Is America's Global Influence Waning? Report Says Russia and China Could Spark Extremism Without U.S. Leadership

A new report by the leaders of the 9/11 Commission has warned that growing Russian and Chinese influence threatens to create more extremism worldwide, and encouraged the U.S. to fight to retain global leadership.

Released on the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the document suggests Russian and Chinese interests could see the two countries support more authoritarian governments across the developing world, which in turn may foment violent extremist opposition movements.

The report clearly tries to avoid any political partisanship or direct criticism of President Donald Trump, whose administration has consistently cozied up to authoritarian leaders at the expense of America's traditional alliances.

The authors were led by former Republican New Jersey Governor Tom Kean who chaired the 9/11 Commission, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton who was the commission's vice chairman. The authors are a bipartisan group appointment by Congress.

"The time has come for a new U.S. strategy," the report suggests. Rather than focusing mostly on defending American soil, "the priority for U.S. policy should be to strengthen fragile states—to help them build resilience against the alarming growth of violent extremism within their own societies," the authors write.

Where extremist groups once targeted the U.S. from abroad, now militants are trying to usurp governments and become states in their own right—illustrated by the rise of ISIS—drawing on the frustrations of oppressed citizens and maligned ethnic or religious minorities.

Such frustrations are only likely to grow as Russia and China increase their influence in what the report calls "fragile states." Aid from Moscow and Beijing does not come with any strings attached to human rights or government transparency, meaning leaders will likely become more authoritarian to maintain power over their oppressed populace.

The report uses the example of Nigeria, which was denied U.S. Cobra attack helicopters due to human rights concerns. But Russia then stepped in with an offer of Mi-35M combat helicopters to fill the gap, and even offered to train Nigerian troops.

While the report notes Russia is Africa's biggest weapons source, China is its largest single-country trade partner and creditor. When countries default on their Chinese loans, Beijing can take control of significant chunks of infrastructure, as has been the case in Sri Lanka, for example. This occupation-by-credit is creating significant concern in U.S. military circles.

Tuesday's report is the first of two planned documents. The first explains why a new approach to global extremism is needed, while the second—due in 2019—will offer a direct strategy.

But the first installment did offer some initial suggestions of how to stem the flow of extremism, some of which clearly contradict the foreign policy pursued thus far by the Trump White House.

The report advises the U.S. government to partner with other states to create a united approach to the threat. Trump's presidency has so far been characterized by his opposition to international cooperation, even through stalwart diplomatic bodies such as NATO and the United Nations.

The document also stresses the importance of working with other governments to improve human rights, uncover corruption and strengthen national institutions. Without this work, it says, states will be vulnerable to malign external and internal influence. Given the Trump administration's own struggles with corruption, transparency and human rights, such advice seems likely to fall on deaf ears.

The authors suggested the U.S. must put in place a long-term strategy, noting: "We cannot solve the problem of extremism within the term of a single presidential administration."

In closing, the researchers warn that time is of the essence. "For a preventive strategy to succeed, it will need to outpace attempts by extremist groups to undermine fragile states. The time to put a preventive strategy in place is now."