A recent report by the Commission on the National Defense Strategy, which is a panel charged by the United States Congress with making recommendations based upon its (the commission’s) analysis related to the published (by the administration) National Defence Strategy, and to the larger geopolitical environment in which that strategy must be executed, says that the United States “might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia” … [and] … The report ~ Providing for the Common Defense ~ suggests that the twin coincidental natures of a resurgent Russia and a rising China present a geopolitical threat “on a far greater scale than has any adversary since the Cold War’s end.” The 12 member commission consulted with civilian and military leaders in the US Department of Defence, representatives of other US government departments and agencies, allied diplomats and military officials, and independent experts and the recent publication is its consensus report. “The Commission argues,” says the National Interest, that “America confronts a grave crisis of national security and national defense, as U.S. military advantages erode and the strategic landscape becomes steadily more threatening. If the United States does not show greater urgency and seriousness in responding to this crisis and does not take decisive steps to rebuild its military advantages now, the damage to American security and influence could be devastating.“
Murray Brewster, writing for CBC News, says that the report, “presented to the U.S. Congress this week, delivered one of the most stark — even startling — assessments in the last two decades of the limits of American military power … [and] … The independent, nonpartisan review of the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defence Strategy said the U.S. could lose future wars with Russia or China … [saying] … “This Commission believes that America has reached the point of a full-blown national security crisis … [and] … If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency, or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat.”” Murray Brewster reminds us that “Those are sobering words for Canada, in light of this country’s contribution of over 450 troops to the NATO-led deterrence mission in Latvia,” and he says that “it has prompted a call from at least one Canadian defence expert for a re-assessment — perhaps even a full-blown rewrite — of the Liberal government’s own defence policy.“
The report, linked above, is not light reading, the Executive Summary begins by saying that “The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades. America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree. Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains. America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.” It goes without saying, I hope, that it is the “security and well being” of the entire US led West, Canada included, that are at grave risk.
The report also says, echoing my own views on the values of the “liberal world order” that has been in place for over seventy years, that “Since World War II, the United States has led in building a world of unusual prosperity, freedom, and security—an achievement that has benefitted America enormously. That achievement has been enabled by unmatched U.S. military power. Investments made in our military and the competence and sacrifice of those who serve have provided for the defense and security of America, its citizens overseas, and its allies and partners. America has deterred or defeated aggression and preserved stability in key regions around the globe. It has ensured the freedom of the global commons on which American and international prosperity depends, and given America unrivaled access and influence.“
Murray Brewster says that “The report acknowledges that the U.S. and its allies may be forced to fight a localized nuclear war in the future, given how Russia has restored the once-unthinkable concept to its military planning and training exercises … [and] … The commission also paints various grim scenarios that could confront Western allies between now and 2022, including an invasion of the Baltics under the guise of a “peacekeeping” mission to protect Russian minorities: “As U.S. and NATO forces prepare to respond, Russia declares that strikes against Russian forces in those states will be treated as attacks on Russia itself — implying a potential nuclear response … [and, meanwhile] … “to keep America off balance, Russia escalates in disruptive ways. Russian submarines attack transatlantic fibre optic cables. Russian hackers shut down power grids and compromise the security of U.S. banks” … [and] … The consequences, said the report, would be severe: “Major cities are paralyzed; use of the internet and smartphones is disrupted. Financial markets plummet as commerce seizes up and online financial transactions slow to a crawl. The banking system is thrown into chaos.”“
Mr Brewster writes that “While the report doesn’t mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name, it notes the effect of his bruising rhetorical fights with world leaders and criticism of international institutions, such as NATO …[saying that] … “Doubts about America’s ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat opponents and honour its global commitments have proliferated.”“
The report says that “Across Eurasia, grayzone aggression is steadily undermining the security of U.S. allies and partners and eroding American influence. Regional military balances in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific have shifted in decidedly adverse ways. These trends are undermining deterrence of U.S. adversaries and the confidence of American allies, thus increasing the likelihood of military conflict. The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously. Additionally, it would be unwise and irresponsible not to expect adversaries to attempt debilitating kinetic, cyber, or other types of attacks against Americans at home while they seek to defeat our military abroad. U.S. military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe.” I think it is very important to grasp that the report’s authors, experts all, see Eurasia, less a fairly small peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic, as hostile territory dominated by China, murderous Middle Eastern tyrants and Putin’s Russia.
