Bringing Eurasia Back In?

The Resilience of the Western-Centric Alliance System Between History and Politics

by Mireno Berrettini (Volume editor) Davide Borsani (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 198 Pages


Since the end of the Second World War, the role of the United States in the international arena has been closely linked to the stability of its security alliance system. For strategic reasons, one of the major goals for the U.S. foreign policy has always been preventing the rise of a hegemonic power in Eurasia. Actually, history and geopolitics tend to show that the global balance of power strictly depends on dynamics, threats and acting players in Eurasia. Despite China’s growing global influence, it is in Asia-Pacific that the Chinese quest for power has played out more vividly. In this framework, the partnership between Russia and China represents a source of worries for the West as a whole and, more specifically, the gravest strategic threat to U.S. overseas interests.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Index
  • Introduction
  • The Eurasian Heartland and the Atlantic Alliance: An Interpretative Essay
  • Eurasian Monolith? The United States, NATO and the Sino-Russian Strategic Relationship
  • From Isolation to Global Cooperation. An Overview of China’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era
  • The US Grand Strategy in the Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue from Trump to Biden
  • Chinese Maritime Coercion in East Asia: Probing the US Alliance System Trigger Points
  • The Anglosphere’s Role in an Increasingly Chaotic Eurasia and Beyond
  • The Roles of China and the WHO in the Fight Against COVID-19 under the Trump Presidency and its Global Consequences
  • The Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s Evolving Role in Middle Asia
  • List of Contributors

Mireno Berrettini – Davide Borsani


The Introduction explains the scope and content of the volume, giving a short description of each chapter. It also describes the elements of continuity and transformation in the history of the Western-centric alliance system in light of an international Eurasian scenario that actually differs from that of the Cold War and is still in evolution.

Since the end of the Second World War, the role of the United States on the international scene, including in Eurasia, has appeared to be closely linked to the stability and sustainability of the system of multilateral and bilateral security alliances Washington has progressively established. Since the Cold War, from an American perspective, the international security order has been based on two main pillars. First, Washington’s exercise of leadership within its military alliances. Second, the very existence of such alliances in the face of external enemies capable of threatening the survival and promotion of the universal principles underlying the US-led liberal international order. The trade-off between allies was essentially clear. On the one hand, Washington would exercise hegemonic power, largely shouldering the necessary costs and providing an umbrella of security to its partners, which in turn should partially share the burden by accepting the role of supporting actors. On the other hand, the United States would reap the rewards of leadership by expanding its influence overseas, intrinsically linked to promoting globalization - ‘Americanization’ or ‘Westernization’? (Yu 2003) - with positive spillovers within US borders. Especially in the post-Cold War period, this approach has been defended by the various US administrations, primarily in rhetoric, not always in practice.

One of the major historical goals for US foreign policy has been preventing the rise of a hegemonic power in Eurasia: Germany in the two World Wars, the Soviet Union – allied to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – in the early Cold War, and the PRC – supported by Russia – in the 21st century. Eurasia under the control of one or more hostile powers would be perceived as a direct threat to the American mainland and its overseas interests. In this framework, the US security alliance system built after the Second World War – ranging from formal agreements such as the Atlantic Alliance in Europe to more recent informal partnerships like the Quad in the Indo-Pacific region – has played a prominent role in US leadership and the preservation of the global balance of power under the American (and Western) leading influence. The US National Security Strategy published by the Donald J. Trump Administration in 2017 maintained that ‘a central continuity in history is the contest for power. The present time period is no different’ because the ‘revisionist powers of China and Russia’ were trying to ‘challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity’. As a consequence, alliances like NATO and other security partnerships ‘increase our strategic reach and provide access to forward basing and overflight rights for global operations’, thus preserving the US world role.

Ideology often overlaps with realpolitik on this path. In an op-ed published in November 2022, the Financial Times Editorial Board stressed that today ‘There are echoes of the 1950s in America’s efforts to assemble a coalition of democracies for a new cold war, where it confronts not just a belligerent Russia but an ever more assertive China’. In the last two decades, the rise of two revisionist powers, governed by authoritarian regimes, raised the (mis?)perception that their common goal is to revert the current balance of power by promoting illiberal values. The US National Security Strategy signed by American President Joe Biden in October 2022 stressed that ‘the most pressing strategic challenge’ facing the United States is ‘from powers that layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy’. It continues: ‘It is their behavior that poses a challenge to international peace and stability—especially waging or preparing for wars of aggression, actively undermining the democratic political processes of other countries, leveraging technology and supply chains for coercion and repression, and exporting an illiberal model of international order. Many non-democracies join the world’s democracies in forswearing these behaviors. Unfortunately, Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) do not’.

According to the most recent NSSs, thus, the international system is approaching (or has already started) a new Cold War. Is this true? From a historical perspective, Soviet moves in 1947 and 1948 changed the threat nature in Europe, starting a process of Western integration in the security and political fields. For the world, it was the Communist victory in China in 1949 that deeply altered the global balance of power (see Mireno Berrettini’s chapter 1). After all, Chinese leaning to one side, that is Mao Tse-tung’s deliberate choice to come closer to the Soviet Union, implied the definitive dissolution of the strategic Grand Design conceived by the US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to build a post-war international order. In such a global picture, the apparent overreaction of the Euro-Atlantic players, led by Washington (despite some tactical disagreements with certain allies, mainly the United Kingdom), and the outbreak of the Korean war put the world on the brink of a major Eurasian conflict between the Western States and the Communist bloc led by the Sino-Soviet axis. In the end, the West pursued a more muscular strategic positioning in the following years, despite occasional divergences among the Euro-Atlantic allies. The 1950s were a hot decade for the Cold War.

