The previous issue discussed the emergence of an ad hoc partnership of democracies and the need for a formal and full-fledged “alliance of democracies”—a term President Biden has used. This issue explores the other side of the equation.

Some argue that formalizing an international alliance of democracies will lead to the emergence of an opposing bloc of autocracies. Sadly, such a bloc already exists.

Russia and China serve as patrons and protectors of fellow tyrannies in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and Belarus. The Beijing-Moscow axis is working to lure the likes of Turkey, Serbia and Hungary into the autocratic fold; exploiting cyberspace to weaken democratic intuitions throughout the Free World; and sowing chaos from the Arctic to the Himalayas, the South China Sea to the South Pacific, the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf.

Like the USSR, the PRC has the capacity and intent to challenge the free world across every domain and region. And like the USSR, the PRC has no interest in joining an international system premised on free government and free markets—only to supplant it. Beijing is amassing the economic, industrial, cultural, technological and military tools to do that.

China is a country of 1.3 billion. Its GDP is $14.1 trillion. Its annual military expenditure has eclipsed $260 billion (mushrooming 517 percent since 2000). It has plans for “security and strategic coordination” with Russia and a laser-like focus on absorbing or pacifying its neighbors. On the economic-industrial front, China is the world’s top manufacturing nation, top exporting nation and second-largest economy. Beijing’s cultural reach is evident in everything from its influence over Hollywood to the 480 Confucius Institutes around the world (designated by Washington as “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus”). On the tech front, Beijing is conducting a relentless cybersiege of the free world. PRC cyber-soldiers have penetrated defense firms; stolen everything from F-35 schematics to OPM’s employee database; and engaged in “a massive program” of election interference, according to national-security officials. On the military front, China has a 350-ship navy (now the world’s largest), a growing presence in space and is doubling its nuclear arsenal.

Like the USSR, Putin’s Russia has designs on dominating its neighbors, undermining the international system and pushing the U.S. out of Europe.

During Putin’s reign, Russia has violated nuclear-weapons treaties, launched wars to annex parts of Ukraine and occupy parts of Georgia, conducted cyberwar against Estonia, hacked the U.S. power grid and National Nuclear Security Administration, armed Taliban forces waging war against U.S. personnel operating under UN mandate, employed military force to prop up regimes that are gassing (Syria) and starving (Venezuela) their own people, and planted bases along the rim of the Mediterranean. Moreover, Russia is using intelligence agencies and cyber-soldiers to: conduct strategic-influence operations targeting the Free World’s political institutions; sway public opinion via false-front organizations and via manipulation of traditional media; exacerbate racial tensions and religious divisions in the West via social media; generate and spread fake news about deployed NATO personnel; plant lies claiming that COVID-19 is a bioweapon made in the West; and portray governments in the U.S. and Europe as unable to meet the needs of their citizens.

With the help of Moscow and Beijing, Iran has emerged as a regional hegemon—setting up outposts in Syria, fomenting wars and revolts in Yemen and Bahrain, consolidating its position in Iraq, and conducting provocative missile tests at home and assassinations abroad.

To be sure, these nations have different ethnic makeups, different political and economic systems, different views on religion and faith, but they have one important thing in common: They are ardent enemies of freedom, free government and the Free World.

Together or Alone?
America cannot counter the autocratic bloc or withstand the surging autocracy tide alone. Yes, the U.S. boasts a $21.4-trillion GDP and spends more than $700 billion on defense annually, but the U.S. has a billion fewer people than China, a 298-ship Navy, a defense budget that’s shrinking as a share of federal outlays, a smaller nuclear arsenal than Russia, an enormous geographic disadvantage when it comes to defending its interests in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and security commitments spread around the world—commitments that often exceed capabilities.

Consider the demands on America’s carrier fleet: In May, when the Pentagon needed a carrier to support the Afghanistan pullout, the USS Ronald Reagan was redeployed to the Arabian Sea from its home region in the Western Pacific—leaving the Indo-Pacific without the stabilizing presence of an American aircraft carrier. This is not a new problem. Consider the Trump administration’s sleight-of-hand with the USS Carl Vinson in 2017 and the revelation that all six East Coast-based carriers were docked rather than deployed in fall 2019. Consider that when President Obama ordered warplanes from the USS George H.W. Bush to blunt the ISIS blitzkrieg, CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert admitted that “they stopped their sorties” over Afghanistan to do so. And when Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in 2012, CENTCOM’s request for an extra aircraft carrier was denied because the carrier was needed in the Pacific.

The point: America’s military can strive to be present everywhere it’s needed, but it cannot be omnipresent. America’s military is strong, but it’s not invincible. America’s economic-industrial-technological-military capabilities are vast, but they are not limitless—and simply not enough to simultaneously contain a rising China, face down a revisionist Russia and break a revolutionary jihadist movement.

The good news is that America isn’t alone. Our democratic allies serve as force-multipliers, sources of moral and material support, and layers of strategic depth. As President Biden points out, “When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles.”

Indeed, the U.S in partnership with democracies in the Americas, Europe, the Indo-Pacific and Middle East enfolds some 2.8 billion people, 71 percent of global GDP, 65 percent of global defense spending, more than 7 million men under arms, and what former JCS Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen once called “a thousand-ship navy.”

America and its democratic allies have the means—the political legitimacy, economic capacity, military strength—to rescue the Free World. What remains to be seen is if they have the will.

As President Reagan said when the forces of tyranny were far stronger—and the world’s roster of democracies far smaller—“We must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.” The Free World took those actions in the 20th century; it should do no less in the 21st. Forging and formalizing an Alliance of Democracies is the next step.