Earlier this week, China and Russia officially announced that they will cooperate on military drills in the Mediterranean in 2015. As Gideon Rachman argues in the Financial Times, this is designed to make NATO and the West uncomfortable by intruding into the center of its sphere of influence:
The Chinese will doubtless enjoy the symbolism of floating their boats in the traditional heartland of European civilisation. But, beyond symbolism, Russia and China are also making an important statement about world affairs. Both nations object to western military operations close to their borders. China complains about US naval patrols just off its coast; Russia rails against the expansion of Nato. By staging joint exercises in the Mediterranean, the Chinese and Russians would send a deliberate message: if Nato can patrol near their frontiers, they too can patrol in Nato’s heartland.Behind this muscle-flexing, however, the Russians and Chinese are pushing for a broader reordering of world affairs, based around the idea of “spheres of influence”. Both China and Russia believe that they should have veto rights about what goes on in their immediate neighbourhoods. Russia argues that it is unacceptable that Ukraine – a country ruled from Moscow for centuries – should now join the western alliance.
China and Russia, Rachman notes, think the West is hypocritical to claim that all nations should have a right to self-determination—what has been called the “Sinatra Doctrine” (because of the song “My Way“). They point to the Monroe Doctrine, for example, as evidence that the United States historically has supported allowing great powers to maintain and control spheres of influence.But as Rachman points out, inclusion in U.S. treaty systems is largely based on nations’ willing cooperation, not just on geography and the exercise of power. That’s especially true today:
It seems to be almost a rule that the closer a country is to any putative Russian or Chinese sphere of influence, the more eager it is to cement an alliance with the US. From Poland to Japan – and points in-between – America’s allies need little persuasion to shelter under the US security umbrella.
Rachman makes an interesting point about the debate that Sino-Russian military cooperation raises, and he draws important conclusions about what effect the drills may have. We recommend reading the whole thing.