The U.S. Must Support Ukraine, But China Must Be Our Priority

How should America respond to Russia’s abominable invasion of Ukraine? It is an important question. The discussion is rife with heat and light right now. The stakes are so high that Americans need to respond with clarity and sobriety.

Moscow’s invasion is likely to be a hinge point in history. This is a historic moment that puts an end to the myth that the threat and power of war have disappeared from developed countries. Although it’s sad, this reality is not impossible. In developing our response to Russia’s brazen act, we must face and adapt to this reality. Too often, the facts of international politics have been ignored. America needs to look more objectively at the global situation and be strategic, rather than ignore them or wish them away. Above all, our response must be strategic—it must match our response to the threats we face in light of our resources and the risks we are willing to take on.
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We face many serious threats from different areas of the globe. It is clear that Russia represents a threat to NATO members as well. Other threats have not disappeared. Also, we must think about North Korea, Iran and transnational terrorists such as al Qaeda. And, most importantly, China’s threat to global dominance and hegemony in Asia. All this seems familiar.

Not as well-known, but crucial is the fact we don’t have enough military to wage major wars against Russia or China within roughly parallel timelines. While Europe can be considered a major land theatre, the Western Pacific can be described as a predominantly maritime theater. But many of the things our forces would need to defeat Russia or China are needed in both theaters—like heavy penetrating bombers, attack submarines, advanced munitions, air defenses, and survivable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. Some assets that were once considered most suitable or essential for Europe could play an important role in the fight against China. These include Army long-range missiles, artillery and other military equipment. This and similar abilities would be equally important for defeating an attack by Russia as it would for denying a Chinese assault. fait accompli against Taiwan—and are already in short supply.

It isn’t something we can fix quickly, cheaply, or easily. It is something we should do. However, it won’t be easy to fix it. Of course, the limited resources we have are only able to be deployed in one area at a particular time. A missile used in Europe can’t be used in Asia, and a bomber lost over Europe will take years to be replaced.

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We have an incredible network of allies. However, we face a similar challenge. The alliance network we have is stronger than any threats that face us in theory. But in reality few of our allies have significant militaries, and it will take those that don’t significant time to develop their armed forces even if they gather the resolve.

The long-term strategy for the United States should then be crystal clear. With a few exceptions, such as the continuation of our antiterrorism efforts, we should reformulate our military so that it can field more systems required to defeat a major power war. Meantime, we should press and encourage our allies, especially Japan, Germany, and Taiwan, to build up their conventional defenses, and fully enable those, like Poland, Australia, and the United Kingdom, willing to do more for their and others’ defense. This strategy is not going to be immediate. This is the strategy the 2018 National Defense Strategy called for—yet four years later, due to factors ranging from inertia through political and bureaucratic resistance to allied footdragging, we still have a long way to go.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing
KREMLIN-PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUTRussian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet in Beijing on February 4, 2022. (Photo by Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In the coming years, then, we face what Henry Kissinger called “the necessity for choice.” We don’t have enough of the right military might to cover all the threats to our interests. We must choose our priorities. This isn’t something that has been done before. The U.S. and Britain faced this dilemma in 1941, and elected a “Europe first” strategy, prioritizing defeating much stronger Nazi Germany before Imperial Japan.

Similar to today, America should prioritize Asia’s threat from China. Asia is the world’s “decisive theater” and China by far the most powerful other state in the world. China will have half the world’s economy if it achieves its aim of dominating Asia. Americans’ fundamental liberties and prosperity will suffer grievously. Americans must prevent this from happening. You mustbe the top priority in our foreign policy.

In practical military terms, this means that we must ensure enough of the right military forces—bombers, submarines, munitions, ISR, and the like—are ready and available to defend Taiwan, and on relatively short notice. Taiwan is China’s best target for breaking apart the anti-hegemonic coalition that is the only way we can prevent Beijing from dominating Asia. If China seizes Taiwan, it will deal this coalition a huge—possibly mortal—blow. This is unacceptable.

It is also a serious problem. We don’t know Beijing’s assessment of the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to seize Taiwan. But we do know that America’s ability to defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan has eroded very substantially in recent years, that it is continuing to erode, and that Beijing’s perceptions of its ability to take the island would rise dramatically if it knew we had expended or tied down critical parts of our military in or for Europe. We are now within the range of a Chinese invasion on Taiwan that is likely to succeed, or close. You must This risk can be hedged.

