CSTO and the SCO: Models of Regionalism in the Area of Security (Moscow, Russia: Navona: 2009). For an overview of Russian regionalism as a global orientation and critical responses, see the essays symposium “Power, Status and Entanglement,” in Russian Politics and Law 54, no. 5–6 (2016): 415–526. Also see Angela Stent’s analysis of Putin’s “post-Western” strategies: Angela Stent, Putin’s World: Russia against the West and with the Rest (London: Hachette, 2019).

(26.) See Bin Gu, “Chinese Multilateralism in the AIIB,” Journal of International Economic Law 20, no. 1 (2017): 137–58; Xiao Re, “China as an Institution-Builder: The Case of the AIIB,” Pacific Review 29, no. 3 (2016): 435–42; Shahar Hameiri and Lee Jones, “China Challenges Global Governance? Chinese International Development Finance and the AIIB,” International Affairs 94, no. 3 (2018): 573–93. https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiy026; and Qin Yaqing, “International Society as a Process: Institutions, Identities, and China’s Peaceful Rise,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, 3, no. 2 (2010): 129–53.

(27.) “The Beleaguered BRICS Can Be Proud of Their Bank,” The Economist, September 29, 2018, https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2018/09/29/the-beleaguered-brics-can-be-proud-of-their-bank.

(28.) Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, and Steven Weber, “A World without the West,” National Interest, no. 90 (2007): 23–30; Naazneen Barma et al., “A World without the West? Empirical Patterns and Theoretical Implications,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 2, no. 4 (December 21, 2009): 525–44, https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pop013.

(30.) For example, see David Kramer, “Why Europe Shouldn’t Cooperate with Russia’s Economic Bloc,” Politico.eu, December 17, 2015, https://www.politico.eu/article/why-europe-shouldnt-cooperate-with-russias-economic-bloc/.

(31.) Evgeny Vinokurov, “Eurasian Economic Union: Current State and Preliminary Results,” Russian Journal of Economics 3, no. 1 (2017): 54–70; Yuri Kofner, “Western Sanctions and Russian Counter Sanctions: Reasons and Effects,” Russia International Affairs Council, December 31, 2018, https://russiancouncil.ru/en/blogs/GreaterEurasiaEnglish/western-sanctions-and-russian-counter-sanctions-reasons-and-effects/.

(32.) Jane Perlez, “U.S. Opposing China’s Answer to World Bank,” New York Times, October 9, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/10/world/asia/chinas-plan-for-regional-development-bank-runs-into-us-opposition.html; “Partnerships,” Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, n.d., https://www.aiib.org/en/about-aiib/who-we-are/partnership/index.html.

(33.) Peter J. Katzenstein, A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).

(34.) Martin Hutchinson and Agnes T. Crane, “Turning the Focus to Governance,” New York Times, January 23, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/24views.html.

(35.) Michael Plummer and Peter A Petri. “The Case for RCEP as Asia’s Next Trade Agreement,” Brookings (blog), November 6, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/11/06/the-case-for-rcep-as-asias-next-trade-agreement/.

(36.) Alexander Cooley, “What’s Next for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?” The Diplomat no. 43 (June 2018),

(38.) James Kynge and Michael Peel, “Brussels Rattled as China Reaches Out to Eastern Europe,” Financial Times, November 27, 2017.

(39.) See Alexander Cooley, Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia (New York: Oxford University Press 2012).

(40.) Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).

(41.) See, in general, David F. Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side: The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, new ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(42.) See Lincoln Mitchell, The Democracy Promotion Paradox (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016), 94–104.

(43.) See, for example, Ellen Barry, “Putin Criticizes West for Libya Incursion,” New York Times, April 26, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/world/europe/27putin.html; Angela Stent, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), 247–49.

(44.) Saskia Brechenmacher, Civil Society under Assault: Repression and Responses in Russia, Egypt, and Ethiopia (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2017), 9–17, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/Civil_Society_Under_Assault_Final.pdf; Tyler Pager and Nick Gass, “Russia Brands McCain-Chaired NGO as ‘Undesirable,’” Politico, August 18, 2016, https://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/international-republican-institute-russia-undesirable-227150.

