Why do Russia and China support Iran?

by Dave Schuler on April 30, 2006

Robert Kagan has a very interesting column in the Washington Post this morning that touches directly on a discussion I’m having with a commenter. Kagan outlines the reasons that Russia and China support the Iranians:

Until now the liberal West’s strategy has been to try to integrate these two powers into the international liberal order, to tame them and make them safe for liberalism. But that strategy rested on an expectation of their gradual, steady transformation into liberal societies. If, instead, China and Russia are going to be sturdy pillars of autocracy over the coming decades, enduring and perhaps even prospering, then they cannot be expected to embrace the West’s vision of humanity’s inexorable evolution toward democracy and the end of autocratic rule. Rather, they can be expected to do what autocracies have always done: resist the encroachments of liberalism in the interest of their own long-term survival.

In small but revealing ways this is what Russia and China are doing, in places such as Sudan and Iran, where they are making common cause to block the liberal West’s efforts to impose sanctions, and in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Burma, where they have embraced various dictators in defiance of the global liberal consensus. All these actions can be explained away as simply serving narrow material interests. China needs Sudanese and Iranian oil; Russia wants the hundreds of millions of dollars that come from the sale of weapons and nuclear reactors. But there is more than narrow self-interest involved in their decisions. Defending these governments against the pressures of the liberal West reflects their fundamental interests as autocracies.

He concludes:

The world is a complicated place and is not about to divide into a simple Manichean struggle between liberalism and autocracy. Russia and China are not natural allies. Both need access to the markets of the liberal West. And both share interests with the Western liberal powers. But as autocracies they do have important interests in common, both with each other and with other autocracies. All are under siege in an era when liberalism does seem to be expanding. No one should be surprised if, in response, an informal league of dictators has emerged, sustained and protected by Moscow and Beijing as best they can. The question will be what the United States and Europe decide to do in response. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda may not be the only challenge liberalism faces today, or even the greatest.

If true, in my view it’s a very short-sighted and probably self-destructive policy on the part of both Russia and China. Look at a map. Iran is in the same neighborhood as both Russia and China. Both Russia and China are actually materially threated by Islamism within their borders. That Islamist terrorism is mostly Saudi-supported at this point. The Saudis and Iranians are in competition for dominance in the Muslim world. Perhaps Iran will be content with letting the Islamist terrorists threatening Russia and the Islamist terrorists threatening China be beaten down by the Russians and Chinese, respectively. I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that they’ll fund their own groups of terrorists. Remember as far as the Iranians are concerned Russia and China are sideshows, the Muslim world is the circus.

The real best interests of both China, Russia, and the U. S. (not to mention Iran) lie in a decent, stable, peaceful, non-expansionist regime taking over in Tehran. Everybody (except the mullahs) are winners that way. That ain’t the one that’s there now. We can’t achieve that goal by supporting the mullahocracy.

Liberal democracies have permanent interests in common, namely, advancing human freedom. Autocracies have none.

For more on the China-Iran-Russia axis see here and here.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

J Thomas May 1, 2006 at 10:55 pm

The real best interests of both China, Russia, and the U. S. (not to mention Iran) lie in a decent, stable, peaceful, non-expansionist regime taking over in Tehran. Everybody (except the mullahs) are winners that way.

That makes sense. But suppose they don’t see the alternatives that way.

Suppose they see that it’s either a weak independent iran with a few nukes, or an iran that’s under the tight control of the USA.

If those were the choices, which would they prefer?

Ian Campbell May 2, 2006 at 7:42 pm

Perhaps they don’t realise that large tracts of Russia, or China, or both depending on the weather pattern, are in the probable fallout pattern.

Perhaps they don’t think that massive retaliation will be the probable result of Iran getting nukes (which is possible) and using them (probable if they get them).

I think they are wrong.

J Thomas sees two possibilities. I see a third; a place called Iran that used to be a country, and now glows in the dark.

Dave Schuler May 2, 2006 at 8:08 pm

That’s what I’m concerned about, too, Ian. And I think that we (and I do mean “we”) in the West should be more willing to exert very strenuous and even draconian measures on all fronts (not just the military). The stakes are very high.

J Thomas May 3, 2006 at 12:36 am

Ian, the question wasn’t what possibilities *I* see. The question was what possibilities the russians and chinese see.

