The U.S. Military's Greatest Fear: A War Against Russia AND China
The United States faces more difficult problems in the Pacific. Japan or India might have an interest in the South China Sea, but this hardly guarantees their participation in a war (or even the degree of benevolence of their neutrality.) The alliance structure of any given conflict would depend on the particulars of that conflict; any of the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan or Taiwan could become China’s primary target. The rest, U.S. pressure aside, might well prefer to sit on the sidelines. This would put extra pressure on the United States to establish dominance in the Western Pacific with its own assets.
The United States can still fight and win two major wars at the same time, or at least come near enough to winning that neither Russia nor China would see much hope in the gamble. The United States can do this because it continues to maintain the world’s most formidable military, and because it stands at the head of an extremely powerful military alliance. Moreover, Russia and China conveniently pose very different military problems, allowing the United States to allocate some of its assets to one, and the rest to the other.
However, it bears emphasis that this situation will not last forever. The United States cannot maintain this level of dominance indefinitely, and in the long-term will have to choose its commitments carefully. At the same time, the United States has created an international order that benefits many of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world; it can count on their support, for a while.
Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to the National Interest, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a senior lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Information Dissemination and the Diplomat.
This appeared last summer and is being reposted due to reader interest.