U.S. Policy Opportunities and Options

U.S. Policy Opportunities and Options

by Robert Sutter
October 4, 2018

This chapter provides an overview of the scope and implications of China-Russia relations, explains why Sino-Russian cooperation against U.S. interests has increased during the past decade, assesses key determinants, and examines U.S. policy options.




The preceding chapters in this volume show how the China-Russia relationship continues to deepen and broaden, with ever more negative implications for the U.S. The drivers of Sino-Russian cooperation overshadow the brakes on forward movement at the U.S. expense. This momentum is based on (1) common objectives and values, (2) perceived Russian and Chinese vulnerabilities in the face of U.S. and Western pressures, and (3) perceived opportunities for the two powers to expand their influence at the expense of the U.S. and its allies that are seen as in decline. The current outlook is bleak, offering no easy fixes for the U.S. Nonetheless, there remain limits on Sino-Russian cooperation. The two governments continue to avoid entering a formal alliance or taking substantial risks in support of one another in areas where their interests do not overlap. Longer-term vulnerabilities include Russia’s dissatisfaction with its increasing junior status relative to China, China’s much stronger interest than Russia in preserving the existing world order, and opposition to Russian and Chinese regional expansion on the part of important lesser powers in Europe and Asia seeking U.S. support.

  • The chapters of this volume support multiyear and wide-ranging domestic and international strengthening of the U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic position to better situate the U.S. to deal with the challenges from China and Russia.
  • The chapters differ on the appropriate amount of strengthening, but all favor various mixes of strengthening and accommodation requiring compromise of U.S. interests.
  • Specialists from Russia and China in the NBR China-Russia project, but few others, favor major change in existing U.S. policy to accommodate both Moscow and Beijing.

Robert Sutter is Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University and the principal investigator of the project “Strategic Implications of China-Russia Relations” at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).