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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a ceremony in Beijing in 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
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The recent announcement
that China and Russia
intend to cooperate to
build a lunar research
station is ominous. While
the immediate effects are
minimal, it is yet another
sign that Moscow and
Beijing are drawing closer
into a de facto alliance
against the West.

 

The lunar research
station itself harbors little
immediate import or
threat. Neither country
possesses the capability
to construct such a fixture.
And the plans themselves
suggest it would not be
built until sometime in
the 2030s, with a longterm human presence there even further in the
future. Americans need not
worry that they will soon
be confronted with secret
Chinese moon lasers or
other weaponry placed on
Earth’s satellite.

 

There are also strong
signs that the United States
could establish its own
base first. NASA’s Artemis
project envisions returning
humans to the moon by
2024. It plans to build a
permanent orbiting lunar
base, Gateway, as part of
this project as well. Eight
nations, including the
United Kingdom, Italy,
Japan and the United
Arab Emirates, have
agreed to partner in this
effort. The Russo-Chinese
declaration could be
as much a propaganda
effort to counteract the
U.S.-led consortium as it
is a serious cooperative
venture.

 

But that itself is a worrying
sign. Russia and China have
been pulling together for
most of the past decade
in an increasingly tight
embrace. Russia sells
to China, its onetime
rival, advanced military
weaponry, which in

many cases is still superior
to Chinese-made technology.
The two nations’ militaries
have conducted joint military
exercises, including a tripartite
exercise with Iran in the Indian
Ocean last month. Russian
President Vladimir Putin even
refused to rule out a formal
military alliance with China in
the future.

 

The emergence of a MoscowBeijing-Tehran axis should worry President Biden. This grouping has a global reach that could simultaneously threaten U.S.
interests worldwide. Imagine
a scenario in which Russianbacked forces undermine
nearby NATO countries just as
Iranian proxies threaten Israel
or Arab states in the Persian Gulf
and China menaces Taiwan or
nations that object to its claims in
the South China Sea. The United
States often has a difficult time
managing one crisis; what would
happen if it had to manage three
or four at one time?

 

This challenge is the most
important Biden must face. He
could choose to treat the malign
axis as a fait accompli and seek
to confront it with increased
U.S. strength and a firm, global
alliance structure that is also
committed to this goal. He could
seek to divide the axis by wooing
Russia away from its tilt toward
China, but that inevitably would
require giving Russia things
it values such as domination
of Ukraine or perhaps even
removal of NATO forces from
our Baltic allies. Or he could
choose to largely ignore the
warning signs, papering over the
seriousness of the challenge with
words that aren’t backed up with
increased U.S. capabilities.
The signs thus far are mixed.
Biden has told European allies
that “America is back,” but it
remains to be seen what that
means with reference to the U.S.
posture towards Russia. In the
Middle East, Secretary of State
Antony Blinken also looks to
be trying to have it both ways,
telling Israel that the United
States supports its security

needs while also exploring
ways to get Iran to reenter the
Obama-era nuclear agreement
that Israel vehemently opposes.
Biden’s Asia policies have been
somewhat more forthright, as
the administration has soothed
relations with South Korea by
settling a Trump-era dispute
over how much our ally pays
for U.S. bases there. The United
States also participated this
week in the first meeting with
India, Japan and Australia —
known together as “the Quad.”
China hawks hope this turns
into a robust alliance to resist
Chinese expansion.

 

None of these initiatives
will matter, however, if the
United States doesn’t start to
reinvest in national security
and space. Despite budget
increases during the Trump
administration, U.S. defense
spending remains close to a
post-1960 low as a percentage
of GDP. That’s simply not
enough given the global
commitments and interests
of the United States. NASA’s
budget has also shrunk over
the years. It now spends less
than half in constant dollar
terms than it did during
the 1960s when the Apollo
project was in full flight. The
United States cannot confront
a Beijing-led axis without
significant increases in both
budgets.

 

China’s first Earth satellite
broadcast the Mao-era anthem
“The East is Red” to the world.
Let’s hope a Sino-Russian
lunar research station won’t be
confidently singing a similar
tune.

 

Opinion by
Henry Olsen

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