Twenty years after Hussein's overthrow, a new axis of evil is forming, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin becoming the leaders who pose the greatest threat to global security.

It is more than twenty years since then US President George W. Bush first identified an "axis of evil" of rogue states that threatened global security, and now a new alliance of malign states is taking shape with Russia and China acting as its new lynchpins.

Back in 2002, when Bush first articulated his notion of rogue nations in his State of the Union address made in the wake of the September 11 attacks, he identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as states that, together with their terrorist allies, "constitute an axis of seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger."

At the time, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whose regime had actively sought to acquire an arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons, was seen as posing the gravest threat to Western democracy, a threat which was finally nullified in 2003 after the US-led coalition succeeded in overthrowing his regime.

Now, twenty years after Hussein's overthrow, a new axis of evil is forming, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin replacing Hussein as the leaders who pose the greatest threat to global security.

Indeed, as the leaders of countries that possesses the world's largest arsenal of nuclear warheads, Xi and Putin constitute a far greater threat to our wellbeing than Hussein ever did.

Like Hussein, who during his rule launched invasions of Iran and Kuwait, Xi and Putin share a similar disregard for the sovereignty of neighbouring states.

Xi has been eyeing the South and East China Seas, coopting the Solomon Islands, building and militarizing his own artificial islands, and threatening not only Taiwan, but neighbours such as Australia, India and Japan.

Putin seized and occupied territory in Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014 (Crimea) and 2023, not to mention his relentless bellicosity towards the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Unlike Hussein, though, Xi's and Putin's ability to achieve their territorial goals is greatly assisted by the powerful military and nuclear arsenals at their disposal, which has successfully persuaded the West against launching direct military action against Moscow.

Now, following the recent summit between Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, home to Moscow's space programme, in Russia's far east, Xi and Putin are clearly emerging as the ringleaders of a new axis of evil comprising China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

While the main purpose of that visit was an attempt by Putin to secure military support from North Korea, as China's proxy, for Russia's faltering military campaign in Ukraine, the meeting of the two autocrats has raised concerns that the summit will result in deeper military ties between those two countries.

With the Russian military having sustained drastic losses during the 18-month conflict -- Western intelligence officials estimate the Russian military has lost around half its war-fighting strength -- Putin is desperate to acquire fresh military supplies.

North Korea has enjoyed close military ties with Moscow since the Soviet era, and many of its conventional armaments, such as artillery and rockets, are compatible with Russian systems.

China and North Korea have already provided Russia with limited military supplies, and any increase would substantially help Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, which is now under serious pressure as a result of Ukraine's recent gains on the battlefield.

There are mounting concerns, however, in Western security circles that in return for providing any uplift in military support for Russia, Kim wants Moscow to provide technical assistance for his missile and satellite programmes, which would seriously enhance North Korea's ability to threaten the West with its nuclear arsenal.

Earlier this year North Korea twice tried, and failed, to launch a spy satellite, with Pyongyang keen to develop the technology in order to boost its military surveillance.

US officials believe North Korea's satellite programme is also aimed at boosting its ballistic missile capabilities, as the technology is similar.

Speaking after Kim's summit with Putin, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said there was concern that Russian help with satellite technology would actively improve the North Korean missile programme.

"That is quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions" which Russia itself had voted for in the past, he said.

Putin's choice of the cosmodrome for his meeting with Kim was certainly appropriate given the close personal interest Kim takes in missiles and satellites. This was the location where Russia's recent lunar probe, which ended up crashing into the moon, was launched in August.

The prospect of Russia deepening its military ties with North Korea is troubling for other reasons.

North Korea is known to have worked closely with Iran on the development of their respective nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes, both of which draw heavily on Russian technology.

For example, both North Korea's Nodong and Iran's Shahab medium-range missile systems rely heavily on the technology used in Russia's Soviet era Scud missiles.

When Israeli warplanes in 2007 bombed Syria's Al-Kibar nuclear facility, where Iran was financing the construction of a nuclear reactor, a number of North Korean nuclear scientists working on the project were killed.

The other concerning aspect of Putin's bid to forge closer military ties with North Korea will be the implications it could have for Moscow's alliance with China.

China has historically been regarded as North Korea's closest ally, as well as being its most important trading partner.

Any attempt by Russia to help improve North Korea's military strength will also benefit China's Communist rulers: it will provide North Korea with the ability to intensify the threat that all three countries pose to the US and its allies -- and to global security.

© Gatestone