What should this shift toward great-power competition entail for the U. He served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development in To answer, we must first understand the current geopolitical landscape. As ever, the foremost concern of the United States is to maintain adequate levels of military power; without it, there would be nothing to protect Washington from the worst forms of coercion and every incentive for ambitious opponents to exploit the ensuing leverage.
The United States does so by maintaining favorable balances of power in these regions through a network of alliances.
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These partnerships are not ends in themselves but rather the way the United States makes sure that no state dominates these critical areas. If they did so—or even if they merely convinced their neighbors that they could and then used that fear to suborn them—they could unravel U.
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In other words, the United States must prepare to fight and achieve its political aims in a war with a great power. Doing so will not be easy. The last time the United States prepared for such a conflict was in the s, and the last time it fought one was in the s. Source: David Vine, List of U. Military Bases Abroad, Note: Points on map do not represent exact geographic locations.
Map does not include the U. Lily pad figure excludes additional likely lily pads in Afghanistan and other war zones. Not shown: Greenland base and Antarctica lily pad. For a generation, the Pentagon operated on what might be called the Desert Storm model, under which the United States exploited the enormous technical advantages it had developed starting in the s to build a military capable of dominating any opponent in the s and s, a time when it lacked a peer competitor.
This approach was exemplified by the Persian Gulf War of Over the ensuing six months, Washington assembled a broad coalition and built an iron mountain of aircraft, tanks, warships, ammunition, and every other expression of military might. Once the United States was good and ready, it launched a withering air campaign that pummeled the Iraqi military and quickly established total dominance of Kuwaiti and Iraqi airspace.
The subsequent ground invasion rapidly expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait, after which the United States quickly ended the war on its preferred terms. Iraq had a formidable military, but it was well behind that of the United States and incapable of striking accurately beyond territory it owned or occupied. Meanwhile, the desert provided an optimal environment for U. The world took note of the awesome power of the U. Until today, no other country has dared to assault a U.
The point was only magnified by the prowess the United States showed in its wars against Serbia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Iraq in The problem today, however, is the approach that worked so well against these so-called rogue state adversaries will fail against China or Russia.
That is because they have spent the last 10 to 20 years specifically figuring out how to undermine it. Victory, as the old saying goes, is never final, and it breeds its own frustration. Today that takes the form of two militaries that, while different, pose serious and intensifying threats to U. Despite these advances, both China and Russia still know that, for now, they would be defeated if their attacks triggered a full response by the United States.
The key for them is to attack and fight in a way that Washington restrains itself enough for them to secure their gains. This means ensuring that the war is fought on limited terms such that the United States will not see fit to bring to bear its full weight. The most pointed form of such a limited war strategy is the fait accompli. Such an approach involves an attacker seizing territory before the defender and its patron can react sufficiently and then making sure that the counterattack needed to eject it would be so risky, costly, and aggressive that the United States would balk at mounting it—not least because its allies might see it as unjustified and refuse to support it.
Such a war plan, if skillfully carried out in the Baltics or Taiwan, could checkmate the United States. This will require making significant changes in the way the U. In doing so, the United States must demonstrate that its fight is reasonable and proportionate, leaving the terrible burden of major escalation on the opponent.
Once their invasion has been blunted and then stopped, Beijing or Moscow will be forced to choose whether to escalate the war in ways that strengthen U. This standard has produced a force emphasizing the deployment of large numbers of troops optimized for beating the likes of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—exactly the kind of force to which China and Russia have adapted. In the near term, then, the Pentagon will need to make its existing forces more lethal, for instance by equipping U.
In the longer term, the military will need to go further, using artificial intelligence and autonomous systems in ways that can repel intense attacks by a China exploiting the same technologies. But the U. The model of the last generation was a surge-based force that, when needed to eject an opponent from allied territory, would gradually and securely flow from the United States to a small number of fixed hub bases that were essentially immune to enemy attack and then launch an overwhelming assault from there.
Improvements in military technology have now made these logistic tracks and bases vulnerable to enemy attack at every step. To make this strategy work will require a force posture that is much more lethal, agile, and ready. To get there, the U.
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Nor can these efforts be confined to U. The entire apparatus of the U. No longer can U. How shifts in technology and geopolitics are renewing the threat. IN THE past 25 years war has claimed too many lives. No longer. Last week the Pentagon issued a new national defence strategy that put China and Russia above jihadism as the main threat to America. Even now America and North Korea are perilously close to a conflict that risks dragging in China or escalating into nuclear catastrophe. As our special report this week on the future of war argues, powerful, long-term shifts in geopolitics and the proliferation of new technologies are eroding the extraordinary military dominance that America and its allies have enjoyed.
Conflict on a scale and intensity not seen since the second world war is once again plausible. The world is not prepared. The pressing danger is of war on the Korean peninsula, perhaps this year. Even a limited attack could trigger all-out war. Analysts reckon that North Korean artillery can bombard Seoul, the South Korean capital, with 10, rounds a minute. Drones, midget submarines and tunnelling commandos could deploy biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons.
Tens of thousands of people would perish; many more if nukes were used. This newspaper has argued that the prospect of such horror means that, if diplomacy fails, North Korea should be contained and deterred instead. Although we stand by our argument, war is a real possibility see article.
Mr Trump and his advisers may conclude that a nuclear North would be so reckless, and so likely to cause nuclear proliferation, that it is better to risk war on the Korean peninsula today than a nuclear strike on an American city tomorrow. Even if China stays out of a second Korean war, both it and Russia are entering into a renewal of great-power competition with the West.
Three decades of unprecedented economic growth have provided China with the wealth to transform its armed forces, and given its leaders the sense that their moment has come. Russia, paradoxically, needs to assert itself now because it is in long-term decline. Both countries have benefited from the international order that America did most to establish and guarantee.
But they see its pillars—universal human rights, democracy and the rule of law—as an imposition that excuses foreign meddling and undermines their own legitimacy. They are now revisionist states that want to challenge the status quo and look at their regions as spheres of influence to be dominated. Neither China nor Russia wants a direct military confrontation with America that they would surely lose.
In Ukraine Russia has blended force, misinformation, infiltration, cyberwar and economic blackmail in ways that democratic societies cannot copy and find hard to rebuff. China is more cautious, but it has claimed, occupied and garrisoned reefs and shoals in disputed waters.
China and Russia have harnessed military technologies invented by America, such as long-range precision-strike and electromagnetic-spectrum warfare, to raise the cost of intervention against them dramatically. China aims to push American naval forces far out into the Pacific where they can no longer safely project power into the East and South China Seas.
Russia wants the world to know that, from the Arctic to the Black Sea, it can call on greater firepower than its foes—and that it will not hesitate to do so. If America allows China and Russia to establish regional hegemonies, either consciously or because its politics are too dysfunctional to muster a response, it will have given them a green light to pursue their interests by brute force. When that was last tried, the result was the first world war. Nuclear weapons, largely a source of stability since , may add to the danger.
A country under such an attack could find itself under pressure to choose between losing control of its nuclear weapons or using them.
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What should America do? Almost 20 years of strategic drift has played into the hands of Russia and China.