Summary: the US in its military planning is still too focused on classical concepts and, apparently, excessively prone to escalation, which is unacceptable in a world where war between nuclear powers is considered an extreme measure.After the Second world war in strategic thinking was dominated by the doctrine of deterrence. In the simplest form, deterrence is the ability of the state to threats to convince another country that costs of any action – for example, invading the territory of neighboring States outweigh the benefits. Such was the logic underlying the concept of mutual assured destruction developed during the cold war the enemy is always able to deliver a retaliatory nuclear strike, which will lead to the complete destruction of both countries. Making the costs of military action are unacceptably high, the parties hoped to keep the peace.But Washington’s deterrence has never been confined to the protection of its own territory. Having built the post-war system of alliances, which is today a significant part of the world order, the United States has developed a strategy of extended deterrence. According to her, the U.S. uses its power, including a nuclear Arsenal to protect allies, among which highlights Japan, South Korea and NATO countries. The challenge was not only to deter the Soviets from rash action in Asia and Europe, but also to reassure U.S. allies. Germany and Japan (to cite just two examples), being absolutely sure that Washington guarantees their security, you will not take action in the field of defense, like creating its own nuclear bomb that could destabilize the system of international relations.
Today, the Soviet threat is gone, but the strategy of extended deterrence remains the cornerstone of global power of the United States. Washington still – at least on paper – look at guns (and, if necessary, nuclear) as the main means of protecting their allies from aggression.
The placement of U.S. armed forces abroad gives additional weight to the American obligations, because any attack on an ally is likely to lead to the deaths of American soldiers, which guarantees a military response by the United States. Today, two main geopolitical enemy of Washington – China and Russia. China – a rising power, challenging the economic and technological superiority of America, and Russia under President Vladimir Putin more and more customized to undermine the US-led world order. Recognizing the threat posed by Beijing and Moscow, those responsible for the defense in the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald trump emphasized that Washington needs to maintain and even strengthen the traditional strategy of deterrence.
However, the question is whether these strategies are the types of aggression, which the Americans may face in the twenty-first century. China and Russia is not a superpower like the Soviet Union, who dreamed of world domination; it is a revisionist power wishing to challenge the existing world order under the leadership of the United States and change it. It is unlikely that China, for example, will help North Korea if it tries to invade South Korea and win her, as in the Korean war. Much more plausible that China will gradually to probe US determination. For example, take away Japan, one of the controversial (and uninhabited) Islands in the East China sea, known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku. Although the United States formally promised to defend these Islands, the Chinese have reason to suspect that the United States does not want to start a war between the two great powers because of some worthless rocks in the sea. But if Washington cannot firmly promise to launch a retaliatory strike, extended deterrence becomes meaningless. And the consequences of this indecision is more serious than the loss of one of the ridge Islands of Diaoyu/Senkaku.
Doubts about the reliability of Washington as an ally worsened after the election Donald trump President in 2016. He negated the value of alliances, spoke disparagingly about the main allies. Sometimes trump directly questioned the logic of extended deterrence: in July 2018 he was indignant with that the obligation to protect Montenegro, a NATO member, could lead to a Third world war. Such rhetoric not only gives more courage to the enemies of the United States, but also undermines the trust of allies, depriving them of peace. And the more the allies will doubt the willingness of the United States to protect them, the more they will strive to ensure its own security alone. It is fraught with nuclear proliferation, and an increased risk of pre-emptive or preventive war, not to mention other consequences.
With trump or without pressing security concerns of the United States can not be solved only by the traditional military deterrence. Washington should reassure allies that it is willing and able to fulfill contractual obligations. More importantly, he needs to broaden the approach to deterrence in light of the changing nature of the threat posed by such rivals as China and Russia. First of all, us policymakers should develop a strategy, combining elements of the military with economic sanctions and other forms of non-violent punishment. Such a strategy would reduce the risk of catastrophic wars by convincing the enemy that the US is ready to carry out threats even in an era when China and Russia are not only developing more powerful weapons, but also are showing more desire to practice them.
A friend in need
The fact that the US face problems regaining the trust of allies, in General, is not surprising. Trust is not easy. In fact, in the Westphalian world of nation-States is even unnatural. To convince one country to trust another ensure its national security and perhaps even survival – it is contrary to intuition, common sense and historical experience of mankind. Though the rhetoric trump sometimes unreasonable, he just speaks out what many have long suspected: how unreliable actually depend on the United States.
Encouraging others is difficult because of a promise to defend allies should not be unconditional. Allies, the US should not behave recklessly, knowing that Washington will come to the rescue, even if they will get yourself killed. In the 1960s, South Korea has developed plans for the so-called preemptive strikes to destroy the leaders of North Korea. The United States attempted to reduce the aggressive ardour of his ally. And in 1965 Pakistan attacked India in the belief that protected by the guarantees of the United States in the field of security. Now some fear that Saudi Arabia might go on the same adventure against Iran. As pointed out by trump, criticizing the lack of military spending of NATO countries, unconditional support can encourage dependency of the allies, because they decide that Washington will in any case pay the bills on collective defence.