I do not believe that either Russia and China or the Middle East and China or Russia and the Middle East, much less all three, together, can ever make real common cause … I believe that China and Russia are natural enemies and will, sooner or later, have to fight a series of wars that will reshape Eurasia. Equally, I believe that China is fundamentally opposed to almost everything that the Arab, Persian and West Asian potentates propose for the world. But the Chinese will never be afraid of making temporary alliances if the rewards are likely to be high enough.
What do the Chinese, the Middle Eastern powers and the Russians want?
The Chinese, it seems to me are the simplest to understand and the most dangerous. What they want is the respect due to a great, global social, economic and military power … they want what first Britain and now America have had for 200+ years. The Chinese seem, to me, to approach grand strategy from the point of view of their own ancient sages, like Sun Tzu. They will not want to fight unless or until there is no better option and/or the stakes are worth it … then they will not be afraid to suffer enormous damage if they believe they can, in the end, prevail. There are a few things ~ and Taiwan is, I believe, one of them ~ for which they will fight.
The Middle Eastern tyrants are a different kettle of fish … their political leaders are, very often, tightly tied to the West but the people and many religious leaders are driven by other motives that see the West as something that must be crushed so that their ideas and ideals may prevail. All of the African, Middle Eastern and West Asians combined are no military threat to the American led West (or to the Chinese, for that matter) but they have proven adept at and willing to commit the most heinous acts of terrorism imaginable.
Russia is, I think, the greater challenge. I see Vladimir Putin as (I have said many times) either an opportunistic adventurer or an adventurous opportunist ~ much as I think Hitler was in the late 1930s. He is, I guess, trying to restore Russia to something akin to the ‘greatness’ that he, and many Russians, seem to think it had under Stalin and Khrushchev when much of the world quaked in fear of Soviet aggression. That didn’t make the USSR ‘great,’ in my opinion ~ not in any way that I would define great ~ but it did make it powerful and that seems to be enough for Putin and for many Russians. He has been emboldened first by American dithering, under President Obama and, now, by America’s apparent desire to beat a hasty retreat from its accustomed position as the unchallenged leader of the West.
The report sums it up thus: “In the Western Pacific, deterring Chinese aggression requires a forward deployed, defense-in-depth posture, buttressed by investments in capabilities ranging from undersea warfare to strategic airlift. In Europe, dealing with a revanchist Russia will entail rebuilding conventional NATO force capacity and capability on the alliance’s eastern flank and the Baltics, while also preparing to deter and if necessary defeat the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. security commitments and operations in the Middle East cannot be wished away. As long as terrorism is exportable, as long as the Middle East remains a major producer of oil, and as long as the United States has key U.S. allies and partners in the region, U.S. interests in the Middle East will be profound.“
The report sees a lack of direction and purpose in the US administration, in the Congress, which both of which have allowed and even encouraged political infighting to block needed defence appropriations, and intertia and inter-service infighting within the Department of Defense itself: “While the NDS [National Defense Strategy] properly focuses on winning high-intensity conflicts and closing near-term capability gaps vis-à-vis China and Russia, DOD leaders had difficulty articulating how the U.S. military would defeat major-power adversaries should deterrence fail. The Department does not appear to have a plan for succeeding in gray-zone competitions against these actors, nor does the administration as a whole appear to have such an integrated plan. The United States is currently losing those competitions as Russia and China use measures short of war and employ multiple tools of statecraft to expand their influence and weaken U.S. alliances and partnerships.“
The report offers some concrete recommendations; primary amongst them , in my opinion, is this (italics are used in the report):
“We recommend that U.S. defense investments emphasize achieving and maintaining a favorable military balance for the United States and its allies against China in the Indo-Pacific region and against Russia in Europe—and that those investments be focused on the 2018 Operational Challenges, represented by the challenges described previously. More specifically, we recommend that defense investments should seek to yield an expanded set of U.S. operational options while constraining those available to China and Russia.“
The key wording there is “for the United States and its allies,” because the Commission recognizes that American never did and never could do it all by itself. American needs the support of large, rich allies like Germany and Japan and smaller, trusted allies, like Australia, Britain, Canada and Denmark to help create and then maintain that “favorable military balance” in the Indo-Pacific region and in Europe. The balance has shifted ever since, I think, about 2001 (some would argue that the shift began in the 1960s when President John F Kennedy expanded the Vietnam War) as America became obsessed with Middle Eastern terrorism and ignored Russia’s angry and adventurous opportunism and the ongoing Chinese expansion.
