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Intelligence analysts say the three-way relationship, especially involving weapons trade, between Russia, China and Iran is complex, but it’s held together by a common enemy: The United States.

A recently released report by Stephen Blank for the Jamestown Foundation says the Russians again are selling weapons to the Chinese. Other reports say the Chinese are, in turn, selling weapons, including nuclear parts, to Iran.

Blank, an
Army War College professor and Strategic Studies Institute Fellow,
says China’s behavior in buying weapons from the Russians and selling weapons to the Iranians is at least partly the natural result of its expanding power and prosperity.

“China is an increasingly wealthy and powerful state. As a result it is increasingly expanding its capabilities and the range of its international interests. There’s nothing unusual about this,” Blank said.

“The complaints that they are behaving in an ungentlemanly fashion, that’s part of the problem the U. S. has. It thinks that China should be playing by the U. S.’s rules and China thinks the rules should be amended to allow it to pursue its interests,” Blank stated.

Blank said it’s a mistake for U.S. leaders to expect China to carry out its foreign policy according to the U.S.’s best interests.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop them from acting according to their best interests. The problem is they define their self-interests in ways that are inimical to those of the U. S.,” Blank explained.

“So we have to understand that they’re now a great power, and great powers do what they think is necessary. What we have to understand is that they have a different calculus, and they’re going to act according to that,” Blank added.

Listen to an interview with Blank:


Blank also believes China’s new role as a major player in economics and world affairs has prompted its desire for a newly re-established relationship with Russia. Blank says the “new dynamic” in Sino-Russian relations is especially strong in the area of arms sales.

“The Russian government and China have been partners for 20 years now,” Blank observed.

He adds that there are two reasons for this partnership.

“Both of them band together to limit the U. S.’s power in international affairs and to limit the spread of international liberalism, which is correlated with U. S. power,” Blank said.

Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Clare Lopez agrees that there is an ideological basis for Russia and China’s arms sales, to each other and in dealing with Iran.

“China wants a way to counterbalance the West’s influence and the United States’ influence. To the extent that Iran pokes a thumb in our eye, China is all for that, and they’ll do what they can to help them,” Lopez asserted.

Listen to an interview with Lopez:


“It’s both (economic and ideological) for both Russia and China. You can see how they both act at the United Nations Security Council in enabling Iran to get away with their nuclear weapons violations,” Lopez added.

Opposing the West as led by the United States is very much a component. It’s partly pragmatic, economic, prices of natural gas and oil, but it’s ideological as well, Lopez said.

Blank said that Russian and Chinese interests are cooperating because they both remember the damage their past dealings did to each other.

“Both of them regard the Sino-Soviet conflict in the 1970s that lasted through the 1990s as a terrible mistake and something that cost both of them. They like to say that their interests are the same, but there are a lot of frictions and one of those is arms sales,” Blank added.

The Army War College professor said the arms business is one of Russia’s largest exports, and the Chinese have been one of their biggest customers.

He said the Chinese buy the hardware, like planes, platforms and delivery systems, from the Russians, but develop their own version of the Russian systems. Then the Chinese turn around and begin offering their “pirated” versions overseas in competition with their Russian partners.

The Russian sales and the Chinese copies have had a positive result for Chinese military power.

“A major consequence of this pattern is that we’ve seen a quantum leap in
Chinese military capabilities over the last generation. The most recent examples are the Stealth Bomber, anti-ship ballistic missiles, tactical nuclear weapons and conventional missiles,” Blank explained.

Both Russia and China have been doing business with Iran, but Lopez says the three-way partnership reveals a more complicated network.

“There’s a very widespread, complex international network of suppliers all over the world from which they obtain parts and components, technology and blueprints and what have you,” Lopez stated.

Lopez says that China has been one of the major players, but she adds one more to the list.

“The Chinese have been one of the major suppliers, along with Russia and
Pakistan especially. If you have to name countries, those three would probably top the list,” Lopez said.

Lopez said the arms supplies are coming from the national level.

“It has to be a national-level decision, not a rogue supplier who can be brought up on charges and sent to jail,” Lopez said.

