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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Photo: AP

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Photo: AP

With the U.S. Air Force Secretary, Deborah James having described Russia as “the biggest threat” to the American interests on Wednesday, July 8, the latest version of the “National Military Strategy of the United States” seems to echo James. 

The document has alredy generated a wave of expert comments. Within Russia, the media focus has been on two of its provisions, especially the one that refers to Russia as a “revisionist power.”

The new U.S. military strategy first and foremost intends to counter “revisionist powers” that violate the norms of the world order. Secondarily, it plans to counter extremist organizations that, as the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria(ISIS) shows, have the capacity to create armed units. Both postulates are accompanied by arguments about the need to improve the flexibility, mobility and available technology of the U.S. Armed Forces.

All these provisions have been repeated countless times in U.S. military planning documents. Of more interest is that the new National Military Strategy suggests that the strategic thinking of the U.S. elite (regardless of individual party affiliation) is based on a combination of two trends.

The U.S. leadership is in favor of preserving the rules of international cooperation established since 1991. At the same time, the White House is beginning to sense that the existing mechanisms for its protection are not sufficient.


The “new” US military strategy can be traced back to 1991

Back in the late 1980s, U.S. experts bandied about four ideas that came to form the basis of American foreign policy. All these provisions were set forth in the 1991 National Security Strategy of the United States:

  • – The end of the Cold War has not led to the achievement of a key U.S. objective: Soviet military potential has not been dismantled on the model of Germany and Japan after World War II;
  • – In the foreseeable future, Russia will remain the only country in the world with the technical capacity to destroy the strategic potential of the United States;
  • – Washington needs to justify the presence of its Armed Forces on the territory of its allies, such as the European countries of NATO, Japan and South Korea;
  • – The United States must lead the fight against “non-traditional threats,” including transnational terrorism.

These points were ultimately enshrined in the 1995 National Military Strategy of the United States, which stipulated that the U.S. Department of Defense would counter states attempting to revise the post-1991 world order.

To achieve these goals, the United States needed to maintain military superiority, provide security guarantees to allies, and demonstrate willingness to use force in proportion to the nature of the threat.

The latter point meant that Washington reserved the right to use force even against great powers like Russia and China. But the talk was less about direct confrontation, and more about Washington’s carefully prepared intervention in a potential conflict between Russia or China and their neighbors.

Since then, U.S. military policy has continued to develop within the framework of this paradigm.

Russia has now been prioritized as a top threat

The novelty of the 2015 National Military Strategy is in the setting of priorities.

Foremost among the potential threats is Russia. The document states that Moscow “has repeatedly shown disregard for the sovereignty of its neighbors and willingness to use force to achieve its goals.”

Next is Iran, which is accused of developing nuclear weapons and destabilizing the Middle East. In third place is North Korea, similarly castigated for producing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and threatening America’s regional allies, Japan and South Korea.

Fourth place is occupied by China, described as a threat to regional security, especially in the South China Sea. Only then is the fight against terrorist organizations mentioned.

Moreover, Russia and China are cited in the same context as Iran and North Korea. Almost all U.S. administrations have segregated these countries, stressing that Iran and North Korea are “rogue states.” Now the Obama administration has put all four countries in one context. Does this mean that the current U.S. administration has moved Russia and China into the category of “rogue states”?

Another alarming signal is that the international community is said to be coordinating efforts in the fight against all four threats. The fact that Iran and North Korea are excluded from the “international community” in the U.S. meaning is taken as a real fact.

But if Russia and China are also excluded, the situation takes on a new dimension. Washington either recognizes that the world is essentially split, or is counting on a marked weakening of Russian and Chinese resources in the foreseeable future.

The third problem is Russia’s return as a priority adversary. There is nothing fundamentally new in this. Even the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review of 1994 noted that Moscow remains a priority adversary as long as it has nuclear parity with Washington.

However, in its public rhetoric the White House has tried not to focus attention on this. (At the semi-official level it is postulated that China is the new Soviet Union). Now the official rhetoric seems to be coming into line with material and technical capabilities.

China remains at the bottom of the list of potential threats. At first glance this seems strange, since back in 2009 Obama announced his “pivot to Asia.” Perhaps the current Democratic administration still harbors hopes of negotiating with Beijing. Or perhaps the Americans are just performing another foreign policy U-turn.

The Ukraine crisis put the priority spotlight back on the Baltic-Black Sea region. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region will come to the fore once more when the United States prepares the necessary back areas and creates the desired situation in the South China or East China Sea (the exact region is not so important).

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U.S. prepares for the resurgence of wars between great powers

The new National Military Strategy makes regular mention of the growing danger of war with “state actors” — more precisely, a war with great powers. From the previous section, there can be no doubt as regards the perceived opponents. Of greater interest is that the “Strategy” constantly highlights that the United States has weak mechanisms to counter other powers in regional wars.

978-0-8173-8325-1-frontcoverBehind this there lurks a serious strategic problem. Over the past century U.S. strategy has been inspired by the ideas of Italian General Giulio Douhet about the unconditional superiority of air power. In war, command of the air forces the enemy to capitulate. This postulate served as the basis for the logic of nuclear deterrence, with its threats to wipe out enemy cities and infrastructure.

But no one explained what would happen if, instead of capitulating, the enemy began to take retaliatory measures. The U.S. military establishment worried that it would become increasingly difficult to find soldiers for ground operations. Unlike during the Cold War, its allies are in no hurry to provide infantry under U.S. “air cover.”

For the authors of the National Military Strategy, the solution lies in building military infrastructure at the regional level. Not by accident is the first objective in a hypothetical conflict to thwart the primary goals of the aggressor. This is possible only with real U.S. forces on the ground in problem areas (from Washington’s viewpoint). In a sense, the Americans plan to tweak their technical means with a view to implementation.

But at the same time, the deployment of U.S. infrastructure on the borders of Russia and China is alarming Moscow and Beijing. Back in the 1970s, a large-scale ground war between the Soviet Union and the United States was fraught with technical difficulties.

With the appearance of U.S. military infrastructure near Russia and China (including various kinds of regional missile defense systems), it is becoming technically more feasible. In the medium term, will the prospect of such a conflict lead U.S. politicians into temptation?


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