And deterrence, and the trust of allies require a clear and precise signal on when and how the United States will support them. Given the inconsistency of trump and his penchant for confrontational rhetoric, the main concern is the behavior of Washington. Trump waited until June 2017 (almost half a year after the inauguration of the President) to confirm the commitment for mutual defence in the NATO framework. He doubted that the United States will come to the aid of the ally who do not fulfill the standard of 2% GDP for defense needs. According to an anonymous White house staffers quoted in The New York Times, trump said in private that he saw no sense in NATO and would like to get out of this organization. In June he also called mutual obligations in the security sphere between the United States and Japan is “unfair.” Even earlier, in the late presidential campaign, he spoke in the spirit that Japan and South Korea, it is better to have nuclear weapons of their own, not to depend on the nuclear forces of the United States.
Until now, trump’s words, fortunately, did not cause great or irreparable damage. A survey conducted by the Center for public opinion Pew, revealed the growing doubts of the allies in the reliability of the United States (only 10% of Germans 9% of French believe that trump will “behave wisely in world politics”). However, the same survey showed that the vast majority of respondents still prefer USA instead of China as the leading world power. It is unlikely that a world order under the leadership of America is falling apart. None of the allies withdrew from the Treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and threatened to do it. None of them have been engaged in serious military buildup or arms build-up. 2014 NATO slightly equalize the distribution of military spending. However, the majority of US partners in the sphere of security still spend a modest 1-2% of GDP on its armed forces – much less than during the cold war. Poland and the Baltic countries increased defense spending to two percent of GDP, but did not take measures to strengthen the borders, which was to be expected, if they really feared a Russian invasion. Allies, maybe nervous, but not panic and do not change the security policies.
Moreover, despite the rhetoric, trump has filled the administration officials committed to a presence abroad. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo or assistant for national security John Bolton (who was in office from April 9, 2018 September 10, 2019 – ed.) at all desire cannot be ranked as “pigeons” or supporters of American isolationism. The defense budget only increased in the years trump in the White house, the President has sent a request to Congress to allocate additional funds for the development of advanced weapons. The size of the American military contingent abroad remained unchanged, and in some places, such as the Eastern flank of NATO, its number even increased. Trump has been in Washington for the summit with the leaders of most countries (Japan and South Korea, Poland and the Baltic States), occupying the forefront of the fight against China and Russia, and assured them that they will not be alone in the event of a crisis. In this respect, oddly enough, the transition of power from George Bush to Barack Obama, and then to Donald Trump more continuity than change.
It was the right steps. However, deterrence, and maintain the confidence of allies – an art that requires constant attention, because those and other efforts are being monitored. The United States should not only avoid frivolous threats relating to the release of alliances, but also to make their military commitments more reliable using methods that do not require the placement of additional military contingent abroad. For example, Washington could improve its capabilities in Poland, strengthening the material-technical base and staff (according to recent recommendations of the Atlantic Council), as well as agreeing on the deployment of U.S. troops on a permanent, not rotational basis. But the most urgent policy changes are not in the planning of military presence by the Ministry of defence. They are associated with the art of government – it is necessary to combine economic and military tools to develop new and more realistic concepts of deterrence.
A new kind of containment
Two main strategic documents of the administration trump national security Strategy (NSS), 2017, and national defence Strategy (SSS) 2018, underlines the rivalry of the United States with two great power rivals – China and Russia – escalates. In SSS, both of these countries called revisionist powers who want to shape the world order according to its authoritarian model. Most notably, trump increased the annual US defence budget of about $ 100 billion since he became President, including the generous funding of the modernization of high-tech weapons, among other priorities.
But in an effort to strengthen deterrence it is important to ask, and what is the scenario of war with China or Russia. In other words, where and how may fail the doctrine of deterrence, particularly extended deterrence?
China and Russia know that they are militarily weaker than the United States. It is therefore unlikely that any of them will start a large-scale and unexpected attack on an American ally, which would require U.S. retaliation. It is hard to imagine, for example, that China will invade the main Islands of Japan, which deployed a 50-strong American contingent, or that Russia will try to Annex a NATO country, even the small Baltic state. Both Beijing and Moscow know that this open aggression will meet a resolute rebuff to the Armed forces of the United States.
It is much easier to imagine that Beijing or Moscow will pay a limited act of aggression, probing the resolve of Washington. Russia could, as it has done in Ukraine, to send the so-called “green men” – soldiers in military uniform unmarked – in a small town in the East of Estonia under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russian inhabitants. Putin declared the right to protect Russian-speaking population, wherever it was, especially in the former Soviet Union, which provides him a suitable pretext for aggression. However, in reality, he could wish to “bite off” a piece of the territory of a member country of NATO, thus putting the Alliance is facing a difficult choice. Should the Alliance forces to counter the attack, as required by the fifth article of the NATO agreement that guarantees a collective response in the event of an attack? Putin may suggest that the 29 NATO countries will wrestle with the choice of the appropriate reaction. If the members of the bloc, hoping to avoid war between the major powers due to a small local invasion, does not fulfill the obligations according to the fifth article, it will cause doubts about the key objectives of the Alliance.
