Ukraine War Complicates Biden Admin’s Military Strategy on China

Pivot to Asia frustrated

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. plans to boost military spending and increase its military presence near Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while trying to maintain a long-term focus on countering China, current and former officials said.

The Feb. 24 invasion has triggered calls from Republicans and Democrats in Congress for tens of billions more in defense spending, while allies in Europe have described the war as a wake-up call requiring military steps unthinkable only months ago. The Biden administration, however, is seeking to balance what it sees as a pivotal moment for Europe with a desire to keep the U.S. focused on Asia.

“I think it’s a 9/11 event for Europe,” said a senior Pentagon official, who added that while the Pentagon will respond accordingly to what those countries need, the main focus remains on countering Beijing. “I think there is room to enhance our posture alongside our allies in Europe without it being this huge sucking sound that prevents us from being able to focus on China.”

Since 2018, the Pentagon’s strategy has defined China and Russia as primary concerns and North Korea, Iran and violent extremism as secondary threats. That “two-plus-three” approach—two chief adversaries with three secondary ones—was expected to be supplanted by a “one-plus-four” strategy, which put China first and placed Russia among the lesser threats.

Despite the heightened focus on Moscow, a new U.S. defense strategy, which was due to be released earlier this year, had been held up as the Russia crisis brewed. Policy makers all but finished the document late last year and tweaked the language slightly after the invasion, officials said. But they didn’t do a wholesale rewrite of the document, and when it is released in the coming months, the strategy will still assign Russia a secondary priority behind China, according to the Pentagon official.

“China remains in our assessment the only country that can systematically challenge the United States for now and for the rest of this century, that means diplomatically, technologically, economically, militarily, geopolitically,” the official said. “And Russia is not in that camp, they weren’t a year ago, they’re not today.”

The invasion of Ukraine has sparked concerns among top policy, diplomatic and military officials about losing sight of the strategic threat from China, however.

“There is strong pressure in the building not to overdo Russia’s importance over the long term because of Ukraine,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, referring to the Pentagon. “I think that what will ultimately come out will be a watered-down version of where they were going already, which was that China was the priority, including over Russia.”

Even so, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is forcing U.S. officials to grapple anew with countering two major adversaries at once, a problem that has revived long-dormant Cold War debates about quantity versus quality in apportioning scarce forces between Europe and Asia.

The White House declined to comment on changes to its military strategy, or on a separate, overarching strategy plan, called the national security strategy, which has also been delayed.

While it’s unclear how much additional money would be available to the Pentagon to help ease these trade-offs, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say that Russia’s invasion has transformed the debate over military priorities, making a sharp increase in defense spending a virtual certainty.

Republican aides say GOP leaders’ target is more than $800 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget in fiscal year 2023—far above the approximately $740 billion authorized for fiscal year 2022. And some Democrats have signaled they, too, would support a substantial spending boost.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.), vice chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Navy commander, says the U.S. needs to spend 5% of its GDP on defense, up from its current rate of less than 4%.

“I think people are sort of waking up out of the snooze that we were living somewhere in a secure world,” she said.

Even with additional funding, the Pentagon isn’t likely to return to the massive force posture it had permanently deployed in Europe decades ago. But Moscow’s invasion has prompted the alliance to set aside for now restrictions it has observed since the 1990s on basing large numbers of combat troops on the territory of NATO members in Eastern Europe, the officials said.

In deciding which U.S. forces go where, there is less overlap than might be expected, said Douglas Lute, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and a retired Army lieutenant general. Plans for countering China rely heavily on naval and air forces, while deterring Moscow draws on ground troops, primarily from the U.S. Army, which has a limited role in the Pacific, he said.

Some key weapons systems already in short supply, such as Patriot antimissile batteries, unmanned surveillance drones and even submarines and U.S. destroyers equipped with missiles and advanced radar, will be in high demand in both theaters and in the Middle East, forcing the Pentagon to make painful trade-offs.

The U.S. has already rushed more than 15,000 troops to Europe amid the crisis in Ukraine, raising American force levels in Europe to more than 100,000 personnel for the first time in decades. NATO members have also deployed reinforcements to the Baltics, Poland, Hungary and Romania.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met at NATO headquarters last week with his counterparts from other alliance members to discuss beefing up forces even further. They directed military planners from all of the NATO members to draft plans that are likely to be discussed when President Biden meets with other alliance heads of government in Europe this week.

There, Mr. Biden will meet with leaders of the eastern NATO members who are eager for additional American commitments to the region. “We need some defenses, rocket artillery, this is what we need and of course, we would like to have American soldiers here permanently based,” Artis Pabriks, the Latvian defense minister, told reporters in Europe earlier this month.

But until the immediate crisis is over, Pentagon officials are loath to make those kinds of long-term commitments, said a U.S. military official familiar with the planning. “We’re just starting to wrestle with these issues.”

  1. ken says

    Oh boy are the boys and girls in Wall Street raking in the moola. The US spends more on ‘defense’ than most of the countries in the world combined and it STILL isn’t enough. Isn’t that nice.

    The average lemming in America (and the West) can’t afford gas, food, and rent yet the oligarchs want more. Worse,,, they got Americans wrapping themselves in Ukrainian flags. Ukraine is zip, nada, goose egg to the security of the US/West. Just a honey pot where money can be embezzled by the likes of the Biden crime family and cute little illegal bio-labs that can do research to finally find a bug will finish us off.

    For eight years Putin has been almost begging the US/West to leave the Donbass alone but no,,, the US/West just didn’t feel right if they didn’t kill Russians living in the area. Far more have died over that eight years then have died in this little war as Putin is still trying to be as humane as possible under war conditions.

    Where were those Americans whining and wrapping themselves in Russian flags over the thousands of Russian being killed by Ukrainian fascists?

    The US/West is worried about China…? Hell, it was the US that sent China all its production, skills and jobs. Then the US gave China preferred nation status.
    The rest of the West followed suit. Only Germany still produces a small portion of their goods. There was no rising star crap in China. The Chinese did not raise themselves up,,, With all the Wests production shipped to China what else would one expect to happen!

    While China is booming with Western corporations money the average US lemming is stuck with mowing yards, flipping burgers or stocking shelves with Chinese crap. 90% of the trade imbalance is American corporations importing goods to the US. Almost every dollar the average lemming spends goes straight to China or some other low wage slave state.

    Then adding insult to injury they have to compete with the foreigners allowed to cross the Southern borders without vetting. The only thing Americans do is bitch. They never voted out the people doing this, and now that the two party’s control the voting they never will. The demented geezer now pretending to be president is proof of that.

    To help China even more the US is devaluing its currency printing trillions of dollars.
    The US/West built the Nazi regime in Germany,,, even built up the USSR during the cold war. Now it’s the Chinese. Soon the Yuan will be King. Americans and the West will be debt slaves barely surviving. (Hell, they already are)

    While Washington is robbing the nation, destroying its currency,,, destroying its culture,,, creating hate and discontent,,, the lemmings are so wrapped up in the flag and patriotism they don’t notice or care.

  2. SteveK9 says

    Well, they got what they wanted.

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