As the West obsesses over Donald Trump’s legal and political challenges, Brexit and a host of other domestic crises, Chinese troops will join their Russian counterparts for Moscow’s largest military exercises in more than three decades.
Coming six months after Beijing’s biggest ever offshore naval drills, the joint war games are another reminder of how central military posturing now is to the world’s two most powerful authoritarian states. While neither likely desires or expects war with the United States or its allies, both Beijing and Moscow want to give every impression they are increasingly ready – and are relying on that message to dominate their neighborhoods and intimidate less-powerful nearby nations. Both countries also have an unambiguous message for the Pentagon – that if war should come in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea, the United States would risk serious losses if it tried to intervene.
These landmark military exercises are part of a much wider picture of investment, development and weapons trials – even if the outcome has sometimes been mixed. According to reports, Russian forces are still attempting to recover a nuclear-powered cruise missile that failed on a test flight somewhere in the Arctic last year. China, meanwhile, is reported to have suffered its own significant increase in military aircraft crashes over the last two years, particularly in the South China Sea.
It’s a stark sign of how much risk these countries are willing to take on in their quest for military power – arguably significantly more than the United States or any of its European and Asian allies.