Predators on the Frontier
America's enemies are testing its defenses throughout the land.
Revisionist forces are constantly on the move. From the eastern part of Ukraine and the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the major rivals of the United States are modernizing their weapons, seizing strategic points and threatening vulnerable US allies. Their goal is not only to defend hegemony over the adjacent territories, but also to change the world order and security system, which were formed by the results of the Second World War.
We already wrote about this new dynamic in the 2010 year, and then in the 2011 year. In these articles, three statements were noted. First, the revisionist powers use the strategy of “probing” or “sensing”: a combination of energetic diplomacy and small but bold military operations to test the outer limits of American power and, in particular, the stability of their advanced ones. Second, the small, open allies who have become the target of these operations are likely to respond to these threats by appealing for military guarantees to the US: military self-sufficiency or the deployment of American weapons. Third, that China and Russia have been learning to probe each other regions, and these allied states made their conclusions on deterring the US in areas close to their borders, and how America is coping with the support of allied states that have faced certain threats.
Five years later, a book was published, where it was noted that this dynamic had increased dramatically. The revisionist powers are indeed “probing” the United States, but their methods have become bolder, more brutal and successful. The Allies began to feel this pressure more due to the steady reduction of neighboring buffer zones; in response, they began to create many self-help programs: from increasing weapons to flirting with neighboring revisionist forces. It has become more difficult for America to resolve security crises in certain regions: Russian forces in Eastern Europe work as an example for China and divert the US from strengthening the Middle Kingdom in the South China Sea. At the same time, Poland is implementing US strategic plans, disrupting rivals' plans and helping allies in the Persian Gulf and the western part of the Pacific Ocean.
Gradually, the world enters the mainstream of the new war. There have been no prerequisites for a military crisis since the 1980s. In 1930, the world witnessed the emergence of many large predator countries, intending to change the world order in their favor, and if necessary, by force. At a minimum, the United States in the coming year may face pressure from the management of several deteriorated regional security spirals, at most, they may be drawn into war with a great power, and perhaps even with two or three nuclear rivals. In any case, the US military might face a scenario without any presumption of technological or favorable superiority, which they have used against their rivals over the past few decades.
How can the US respond to this dynamic? As their rivals become more aggressive, and the military faces are thinner, they must use other methods of geopolitical struggle adequate for the 21st century to win.
At our disposal there is the most accessible, but underutilized tool - these are alliances. America's advanced allies offer a mechanism by which they can deter rivals, which was the original purpose for creating security ties with small states in the regions of Romeland. In the coming years, the strategic importance of the Eurasian land powers close to the major allies will grow, while the relative technological or numerical strength of the United States will decrease. The time has come for the United States to develop a general strategy for interaction with equal competitors, focused on the creative use of the front line of the allies. They must do it now before geopolitical competition intensifies.
Predator is watching
The sensing method was chosen as a strategy for America’s current rivals in order to challenge the existing order. Over the past few years, Russia, China and, to some extent, Iran, have felt that the United States is losing its strength in some regions, either by choice or due to fatigue, weakness, or all at once. But no one is sure about the amount of forces remaining with the US, nor about the ability to fulfill its obligations to the allies. Instead of taking the risk and engaging in direct war, they used low intensity crises to demonstrate the power of the United States in these regions. At first glance, like other revisionists in the past, they focused on the areas of secondary interests of the leading powers, downgrading their weak allies or capturing gray areas for which the United States is unlikely to fight. By this, they check the external rim of US influence, where revisionist interests are stronger, and the United States simultaneously fulfills its long-standing obligations to the allies and, therefore, is most vulnerable. Russia steadily and consistently conducts threatening military actions against vulnerable NATO allies and has carried out a number of limited offensive operations against the former Soviet satellite states. China entered (not too intensively) into diplomatic clashes with some US proxies located in military “forbidden” zones, and made claims to use strategic waterways.