Lopez believes Russia’s major issue is money.

“In terms of the Russians, it has to do with economics. The fact is that they have very little to offer the rest of the world for sale besides raw materials and weapons and components,” Lopez explained.

“The Chinese have an ideological component to it, but most likely it’s economic,” she said.

Lopez said the major ideological partner in terms of Iran’s arms purchases is Pakistan.

“With the Pakistanis, it’s certainly ideological. That’s been a decision going back to the A.Q, Khan days, to deliberately provide a fellow Muslim country with weapons. A.Q. Khan actually said in interviews that he did what he did because Iran is a fellow Muslim country, little mind to the fact that Iran is Shia and Pakistan is largely Sunni,” Lopez said.

Khan led the Pakistani nuclear program for 25 years beginning in 1975.

Lopez added that China may be dealing with Iran because of future concerns.

“Beijing is investing in what it hopes to be a future source of critical raw materials, oil and gas. That’s how they’re looking at it. Russia is just trying to make money,” she said.

Even with the Chinese pattern of “indigenizing” or “piracy,” Blank doesn’t see the Russo-Chinese relationship fracturing any time soon.

“The partnership could cool off, but I don’t think it will go to the extremes. There are issues where they’ll cooperate with each other. There are issues where they will not or cannot. But they are determined not to let those be a barrier because they both recognize the high cost they paid for their enmity in the 70s and 80s,” Blank explained.

Listen to more of the interview with Blank:


“The problem is that Russia can’t keep up with China and Russia can’t restrain China,” Blank said. “Although Russian foreign policy talks about anchoring China. The fact of the matter is that China is anchoring Russia.

“Russia has not kept up with China economically either regionally or internationally, and over the long term will not be able to compete militarily with China, even though in the short term it (Russia) has a lot more nuclear weapons,” Blank said.

Blank said that even with the difficulties, having a common foe will likely keep the two nations cooperating with one another.

Returning to the ideological aspect of the three-way relationship, Lopez said the driving force is not to advance of an ideology, the purpose is to stop one.

“It’s anti-Western liberal democracy. None of these nations have any interest in seeing Western-style democracy take hold in one single more country,” Lopez explained..

“If they can make sure that doesn’t happen, or if they can help make sure that doesn’t happen, they’re going to do that. They oppose the free, liberal, Western-style democracy and they don’t want to see that system expand or gain power at all. If they can knock it back, if they can take it down a notch, they’re going to do that,” she said.

“The free liberal, Western-style democracies threaten their regimes, which are
anything but. So anywhere in the world they can counter our style of governance,
they’re going to do it,” Lopez added.

“Those three, Iran, China and Russia, all have and want to keep totalitarian-style police states. That’s what they’re in favor of. The specifics of the politics or the economics, that’s for the lower echelon. But, at the top level we’re talking about is the preservation of totalitarian, dictatorial police states,” Lopez further stated.

The three regimes in the arms triangle have different governments at home, so Lopez said that two of them may no longer be in the business of expanding their political systems. She added that’s not the case with Iran.

“Russia and China may not be so much into the expansion, but Iran certainly is. They’ve been the leader for some time for the expansion of Shariah Islam and jihad to establish Shariah,” said Lopez

Listen to more of the interview with Lopez:


Lopez said the best way to for the U.S. to oppose the totalitarian systems in the three countries is for the U.S. to clearly stand for the principles of the Constitution.

“First of all we have to know what we stand for, from the top of our leadership, to the military on down to the citizen voter, we have to know what our principles are and that they’re grounded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the rights of human beings to live free and participate in their own governance,” Lopez asserted.

“We have to understand that first for ourselves and then as best we can share that, not impose, and share that through education and bi-lateral relationships,” Lopez added.

She says the other half of the equation is to understand the enemy.

“I don’t see our leadership being able to do either one of these things right now. They have lost complete sight of our history, traditions and value of those, and what made America, America. They’ve completely lost sight of that,” she said.

“We don’t understand the enemy because our leaders don’t understand what we stand for any more. Because they don’t understand, they can’t see the enemy that comes to destroy those things,” Lopez stated.


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