18.10.23 USA Review

On Two Nuclear Fronts: New US strategic doctrine envisages the possibility of waging war simultaneously with Russia and China

The escalating threat posed by Russia and China demands a fundamentally new strategic response from the United States, one that envisions the possibility of waging war on two fronts — one in Europe, the other in Asia. This sober assessment has been presented in a report by a bipartisan congressional commission. Experts predict that the likelihood of such military confrontation, for which the US remains unprepared, will peak between 2027 and 2035. To confront this challenge, the US and its allies will require a dramatically revamped architecture for conventional and nuclear armed forces, coupled with a substantial investment in new technologies. The ultimate objective of Moscow and Beijing's authoritarian governments is to shift the global balance of power in their favour. Demonstrating a tangible and substantial advantage in arms and technology is the only way to exert deterrence. This program will require significant funding and bipartisan agreement. In essence, this report heralds the start of a new arms race, reminiscent in part of the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan pressed for military superiority over the USSR.

The prospect of a two-front nuclear conflict or confrontation involving a coalition of nuclear-armed states is increasingly becoming a central topic of discussion within the US political and military establishment. A recent report by the RAND Corporation, which Re:Russia has previously covered, explored this situation as a question of countering the threat of escalation within the framework of the doctrine of deterrence (a nuclear war will not start if the enemy is sure of the inevitability and power of a retaliatory strike). Within this approach, new challenges do not require the restructuring or expansion of nuclear forces, but rather changes in their command structure. However, the extensive report titled 'America's Strategic Posture', authored by a bipartisan congressional commission based on numerous discussions and briefings with leading experts, addresses this issue from an opposing standpoint.

According to the report's authors, the United States faces a strategic dilemma that demands immediate action. The principal threat to Washington is posed by the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia, which are seeking to reshape the established world order and the global balance of power. Therefore, the risk of military conflict with these states has significantly increased, carrying with it the potential for nuclear warfare.

Washington may soon find itself in a situation where two states, Russia and China, possess nuclear arsenals comparable to that of the United States. These adversaries could pose nuclear threats to the United States as early as 2027-2035. Washington, which is ill-prepared for such a scenario, needs to develop a comprehensive counter-strategy within a short time frame. This strategy should include both effective deterrence and the simultaneous suppression of Russian and Chinese aggression in Europe and Asia using conventional armed forces. Moreover, if the United States and its allies lack a sufficient quantity of conventional weapons, Washington must be prepared to employ nuclear weapons for both deterrence and to counter aggression.

In essence, this represents a radical reevaluation of the existing perceptions of potential and likely scenarios of military confrontation. As per the recommendations of the congressional experts, the size and composition of the US nuclear forces must be sufficient to withstand the joint aggression of Russia and China. To achieve this, the United States must urgently complete its nuclear modernisation program, which includes the replacement of nuclear weapon delivery systems and strategic nuclear force command and control systems, among other aspects. This would enable the US strategic nuclear forces to engage more targets than they currently can. In doing so, Washington must also account for the latest advancements in Russia and China's anti-ballistic missile and anti-satellite systems.

The experts advise a shift in the strategy for the use of nuclear forces in the theatre of military operations, providing the president with effective options for responding to emerging threats. This may be necessary to achieve the goals of deterring Russia and/or China and countering them if they decide to use tactical nuclear weapons. Washington also needs to explore the deployment of nuclear forces to the Asia-Pacific region.

The implementation of these tasks will require the expansion and modernisation of the strategic and energy infrastructure. The report's authors recommend that Congress fund the reconstruction and expansion of the industrial base for nuclear weapon development and nuclear security.

In addition to modernising its nuclear forces, the US must urgently deploy a sustainable space architecture and adopt a strategy for offensive and defensive operations in space. To this end, the US and its allies must take steps to ensure their leadership in new technologies, including big data analysis, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence. Washington should also prioritise funding programs for high-precision long-range non-nuclear strike capabilities and develop and deploy missile defence and space defence systems on its territory capable of countering attacks from Russia, China, and potentially North Korea.

The authors of 'America’s Strategic Posture' acknowledge the ambitious nature of the proposed plan. They note that, at present, the US lacks an overarching national approach to addressing strategic threats. Moreover, while the US government used to be at the forefront of scientific and technological research, this role has now largely been taken over by the private sector. However, in the report's proposed strategy, which is in direct opposition to the strategy proposed by the experts at RAND, only the actual reestablishment of the unassailable nuclear, military, and technological supremacy of the US can have a deterrent effect on the ambitions of China and Russia.

The proposed plan will require substantial investments, and in order to secure this funding it will be necessary to gain broad support in both houses of Congress, surmounting party divisions. However, the unprecedented nature and scale of the threat should compel politicians to reach a consensus on fundamentally important issues, as the survival of the country may literally depend on it.

The success of implementing the doctrine will also depend on whether the US can maintain its relationships with its allies. The report's authors call for strengthening and expanding the alliances and partnerships in which the US participates, as this not only serves economic development but also enhances the country's security, deterring aggression at the regional level.

The congressional commission's report appears as the first step toward the beginning of a new arms race and recalls the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan, upon taking office, initiated a substantial increase in funding aimed at achieving the unequivocal military superiority of the United States.