The Diplomat

An Authoritarian Axis Rising?

It takes time for societies and policymakers to understand that a major shift in global affairs is afoot. But what we see clearly, in recent months, is the emergence of a new constellation of powers.

Such a concert of nations can only inject turmoil into the international system. It is a relatively new phenomenon that represents a radical shift in international politics, perhaps as momentous as the Soviet Union’s collapse two decades ago.

By coordinating their policies, this grouping of powers is beginning to profoundly reshape global affairs, especially in the Asia-Pacific, Indo-Pacific, and Eurasian regions.

Who are the members of this group? Today, it includes China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela.

Why does it exist? Fundamentally, this new axis signals growing anxiety on the part of its members that they are “behind the curve” of history. Simply put, these states are on the wrong side of history, politics and economics – and they know it.

Its members share certain characteristics that raise questions of how it is, precisely, that they and their peoples missed the curve in building democratic states and free markets.

Most worrisome of all: we see strong evidence that they actively coordinate their foreign policies. Such coordination appears to be a relatively recent development that coincides with Vladimir Putin’s return to Russia’s presidency.

Why the Axis is Emerging: Fear

Societies must ask why has this grouping of authoritarian states emerged?

There are two common fears that animate the policies of these authoritarian governments. One is their apparent fear of democracy, freedom, and liberty, which each of these societies works aggressively to curtail.

Second, these authoritarian regimes fear the power and influence of the United States and the West. As the single most powerful state in economic, military, and technological terms, the United States exemplifies the success of free societies that authoritarian societies most deeply oppose. Stated simply, democratic values, particularly transparency in government and society, put at risk the survival of these authoritarian, repressive governments.

Dr. William C. Martel is an Associate Professor of International Security Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy: Tufts University.

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