Trilateral Great Power Politics in Theory and History 3 concrete gains. By the same token, existing hegemonic powers strive to main- tain the prevailing world order of norms, institutions, rules, and practices that benefit them.8 When confronted by rising powers, the established state can respond in several ways, from graceful retrenchment, as occurred during the transition from British to U.S. leadership, to preemptive war, as several powers responded to the growing power of Germany. Today, Russia and China are the most prominent great power balancers against the United States they sometimes enjoy backing from other dissatis- fied countries, such as Iran and North Korea. Prominent analysts have faulted U.S. policies for driving Russia and China together in alignment against the United States. For example, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer has argued that the last few years have seen a great power politics renewal in which the United States again faces, as during the Cold War, near peer rivals for preeminence. He has also criticized U.S. policy for confronting both states simultaneously, thereby driving them together, rather than trying to maneu- ver between them.9 When Donald Trump ran for president, he and his advis- ers criticized previous U.S. administrations for not doing more to avert a stronger Sino-Russian alignment against the United States. Global develop- ments in recent years have further challenged conventional wisdom. The Rus- sian and Chinese governments have over time more consistently supported one another in these challenges against U.S. leadership. Whereas Washington might have largely ignored Moscow’s and Beijing’s opposition to U.S. policies in the 1990s, this approach has become less tenable. The U.S. position in the triangular relationship between Russia and China has deteriorated since the Cold War ended. As Sino-Russian ties have improved, U.S. relations with both countries have worsened. Through their diplomatic and security cooperation, Russia and China have threatened more U.S. national interests. If these trends continue, the United States could confront a potentially greater challenge than Washington encountered during the Cold War due to the complex asymme- tries involved in countering two nuclear-armed states that possess a diverse, complementary, and historically unique range of assets. RUSSIA’S RESURGENCE Under its current government, the Russian Federation is a dissatisfied, revisionist power seeking to comprehensively replace the existing U.S.-led world order with one more favorable to Russian interests. Russia is one of the most important global security actors besides the United States. In addition to having a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and remaining a leading exporter of oil and natural gas, the Russian armed forces possess sufficient offensive nuclear forces to destroy the United States or any other country. Putin has overseen an upsurge in Russian defense spending
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