Trump’s Iran policies have left the country with no choice but to turn to Russia and China.
The Trump administration continues to impose heavy (maximum pressure) sanctions on Iran and those that trade with it—which had been suspended since the signing of the 2015 nuclear agreement. It is doing so, because the US aims to “build a global coalition to put pressure on Iran to stop [its nefarious] behavior.”
But Trump will fail. And not only fail in thwarting the Mullahs, but more importantly fail in stopping what has now become a fait-au-compli (a done deal) i.e. the emergence of a new multi-polar world operating without the U.S. at its economic core.
Not only are the United States’ European allies opposed to his decision to leave the nuclear agreement and reintroduce sanctions, but Russia and China also won’t allow Iran to be isolated again. In fact, Beijing and Moscow were Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s first ports of call on his mini-diplomatic tour to ensure the nuclear agreement’s continued implementation after U.S. withdrawal, continuing a long Iranian tradition of looking to the two as a bulwark against Western unreliability.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah, Iran found itself isolated on the international stage. The United States reacted to the hostage crisis and the new regime’s anti-Western rhetoric by cutting ties with Tehran. Joined by its allies, America sought to contain the new regime. Soon, the United States and Europe—once Iran’s key partners—scaled back or ceased their political, economic, and military relations with the country. As a result, Tehran built ties with countries that didn’t place as much weight on the regime’s pariah status.
In the decades following the 1979 revolution, Tehran strengthened its political, economic, and military ties with Beijing and Moscow. In the decades following the 1979 revolution, Tehran strengthened its political, economic, and military ties with Beijing and Moscow. During the Iran-Iraq War, China was vital to Iran’s war effort. It was one of the only arms suppliers willing to provide Tehran with weapons and military equipment. When the war ended, China occupied a central role in the country’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts, particularly in Iran’s infrastructure projects and the supply of consumer goods.
Russia for its part, began working with Tehran at the end of the nineties to develop port and rail infrastructure in Iran. Crucially, with virtually all other suppliers gone from the Iranian nuclear sector, Moscow slowly built up its presence there, developing a quasi-monopoly in the area by the turn of the century.
As a result, Russia and China were reluctant participants in international efforts to sanction and isolate Iran following the unveiling of covert aspects of its nuclear program in the 2000s. The two powers exploited Iran’s isolation to expand their foothold and influence in the country, and Iran leveraged these relationships to offset the impact of sanctions. Iran also hoped to build intricate political ties that neither Beijing nor Moscow would be willing to jeopardize should the West want to isolate the Islamic Republic again.
But dealing with the two giants was not easy for Tehran, which grew tired of Russian and Chinese unreliability and substandard products. As the Iranians saw it, Russian and Chinese officials and businesses were purposely stalling on a number of key projects—including the completion of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant by Moscow, which took 19 years to be built and come online, and the Tehran Metro by Beijing, with the first line completed five years after the agreement was signed between China and Iran and work continuing today to extend the lines.
By 2012, fed up with the Russians and the Chinese and eager to open its economy and resume relations with the West, Iran returned to the negotiating table. Iranians craved normalization of the country’s status on the international stage, access to international markets, more suppliers, higher-quality European products, and more comprehensive relationships than Moscow and Beijing were affording them. But from Iran’s perspective, history had shown that it couldn’t rely solely on the West—so Iran continued to build and deepen its ties with Russia and China.
In the last several years, Russia has played an important role in the development of Iran’s nuclear and aerospace industries, with its involvement in the construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and the sale of airplanes and their parts. And it increasingly supports Iranian regional activities in the Middle East and South Asia, most notably by fighting alongside Iran and the Bashar al-Assad regime to push back the opposition in Syria and by allegedly supporting Taliban groups in Afghanistan to defeat the Islamic State offshoot there.