Perhaps, today we are experiencing a similar dynamic. The end of the Cold War brought a new era of strategic cooperation between the two Eurasian giants: the PRC and Russia. Since the 1990s, the two countries have established a strong military and economic partnership. This rapprochement has allowed China and Russia to become closer partners on the world stage, and has helped to improve the security and stability of both players. At the beginning of the 1990s, Beijing and Moscow had a relatively distant relationship due to a rivalry going back to the 1960s. However, during the so-called ‘second decade of Illusions’ (de Leonardis 2011), that is the idea that the world was now finally safe in (and for) democracy, their relationship began to strengthen as a result of converging interests and as a reaction to the choices made by Euro-Atlantic players in terms of security policy. The Eastward expansion of NATO and the Kosovo campaign in 1999 were key moments in defining the future course of the relationship between the Western world and the Sino-Russian partnership.

By the end of the 20th century, thus, Beijing and Moscow came much closer and the strategic linkage between them had become much more substantial. In the 2000s, the Sino-Russian axis passed many tests, increasing its resistance. In 2001, the two countries signed the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation (the so-called ‘Great Treaty’), establishing the framework for deeper cooperation. In this document, Beijing and Moscow defined the (vague) limits of their military collaboration and strategic partnership. Accordingly, on the basis of ‘mutual respect of State sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence’, China and Russia decided to ‘develop the strategic cooperative partnership of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation and equality and trust between the two countries from a long-term view and in a comprehensive manner’. Moreover, they pointed out ‘with satisfaction that each has no territorial claim on the other’. Thanks to this new level of cooperation, the PRC and Russia have increased their military and economic power in Eurasia and the world, while also improving their security and stability. In addition, this strategic partnership has allowed the two countries to become more influential in confronting the West.

However, compared with the scenario following the Second World War, there is no doubt that the current structural conditions of the international system have profoundly changed. In this sense, the end of the Cold War marked a new era of global politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 signalled the beginning of the PRC’s rise. Actually, on the world stage, no nation saw a greater shift in its standing than Beijing. In the decades since, the country has undergone rapid changes, becoming one of the most powerful nations in the world. The Chinese economy is now larger than the entire European Union and is on track to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by the end of the decade. The essay by Barbara Onnis (chapter 3) underlines the transformation of Beijing position in the field of foreign policy since 1991. PRC gave up permanently the old ‘victim mentality’ (shouhaizhe taidu 受害者态度) and shaped a new ‘great power mentality’ (daguo xintai 大国心态), aimed at putting a definitive end to the narrative of the notorious ‘century of humiliation’, while fostering instead a new narrative focused on the importance for China to forge its own role. The Dragon has become increasingly influential in global affairs, playing a key role in international negotiations over issues such as climate change, trade, and even human rights. The PRC is also expanding its military capabilities, investing heavily in advanced weaponry, including nuclear and space arms, and becoming a major (trans)regional power. The rise of China as a relevant global player has profoundly impacted the international order. The country has become a major economic and political rival to the United States, and its growing influence has challenged the traditional Western-led order and its system of alliances. China’s rise has also led to a shift in global power dynamics, as other countries adjust to a new multipolar world.

Over the years, these dynamics have brought analysts and practitioners to discuss the rise of a new spatial category of international politics: Eurasia, as a geopolitical entity. Indeed, Eurasian geopolitics has been gaining increasing attention from the international community, while its conceptual roots come back to the 1920s and Soviet thinking (Ferrari 2012). The post-Cold War renewed interest is due to a variety of factors, including the return of Russia, the spread of Chinese influence, and the emergence of a new geopolitical and economic order in the region. Eurasia, thus, is not only a geographical expression referring to the former Soviet space, as some authors argue. It is mostly a geopolitical concept of a large competing space ranging from the European peninsula to the Eastern coasts of Asia. Eurasia goes beyond geographical boundaries, involving the wider relationship between - in Halford J. Mackinder’s and Nicholas J. Spykman’s words - the Heartland and the Rimland, the World Island and the Offshore\Outlying Islands (Petersen 2011). This is particularly important when we look at globalization and the challenge to the structural fundamentals of the US-led international order, including in the field of economy.

Globalization has indeed meant a relocation of this immense space in the circuits of the international division of labor and in global value chains. Over the past decades, there has been a significant increase in trade, investments, and other forms of economic cooperation within the region, facilitated by the opening up of markets and the removal of barriers such as tariffs. Concretization of these processes has been, since 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a large-scale infrastructure project connecting the PRC to the European Union via Central Asia. Although the years following the advent of COVID-19 marked a slowdown in the infrastructural construction project, BRI has allowed countries in Eurasia to become more interconnected and interdependent, creating an apparent more unified economic alignment (see Gianluca Pastori’s chapter 8).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Strategic threat to US overseas interests China’s growing global influence Major goals for the US foreign policy
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 198 pp.

Biographical notes

Mireno Berrettini (Volume editor) Davide Borsani (Volume editor)

Mireno Berrettini - Full Professor in History of International Relations at at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan. His studies currently focus on the genesis of the Cold War in Asian perspective. Davide Borsani – Researcher in History of International Relations at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan. His research interests include the history of US foreign policy and the evolution of NATO.


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