The United States must prepare for war with both Russia and China
The United States must prepare for war with both Russia and China

The United States must prepare for war with both Russia and China

As Russia threatens the largest land invasion of Europe since World War II, the most consequential strategic question of the 21st century is becoming clear: How can the United States control two revisionist, autocratic, nuclear-armed superpowers (Russia and China) simultaneously? The answer according to many politicians and defense expertsis that Washington needs to moderate its response to Russia in Europe to focus on the greater threat that China poses in the Indo-Pacific.

This would be a mistake.

The United States remains the world’s leading power with global interests, and it cannot afford to choose between Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Instead, Washington and its allies should develop a defense strategy capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russia and China at the same time.

As Russia threatens the largest land invasion of Europe since World War II, the most consequential strategic question of the 21st century is becoming clear: How can the United States control two revisionist, autocratic, nuclear-armed superpowers (Russia and China) simultaneously? The answer according to many politicians and defense expertsis that Washington needs to moderate its response to Russia in Europe to focus on the greater threat that China poses in the Indo-Pacific.

This would be a mistake.

The United States remains the world’s leading power with global interests, and it cannot afford to choose between Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Instead, Washington and its allies should develop a defense strategy capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russia and China at the same time.

In recent weeks, Biden has sent thousands of US troops to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank – and with good reason. A major war in Ukraine could spread across international borders and threaten the seven NATO allies bordering Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Moreover, if Russian President Vladimir Putin is successful in Ukraine, why should he stop there?

Putin has shown a clear interest in reviving the former Russian empire, and other vulnerable Eastern European countries – Poland, Romania or the Baltic states – may be next. A successful Russian incursion into the territory of a NATO ally could mean the end of the Western alliance and the credibility of US security commitments globally.

The threat from China is also serious. Adm. Philip Davidson, former head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, predicted that China could invade Taiwan in the near future. six years. This is a war the United States can lose. If China succeeds in taking Taiwan, it would be well on its way to disrupting the US-led order in Asia in order to do the same globally.

In addition, Russia and China are increasingly working together. Like this month summit between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shows that Moscow and Beijing are forming a closer strategic partnership, including in military matters. These dictators could coordinate double attacks on the American alliance structure or opportunistically seize the distraction that the other’s aggression provides. In other words, there is a serious risk of simultaneous great power wars in both Europe and the Indo-Pacific.


To solve this problem, many have suggested answers that simply will not work. The Biden administration initially hoped to put relations with Russia on a “stable and predictable” basis to focus on China, but Putin had other ideas that the world now sees in Ukraine. Unfortunately, Washington can not decide how its opponents organize their aggression.

Others have expressed hope that Washington can tear these powers apart or even join Russia against China, but these are not realistic solutions.

The misconception that is gaining the latest acceptance, however, is that Washington should simply choose the Indo-Pacific over Europe. Politicians and experts argue that the United States lacks the resources to accommodate both Russia and China. They point to China’s power and Asia’s wealth, arguing that Asia should be a priority. While Washington is turning to Asia, wealthy European countries, such as Germany, should step up to provide NATO defense. In fact, the Biden administration’s national defense strategy, which has been delayed due to the Ukraine crisis, is expected to focus on China without offering a clear solution to the two-front war problem.

However, a good strategy starts with clear goals, and Washington’s goal is to maintain peace and stability in both Europe and Asia. The United States ‘interests in Europe are too significant to be resolved exclusively between Putin and the United States’ European allies. In fact, the EU, not Asia, is the US’s largest trading and investment partner, and this imbalance is much sharper when China (from which the US seeks greater economic decoupling) is removed from the equation.

In addition, China has conducted military exercises in Europe and the Middle East. To compete with China militarily means to compete globally, not just in Asia. In addition, Xi measures U.S. determination, and a weak response in Ukraine may make a Chinese move toward Taiwan more likely.

Moreover, the United States is not France; it is not forced to make in-depth strategic choices about its national security due to limited resources. In short, publishing a defense strategy that can only deal with one of America’s great power rivals (which is what is expected from the upcoming national defense strategy) plans to fail.

Instead, the United States and its allies must design a defense strategy capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating both Russia and China in overlapping time frames. The break in the release of Biden’s defense strategy provides an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and get this right.

Admittedly, it will be a challenge to develop such a strategy, but there are a number of ways to start squaring the circle.

First, Washington should increase defense spending. Contrary to those who argue that limited resources will force difficult choices, the United States can afford to use Russia and China at the same time. The United States holds 24 percent of global GDP, compared to a combined 19 percent in China and Russia. This year, the United States will use $ 778 billion on defense in relation to only $ 310 billion in Russia and China.

Moreover, the United States could go so far as to double defense spending (currently 2.8 percent of GDP) and still remain below the Cold War average (close to 7 percent of GDP). Given that this new Cold War is as dangerous as the last, a meaningful increase in defense spending, focused on 21st century new defense technologies, is in order.

Some might argue that the days of a US economic advantage are numbered because of China’s progress, but China’s internal dysfunctions is catching up. Dictators like Xi prioritize political control over economic results.

Xi undermines China’s growth model by cracking down on the private sector and rolling back liberalizing reforms, and his aggressive diplomacy disrupts international economic conditions. As a result, Beijing’s economy is stagnating. Russia’s long – term economic outlook is even worse. In short, even if this new strategic competition becomes a two-on-one arms race, Washington is likely to win.

In addition, the United States can actively lead its allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific to develop a free world defense strategy. The United States and its formal treaty allies Garden nearly 60 percent of global GDP, and together they can easily pool resources to maintain a favorable balance of military power over both China and Russia. Existing formal alliances such as NATO in Europe and bilateral alliances in Asia can be complemented by new arrangements, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

Allies therefore need to go up and do more for their defense, but they will not do it on their own if the United States threatens to leave Europe. Instead, Washington should actively lead and move from a model in which Washington provides defense to allies to one in which Washington contributes to Allied self-defense. This should include the incorporation of key allies into military planning, the sharing of responsibilities and the creation of a rational division of labor for arms procurement.

European allies should invest in armor and artillery, while Asian allies buy naval mines, harpoon missiles and submarines. The U.S. Army should prioritize Europe, while the U.S. Navy takes the Indo-Pacific, and a larger U.S. Air Force plays a significant role in both theaters. In addition, the United States should provide strategic capabilities such as its nuclear umbrella; global conventional attack capabilities, including hypersonic missiles; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Finally, if necessary, Washington could always take a page from its Cold War book and rely more on nuclear weapons to offset the local, conventional advantages of its rivals. The presence of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe helped deter the massive Soviet Red Army for decades. Similarly, the United States could rely on threatening non-strategic nuclear attacks to deter and, as a last resort, thwart a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan or a Russian tank invasion of Europe.

Admittedly, there are risks associated with nuclear deterrence, but nuclear weapons have played a fundamental role in America’s defense strategy for three-quarters of a century – and are likely to continue to do so for decades to come.

Deterring China and Russia at the same time will not be easy, but it’s better than pretending that Washington can handle one or the other great power rival when it suits it. Thank God, former US President Franklin Roosevelt did not choose the victory in only one theater during World War II. Biden should follow his example and plan to defend US interests in Europe and the Indo-Pacific at the same time.

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