China’s energy dependence and Belt and Road Initiative have made Iran an increasingly attractive partner. Beijing remains involved in building up Iran’s infrastructure, including electricity, dams, cement plants, steel mills, shipbuilding, motorways, and airports. Defense cooperation, including arms and technology trade and joint military drills, has become an increasingly significant part of Iran’s relationship with both countries, with China in the Persian Gulf and Russia in the Caspian Sea.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal made the pursuit of joint initiatives easier for Russia and China—but the likely collapse of the deal won’t be a disaster for them. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal made the pursuit of joint initiatives easier for Russia and China—but the likely collapse of the deal won’t be a disaster for them. Both countries have a longstanding presence in the Iranian market and understand how to navigate it. Both are searching for ways to insulate their state and local banks from the U.S. market and third-party U.S. sanctions
From the moment the Berlin Wall fell, the United States saw a unique opportunity to pursue the goal of being the sole global hegemon. With the end of the Soviet Union, Washington could undoubtedly aspire to planetary domination paying little heed to the threat of competition and especially of any consequences. America found herself the one and only global superpower, faced with the prospect of extending cultural and economic model around the planet, where necessary by military means.
Over the past 25 years there have been numerous examples demonstrating how Washington has had little hesitation in bombing nations reluctant to kowtow to Western wishes. In other examples, an economic battering ram, based on predatory capitalism and financial speculation, has literally destroyed sovereign nations, further enriching the US and European financial elite in the process.
Alliances to Resist
In the course of the last two decades, the relationship between the three major powers of the Heartland, the heart of the Earth, changed radically.
Iran, Russia and China have fully understood that union and cooperation are the only means for mutual reinforcement. The need to fight a common problem, represented by a growing American influence in domestic affairs, has forced Tehran, Beijing and Moscow to resolve their differences and embrace a unified strategy in the common interest of defending their sovereignty.
Events such as the war in Syria, the bombing of Libya, the overthrowing of the democratic order in Ukraine, sanctions against Iran, and the direct pressure applied to Beijing in the South China Sea, have accelerated integration among nations that in the early 1990s had very little in common.
Analyzing US economic power, supranational organizations like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank guarantee Washington’s role as the economic leader. The pillars that support the centrality of the United States in the world economy can be attributed to the monetary policy of the Fed and the function of the dollar as a global reserve currency.
The Fed has unlimited ability to print money to finance further economic power of the private and public sector as well as to pay the bill due for very costly wars. The US dollar plays a central role as the global reserve currency as well as being used as currency for trade. This virtually obliges each central bank to own reserves in US currency, continuing to perpetuate the importance of Washington in the global economic system.
The introduction of the yuan into the international basket of the IMF, global agreements for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and Beijing’s protests its treatment by the World Trade Organization (WTO) are all alarm bells for American strategists who see the role of the American currency eroding. In Russia, the central bank decided not to accumulate dollar reserves, favoring instead foreign currency like the Indian rupee and the Chinese yuan. The rating agencies – western financial-oligarchy tools -have diminishing credibility, having become means to manipulate markets to favor specific US interests. Chinese and Russian independent rating agencies are further confirmation of Beijing and Moscow’s strategy to undermine America’s role in western economics.
De-dollarization is occurring and proceeding rapidly, especially in areas of mutual business interest. In what is becoming increasingly routine, nations are dealing in commodities by negotiating in currencies other than the dollar. The benefit is twofold: a reduction in the role of the dollar in their sovereign affairs, and an increase in synergies between allied nations. Iran and India exchanged oil in rupees, and China and Russia trade in yuan.
Another advantage enjoyed by the United States, intrinsically linked to the banking private sector, is the political pressure that Americans can apply through financial and banking institutions. The most striking example is seen in the exclusion of Iran from the SWIFT international system of payments, as well as the extension of sanctions, including the freezing of Tehran’s assets (about 150 billion US dollars) in foreign bank deposits. While the US is trying to crack down on independent economic initiatives, nations like Iran, Russia and China are increasing their synergies. During the period of sanctions against Iran, the Russian Federation has traded with the Islamic Republic in primary commodities. China has supported Iran with the export of oil purchased in yuan. More generally, Moscow has proposed the creation of an alternative banking system to the SWIFT system.
Private Banks, central banks, ratings agencies and supranational organizations depend in large part on the role played by the dollar and the Fed. The first goal of Iran, Russia and China is of course to make these international bodies less influential. Economic multipolarity is the first as well as the most incisive way to expand the free choice before each nation to pursue its own interests, thereby retaining its national sovereignty.
This fictitious and corrupt financial system led to the financial crisis of 2008. Tools to accumulate wealth by the elite, artificially maintaining a zombie system (turbo capitalism) have served to cause havoc in the private and public sectors, such as with the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the crisis in the Asian markets in the late 1990s.