Sure, it’s possible the iranians need us to bomb them back to the stone age for their own good, so they won’t later be bombed until they glow in the dark. But there are lots of ways to keep them from getting nukes.

For example, they could get the russian army moving in to “protect” them from us. And the occupying russian army could guarantee that iranian power nukes don’t get used for weapons. And of course then nobody could nuke iran without nuking the russian army and inviting a whole lot of retaliation. That wouldn’t be ideal for iran but it would be better for them than massive airstrikes. They might well agree to something like that if we pressure them hard enough.

Would that be an acceptable outcome?

How about if it was the chinese army instead? I don’t right off see that china would particularly want bases in iran, but maybe they’re looking ahead.

The closer we come to a USA/iran confrontation, the more likely it is the winner will be russia or china or both. Not real likely that either USA or iran will come out stronger than we went in. A reasonable chance that russia or china or both come out stronger than when we went in.

ardy July 20, 2006 at 3:34 am

iran is the best country ever.

also why doesnt anybody say anything about isreals nukes. they are the ones who already have 400 warheads and yet they still deny it.

Ernst July 29, 2008 at 11:52 am

In my opinion, both China and Russia are ONLY interested in WEAKENING not the “west”, but the US ALONE.-The formation of the SCO is the MOST important “BASE” of their intentions..Where ever the US supports some goverment or country..they will be against.. which ever goverment or country the US is against they will support it and sell them the most advance weapons (sunburn missiles) etc..This has being going on for the past.. at least 6 years..The US is in a very difficult position in the world..It has REALLY NOT ONE SINGLE country that would follow them in attacking Iran!! except.. ISRAEL, GUAM, and MICRONESIA!!Even Latin America is NO MORE their “back-yard”.. They must have a Plan “D” or “Z”!! because if the had an A,B,or C. it has not worked!!

Louis May 5, 2010 at 5:12 am

Mr. Shuler states: Liberal democracies have permanent interests in common, namely, advancing human freedom. Autocracies have none.
Can you explain to our fellow readers how the Liberal Democracies of the west Britain and the USA have promoted and advanced human freedom in Saudi Arabia? Out of curiosity I’d like to see you answering this question at the same time maintaining your viewpoint.

Fedor November 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Guys…seriously… How can you tie up the “mullahocracy” you wrote to anything ideological??? You gotta be kidding me!!! Any coutry the USA invades, it invades under the different ideological rational (which is far from being humanistic, neither is a fight for liberalism in any sense!!!), yet interesting enough, any invasion perfectly couincides with the volume of oil the invaded country possesses. Liberalism lies within the countries’ abilities to choose what type of government they prefer to have, be it autocracy, aristocracy or the dictatorship. When you try to impose “you liberalism” you diminish the sense of true liberalism, in its authentic sense. It is a fight for the most valuable material asset of contemporary world: oil. And I’m not saying that China and Russia are not interested in that resource, I am just saying dear noble getlemen, the rulling class of modern times, please be sincere with yourself, sparing the reader from the empty demagogy, just state the freaking truth…

Jaws7 January 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I am schocked at the crap I am reading in this article. I realize that our government and the media it controls thinks we’re idiots but I thought it had a little more respect for our intelligiance. “Liberal democracies …advancing human freedom.” When has the US and EU ever advanced human freedoms in the Middle East? The US-NATO alliance has three countries that have engaged in genocides in modern history. It is made up of powers with a history of colonizing and starting wars with small countries that are resource rich. Going to war with Afagnistan was all about oil and pipelines.
Going to war with Iraq was not about WMDs, and the desire to go
to war with Iran is not about nuclear weapons. It is about controlling a country that is resource rich.

The US and its major allies have a history of supporting military dictatorships and kings that support their agenda. If it were not for Russia and China alot of countries would have been plundered for their natural resources. As for Iran it is a peaceful country that has not attacked anyone in modern history. It fights drug trafficking and terrorists. If it supports Hezbollah it is because it
is a social, polital organization defending its country against the West. The Middle East and Asia would be better off if the US and NATO stayed away. However, I realize I profit from our countries misadventures but I also suffer from these adventures. But I do not believe it is asking to much for our media not to treat us like idiots.

mitch June 13, 2014 at 7:41 pm

as a gold star father,if the us Dosent show the rest of the world who we are after losing almost 7000 lives then this pres. has no balls. maybe his wife will grow him some

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