The current war in Ukraine and Russia’s threatening actions towards NATO countries, coupled with the rise of China in Asia, highlight a strategic problem for the United States: the need to be able to deter or potentially combat two major adversaries in two very different regions of the world at the same time with the military at its disposal.
While the United States is unlikely to face two major competitors at the same time, the possibility is not zero. The current situation in Ukraine, with Russian President Vladimir Putin launching missiles landing near Poland, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ideological commitments to bring Taiwan to China, presents an excellent opportunity for an opportunistic nation to attempt a hostile act. while the rest of the world is distracted.
The United States is a global power with worldwide interests and responsibilities. It must be able to protect Americans abroad, their allies, and the freedom to use the international sea, air, space, and cyberspace.
This is not an easy task, and the American army today is not in a position to assume it.
He is too small and too old to fight on many fronts. Force reductions since the end of the Cold War and 20 years of fighting in the Middle East have left the US military a shell of itself.
This should worry everyone, especially since China and Russia spend a significant portion of their economic output on their defense budgets, in an effort to challenge US military superiority.
The Chinese government is rapidly expanding its military forces. Perhaps the most visible example is its shipbuilding program. At the end of 2020, the size of the Chinese Navy was around 360. Compare that to a US Navy fleet of 297 ships.
China’s military forces must be modernized by 2035, according to Xi. By 2049, he claims, they should be a “world-class” military power capable of “fighting and winning wars”.
China’s breakthroughs in its hard power capabilities are likely to bring about a significant shift in the global balance of military power.
As for Russia, its military capabilities are on display on the world stage.
The US military has an overall advantage over the Russian military, but Russia has some advantages over the US when it comes to certain capabilities. For example, the US military has around 6,000 tanks while Russia has around 12,000. Russian tactical nuclear capabilities are 10 times more than the US.
One cannot forget the threat that Iran and North Korea also pose to the national security of the United States, with their missile arsenals and nuclear programs. It is vital for the United States to be able to project its force on a global scale to reassure its allies and deter its adversaries.
While the quality of the US military is currently unmatched, its size is at an all-time low, limiting its ability to respond to the multiple threats the country faces globally. He just doesn’t have enough strength.
This is a concern, especially when the United States must rush into conflict without compromising the position of American forces in another important region.
For example, if the United States were to engage Russia in a direct confrontation, it would be forced to deploy military equipment and personnel from around the world to the Eastern European front. In doing so, the United States would be forced to draw strength from other regions of the world, such as the Western Pacific, where our presence is essential to deter China.
The Heritage Foundation’s annual assessment of US military power, the 2022 Index of US Military Strength, rates the US military as only moderately capable of securing its vital national security interests and that it would have a hard time facing more than one competitor at a time.
Low capability levels are of particular concern because numbers really matter in wartime.
The index estimates that a joint force capable of dealing with several fronts simultaneously should be composed of:
- The army has 50 brigade combat teams, up from 31 currently.
- The Navy has at least 400 ships, compared to 297 ships it currently has.
Since President Ronald Reagan’s military build-up to deter the Soviets in what would be the final years of the Cold War, the general trend in numbers has clearly been consistently towards a smaller force. Besides the size of the force, some of the Army’s equipment is extremely outdated and many of its platforms entered service more than 30 years ago.
Services, like the army and navy, are aging faster than they are modernizing. As a result, it will be easier for major competitors to achieve technology parity with the US military.
To recap, the United States needs a force capable of handling two conflicts because it would provide enough forces to: 1. deter an opportunistic adversary from starting a conflict while the United States is engaged and 2. provide the States United enough forces to handle battle losses without forcing America to strip the rest of the world to focus on a single conflict.
The good news is that there seems to be bipartisan recognition of the need to project power on two fronts.
“It’s hard. It’s expensive. But it’s also essential, and I believe we’re entering a period where that’s what will be required of the United States and this generation of Americans,” Kurt said. Campbell, White House Indo-Pacific Policy Coordinator, on the United States remaining engaged in the Indo-Pacific amid the Ukraine crisis.
But it remains to be seen whether Congress and the Biden administration are responding to the need to deploy a military force large enough to deal with global threats and US national interests. The defense budget must be sufficient to modernize and expand the force. It will take time for the military to reach the level of force required to deter and potentially fight on multiple fronts.
The problem will not be solved overnight. This is why it is important that Congress act quickly to provide adequate resources to the US military.
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