Our second strategic objective is to deny Russian control over Europe. Europe is a vast market, but it is much smaller than Asia, and is declining in global share. Russia is, however, about one-tenth of China’s GDP. The rest of Europe has a much higher GDP than Russia. This is in contrast to Asia where China dominates many of its neighbours. The threat that Russia establishes regional hegemony in Europe is therefore less serious than the one posed by China.

But just because Russia is a secondary threat doesn’t mean it’s not a threat or that we can abandon Europe without imperiling critical U.S. interests—just as the Allies in World War II did not abandon Asia to Japan even as they prioritized Europe. Russia is clearly a threat. It is This is a grave threat. We are prepared to deal with it. Do They have important European interests, most notably represented by NATO’s security, which acts not only against Russia, but also to prevent a return of a violent, chaotic Europe that has drew America in two terrible wars over the past century.

It means that we’ll have to find a way to make it work. On the one hand, we need to take action that materially protects our interests and our allies in Europe, blunting Russia’s ability to threaten them. We cannot, however, do any thing that might jeopardize Asia’s primary interest, such as using up critical weapons for Taiwan defense and leaving Taiwan open to Chinese attack for years.

The strategy for threading this needle should be simple: Russia must make as much as possible it consolidates its control over Ukraine, with the least amount of military intervention. Make it more difficult for Russia, and make sure that the Kremlin knows we will protect our allies.

This strategy can be pursued on multiple fronts. We should quickly and robustly bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, providing Ukraine’s defenders with weapons, including anti-tank and anti-air systems, as well as other forms of aid like intelligence support, energy, and food. We can learn from the Russians how they did this with their support for North Vietnam and Viet Cong.

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Allies such as Poland and Germany should be supported in all ways. We must also exert pressure upon those who fail to fulfill their collective defense obligations. We should never allow any political dispute or arcane export control to stop weapons sales and transfers to European allies. Diplomatic niceties shouldn’t be used to impose intense pressure on NATO members that do not fulfill their defense duties. Meantime, our sanctions on Russia should include as part of their focus holding back Russia’s ability to regenerate or strengthen its military.

The U.S. shouldn’t make any new significant troop deployments in Europe for this purpose, particularly if they are not long-term. There is no reason why not. Europe has to be heard. Believe! It is important to remember that You must Increase its defense effort; For too long the Europeans did not listen to American arguments for more defense. They didn’t think Europe faced any real threat, or that America would shift toward Asia. The only way to reverse this dangerous trend is to send a large troop increase to Europe. Second, such deployments are expensive and require a lot of resources. Are zero sum. The Biden Administration has requested $3.5 Billion to cover recent European deployments. These costs are only going to increase as the deployments continue. They are vitally needed in the Pacific where we find ourselves in greater danger. The United States also has substantial forces in Europe. It should be focusing on deterrence.

This strategy could work. Many Ukrainians clearly are prepared to defend their independence from living under Putin’s boot. Our power is there to support them, as well as other countries like the Balts, Poles and Scandinavians that are willing to protect themselves. Allies that were once reluctant are making progress: Berlin just announced, this weekend in a historic move, that it would develop a new military force and keep its NATO commitment to spending 2% on defense. This is a seismic shift in NATO Europe’s largest country and shows how allies are capable of shouldering a larger defense burden. Europe will feel more secure if Germany is willing to contribute its support for collective defense. This strategy will be extremely difficult for Moscow to handle. The fact is that Russia is a major threat, and it does have a very serious nuclear arsenal, as the Kremlin pointedly reminded us this weekend—but it’s not equivalent to Nazi Germany or the Cold War Soviet Union. Russia is a ten-fold application of the power scarcity argument. Russia’s conventional military has been restored at great cost in the recent years, but it faces serious limitations regarding its ability and willingness to continue a major conflict.

It is our responsibility to make this worse. Russia can’t replace the weapons, tanks, or aircraft it lost in Ukraine. This is especially true if there are tough sanctions. Moscow may find it more difficult to control its actions in the face of a strengthened European NATO defense. In these circumstances, Moscow will be far more likely to reconsider its current strategy of confrontation in the West and partnership with China, which is setting Russia on a path to be Beijing’s subservient junior partner.

Much remains unknown in this tragic conflict over Ukraine. It’s still early. However, whatever the outcome, it is important to be strategic and realistic in our responses. This will serve both our European interests as well as Asia’s priority. Our strategic interest is to support Ukraine and allies in Europe and ensure that Russia doesn’t gain anything from the abominable aggression. But we cannot rest our strategy on a fiction—that we can fight two major wars against China and Russia at anything like the same time. It is essential that we have a strategy which recognizes this fact and not just ignores or ignores it. There’s one. We should follow it.


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