It is the general hope and democratic view of the West that other nations be allowed to have their countries grow, prosper, and be a part of the global community. However, when countries grow their militaries, form military alliances, and expand their territorial reach in ways that go beyond what is expected or normal, it does draw speculation to their intentions. In an attempt to counterbalance this, countries that feel threatened will respond with similar actions, as the world witnessed during the Cold War. In this article, Fortress International will outline some of the major recent events which lend evidence to the assumption that the U.S. and its allies have entered into a cold war with Russia and China.
A cold war is defined as “a state of political hostility between countries characterized by… measures short of open warfare.” According to the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, China and Russia are “eroding once well established security norms and increasing the risk of regional conflicts,” and are looking to expand their influence around the globe. This is demonstrated in the following events:
- The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
- China staking unlawful claims to the resources of the South China Sea, undermining the “sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states”, writes Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
- China and Russia both have increased their economic and scientific activity in the Arctic, as well as bolstering their military ambitions. Joint military drills between China and Russia in the Bering Sea and Russia’s establishment of the Arctic Strategic Command are moves that go “beyond [normal] territorial defense.”
- China and Russia are both seeking to plant military and economic roots in Africa, leaving some to question if the continent will be a battleground in a new cold war.
- A Sino-Russian military cooperation that stops short of a formal alliance, as evidenced by joint military exercises and arms trades.
Though not a comprehensive list, these actions give credence to the conclusions drawn in the 2018 Providing for the Common Defense report which states that “as Russia and China gain greater influence within their regions, they may use those positions as spring-boards to contest U.S. leadership across the full range of its economic and security interests” and are “[militarily] challenging the United States, its allies, and its partners on a far greater scale than has any adversary since the Cold War.” Although an official alliance has been denied by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who classifies the relationship as a “strategic partnership,” both countries have been “normalizing” military cooperation for the last 30 years. This partnership has been strengthened through treaties, the sale of advanced technology and weaponry, trade, and joint-military training exercises with a combination of strategic partners shared by the two countries.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis directed the Pentagon to retool their efforts to support a shift in “security priorities, away from the age of ISIS-level terrorism” and towards a “great power competition with regional giants China and Russia.” The current Secretary of Defense, Mark T. Esper, continued these efforts as outlined in a virtual Zoom speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Retooling efforts can be seen by each branch of the U.S. military:
- According to the newly released Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans, the U.S. Navy intents to field a “significant numbers of long-range bombers, long-range surveillance aircraft, long-range airlift aircraft, aerial refueling tankers, [as well as] aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, large surface combatants, large amphibious ships, and underway replenishment ships” over the next few decades.
- The Marine Corps, according to the Force Design 2030 report, is returning to its historic maritime role by focusing on amphibious missions, which will include investment in ship-killing missiles. Additionally, all of the Marine tank battalions have been deactivated and their M1 Abrams tanks will be sent to U.S. Army Depots around the United States.
- The Army is prioritizing “long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, networks, air & missile defense, and soldier lethality.” The Army has also redeployed several thousands troops previously stationed in Germany to other countries in Europe, “enhancing the deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, and fulfilling multiple related priorities,” writes Esper.
- The Air Force is continuing efforts in stealth and joint all-domain command-and-control technology, as well as expanding maritime support capabilities with new long range anti-ship missile systems. Additionally, the service has introduced a new Arctic strategy.
- The U.S. military is conducting land and naval operations with NATO and other strategic security partners. Though these drills are not uncommon, they are becoming strategically more important to counter military threats by Russia or China.
Blatant violations of sovereignty in the South China Sea by the People’s Republic of China are continuing to take place. The annexation of Crimea and the continued expansion of influence in Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and elsewhere by the Russian Federation demonstrate larger aspiration. Those events, combined with the building up and strengthening of alliances and military capabilities between these two global powers, as well as the omni-present threat of nuclear war, may provide enough proof that the world has entered into a new cold war.
In order to keep a new cold war from escalating, the U.S. should keep three things in mind when making cold war policy:
- The real task is for the U.S. to conduct “foreign policy in a way that the security relationship between Russia and China will remain limited,” thus preserving the U.S. military advantage.
- The on-par nuclear capabilities of Russia, and now China, who has built-up a nuclear triad of bombers, ballistic missiles, and submarines.
- The findings of a National Defense Strategy Commission report, which states that from a combination of “political dysfunction,” budget cuts, and lack of overall readiness, America’s military is in a weakened state and military superiority is no longer assured. This has led to a crisis of national security where the “U.S. might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”