(45.) “Clampdown in China Restrict 7,000 Foreign Organizations, New York Times, April 28, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/world/asia/china-foreign-ngo-law.html.

(46.) See Daniel Lynch’s warning from 2007 that the CCP would not accept socialization into a global democratic norm and was likely to promote a counternorm: Daniel C. Lynch, “Envisioning China’s Political Future: Elite Responses to Democracy as a Global Constitutive Norm,” International Studies Quarterly 51, no. 3 (September 2007): 701–22.

(47.) Nate Schenkkan, “Nations in Transit 2018: Confronting Illiberalism,” Nations in Transit, Washington, DC, Freedom House, 2018, https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/nations-transit-2018.

(48.) Christopher Walker, “What Is ‘Sharp Power’?,” Journal of Democracy 29, no. 3 (2018): 9–23, https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2018.0041.

(49.) See Christopher Walker, “The Authoritarian Threat: The Hijacking of ‘Soft Power,’” Journal of Democracy 27, no. 1 (2016): 49–63; Walker, “What Is ‘Sharp Power’?”; Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig, “The Meaning of Sharp Power,” Foreign Affairs, November 16, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2017-11-16/meaning-sharp-power.

(50.) Samuel Brazys and Alexander Dukalskis, “Grassroots Image Management: Confucius Institutes and Media Perceptions of China,” AIDDATA, Working paper 69, January 2009, http://docs.aiddata.org/ad4/pdfs/WPS69_Grassroots_Image_Manage ment.pdf.

(51.) This paragraph draws from Alexander Cooley, “Countering Democratic Norms,” Journal of Democracy 26, no. 3 (2015): 49–63.

(52.) SCO, “Declaration on the Establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” 2001, www.eng.sectsco.org/load/193054. On how the “Shanghai Spirit” promotes regional authoritarianism, see Thomas Ambrosio, “Catching the ‘Shanghai Spirit’: How the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Promotes Authoritarian Norms in Central Asia,” Europe-Asia Studies 60, no. 8 (2008): 1321–44.

(53.) Insightful accounts of the longer-term sources of the conflict appear in Samuel Charap and Timothy J. Colton, Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia (London: Routledge, 2018); and Rajan Menon and Eugene B. Rumer, Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post–Cold War Order (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015).

(54.) Charles Grant, “Is the EU to Blame for the Crisis in Ukraine?,” Centre for European Reform, June 1, 2016, https://www.cer.eu/insights/eu-blame-crisis-ukraine; “Russia’s Putin Took European States ‘by Surprise’ in Ukraine: Report,” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ukraine-crisis/russias-putin-took-european-states-surprise-ukraine-report-n309406, accessed July 31, 2019.

(56.) Alexander Cooley and Lincoln A. Mitchell, “Engagement without Recognition: A New Strategy toward Abkhazia and Eurasia’s Unrecognized States,” Washington Quarterly 33, no. 4 (2010): 59–73.

(57.) United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262, “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” (adopted March 27, 2014),http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/262.

(58.) In 2018, the NGO Airwars estimated civilian casualties as a result of Russian bombings as ranging from at least 3,445 to possibly as high as 18,000. See “Syria Conflict: 34% Rise in Civilian Deaths Caused by Russian Airstrikes, Report Finds,” Independent UK, July 25, 2018. Russia continued to attack civilians in 2019.

(59.) Andrej Krickovic and Yuval Weber, “Commitment Issues: The Syrian and Ukraine Crises as Bargaining Failures of the Post–Cold War International Order,” Problems of Post-Communism 65, no. 6 (2018): 373–84.

(60.) “President Xi Jinping Delivers Important Speech and Proposes to Build a Silk Road Economic Belt with Central Asian Countries,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, September 7, 2013, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/topics_665678/xjpfwzysiesgjtfhshzzfh_665686/t1076334.shtml.

