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U.S. Foreign Officials Fear Anti-NATO Axis Formation

By Tyler Marshall
LOS ANGELES TIMES

U.S. foreign affairs specialists are closely monitoring new signs of increased cooperation between Russia, China and India, along with a growing sense in all three countries, especially after NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, that U.S. power must somehow be checked.

Although agreeing that the three nations are far from coalescing into a pan-Eurasian, anti-NATO axis, the analysts remain concerned about a potentially grave threat: an alliance that would bring together about 2.5 billion people, formidable military might and a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, all held together by the common goal of countering America’s global dominance.

“Right now, you have flirting,” said Charles Williams Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. “I don’t know where this is going to go. If we play our cards right, it’s going to go nowhere.”

But if the relationships progress, Maynes said, “then you basically have the world’s heartland -- 2 billion people in China and India -- allied with a formidable technological power in Russia. That would be a disaster for the United States.”

The signs of flirtation include a large and growing arms sale relationship between Russia and the two Asian countries. The trade provides Russia with important arms-export markets, and China and India with sophisticated armaments ranging from advanced combat aircraft to nuclear submarines.

The blossoming relationships are already changing the military equation in Asia. China’s acquisition of Russian SSN-22 anti-ship missiles, for example, could quickly become a worry for the U.S. 7th Fleet in any confrontation with Beijing.

The political desire for closer cooperation is reflected in high-level rhetoric about the need for greater cooperation, usually mixed with thinly veiled anti-Western comments or calls for a “multipolar world” -- code for counterbalancing America’s global dominance.

During a visit to India in December, Russia’s then-prime minister, Yevgeny M. Primakov, floated the idea of a “strategic triangle” committing the three nations to a policy of regional peace and stability.

So far, the concept has not been fleshed out. But Western analysts see a series of converging interests among the nations that, if driven by events, could easily add substance to talk of strategic partnerships.

Aside from a shared discomfort about America’s might, the three have other common interests. They want a stable Central Asia. They fear the impact of militant Islam. They oppose theater missile-defense systems. They strenuously back the primacy of the U.N. Security Council for dealing with world crises. And they strongly support the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of sovereign states -- a principle violated by NATO as it tried to halt “ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia, in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

All three opposed the bombing campaign that the United States led against Yugoslavia on Kosovo’s behalf, but the experience especially traumatized U.S. relations with Russia and China. Moscow watched an alliance that Westerners had traditionally characterized as purely defensive wade into a domestic conflict; China watched a U.S. B-2 bomber reduce its embassy in the Yugoslav capital to rubble.