As the West obsesses over Donald Trump’s legal and political challenges, Brexit and a host of other domestic crises, Chinese troops will join their Russian counterparts for Moscow’s largest military exercises in more than three decades. Coming six months after Beijing’s biggest ever offshore naval drills, the joint war games are another reminder of how central military posturing now is to the world’s two most powerful authoritarian states. While neither likely desires or expects war with the United States or its allies, both Beijing and Moscow want to give every impression they are increasingly ready – and are relying on that message to dominate their neighborhoods and intimidate less-powerful nearby nations. Both countries also have an unambiguous message for the Pentagon – that if war should come in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea, the United States would risk serious losses if it tried to intervene.

These landmark military exercises are part of a much wider picture of...

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