22 May 2020

The great powers competition – US ahead of China and Russia’s challenges

Sergiu Medar

The US thinks the great powers competition is the biggest threat against its national security. The National Security Strategy, as well as the US National Defence Strategy, is referring to it as to a threat bigger than terrorism. A series of members of the US Congress have elaborated, on April 7th 2020, a paper under the aegis of the Congressional Research Service, called: Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense-Issues for Congress. The idea of this paper is that, when talking about this competition, the US Congress representatives are only referring to China and Russia as the most important states the US are competing with.

Image source: US DoD

Any state in this world expresses, diplomatically, its national interest and strategic mission to accomplish it. For the great powers, these are related to historical ambitions, frustrations about failing to accomplish some objectives, the ambitions to become global, regional or local leader in the future developments of the international relations, the availability to make coalitions and alliances, to be members of some international organizations, all depending on the international relations’ future or present framework, as well as on the world’s international order.

The international order expression is related to the group of organizations, institutions, treaties, regulations which are responsible with the international relations of a certain historical period. Since the end of the World War II, the US was the state which led the international order, also known as the liberal international order, based on a world of rules and order. This means: abiding the territorial integrity of countries, the impossibility to change international borders by force or coercion, solving the issues between states diplomatically, following the international law and the basic human rights, the existence of a free market and following the international law on the common use of international water, the air and cosmic space and also the cyber one.

In 2017 and 2018, there were elaborated the National Security Strategy and the US National Defence Strategy. These are mentioning the Big Powers Competition as a main element in providing the US national security.

Starting from these ideas, the US has created a new strategy, which defined China and the US as the main powers which are in a strategic competition. This threat has replaced terrorism as the no.1 priority in terms of US Armed Forces’ retaliation capacity. The identification and nominalization of new targets involves a series of modifications in the Armed Forces, as well as in using them. Among the introduced changes we have:

The elaboration of a new grand strategy, as well as redefining the geopolitics, that now refers to the big powers competition instead of terrorism. This is an inter-regional strategy which replaces the strategy related to regions, countries or fields. Furthermore, the US analysts think that, globally, world’s biggest human resource, be it natural or economic, is not in the Western side, but in Eurasia. These were the starting points for the changes they did. To that end, the US interest in the Middle East as a training region and as where the local and global terrorist structures’ are created will decrease. However, it will increase its interest for China and Russia, by providing not only an economic pressure, but also a diplomatic, information and military one. The great powers competition is not a new objective, but we are only witnessing its relaunch now.

This is how Washington continues its efforts to prevent the hegemonic intentions of a big power in Eurasia. The only pretenders that really have chances to get such a position are China and Russia and this is also the reason behind US’s interest for them. Other possible candidates are Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran, for the Asian region, or the EU for Europe. From the US analysts’ strategic assessments these cannot have biggest ambitions, including security ones, than China or Russia.

The reorganization of the Armed Forces is a necessary action to answer to the new challenges related to the threats, including the nuclear ones, of the two big powers. Firstly, given the geographic position of these two states in relation to US, they need to have an optimum distance to be able to strike possible targets from Eurasia. Developing such capacity does not only aim at striking, but mostly at deterring a possible conventional attack, even with tactical nuclear strikes. Given China and Russia’s space military capabilities, the US Department of Defence founded the fifth category of the Armed Forces, the Space Forces.

A new global dislocation of the US Armed Forces follows the same logic as the new global strategy. The US interest in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East decreased, especially that both ISIS and the Talibans from Afghanistan are no longer direct threats to US’s territory. These are the same reasons why Washington’s interest to this region and even the Central Asia is smaller now. Now, in Asi, the SU’s concerns are China and Russia.

A change in the dislocation of the US armed forces is also included in a series of operational and logistics criteria. The new positions’ purpose is to make an adequate distance for all types of weapons the land, air or maritime forces have, to position them depending on the dual source data collection capabilities, on empathizing the targets and assess the results, provide a possible intervention to introduce/withdraw the special forces from the conflict area after they accomplished their mission, as well as other tasks related to the pre-dislocation planning. Also, it is necessary for all forces which are dislocated in operations’ areas to be able to participate, immediately after their dislocation, to fight operations, following the available logistic support.

The new US strategy direction is more focused on equipping the Air Forces with long range of action bombers, long range surveillance aircrafts and tanker aircrafts. The US Navy will have for these missions some equipment like aircraft carriers, nuclear propelled submarines, surface warships, amphibious ships and a significant number of marine infantry men.

The US forces’ re-dislocation also follows a global strategy. This means that in order to react to China’s threat,  it is necessary the development of Diego Garcia bases from the Indian Ocean, the strengthening of the long range of action aircrafts’ presence, Okinawa from Japan, South Korea and the semi-permanent presence of the US warships in Taiwan’s territorial waters.

The US forces’ withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from Africa, is part of the US plan to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific area and to deter China, its threats over the local and regional power balance, as well as to extend and strengthen the dictatorships in the area. US launched the “Hollywood to Bollywood” concept, which underlines Washington’s interest for the US forces positions aimed at deterring China, from West of USA to West of India.

US’s deterrence action against Russia's retaliatory trends has been a priority in Europe. After a time when the USA, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, considered it possible to redefine the relations with Russia, although the Eastern European states warned, on many occasions, that this could not be feasible, Washington eventually understood that the only solution in relation with Russia is the deterrence policy. This can be achieved by aligning European and US and Canada forces under the NATO flag. This is quite difficult, given the attitude of Western European states towards cooperation with Russia, including Germany, France, Italy or even Spain. This development of East-West European relations is not based on political issues, but is a reckless pragmatism of an economic nature, mainly in the energy field.

Eastern Europe (the new Europe) which went through the hegemony of the Soviet Union does not agree (except for Hungary) with the pro-Russian attitude of Western Europe (the old Europe). Leaders who chose to keep distance from Russia are Poland and Romania. This is also the reason why the USA has planned and started the execution of a repositioning chart of some units of its armed forces, deployed in Germany or Turkey, in the two Eastern European states. Their role is not only deterring Russia, but also to defend these countries, like the Baltic States, against a possible Russian attack.

Nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence are an important chapter in relaunching the great powers competition. In the messages sent by Moscow officials, they claim that Russia remains a great nuclear power, allocating large funds to this goal. China's nuclear capabilities are not the same as Russia's, but Beijing is allocating additional funds for their development. Although there is a lot of public information that claims that the modernization of Chinese nuclear forces is done with the help of Russia, it is difficult to say that the relations between them, still developing, have reached this cooperation and trust level.

Therefore, the US has developed a multi-billion dollar program to modernize the capabilities of strategic nuclear deterrence forces. Here we can mention the new class of submarines equipped with ballistic missiles, as well as a new generation of strategic long-range bombers. When the US withdrew from the Intermediate Range Missile Treaty, it proposed a new form of this treaty with the participation of China along with the USA and Russia. Beijing rejected the proposal, as these only accounts for about 80 percent of China's arsenal of missiles.

During these historical times, it is basically impossible for any of these countries to execute a nuclear attack. But it is not impossible for Russia to start a regional aggression or for China to attack one or many states in Eastern Europe, respectively Taiwan.