What Happens If Russia Joins In During An U.S.-China Clash?
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Here's what to keep in mind: The United States can still wage and win two major wars at the same time, or at least get close enough to victory that neither Russia nor China would see much hope of gambling. The United States can do this because it continues to maintain the world's most impressive military and is at the head of an extremely powerful military alliance.
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The United States has rejected its often misunderstood "two wars" doctrine, which is intended to provide the means to fight two regional wars simultaneously at the end of the last decade. The idea was to prevent North Korea from starting a war while the United States was involved in the fight against Iran or Iraq (or vice versa). It helped shape the Defense Department's procurement, logistics, and grassroots strategies in the post-Cold War era. when the United States no longer had to face the Soviet threat. The United States has withdrawn from the doctrine due to changes in the international system, including the growing power of China and the proliferation of highly effective terrorist networks.
But what if the United States had to wage two wars today and not against states like North Korea and Iran? What if China and Russia were sufficiently coordinated to simultaneously hostilities in the Pacific and Europe?
Could Beijing and Moscow coordinate a pair of crises that would trigger two separate U.S. military responses? Maybe, but probably not. Each country has its own goals and works on its own timeline. It would be more likely that either would opportunistically exploit an existing crisis to promote its regional claims. For example, Moscow might well choose to move the Baltic States forward if the United States were involved in a major skirmish in the South China Sea.
In any case, the war would start on the initiative of Moscow or Beijing. The United States enjoys the benefits of the status quo in both areas and generally prefers (at least among major powers) to use diplomatic and economic means to pursue its political goals. While the United States could create the conditions for war, Russia or China would pull the trigger.
On the other hand, only some of the fighting requirements in Europe and the Pacific overlap. As in World War II, the U.S. Army would bear the brunt of Europe's defense, while the Navy would concentrate on the Pacific. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) would play a supporting role in both theaters.
Russia is unable to fight NATO in the North Atlantic and is unlikely to have a political interest in trying. This means that while the United States and its NATO allies can provide some resources for the threat to the Russian maritime space (and insurance against Russian naval operations), the U.S. Navy (USN) can concentrate its forces in the Pacific. Depending on the length of the conflict and the level of warning, the United States could transport substantial U.S. Army assets to Europe to aid in serious fighting.
The majority of American airlines, submarines, and surface ships would focus on the Pacific and Indian Oceans, fight directly against China's A2 / AD system, and sit on China's maritime transit routes. Long-range aviation, including stealth bombers and similar assets, would be used in both theaters as needed.
The U.S. military would be under intense pressure to achieve a decisive victory in at least one theater as soon as possible. This could lead the United States to lean heavily in one direction with aerospace and cyber resources, hoping to achieve a strategic and political victory that would allow the rest of their weight to focus on that to relocate other theaters. Given the strength of US allies in Europe, the United States could initially focus on the conflict in the Pacific.
The structure of the US alliance in the Pacific differs dramatically from that in Europe. Despite concerns about the involvement of certain US allies in Europe, the United States has no reason to fight Russia other than maintaining the integrity of the NATO alliance. If the United States fights, Germany, France, Poland and the United Kingdom will follow. In most conventional scenarios, even NATO's European allies would give enormous advantage over the Russians in the medium term. Russia could occupy parts of the Baltic States, but it would suffer heavily from NATO's Air Force and could probably not last for long stolen territory. In this context, the USN and the USAF would play largely supportive and coordinating roles, giving NATO allies the advantage they needed to wisely defeat the Russians. The U.S. Nuclear Forces would take out insurance against a Russian decision to use tactical or strategic nuclear weapons.
The United States faces more difficult problems in the Pacific. Japan or India may have an interest in the South China Sea, but this hardly guarantees their participation in a war (or even the degree of benevolence of their neutrality). The alliance structure of a particular conflict would depend on the details of that conflict. Any of the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan or Taiwan could become China's main destination. The rest, apart from the pressure from the United States, may prefer to sit on the sidelines. This would put additional pressure on the United States to establish dominance in the western Pacific with its own assets.
The United States can still wage and win two major wars at the same time, or at least get close enough to victory that neither Russia nor China would see much hope of gambling. The United States can do this because it continues to maintain the world's most impressive military and is at the head of an extremely powerful military alliance. In addition, Russia and China are conveniently very different military problems, so the United States can allocate part of its assets to one and the rest to the other.
However, it is emphasized that this situation will not last forever. The United States cannot maintain this level of dominance indefinitely and must choose its commitments carefully over the long term. At the same time, the United States has created an international order that benefits many of the world's most powerful and wealthy countries. it can count on their support for a while.
Robert Farley, who frequently contributes to National Interest, is the author of the Battleship Book. He is a lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs with Lawyers, Guns and Money, Information Dissemination and the diplomat. This was published for the first time in August 2016 and will be published again due to the interest of the readers.
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