When we wrote about this behavior in The American Interest magazine in 2011, it was based on aggressive diplomacy or the threat of small military campaigns. However, the sounding of the enemies of the United States is becoming bolder. Sensing new opportunities, Russia raised its stakes by invading 2014 in the Ukraine, the largest country in Eastern Europe, and launched a war that cost 7000 human lives and included 52000 square kilometers of territory in the sphere of Russian influence. After several years of using the unmarked fishing trawlers and allied naval vessels using the USA, China began the militarization of its forces in the South China Sea, and the construction of seven artificial islands leaving 1,8 a million square kilometers of ocean behind them (and threatening to fight for them). Humiliated recently by the United States, Iran retained American naval vessels by publishing photos of surrendered sailors. The revisionist powers gradually increase the stakes, because they realize that their initial attempts have been crowned with success. Having achieved these modest victories, they increased the intensity of their attempts.
The strategic significance of recent events is crucial for the United States. First, they steadily increase military pressure on the borders of the Allies. Currently, the land and sea buffer zones of such allies as Poland or Japan, as well as the revisionist countries neighboring them, have helped to reduce the frequency of constant military confrontations between allies and enemies. Constantly encroaching on these buffer spaces, the revisionists moved the zone of struggle closer to the territory of the US allies, increasing the potential for a deliberate or accidental military clash.
Second, recent events have significantly increased the overall pressure on the United States. As long as Russian military operations were limited by its southern border, America could afford to transfer resources into the Pacific Ocean without worrying too much about the consequences in Europe. This is important because The Pentagon did not care about the fact that later they would have to wage war on two fronts. Now, in matters related to Ukraine and the South China Sea, as well as with the chaos in the Middle East, where another competitor, Iran, is promoting its interests and influence, the United States no longer sees the priority of one region over another. With two militarized borders at opposite ends of the globe, they must constantly seek a compromise to provide military resources to these geographic theaters. This drawback does not affect America’s competitors or their weaker friends.
Increased "sensing" has raised concerns among America's advanced allies. In Europe and Asia, at borders are historically vulnerable small or medium-sized states, whose existence in the past seven decades has depended on the United States. The similarity of the geopolitical and strategic position of such states as Estonia and Taiwan or Poland and South Korea is striking. The survival of all these states depends primarily on the stability of the United States, the expansion of nuclear and conventional deterrence. It, in turn, is based on two fundamental facts: the position of rivals and allies. The United States is physically able to fulfill its security commitments, signed with even the smallest allies and ready to do so.
However, for many years doubts grew. Cutting US defense spending weakens US military power to protect allies. Because of these cuts imposed by 2009 in law on budget control, the US Navy receives less funding than before the First World War, the US Army became like before the Second World War, and the US Air Force has the lowest number of operational combat aircraft for all his history. The level of nuclear forces is static or declining, and the technological advantage of the United States over its competitors in important areas of weapons has decreased. The Pentagon in 2009 announced that for the first time since the Second World War, America is not ready to conduct a global war on two fronts.
At the same time, the US capabilities are declining, and their rivals are growing. Both Russia and China have introduced major long-term programs of military expansion and modernization, and the technological gap between them and the United States is closing, especially in such key areas as the creation of short-range missiles, tactical nuclear weapons. weapons, as well as fifth-generation fighter.
The last US administration has compounded the problem by weakening the belief that the US is ready to defend its allies. A public survey during the early Obama administration on the value of traditional alliances as “a way to level the nations fragmented by the long past cold war” showed the level of trust of the allies. At the same time, their loud interaction with major rivals showed the US preference to conduct relations with revisionists through trade over the “heads” of small states. The US-Russia "reset" seemed to many allies transactional and free, and left an indelible impression, since it turned out that the priorities of the United States could suddenly change with one administration. This undermines the predictability of patronage, which is an indispensable condition for the effective containment of any power.