The need for Russia, China and Iran to find an alternative economic system is also necessary to secure vital aspects of the domestic economy. The stock-market crash in China, the depreciation of the ruble in Russia, and the illegal sanctions imposed on Iran have played a profound role in concentrating the minds of Moscow, Tehran and Beijing. Ignoring the problem borne of the centrality of the dollar would have only increased the influence and role of Washington. Finding points of convergence instead of being divided was an absolute must and not an option.
A perfect example, explaining the failed American economic approach, can be seen in recent years with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two commercial agreements that were supposed to seal the economic trade supremacy of the US. The growing economic alternatives proposed by the union of intent between Russia, China and Iran has enabled smaller nations to reject the US proposals to seek better trade deals elsewhere. In this sense, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) proposed by Beijing is increasingly appreciated in Asia as an alternative to the TPP.
In the same way, the Eurasian Union (EAEU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have always been key components for Moscow. The function these institutions play was noticeably accelerated following the coup in Ukraine and the resulting need for Russia to turn east in search of new business partners. Finally, Iran, chosen by Beijing as the crossroad of land and sea transit, is a prime example of integration between powers geographically distant but with great intentions to integrate vital structures of commerce.
The Chinese model of development, called Silk Road 2.0, poses a serious threat to American global hegemonic processes. The goal for Beijing is to reach full integration between the countries of the Heartland and Rimland, utilizing the concept of sea power and land power. With an investment of 1,000 billion US dollars over ten years, China itself becomes a link between the west, represented by Europe; the east, represented by China itself; the north, with the Eurasian economic space; the south, with India; Southeast Asia; the Persian Gulf and Middle East. The hope is that economic cooperation will lead to the resolution of discrepancies and strategic differences between countries thanks to trade agreements that are beneficiary to all sides.
The role of Washington continues to be that of destruction rather than construction. Instead of playing the role of a global superpower that is interested in business and trade with other nations, the United States continues to consider any foreign decision in matters of integration, finance, economy and development to lie within its exclusive domain. The primary purpose of the United States is simply to exploit every economic and cultural instrument available to prevent cohesion and coexistence between nations. The military component is usually the trump card, historically used to impose this vision on the rest of the world. In recent years, thanks to de-dollarization and military integration, nations like Iran, Russia and China are less subject to Washington’s unilateral decisions.
Accompanying the important economic integration is strong military-strategic cooperation, which is much less publicized. Events such as the Middle East wars, the coup in Ukraine, and the pressure exerted in the South China Sea have forced Tehran, Moscow and Beijing to conclude that the United States represents an existential threat.
In each of the above scenarios, China, Russia and Iran have had to make decisions by weighing the pros and cons of an opposition to the American model. The Ukraine coup d’état brought NATO to the borders of the Russian Federation, representing an existential threat to the Russia, threatening as it does its nuclear deterrent. In the Middle East, the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria has obliged Tehran to react against the alliance formed between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States. In China, the constant pressure on South China Sea poses a serious problem in case of a trade blockade during a conflict. In all these scenarios, American imperialism has created existential threats. It is for this reason natural that cooperation and technological development, even in the military area, have received a major boost in recent years.
In the event of an American attack on Russia, China and Iran, it is important to focus on what weapon systems would be used and how the attacked nations could respond.
Maritime Strategy and Deterrence
Certainly, US naval force place a serious question mark over the defense capabilities of nations like Russia, China and Iran, which strongly depend on transit via sea routes. Let us take, for example, Russia and the Arctic transit route, of great interest not only for defense purposes but also being a quick passage for transit goods. The Black Sea for these reasons has received special attention from the United States due to its strategic location. In any case, the responses have been proportional to the threat.
Iran has significantly developed maritime capabilities in the Persian Gulf, often closely marking ships of the US Navy located in the area for the purposes of deterrence. China’s strategy has been even more refined, with the use of dozens, if not hundreds, of fishing boats and ships of the Coast Guard to ensure safety and strengthen the naval presence in the South and East China Sea. This is all without forgetting the maritime strategy outlined by the PLA Navy to become a regional naval power over the next few years. Similar strategic decisions have been taken by the navy of the Russian Federation. In addition to having taken over ship production as in Soviet times, it has opted for the development of ships that cost less but nevertheless boast equivalent weapons systems to the Americans carrier groups.
