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United States President Joe Biden’s recent Oval Office speech marked a key moment in the deepening rivalry between America and its allies on the one hand and the axis of dictatorships uniting around Russia, China, Iran and North Korea on the other. writes Andrew A. Michta.
The speech effectively conflated the war in Ukraine and the wider war in the Middle East into two battlefields of the same conflict. And if Hezbollah were to attack now, it would represent a vastly expanded battlefield for the US and its allies, again straining military resources.
At the same time, Taiwan looks set to emerge as a third sphere of conflict in the next few years – or perhaps even sooner. And Beijing is building up its military on a grand scale—the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy already outnumbers the U.S. Navy, while land and nuclear forces are growing rapidly.
Meanwhile, regardless of how long the war in Ukraine lasts, Russia is busy ramping up production of armored vehicles – including recovering damaged battlefield equipment – while operating a war production system at home. Moscow has shown that it understands the masses; and after a year and a half, the Russian army is now able to fight and mobilize at the same time, with the aim of expanding its ranks to 1.5 million.
Simply put, America’s adversaries are preparing for war. And yet in Washington, national security debates rarely begin with the basic recognition that China and Russia are building their militaries not to deter but to attack. This should now be the starting point of any conversation about US and allied defense spending.
The massive expenditure on arms, ammunition and human lives in Ukraine should be a warning sign. And the U.S. must begin to question whether its all-volunteer force model is capable of generating the military capabilities it needs—especially when it comes to trained reservists.
But this is not just a US problem – the model of professional, all-volunteer forces has become dominant throughout the West. And given the new realities we face in Europe and Asia, it’s time to rethink that. We must realize that the current number of men and women in uniform is simply not enough for the task. The West’s armies, navies, and air forces are simply too small to respond in both the Atlantic and the Pacific—the two interconnected battlefields that will determine the outcome of any future global conflict.
The solution is not to “anchor in Asia” – it is to rebuild Western forces with the necessary increase in reserves. In this increasingly unstable world, it is essential that the US increase its defense spending and rethink what it spends money on and how it generates its forces.
Both China and Russia, and now increasingly Iran, have overturned the notion that peaceful competition will take place within a globalized economic framework, and Washington must wake up to this reality.
Deterrence in Europe and Asia requires a permanent deployment – not a rotating presence that was a stopgap measure to avoid tough choices. If NATO is to survive as a viable alliance, it must focus on deterrence and collective territorial defense in Europe.
Additionally, in Asia, bilateral security guarantees and regional efforts to stabilize the area must be supported by US and allied deployments. As we enter a period of protracted systemic instability, preserving these two regional balances from collapsing into all-out great power war will mean the difference between peace and a wider conflict that could turn into a global conflagration.
To do this, America must rethink the way it builds its armed forces and weapons. Case in point: Last year, the U.S. military fell 25% short of its recruiting goals, and this year, recruiting missed the target again. The Navy has also fallen short of its recruiting goals, and manning American ships is becoming more of a challenge.
Thus, the US must move away from its current reactive statements about “defending the rules-based order” and tell the public what is really at stake. They need to stop talking about “great power rivalry” and instead ask what “victory” would actually look like in this conflict between democracies and dictatorships. What would a geostrategic map prioritizing its interests and those of other democracies look like.
The US must also decide which geopolitical centers are critical to its internal security and the continued prosperity of its citizens. They must put national security priorities back into economic policy decisions, relearn what previous generations knew and what we have forgotten in the last 30 years—that one cannot depend on one’s adversary for the basic things needed to sustain society, and then expect , that he will win if this opponent decides to go to war. The relocalization of critical supply chains and the creation of reserve workplaces in our supply system through “friend-shoring” is no longer a matter of re-arranging globalization. It is a vital national security priority for both the US and its allies.
If the US were forced to enter the war, there would be no time to compensate for deficiencies or stockpile arms and ammunition. The lesson to be learned from Ukraine, and now from Israel, is that the US and its allies must rethink how their militaries are built so that there is a way forward to deploy large forces with the necessary mass – should a national emergency require it.
We need a new sense of urgency about the threat we face, and we need to act now.
Source in English: HERE