As revisionist “sounding” became more persistent, and US authority less strong, advanced US allies began to revise their national security systems. Five years ago, many states faced security problems and began to look for new military capabilities or ways to offset risks through diplomatic relations with revisionists. But for the most part, this behavior was acceptable and fit well into the framework of existing obligations. However, as soon as probing reached a new level, the behavior of the Allies became increasingly frantic. In Europe, Poland, the Baltic countries and Romania initiated an increase in military spending. In Asia, the US allies are participating in an alarming regional arms race. In both regions, the largest allies are considering the possibility of an offensive in order to deter revisionists. Their willingness to build up their indigenous military potential is generally a positive trend, but carries with it the risks of increasing momentum that has been absent in recent decades. The danger lies in the fact that, in the absence of consistent and reliable US control, the re-armed allies follow a chaotic strategy of building up military power, which affects the alliance as a whole. Fearing rejection, such states may ultimately withdraw from its composition, starting an independent security policy.
On the other hand, there is also the danger of possible retaliatory actions by advanced allies. In contrast to the encouraging positions of offshore balance, not all advanced allies resist revisionists. Some choose the “placement” strategy. Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia in Europe and Thailand, Malaysia in Asia are examples of nominal US allies who are trying to avoid confrontation with a strong predator. The deterioration of regional security dynamics creates internal political pressure to avoid a clash with the neighboring revisionist power. Full-fledged alliances with the enemy in the form of new alliances are unlikely for the time being, but the idea of hedging is actively moving forward.
Seeds of contention
The combination of increased “sensing” and fragmentation of alliances threatens to undermine important components of the stability of the main regions and in the wider sense of the world order. If you continue the current path, the dynamics of security in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific can lead to US national security to negative or even disastrous consequences. One of the more likely short-term scenarios is a “boil”, simultaneous competition in several large regions. In this scenario, the rivals continue to probe allies, seizing the territory of the buffer zone, without provoking war with the United States or its proxy; Allies continue to apply their own measures without controlling their security; and the United States continues to spend more and more resources in troubled areas, not calming down, testing hard and testing revisionists. Continuing the series of “soundings,” the revisionist powers support this initiative, while the United States and its allies play catch-up. The result may be a gradual tightening of the US security perimeter that will never go into the war of great powers, but will give rise to many negative features of sustainable security: the arms race, proxy wars, cyber and hybrid conflicts that undermine the foundations of global economic growth.
The second, likely scenario is war. Historically, a long series of successful “sensing” often ended in military confrontation. One dangerous characteristic of the modern international landscape is when not one, but two revisionists have already completed long consecutive “soundings”, which, from their point of view, were successful. If the goal of sensing is to assess the strength of a country, then today's sensing could ultimately convince either Russia or China or both of these states that the time has come for more obvious rivalry. It is not yet clear what the result will be. The coefficients of power in today's two hot spots, in the Baltic and South China Seas, are not in favor of the United States. Both Russia and China have significant opportunities to prevent their zones of influence (A2AD, Russia's unequivocal advantage in the Baltic States and China's massive overweight in the South China Sea). In addition, both powers possess nuclear weapons, while Russia favors escalation to achieve a strategic effect. And even if the United States can maintain military superiority in bilateral rivalry, war is an accident and destruction that threatens the stability of the existing international order. Unable to conduct a series of "sensing", the United States may face the first scenario or a sudden war, the culmination of which will be a nuclear attack, or an economically costly protracted conflict on two fronts. In any case, the result will undoubtedly change the international system, the head of which today is the United States.
The third option is the long-term possible gradual ousting of the United States from Rimland. This can occur either as a result of a military defeat, as described above, or by gradually blurring regional US alliances due to the problems of containment and the final collapse of the alliance, therefore, this scenario does not exclude the two previous ones. For the United States, this would be a geopolitical catastrophe, including a loss of position in places where America should be present to prevent the risk of isolation. The goal to strengthen in Eurasia, in Rimland - this was the main, if not the most important task of the great US strategy. It is through this presence that the United States is able to shape global policies and prevent the emergence of threats to its existence. If such a presence disappears, America’s largest competitors will be able to develop steadily, increase spheres of influence, territories and the number of resources that have contributed to stable competition for world domination. Unlike the 20th century, the current A2AD and nuclear technologies have made repeated military intervention in these regions difficult or impossible.