Iran, China and Russia make efficiency and cost containment a tactic to balance the growing aggressiveness of the Americans and the attendant cost of such a military strategy.
The fundamental difference between the naval approach of these countries in contrast to that of the US is paramount. Washington needs to use its naval power for offensive purposes, whereas Tehran, Moscow and Beijing need naval power exclusively for defensive purposes.
In this sense, among the greatest weapons these three recalcitrant countries possess are anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic systems. To put things simply, it is enough to note that Russian weapons systems such as the S-300 and S-400 air-defense systems (the S-500 will be operational in 2017) are now being adopted by China and Iran with variations developed locally. Increasingly we are witnessing an open transfer of technology to continue the work of denying (A2/AD) physical and cyberspace freedom to the United States. Stealth aircraft, carrier strike groups, ICBMs and cruise missiles are experiencing a difficult time in such an environment, finding themselves opposed by the formidable defense systems the Russians, Iranians and Chinese are presenting. The cost of an anti-ship missile fired from the Chinese coast is considerably lower than the tens of billions of dollars needed to build an aircraft carrier. This paradigm of cost and efficiency is what has shaped the military spending of China, Russia and Iran. Going toe to toe with the United States without being forced to close a huge military gap is the only viable way to achieve immediate tangible benefits of deterrence and thereby block American expansionist ambitions.
A clear example of where the Americans have encountered military opposition at an advanced level has been in Syria. The systems deployed by Iran and Russia to protect the Syrian government presented the Americans with the prospect of facing heavy losses in the event of an attack on Damascus. The same also holds for the anti-Iranian rhetoric of certain American politicians and Israeli leaders. The only reason why Syria and Iran remain sovereign nations is because of the military cost that an invasion or bombing would have brought to their invaders. This is the essence of deterrence. Of course, this argument only takes into partial account the nuclear aspect that this author has extensively discussed in a previous article.
The Union of the nations of the Heartland and Rimland will make the United States irrelevant
The future for the most important area of the planet is already sealed. The overall integration of Beijing, Moscow and Tehran provides the necessary antibodies to foreign aggression in military and economic form. De-dollarization, coupled with an infrastructure roadmap such as the Chinese Silk Road 2.0 and the maritime trade route, offer important opportunities for developing nations that occupy the geographical space between Portugal and China. Dozens of nations have all it takes to integrate for mutually beneficial gains without having to worry too much about American threats. The economic alternative offered from Beijing provides a wide safety net for resisting American assaults in the same way that the military umbrella offered by these three military powers, such as with the SCO for example, serves to guarantee the necessary independence and strategic autonomy. More and more nations are clearly rejecting American interference, favoring instead a dialogue with Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. Duterte in the Philippines is just the latest example of this trend.
The multipolar future has gradually reduced the role of the United States in the world, primarily in reaction to her aggression seeking to achieve global domination. The constant quest for planetary hegemony has pushed nations who were initially western partners to reassess their role in the international order, passing slowly but progressively into the opposite camp to that of Washington.
The consequences of this process have sealed the destiny of the United States, not only as a response to her quest for supremacy but also because of her efforts to maintain her role as the sole global superpower. As noted in previous articles, during the Cold War the aim for Washington was to prevent the formation of a union between the nations of the Heartland, who could then exclude the US from the most important area of the globe. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, sights were set on an improbable quest to conquer the Heartland nations with the intent of dominating the whole world. The consequences of this miscalculation have led the United States to being relegated to the role of mere observer, watching the unions and integrations occurring that will revolutionize the Eurasian zone and the planet over the next 50 years.
The desperate search to extend Washington’s unipolar moment has paradoxically accelerated the rise of a multipolar world.
In response, Trump intends to adopt a containment approach to the Rimland, limiting the damage to the US caused by a complete integration between nations such as Russia, China, Iran and soon to be extended to India and Europe (i.e. Germany). Containment, however, can only slow the integration process – not eliminate it.
Ironically, by sanctioning Iran and trying to ‘contain it’, the U.S. sowed the seeds of a complete transformation of global economic and political forces. And now, with pulling out of the JCPOA and other treaties, it is increasingly isolating itself and ‘pushing’ allies like the Europeans into the ‘arms’ of Russia, China and Iran.
The U.S. has played all its cards poorly, and ultimately engineered its own demise.