Russia, China: Cooperation on a Missile Warning System Points to an Increasing Alignment

2 MINS READOct 4, 2019 | 19:08 GMT
The Big Picture

The status of the relationship between China and Russia is a major factor in global geopolitics, especially in the context of their great power competition with the United States. Tracking the trajectory of this relationship, especially as China continues to rise and Russia faces up to its systemic constraints, is therefore of significant importance.

At the 16th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club on Oct. 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was helping China create an anti-missile early-warning system. The active cooperation between Russia and China on such a strategic project highlights the degree to which Sino-Russian relations have improved.

Early-warning systems, generally consisting of long-range radar stations and satellite constellations, play a critical role in a country's strategic nuclear deterrence by offering advance warning of an impending attack, enhancing the attacked country's ability to respond with its own strikes before it can no longer offer any deterrence. These early-warning systems are expensive, and Russia and the United States are the only countries that have created large networks of this kind.

Given the secrecy associated with such systems, there needs to be a high degree of mutual trust for both Russia and China to work with each other on such a sensitive project. Putin's statement, if true, suggests China is largely unconcerned about a potential attack from Russia down the line as Moscow's cooperation on the construction of such a network will naturally give the Kremlin some degree of insight into its strengths and weaknesses.

Given the sensitivity and secrecy associated with early-warning systems for missiles, Putin's statement suggests China is largely unconcerned about a potential attack from Russia.

Russia and China have found themselves increasingly aligned in a number of security areas, particularly with regard to their concern over U.S. moves. In particular, Moscow and Beijing have both denounced the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and specifically its intention to place intermediate-range missiles in the western Pacific. Russia and China have also jointly pushed back on the U.S. buildup of missile defense, which both countries see as a threat to their nuclear deterrent.

This increasing alignment between Russia and China, especially in terms of the strategic balance versus the United States, has played a prominent role in paving the way for increasingly closer security cooperation between the two powers.

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