To avoid such scenarios, it is necessary to determine the main priority of the United States. Of all three cases: boiling competition in Rimland, the use of hostilities, and forcing the US to take hemispheric defense, the latter is likely to be the most cost-effective for the United States, since it is more profitable to prevent negative consequences than to try to eliminate them. The present moment is very important, as there is a fleeting opportunity for taking strategic measures to form a new dynamic in terms of security of interests. Unlike the last geopolitical conflict in which the United States took part, they now have no inexhaustible resources with which they can fight the 21st century. Now the United States can not only engage in enhanced production, as during the Second World War, and in contrast to the times of the Cold War, they cannot rely on the exhaustion of the forces of rivals and on their more advanced technology. China and Russia, despite the latter’s relative economic weakness, were able to exploit US weaknesses associated with defense spending, and significantly reduce both the qualitative and quantitative breaks with the US forces. Militarily on the playing field, the United States has faced a better opponent than ever in decades.
Thinking that competition may be industrial or technological, the United States may make a mistake. First of all, one should take into account strategic rivalry for alliances: revisionist powers seek to weaken the rings of the allies of the United States built over the last century, while the US wants to preserve and strengthen them. It is the system of alliances, as well as the conservative nature of the great American strategy, that area where the United States has a tangible advantage.
Currently, the global network of alliances is especially important because it is only in its infancy. As part of the bipolar nuclear confrontation with the alliances of the Soviet Union and the United States, several advantages were introduced that did not have significant significance after the end of the Cold War and were suitable only as diplomatic arguments with multinational forces fighting side by side with the US. Alliances now represent the greatest advantage of the United States in the face of its enemies.
For the United States, the modern advantage of the alliances goes back to their original goal of deterring distant rivals from across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and threatening the political multitude of Eurasia. The allies, in particular those located on the path of the expansionist policies of regional predators, are the most valuable because they are effective mechanisms for maintaining the geopolitical status quo. These allies have lost a lot from a dramatic change in the existing order, and thus are the most motivated to restore it. They are the main targets of the revisionists, it can be said that in the place where the confrontation takes place, the main decision will be made. You can also benefit from modern technological equipment, which will allow small states to be more powerful and dangerous than in past decades, and create defensive fortifications on their territories. These allies want and have the opportunity to become key defenders of the Western order.
The goal of a big US strategy is the same as its military allies: preserving the status quo. America’s geopolitical project is conservative in nature, as it seeks to maintain the current geopolitical order. This goal - to simultaneously create support for existing regional situations and leave them as they are, shows our military allies an obvious benefit. In addition, supporting the Allied front line will allow the United States to manage security threats in various regions spanning the 21st century “arc of instability” from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, and East Asia. The United States alone cannot thwart these challenges and must reorient its general strategy along the lines of the advanced alliances.
The goal of the grand strategy is to strengthen the current position of deterrence in order to prevent further soundings of the revisionist forces. Since they progressively rewrite regional rules and redraw physical maps on maps, the US strategy should prevent this from happening gradually, but more and more energetically. The role of the most vulnerable allies is crucial in the success of this strategy. The main assumption is that without active American participation in these regions, the allies will not resist the revisionist attacks of Russia and China because they cannot resist alone or because they will fight local rivals. There is nothing automatic in preserving the current international order and security of the United States.
A strategy aimed at cutting-edge alliances, informed about the three principles
First, the United States must organize allies. Without a stabilizing political leadership of America and its military presence in various border areas or American allies in the most vulnerable parts of Romeland, it is unlikely that new regional diplomatic mechanisms can be created that can serve as a direct false review of the revisionist powers. The modern structures of the alliance function, but are not suitable for solving this problem. In Europe, NATO (the most successful alliance in history) assesses threats in a fundamentally different way, and its cornerstone is Article No. XXUMX, suggesting that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on everyone, which is more often seen in the truest sense. Under the auspices of NATO, new formations are emerging, primarily around the Baltic Sea (Baltic countries, Poland, Norway, Sweden, the latter is not a member of NATO). Another sub-alliance can link the Baltic region with the Black Sea, by strengthening military cooperation between the two countries most interested in protecting the status quo: Poland and Romania. In Asia, the structure of the alliance inherited from the 20th century is very different in its construction in the form of bilateral relations between individual countries and the United States. But some states located in the zone of influence of China, for example, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia, share the same problems and concerns that did not exist a few decades ago. This gives the possibility of cooperation in the field of security and allows you to plan the construction of a new complex of regional alliances. Historical grievances continue to be an obstacle, but leadership and the presence of the United States play a crucial role. Without these actions, the advanced states will continue to embarrassedly consider other states in their region as reliable partners in competition with China. In other words, old alliances should not be "thrown overboard", but should serve as the basis for new systems that will strengthen the front line.
