The U.S. aspires to sustain the pillars of its maritime supremacy; one of the big questions for the coming years concerns the relationship between Russia and China.
The story turns back on itself. After three decades of relative stability in the world’s oceans, increasing strategic competition among the major powers presents a challenge to the weak system of maritime governance. In recent years, the seas have been getting rough.
Just during the past year, a situation of extreme tension has developed in the Black Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan. All of which adds to Iran’s threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, a key bottleneck for the global economy, and the emergency over pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, located on the South Atlantic coast of Africa.
The maritime dimension of this competition among the world’s great powers shows up in the ambition of the White House to preserve the underpinnings of its maritime preeminence, sustained by its global presence and its (ever-decreasing) technological advantage over China. In the meantime, Eurasian competitors are trying to exclude the U.S. and build their own zones of influence. This may be pursued unilaterally, as in the case of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine or the Chinese pressures on Taiwan; or through multilateral initiatives like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; or by projecting on a global scale the narrative of a multilateral world within the framework of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
One of the big questions about the global order in the future is in regard to the Russia-China relationship. While most experts rule out the formation of a classic military alliance, it is undeniable that closer relations in the past few years have permitted progress toward a grand Eurasian partnership with a broad agenda — from a common vision receptive to a multipolar world, to carrying out naval exercises in the Pacific, to the inclusion of Iran in naval exercises in the Indian Ocean.
The major Eurasian powers have been gradually building a strategic convergence since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. However, there are still elements of mistrust among them. Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Russia Matters Project, has said that China and Russia are sleeping in the same bed, but they are having different dreams.
Conversely, it is important to highlight the increasing importance of India in the Indo-Pacific space. New Delhi has become a key partner in Washington’s multilateral plan, by the deepening of strategic ties as well as through its participation in the dialogue on the quadrilateral forum for security, along with Australia, Japan and the U.S.
Be that as it may, India rejected the tougher posture of the White House after the shaping of the military alliance with the U.K. and Australia, initially announced in 2021, to provide nuclear attack submarines to Canberra in the medium term. India is maintaining an active neutrality with a gradual rapprochement with the U.S. However, it has maintained its historic ties with Russia — its primary arms supplier — and is integrated into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization along with Pakistan.
Behind the maritime competition among the great powers of the 21st century, we find the debate about the organization of a world in which the architecture of the rules and norms of the past half century is being weakened — while the military dimension assumes a place that seemed to be forgotten after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our region, and especially the South Atlantic, is not going to be far from this new global dynamic.