The report also warns that “Potential adversaries are blurring lines between strategic and conventional approaches; they are blending nuclear, space, cyber, conventional, and unconventional means in their warfighting doctrines and pursuing coercive aims through a mix of military and nonmilitary means.” This is the “gray-zone” warfare that both puzzles and challenges many thinkers. My own, personal sense, is that too many political and military leaders are starry eyed about special forces and unconventional operations because they seem like a ‘cheap and dirty’ way to achieve strategic goals at minimal political cost. There are, without a doubt, vital military roles for special forces ~ both of the popular sort and the less well understood ‘cyber’ forces ~ but they must all be just a (small) part of a larger, conventional force that must be ready and able to engage in ‘hard’ operations when, not if, political and military deterrence and unconventional means fail.
Near the very end of its report, page 63, the Commissions says:
“This Commission was charged with making recommendations regarding U.S. defense strategy. Yet even if America were to fund the Department of Defense lavishly, and even if all the other recommendations in this report were to be implemented, that would not be sufficient to address the threats and challenges facing the country today. America’s two most powerful competitors—China and Russia—have developed national strategies for enhancing their influence and undermining key U.S. interests that extend far beyond military competition. Encompassing economic, diplomatic, covert, political, and other initiatives, those strategies draw on the full array of foreign policy tools; they include many actions that fall short of war but nonetheless alter the status quo in dangerous ways. As noted, comprehensive solutions to these comprehensive challenges will require whole-of-government and even whole-of-nation cooperation extending far beyond DOD. Trade policy; science, technology, engineering, and math education; diplomatic statecraft; and other non-military tools will be critical—so will adequate support and funding for those elements of American power. Without such a holistic approach, the United States will be at a competitive disadvantage and will remain ill-equipped to preserve its security and its global interests amid intensifying challenges.” This is a vital point: a real grand strategy goes far, far beyond just military strategy. In fact the military strategy must emerge from a national ‘strategy’ that aims to make the people’s lives better. My fear is that too many Americans and Canadians, too, have lost faith in their country’s grand strategy ~ in their country’s ability and even willingness to do what is necessary to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have better lives than we do. As people including Steve Bannon and Stephen Harper explain, US President Donald Trump isn’t the cause of the global turmoil, he’s one of the results of a wave os political and socio-economic ideas that have, starting in about 1945, rearranged the global balance. A couple of weeks ago I used this chart …
… to illustrate why globalization has been, broadly and generally, a good thing for humanity and, as the Commission points out, a good thing for America and the US led West, too. But I accept that the 1975 was much more advantageous to European and North American workers than is the 2015 graph. In 1975 they had almost all of the good, well paying jobs in the world and the Asians, other than the Japanese, had few of them … then came Deng Xiaoping and he changed everything in just about the last 30 years. He dragged China into the modern, Western led world order and showed India that it could be done. He emboldened both the Middle Eastern and Russian radicals by showing that white, Euro-American capitalists were not the only people who could run a modern country. He advocated a foreign policy based on his own dictum of “hide you ambitions and disguise your claws” which meant that he wanted to join the US led world order and then, later, take it over. In the process he made China into a raging capitalist production economy that, quite literally, sucked millions of good paying but low skill factory jobs out of America, Canada and Europe. At the same time he established China as the biggest foreign holder of US debt …
… establishing a symbiotic relationship which makes it less likely that China will do anything militarily to ‘attack’ the US homeland but still leaves China wiling and able to use any and all measures short of combat to displace the US as the military-political hegemon in East Asia.
In my opinion, Russia is the greatest danger to peace and security in Europe and the Middle East, the Middle East is the most . likely source of terrorist attacks on the West, on Russia and on China, but only China poses an existential threat to America’s global power.
America, and Australia, Britain, Canada and Denmark, too, must do more than just rearm, although that matters because we need to deter China and Russia even though we do not want to have to fight them. Ships and tanks and bombers deter, kind words and trade deals do not. We, the US led West, also need to rebuild our socio-economic cores. We need to lead the world in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in innovation and that must be done in the face of a very serious Chinese challenge. This means that we need to reshape ourselves and rethink our values. It is very likely that über-progressive “sunny ways” are exactly the worst sort of thing for our society and we may need to restore the values of e.g. Margaret Thatcher, Louis St Laurent, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, and, indeed, of earlier thinkers, going all the way back to our Anglo-Saxon roots to find what I have called the ‘gold standard’ of socio-political ideals.
The Commission on the National Defense Strategy is, rightly, concerned about the problems inherent in the most recent (2017) US National Defense Strategy, but it, correctly, sees that the US military strategic problems are rooted in bigger, grand strategic issues that include the ongoing ‘culture wars’ and the advance of the progressive social revolution, especially in education.