Second, the United States must arm the advanced allies. Some of them (for example, Poland and Japan) independently carry out defense modernization programs and seek to acquire new weapons. The United States should encourage this by speeding up the process of acquiring weapons made in the United States and helping these countries recognize their role in counter-revisionism strategies. The advanced states should be able to restrain the nearest revisionists by creating obstacles for them. Such deterrence presupposes the development of capabilities that inhibit the enemy’s military offensive by increasing the cost of territorial expansion and control. Relatively cheap weapons for this purpose are widely available: anti-tank missiles, high-precision artillery, small arms, air defense missiles. It looks like a politically attractive initiative, because it is an attempt to strengthen territorial defense, creating a difficult environment for the aggressor. There are other opportunities that the United States has to proliferate as a choice of allies: long-range and medium-range missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and, above all, invisible aircraft, which are examples of weapons that have a wider area of operation and which can strike at within enemy territory. They have an offensive character and still serve for defensive purposes, increasing the ability to deter the enemy by creating obstacles. The ability to strike outside the immediate front line harms the aggressor and creates problems for its logistical support. Focusing on command centers and radar installations, he can also blind the enemy, weakening the allied forces of the attacked state. The advanced allies of the United States should no longer tolerate until the moment when American forces can function on a non-alternative basis. Therefore, the Allies want to have their own accessible air, sea and land routes so that the United States and other states can join the conflict.
Well-armed allies, whose borders are threatened, are a strategic blessing for the United States. They can hinder the expansion of revisionist states, becoming a hardened obstacle. Modern technologies are characterized by wide availability, ease of use and relative cheapness, contributing to the development of this defense strategy of small states. We live in an era of small states and even non-state actors that are capable of causing serious destruction and being independent strategic actors. US political circles are focusing on opportunities, seen as sources of instability, representing challenges to world order and regional security. The many hostile groups and revisionist states that destabilize the regions using violence create an undoubted problem that, nevertheless, has a positive connotation. Small and medium American allies, in fact, can be a source of regional stability thanks to the same technological developments that are becoming more powerful. The United States must take advantage of the events by purposefully distributing weapons among its allies.
Third, the two main revisionists, Russia and China, are nuclear powers, and it is likely that Iran will soon join them. They probe the allies, justifying their actions with nuclear weapons. More importantly, Russia has exacerbated tensions with Europe and the United States, repeated saber-rattling, in the form of provocative flights of planes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, large military exercises ending with a virtual nuclear attack on a NATO member, as well as public statements with threats use nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons do not lose their relevance; on the contrary, it plays an even bigger role than fifty years ago. Any strategy by the United States and its advanced allies should have a nuclear component, since they need to figure out how to defend themselves in the event of conventional aggression (military sensing), under the threat of potential nuclear escalation.
Therefore, the United States must strengthen its nuclear arsenal by maintaining and modernizing it. They must maintain a robust nuclear deterrence program, while revisionist states are gradually promoting their spheres of influence and interests closer to the borders of US allies. In addition, America should have limited tactical nuclear weapons at its disposal and send it to some of the most vulnerable allied states (for example, Poland and Japan) as part of an agreement on "nuclear exchange".
By organizing and arming their most vulnerable allies, the United States can strengthen the limits of its influence and security. The stability of these regions does not depend on the technical capabilities and authority of the United States. America continues to be a deterrent and must rely on the strength and resilience of local allies. America's foremost in Rimland Eurasia requires the development of local defense: good weapons and organized allies. Only by maintaining data from the allies will the United States be able to overcome the existing challenges of rivals who seek to impose their order on other regions.
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