In his 2002 State of the Union address, then-US President George W. Bush used the phrase “axis of evil” to describe Iran, North Korea and Iraq. The phrase was a deliberate invocation of the Axis powers of World War II—Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan—whose actions shattered the peace of the interwar period and plunged the world into yet another conflagration.
The phrase drew significant criticism in the United States and abroad. Critics said the three countries were not sufficiently aligned to be an “axis”.
In retrospect, however, the Bush administration was half right. An axis of evil was forming, but the shock of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks distorted US foreign policy and diverted attention from the key players: China and Russia.
Today, China’s rapid militarization, neo-imperialist foreign policy, and Han Chinese ultra-nationalism are well documented, but it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that roused the international foreign policy establishment from its intellectual paralysis over its similarly nefarious plans and revanchist foreign policy.
Perhaps nothing typifies the short-sighted nature of Western foreign policy in recent decades more than former US President Barack Obama’s taunting of then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during a televised debate in 2012. Taunting Romney for warning that Russia is providing the US greatest geopolitical threat Obama said: “The 1980s are calling. They want their foreign policy back. The Cold War has been over for 20 years.”
Since his 2002 address, the Bush administration’s warnings about Iran and North Korea have been confirmed. Iranian leaders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have repeatedly vowed to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” while its scientists are on the verge of developing nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, North Korea continues to develop its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile technology while its leadership appears increasingly unpredictable.
However, by declaring a “war on terror,” the US and its allies threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Middle East in a futile search for “weapons of mass destruction” and regime change. Its tunnel vision on al-Qaeda and terrorism gave Beijing the space to participate in an unprecedented peacetime military build-up with virtually no opposition.
The US military – and that of its allies – has spent decades transforming itself to combat a terrorist insurgency in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan and is unprepared to wage state-on-state war.
There are worrying signs that China and Russia have formed an alliance of convenience. Many analysts suspect that when Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) met in person ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, they agreed to “scratch each other’s backs,” with China turning a blind eye to Ukraine and Russia, who retaliate as China invades Taiwan. Something more could develop from the cozy “bromance” between Putin and Xi.
According to a CNN report, a US diplomatic cable shared information with Washington’s allies in Europe and Asia that showed the Kremlin had approached Beijing for assistance in its invasion of Ukraine. Providing military aid from China to Russia would raise the prospect of a Cold War-style proxy conflict in Ukraine, akin to the wars in Vietnam and the Korean Peninsula, with East versus West, democracies versus autocracies.
The globe appears to be split into two geopolitical hemispheres, with Taiwan, the US, European countries, India, Japan and South Korea on one side and an authoritarian bloc – China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea – on the other.
As the world recovers from a historically unprecedented period of peace, Taiwan finds itself at a new geostrategic fault line and on the front line against the true “axis of evil.”
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