The International Relations theories about the Balance of Power and Regional Security Complexes don’t sufficiently explain the simultaneous emergence of three distinct but interconnected power blocs in Eurasia, which is why the new concept of “Circling the Wagons” is being proposed to account for it.
The end of the Cold War radically changed International Relations because the bipolar system suddenly became unipolar under the US’ then-uncontested global hegemony, which saw a multitude of states all across Eurasia “bandwagoning” behind it in support. This theoretical concept simply asserts that weaker states sometimes submit to the more powerful ones in their regions or the world and end up following their lead. That certainly happened in the 1990s when the US expanded its Cold War-era network of partners to include the post-Soviet Republics and the countries of Southeast Asia (now part of ASEAN) in an effort to tighten the geopolitical “containment” noose around Russia and China.
Everything became more complicated after 9/11, though, as the US’ War on Iraq and subsequent occupation sapped its strength and gave its Eurasian rivals in Moscow and Beijing exactly the opportunity that they were looking for to rise up and challenge the unipolar status quo. Through a series of steps that are beyond the scope of this analysis, Russia reaffirmed its standing as a potent military power right when China did the same in the economic sphere, with 2014 being the watershed year when these two Great Powers joined forces with one another after experiencing asymmetrical aggression from the US in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea, respectively.
In line with conventional International Relations theory, it can be said that Russia and China embraced the Balance of Power concept by coming together to oppose the much stronger US that poses a very real threat to them both, with Iran joining the mix for the logical reason that it’s been openly targeted by America since 1979 and has an interest in teaming up with any Great Power that’s against it. That, however, doesn’t necessarily explain why America’s traditional partners in Pakistan and Turkey have entered into this balancing network as well, and the expansive geographic breadth of this entire five-nation construction is much too broad to attribute it to the Regional Security Complex theory either.
Looking closely, three distinct but interconnected power blocs can be identified as existing in this massive space. The first one to take shape is the Tripartite of Mideast Great Powers between Russia, Iran, and Turkey that emerged in late-2016 in order to resolve the Hybrid War of Terror on Syria; the second is the Multipolar Trilateral between Russia, China, and Pakistan that started to form as a response to Daesh moving from the Mideast to the Afghan tri-regional pivot state; and the last one is the Multipolar CENTO that’s still crystallizing between Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. Altogether, these three informal institutions led by Eurasia’s five most important Great Powers come together to form the Golden Ring superstructure.
None of the three main International Relations theories can explain the Golden Ring by themselves, but they collectively provide a solid justification for its being. The five Great Powers involved have come to perceive (Constructivism) the US as a threat, so they’ve accordingly decided to balance against it (Neo-Realism) through the creation of three Regional Security Complexes that form the pillars of the Golden Ring supranational institution (Neo-Liberalism).
The “bandwagoning” of the comparatively (key word) “weaker” Pakistani, Iranian, and Turkish members of this construction behind Russia and China against the US can be described by the new concept of “Circling the Wagons”, which refers to how American pioneers used to circle their wagons to protect against Native American attacks out West.
Circling the Wagons is therefore the amalgamation of defensive balancing, soft balancing, and the three main International Relations theories in order to defend against contemporary Hybrid War threats (understood in this context as coming from the US) in the evolving Multipolar World Order, which thus represents a revolution in academic thought because it proves that it’s possible to apply a combination of some seemingly contradictory and exclusive theories to explain a major modern-day occurrence. The description of this phenomenon is also fitting because it alludes to how the five Great Powers of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey are literally forming a protective circle around the fragile Central Asian Republics that form the geopolitical Heartland of Eurasia.
The US will only succeed in its quest to indefinitely prolong the unipolar moment if it destabilizes the Central Asian core of Eurasia, which would consequently disrupt the independent rise of the five Great Powers that form the Golden Circle and ergo explains why they have each have a self-interested stake in working together to secure this strategic region that sits between all of them. They’re Circling the Wagons because there’s no other effective way to ensure that they’re protected, having come to the conclusion that this task can’t be achieved alone and that whatever misgivings they may have previously had about some of their new partners pales in comparison to the urgent threat that they perceive as coming from the US.
Going further, it’s possible to state that Russia and Pakistan play the most pivotal roles in integrating these three power blocs into the Golden Ring. Both Great Powers are part of the Multipolar Trilateral together with China, while Russia leads the Tripartite and Pakistan is party to the Multipolar CENTO, each of which also involves Iran and Turkey. Beijing, however, has no role in either of those two constructions and is therefore dependent on the diplomatic skills of its partners in Moscow and Islamabad to bring Tehran and Ankara into the larger Golden Ring arrangement. Having recognized that, Pakistan actually has more importance than Russia in the overall integrational sense.
The two transnational institutions that cover most of the Golden Ring space are the SCO and the ECO, but the former doesn’t count Iran or Turkey as official members while the latter doesn’t include Russia or China. Pakistan, however, is a member of both and can function as the bridge in connecting them together via the “Zipper of Eurasia” concept and its phased evolution into the “Convergence of Civilizations” via the Chinese-built infrastructure of CPEC+. This neologism refers to the northern (N-CPEC+) and western (W-CPEC+) expansions of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that are expected to branch out into Central Asia & Russia and Iran & Turkey, respectively, and which all stem from the Pakistani-based CPEC megaproject.
The South Asian state is therefore the most pivotal piece of the Golden Ring because it’s the only one of its five members capable of getting the three power blocs between them to Circle the Wagons in protecting the vulnerable Central Asian space of the Eurasian Heartland, and moreover, the CPEC+ network that originates in its territory provides the most effective means for tightening these Great Powers’ comprehensive integration. Conclusively, Pakistan can be said to be the center of strategic gravity in the Multipolar World Order, a realization that’s made all the more understandable by applying out-of-the-box iconoclastic thinking that challenges long-standing International Relations paradigms by flexibly adapting them to the fast-moving and unprecedented conditions of the modern day.
This article was inspired by a conversation with Ms. Namra Awan.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.