The Eurasian Steel Trap is Closing

In the shadows of America’s strategic defeat in Afghanistan—the epicenter of her Twenty Years’ War against Islamist extremism—an authoritarian steel trap descends across the Eurasian landmass. The People’s Republic of China, the next global superpower, is on the march. Its ultimate goal is to methodically displace the United States as the world’s dominant power and to establish a new world order. 

Today’s great ideological battle is not necessarily communist versus capitalist. Rather, it is authoritarianism versus democracy. The old Washington Consensus of liberal democratic capitalism is defending itself against rapacious authoritarian state capitalism, the “Beijing Consensus.” With the incompetent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, that Beijing Consensus is gaining ground.

Chinese power marches in all directions: from increased naval patrols in the South and East China Seas, to India, to the strategic high ground of space. China’s trade and military moves have allowed it to make inroads into Africa and Latin America, and now, Afghanistan looms. If one were to look at the Eurasian landmass, one would immediately see how Chinese power is moving farther to the west. 

Meanwhile, China’s newfound strategic partner, Russia, moves steadily to its south, meeting China’s growing power in Central Asia—specifically, in Afghanistan.

Chinese and Russian power, therefore, form the jaws of autocracy. These jaws, descending rapidly over the whole of Eurasia as the Americans flee from Afghanistan, are a steel trap. They will ensnare all peoples unfortunate enough to find themselves living within reach of the ideological fangs of these Eurasian autocrats. With the disastrous end of America’s quixotic mission to turn Afghanistan into Arizona, China and Russia are now using Afghanistan as a highway to expand their power beyond their territories—just as these powers did until 600 years ago, when China’s Silk Road was the primary trading route linking Asia with the Middle East and Europe. 

Today, China yearns to divorce its trade from reliance on maritime routes dominated by the U.S. Navy, and instead prioritize land-based trading routes linking China to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe through what Beijing has called the “New Silk Road” or the “Belt and Road Initiative”. 

At the same time, Moscow is intent on connecting most of the former Central Asian states—including Afghanistan—into its nascent Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Further, Moscow has deftly expanded its reach beyond Russia’s “Near-Abroad” into the Middle East and even Africa. This, as China and Russia have aligned more closely with each other than at any other time since the dreaded Sino-Soviet alliance during the Cold War.

Between Chinese economic power and Russian military power, as the Americans retreat far beyond the horizon, the autocrats prepare to enhance their comprehensive power by subordinating the whole of Eurasia to their whims. Over time, a Sino-Russian dominated Eurasia, with the world’s largest amount of people, arable land, potable water, and natural resources, will become a direct strategic threat to the continent-spanning United States.

Afghanistan is the lynchpin. Americans have understandably viewed Afghanistan as a strategic backwater; a desolate land of nuisances that can be discarded at a moment’s notice. China and Russia, however, rightly view the “Graveyard of Empires” as the cockpit of geopolitical competition. And the autocrats of China and Russia want to be in the driver’s seat there.

The ruling Taliban of Afghanistan, drunk on their stunning victory over the American superpower, now yearn to solidify their tenuous rule of Afghanistan. Aligning their nascent power with that of fellow autocracies in Russia and China only ensures that the Taliban victory in Afghanistan will be complete. China will develop Afghanistan’s rare earths, solidifying its status as a rare earths superpower—and making the Taliban filthy rich in the process. Russia will enhance ties with the Taliban to ensure that Islamist extremist activities are kept out of Russia in exchange for Russian economic, military, and diplomatic assistance. 

Afghanistan will also help bridge Chinese, Russian, and Iranian power together as the Sino-Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization brings Iran into the alliance, which has been dubbed as an authoritarian counterweight to NATO. Afghanistan now becomes a cauldron yet again for Islamist extremism. It will undoubtedly be used as a base from which to export terrorism to the United States and Europe. 

There can be little doubt that the Americans could not stay in Afghanistan forever. Yet, the notion that the Biden administration had to abandon fortified facilities like Bagram Airbase, or surrender the country outright to its longtime Taliban foes, is obscene. An orderly withdrawal from the country that kept the U.S.-backed Ghani regime in power in Kabul, got all Americans and their allies out safely, and maintained enough of a presence to force the Taliban into a power-sharing agreement with the US-backed government, was more than possible. 

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is not only humiliating for the United States. It is also a strategic disaster that will have long-term implications which could remake the world order itself. In Afghanistan, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the American-led world order and the birth of a Sino-Russian multipolar world. You can expect greater challenges elsewhere from China and Russia in the wake of America’s fiasco in Afghanistan.

Brandon J. Weichert is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers). His next book, “The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy” is due out next year. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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