(61.) “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” March 28, 2015, http://en.ndrc.gov.cn/newsrelease/201503/t20150330_669367.html.

(62.) “One Belt, One Road Initiative Will Define China’s Role as a World Leader,” South Morning China Post, April 2, 2015.

(63.) The project may also be motivated by a desire to enhance Xi’s legitimacy by positioning him as the leader who restored Chinese global prestige and influence; see Paul Musgrave and Daniel Nexon, “Zheng He’s Voyages and the Symbolism behind Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative,” The Diplomat, December 22, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/zheng-hes-voyages-and-the-symbolism-behind-xi-jinpings-belt-and-road-initiative/.

(64.) “A Thousand Miles Begin with a Single Step: Tax Challenges under the BRI,” International Tax Review, November 28, 2017, http://www.internationaltaxreview.com/ (p.239) Article/3772212/A-thousand-miles-begin-with-a-single-step-tax-challenges-under-the-BRI.html.

(65.) Matthew Erie, “The China International Commercial Court: Prospects for Dispute Resolution for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’” American Society of International Law, Insights 22, no. 11 (2018), https://www.asil.org/insights/volume/22/issue/11/china-international-commercial-court-prospects-dispute-resolution-belt.

(66.) Jonathan Hillman and Matthew Goodman, “China’s Belt and Road Mechanism to Challenge Current US-led order,” Financial Times, July 24, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/b64d7f2e-8f4d-11e8-b639-7680cedcc421.

(67.) Noah Barkin, “Chinese ‘Highway to Nowhere’ Haunts Montenegro,” Reuters, July 16, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-europe-montenegro-insi/chinese-highway-to-nowhere-haunts-montenegro-idUSKBN1K60QX.

(68.) Nick Cumming-Bruce and Somini Sengupta, “In Greece, China Finds an Ally against Human Rights Criticism,” New York Times, June 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/world/europe/china-human-rights-greece-united-nations.html.

(69.) Nick Cumming-Bruce, “China’s Retort over Its Mass Detentions: Praise from Russia and Saudi Arabia,” New York Times, July 12, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/12/world/asia/china-human-rights-united-nations.html.

(70.) John Hurley, Scott Morris, and Gailyn Portelance, “Examining the Debt Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative from a Policy Perspective,” Policy Paper 121 (March 2018), 11, Washington, DC, Center for Global Economic Development.

(71.) Maria Abi-Habib, “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port,” New York Times, June 25, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html.

(72.) Tom Hancock, “China Renegotiated $50bn in Loans to Developing Countries,” Financial Times, April 29, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/0b207552-6977-11e9-80c7-60ee53e6681d.

(73.) “US Vows to Tackle China’s and Russia’s ‘Predatory’ Practices in Africa,” Telegraph, December 14, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/trump-admin-vows-tackle-russia-chinas-predatory-practices-africa/.

(74.) Sergey Karaganov, “The New Cold War and the Emerging Greater Eurasia,” Journal of Eurasian Studies 9, no. 2 (2018): 85–93.

(75.) Ben Westcott, Brad Lendon, and Yoonjung Seo, “Warplanes from Four Countries Face Off in Asian Confrontation,” CNN, July 23, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/23/asia/south-korea-russia-military-intl-hnk/index.html.

(76.) John Lee, “Russian Air Clash Is a Wake-up Call for South Korea,” Nikkei Asian Review, https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Russian-air-clash-is-a-wake-up-call-for-South-Korea, accessed July 31, 2019.

(77.) Clark Letterman, “Image of Putin, Russia Suffers Internationally,” Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes and Trends, December 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/12/06/image-of-putin-russia-suffers-internationally/; Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes, Jacob Poushter, Laura Silver, Janell Fetterolf, and Kat Devlin, “Trump’s International Ratings Remain Low, Especially among Key Allies,” Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes and Trends, October 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/10/01/trumps-international-ratings-remain-low-especially-among-key-allies/

(78.) United States, “National Security Strategy of the United States,” Washington, DC, President of the U.S., December 2017, 2–3ff, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.