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The Unified Threat: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, it is imperative for the United States to analyze and understand potential threats from major global powers. Among them, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea stand out due to their significant capabilities and shared characteristics that pose challenges to US interests. This blog aims to present a strong case for why the United States should view these countries as a unified threat, both militarily and economically. We should not look at each country individually but rather as a holistic view of capability against the interests of the US and as a direct threat. This threat must be both countered and contingency planning needs to be in place.

Here are some capabilities of this unified threat:

Military Threat:

1. Combined Military Power:

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea each possess formidable military capabilities, making them a unified force that could pose challenges to the United States.

a) Russia:

  • Russia's military is well-equipped and has undergone modernization efforts in recent years. The conventional force has not performed well in Ukraine based off many factors (logistics, tactics, unified effort etc.) with the largest issue being a deficit in military leadership and planning. Ukraine has exposed many issues with the Russian military, but we should not dismiss its space, naval, and nuclear components as well as the ability to fight better if its tactics and leadership were to improve. The areas that Russia does excel in are its artillery and its ability to weather international pressure when striking targets indiscriminatingly.

  • It possesses a large nuclear arsenal, advanced missile systems, and a large conventional force.

  • Russia has demonstrated its willingness to intervene in neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, showcasing its regional ambitions and has already stated that it will use its military for cooperation with China and other interests globally.

b) China:

  • China has invested heavily in its armed forces and is modernizing its military capabilities.

  • It has developed advanced weaponry, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth aircraft, and cyber capabilities.

  • China seeks to establish dominance in the South China Sea and has territorial disputes with several countries in the region.

c) Iran:

  • Iran has developed asymmetric capabilities to counter more technologically advanced adversaries.

  • It possesses ballistic missiles, a significant cyber warfare capacity, and supports non-state actors across the Middle East.

  • Iran's regional influence poses a threat to US allies and interests in the volatile Middle East.

d) North Korea:

  • North Korea's pursuit of advanced nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles poses a direct threat to regional stability.

  • It has demonstrated its ability to conduct nuclear tests and launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nuclear launch from Submarines is closer to full capability.

  • North Korea's aggressive behavior and unpredictability make it a serious concern for the United States and its allies.

2. Regional Influence:

These nations exert influence beyond their borders, challenging US interests in their respective regions.

a) Russia:

  • Russia has intervened in neighboring countries, such as Ukraine and Georgia, to protect its perceived sphere of influence.

  • It aims to reestablish itself as a major player on the global stage, often at the expense of US influence.

  • Russia's involvement in conflicts and support for authoritarian regimes threaten the stability of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

b) China:

  • China's rapid economic rise has been accompanied by an expansion of its military capabilities and regional ambitions.

  • It seeks to establish dominance in the South China Sea, disregarding international law and the rights of neighboring countries.

  • China's assertiveness challenges US allies in the region and poses a threat to freedom of navigation and regional stability.

c) Iran:

  • Iran utilizes proxies and supports non-state actors across the Middle East, destabilizing the region.

  • Its support for groups like Hezbollah and Houthi rebels poses challenges to US interests and allies in the region.

  • Iran's pursuit of regional hegemony and its opposition to US influence make it a persistent threat.

d) North Korea:

  • North Korea's aggressive behavior and pursuit of nuclear weapons threaten regional stability.

  • Its nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a direct challenge to US allies, such as South Korea and Japan.

  • North Korea's unpredictability and willingness to engage in provocative actions make it a significant concern.

Economic Threat:

1. Resource Control:

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea possess significant natural resources and have the potential to control critical resources vital to global economies.

a) Russia:

  • Russia is a major exporter of energy resources, including oil and gas.

  • Its vast reserves and control over key pipelines give it significant influence over energy markets in Europe and Asia.

  • Russia has used energy supplies as a tool for political pressure, as demonstrated in its interactions with Ukraine and European countries.

b) China:

  • China dominates global supply chains and has a vast manufacturing base.

  • It is the world's largest consumer of energy and holds significant influence over global markets.

  • China's control over rare earth minerals and its strategic position in global trade give it significant economic leverage.

c) Iran:

  • Iran possesses substantial oil reserves, making it a significant player in the global energy market.

  • Despite international sanctions, Iran has sought to bypass restrictions and establish economic partnerships with countries unfriendly to the United States.

  • Its control over the Strait of Hormuz, a critical chokepoint for global oil transportation, gives it significant economic leverage.

d) North Korea:

  • North Korea's potential mineral resources, including rare earth elements, remain largely untapped.

  • As global demand for these resources increases, North Korea could seek to exploit them for economic gain.

  • While its economic impact may be limited compared to other nations, North Korea's illicit activities, including cyberattacks and smuggling, pose concerns. It’s cyberattack capabilities could alter international trade and infrastructure which could have devastating results.

Additional note: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea all have advanced cyber capabilities that can affect financial sectors, energy resources and basic infrastructure. Our current defense strategy does not clarify cyber attacks against civilian targets in the US or against ally countries.

2. Economic Coercion:

These countries have demonstrated their willingness to leverage their economic power for political gain, further solidifying their unified threat to US interests.

a) Russia:

  • Russia has used energy supplies, particularly natural gas, as a tool for political pressure.

  • By leveraging its energy resources, Russia has sought to influence neighboring countries and divide the unity of Western alliances.

  • Its attempts to control energy routes and pipeline projects have raised concerns over energy security in Europe.

b) China:

  • China's Belt and Road Initiative aims to expand its economic influence globally.

  • Through economic investments and infrastructure projects, China seeks to create dependencies and leverage its economic power for political influence.

  • Its economic coercion tactics have been observed in trade disputes, technology theft, and attempts to sway international opinions.

c) Iran:

  • Iran has faced international sanctions due to its nuclear program and support for terrorism. Despite these sanctions, Iran has sought alternative economic partnerships and means to bypass restrictions.

  • By cultivating economic relationships with countries opposed to US policies, Iran aims to mitigate the impact of sanctions and challenge US influence.

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea collectively pose a unified threat to the United States, both militarily and economically. Their significant military capabilities, regional ambitions, control over critical resources, and willingness to use economic coercion underline the challenges they pose to US interests and global stability. Recognizing and understanding this unified threat enables the United States to develop comprehensive strategies that safeguard its security, protect its allies, and promote stability in an increasingly complex world.

Vigilance, diplomatic engagement, and fostering partnerships with like-minded nations will be crucial in addressing this multifaceted challenge. This new “evil empire” not only possesses the capability to create a severe threat against the US, but also the “will” to do so as a unified entity. The United States must plan and organize to meet the risks of both military and economic threats that may come from the unified new “evil empire”. And it must look at internal capabilities with its instruments of national power (DOD, interagency, policy level) and create allies who will also use their capabilities to confront the unified threat together.

To not prepare and build a strategy is neglecting the security of American people and principals. i3solutions and PKSOI (Peace Keeping Stability Operations Institute), along with Army Geospatial Command, are working with Global Combatant Commands on stabilization monitoring and how to use the data to best posture US interests. For further discussion on this topic or other national security measures, please contact me at

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