Or, as mentioned above, China is occupying one or more of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. On worthless Islands claimed by China and Japan. The United States has not taken a formal position on this issue, but recognize that now controls the Islands of Japan, and that, therefore, their security Treaty with Tokyo applies to the Islands defense. Such a complex and confusing situation can lead to the collapse of the policy of deterrence. Beijing may attempt to seize one of the Islands below, not jumping to serious aggression, to send a signal to Japan and the United States that are unhappy with certain aspects of the postwar order in the Pacific. He can hope that he will be able to force Japan to negotiate and to a degrading compromise, or to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington. This would put Japan in a more vulnerable position and would be deprived of confidence in the resolution of other problems in the coming years. This would clear the way for Chinese dominance in East Asia and the Western Pacific ocean.
Limited offensive by the enemy will pose difficult questions for American politicians. I would call this the “paradox of the Senkaku”. Should Washington because of the relatively useless territories for the sake of reputation to draw in a potential nuclear conflict, the major powers? Or is it better to admit that the stakes are too small to justify such risks? In the case of limited aggression by the enemy against, in fact, paltry goal of a full response, which is dictated by the logic of traditional extended deterrence appears to be completely disproportionate. On the other hand, is unacceptable and the lack of response, because it is contrary to the Treaty obligations of America.
Way out of paradoxical situation is the strategy of asymmetrical defense. The United States should not formally abandon the possibility of a military response to a limited (and quite possibly not catastrophic) aggression against the allies. In fact, Lieutenant General John Wissler, who commanded the Third expeditionary force of the US marine corps in Japan, was right when he argued in 2014 that, if necessary, the two countries make joint efforts to cope with the expulsion of the Chinese from the Diaoyu Islands/Senkaku. In practice, however, the United States needs other alternatives – both before a crisis and after it.
When implementing the strategy of containment, Washington is first and foremost to avoid the shedding of blood in the confrontation with other powers. The United States needs to prepare responses to small-scale aggression, with an emphasis on economic warfare and especially sanctions. First of all the U.S. armed forces should create a defensive perimeter to China or Russia do not have appetite for further aggression. In the case of aggravation of the crisis, Washington and its allies may try to use indirect military influence – for example, to attack tankers in the Persian Gulf carrying oil to China. This reaction, at least initially, will allow to localize the conflict at a considerable distance from the shores of any of the major powers, to give the warring parties more time to refusal of further escalation. However, the core must be an economic war and a military force can only support.
This approach will help to convince a potential enemy that he has more to lose than to gain if the use of force, especially if the US and allies will take appropriate preparatory measures of any response. The essence of the approach is that the punishment for disobedience was commensurate with the initial aggression, but retains the potential for escalation if necessary.
The sanctions were economically efficient, the United States and the allies have to identify the vulnerability of their supply chains, financial transactions and other economic ties. They need to develop strategies to reduce vulnerability – for example, by increasing the reserves of major minerals and metals needed for the defense industry, many of which come mainly from China. The United States should take steps to reduce excessive dependence on China in terms of key production items and goods. Washington could restrict imports in critical areas of specific interest. European States need to improve the infrastructure needed to import liquefied natural gas from the United States and other countries as a fallback, if the flow of energy resources from Russia will be interrupted during an acute crisis.
A strategy based on sanctions would be reasonable, proportionate and not weak measure. If Beijing or Moscow refuses to back down or otherwise to resolve the dispute after the introduction of sanctions by the United States and its allies, Washington may up the ante. Realizing that the strategic objectives of an aggressor state be fundamentally hostile to or suspicious that Washington might attempt not only to punish the culprit for specific actions, but also to limit the growth of its economy in the future. Over time, control over exports and the continued sanctions will replace the temporary punitive measures. Such a strategy would require support from major allies and that is another reason Washington needs to respond to such crises wisely, patiently, avoiding escalation, to strengthen a coalition, rather than scare key partners.
The maintenance of peace
In his book “All action, other than war” (All Measures Short of War), published in 2017, Thomas Wright argues convincingly that the international order did not collapse overnight. They are challenged, weakened and blurred in the key regions where the interests of rival powers. Western Pacific ocean and Eastern Europe – precisely those regions where such dynamics today most likely.
But China and Russia are not so foolish as to attack the territory of an ally of great importance for the United States. The American policy of containment has not yet degraded to such an extent – even in the age of trump. Threat scenarios will be developed in the so-called gray zones of conflict where concepts of doing the classic wars is hardly applicable. As far as we can judge from the outside, the US in its military planning is still too focused on classical concepts and, apparently, are too prone to escalation, which is unacceptable in a world where war between nuclear powers is considered an extreme measure. A tactic of deterrence, which takes into account this requirement and plans are being developed all the tools of public administration, not only military force able to meet the challenges of competition, the major powers and to maintain the steadfastness of the system of alliances under American leadership.
Michael O’hanlon – senior fellow and Director for foreign policy studies of the Brookings institution, author of “the paradox of the Senkaku Islands: the risk of war the great powers on slight occasion” (The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes, Brookings Institution Press, 2019).Published in the journal Foreign Affairs, No. 5, 2019. © Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.