3 February 2019

Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue

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Russia and China represent distinct challenges to U.S. national security. Russia is not a peer or near-peer competitor but rather a well-armed rogue state that seeks to subvert an international order it can never hope to dominate. In contrast, China is a peer competitor that wants to shape an international order that it can aspire to dominate. Both countries seek to alter the status quo, but only Russia has attacked neighboring states, annexed conquered territory, and supported insurgent forces seeking to detach yet more territory. Russia assassinates its opponents at home and abroad, interferes in foreign elections, subverts foreign democracies, and works to undermine European and Atlantic institutions. In contrast, China's growing influence is based largely on more-positive measures: trade, investment, and development assistance. These attributes make China a less immediate threat but a much greater long-term challenge.

In the military realm, Russia can be contained, but China cannot. Its military predominance in east Asia will grow over time, compelling the United States to accept greater costs and risks just to secure existing commitments. But it is geoeconomics, rather than geopolitics, in which the contest for world leadership will play out. It is in the domain of geoeconomics that the balance of global influence between the United States and China has begun shifting in China's favor.

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