China and Russia vs. the United States (I)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
At the height of its imperial power in 1900, Great Britain ruled the sea in the Eurasian world with a fleet of 300 warships and 30 naval bases, surrounding the great Eurasian ‘World Island’ from Scopa Flow in the North Atlantic across the Mediterranean through Malta and Suez to Bombay, Singapore and Hong Kong. As the Roman Empire had done, it encircled the Mediterranean, turning it into a sea of its own. It converted the Indian Ocean into its own closed sea and secured its flanks with armies on the north-western border of India to prevent the Persians and the Ottomans from building naval bases in the Persian Gulf.
In this way, Great Britain ensured its control over Arabia and Mesopotamia which was the land passage from Europe to the Indies and was the gateway to the heart of the Eurasian ‘World Island’. From that geopolitical perspective, the nineteenth century was a time of strategic rivalry between Russia, India and Great Britain, when advances into the mainland were made from the maritime gateways in India in order to face the threat coming from the northwest. So some geopolitical experts came to the conclusion that the ultimate geographical reality of the modern age was the confrontation between land and sea power.
The most intense rivalries were first of all between England and France and later between England and Germany and these rivalries drove Europe into a relentless naval arms race that pushed up costs to unsustainable levels. In 1805 Admiral Nelson’s flagship sailed at a speed of nine knots towards Trafalgar to attack Napoleon’s armada. And a century later, with an investment of almost 300 billion of today’s dollars, Great Britain built the first modern warship which had a steel hull, weighed 20,000 tons and reached a speed of 21 knots. And by the next decade, half a dozen great powers had emptied their national coffers building fleets of battleships in order to compete.
Due to its alliance with the United States and Japan, the so-called ‘British Peace’ would last for a century (1815 – 1914) and was marked by an accelerated race to produce naval weapons, a highly volatile diplomacy among the great powers and fierce competition for the naval empire that ended up with 16 million dead in the great massacre of the First World War.
Fearing Chinese and Russian expansion, the United States became imperial bastions in Western Europe and Japan, and built a series of military bases surrounding the new World Island of Eurasia. Once control of the ends of the axis was taken away, for the next 70 years the US used more military power to contain China and Russia in the heart of Asia. Then Britain declined and was replaced by the US Navy in controling maritime borders, but the geopolitical reality remained the same.
In the end, US diplomats formed transnational military alliances such as NATO (1949), METO (Middle East Treaty Organization) (1955), Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (1954) and the US-Japan Security Treaty (1951). So by 1955 the US already had a worldwide network of 36 countries to try to contain the Sino-Soviet bloc. And by 1990, after the Cold War, Russia needed 700 overseas bases, more than 1,000 ballistic missiles and 600 ships that would include 15 nuclear aircraft carriers connected by the only global satellite system in the world.
But in spite of the impressive victory of the US in the war following the implosion of the Soviet Union, the geopolitical foundations of the Eurasian World Island were not altered. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Washington’s first diplomatic foray into the new era was to establish a dominant position in the Persian Gulf, using Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait as a pretext.
In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq with hundreds of thousands of soldiers, historian Paul Kennedy wrote in the Guardian that Washington seemed to be taking matters seriously with the rapid proliferation of US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. And this could be seen as a new imperial bid to obtain a key position in the heart of Eurasia, similar to that which the British had with their colonial forts along the northwest border of India.
In the years that followed, Washington tried to replace some of its ineffective ground troops with drones, and in 2011, the Air Force and the CIA surrounded the Eurasian region with drones that allowed them to attack targets at a distance of 1850 km. In order to patrol that periphery, the Pentagon has spent $10 billion to build an army with 99 Global Hawk drones, capable of monitoring within a radius of 160 kilometers, with electronic sensors that neutralize communication signals and engines with 35 hours of autonomous flight and a range of 14,000 km.
Addendum: This is a brief summary of what has happened so far in Eurasia. In the following article I will try to summarize what China and Russia have done in this regard.