According to a new report filed by a bipartisan panel of Congressionally appointed national security experts, the United States military may not be able to withstand a prolonged engagement with a near-peer opponent like China or Russia, despite the influx of defense spending delivered under President Trump.
If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the new report from the National Defense Strategy Commission reads. “These two nations possess precision strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyberwarfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air and naval forces, and nuclear weapons — a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.”
This conclusion may come as a surprise to many, seeing as America possesses the largest and most well-funded military force in the world, but the problem America’s defense apparatus faces isn’t about troop counts, it’s about the allocation of resources. For the better part of two decades, the U.S. has devoted the majority of its defense spending to the (still ongoing) Global War On Terror. That emphasis, combined with inconsistent and often anemic funding through the past ten years, has left the military in what could be described as a “readiness crisis” — with maintenance and training both left underfunded in favor of the battle of today.
That alone is cause for concern, but these issues are exacerbated by two decades worth of national level opponents getting to watch the American military in action. Russia and China, both aware that they couldn’t field a conventional force of equivalent breadth and strength to the mighty U.S., instead chose to look for strategic ways to counter American advantages, all while developing some of their own. In short, despite the U.S.’ significant investments into the F-35 and technologically advanced warships in recent years, the force remains very much as it was when the War on Terror began in 2001. The same cannot be said for China or Russia’s militaries.
As regional military balances have deteriorated, America’s advantage across a range of operational challenges has diminished,” the report argues. “Because of our recent focus on counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency, and because our enemies have developed new ways of defeating U.S. forces, America is losing its advantage in key warfighting areas.”
“Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against capable adversaries — especially China and Russia — have atrophied,” it continues.
It’s important to note, however, that this report is intended as an analysis into America’s current defensive posture, and not specifically with the complex variables that might go into a potential conflict with near-peer opponents. The panel took military capabilities into account but did not place a significant focus on the internal economic or political influences within Russia or China that might deter such a conflict.
Despite the warnings of Retired Lt. General Ben Hodges, who speculates that a conflict with China may break out within “the next 15 years,” the chances of an actual full-fledged war with either Russia or China in the near future still seems unlikely. However, the report points out that America’s focus should be on deterrence, rather than warfare. It urged lawmakers to invest more money into the already substantial defense budget in hopes of modernizing American assets that have fallen behind their competitors – such as its nuclear arsenal.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the report calls for a singular, organized strategy aimed at offsetting not only foreign military capabilities, but that also addresses the other facets of modern warfare not traditionally associated with defense.
America’s rivals are mounting comprehensive challenges using military means and consequential economic, diplomatic, political, and informational tools. Absent a more integrated, whole-of-government strategy than has been evident to date, the United States is unlikely to reverse its rivals’ momentum across an evolving, complex spectrum of competition.”
You can read the full 116 page report filed by National Defense Strategy Commission here.