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The Strategic Dilemma of the United States and Nuclear Risk in an Era of Great Power Competition
Field artillery cannoneer emplaces M777A2 Howitzer during Artillery Relocation Training Program 21.1, at Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan, April 26, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/ Michael Jefferson Estillomo)

The Strategic Dilemma of the United States and Nuclear Risk in an Era of Great Power Competition

Masashi Murano & Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.

This interview between Hudson Japan Chair Fellow Masashi Murano and Senior Fellow Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., was first published in the June 2022 edition of Voice, a monthly magazine by the PHP Institute in Japan.

Masashi Murano: Today we will discuss the various security challenges we face under resource constraints. Let’s start with the most recent issue, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been about a month since the Russian invasion began. At first, Russia seemed to think it could bring down Kiev in a short time through blitzkrieg-like operations or, to use more familiar phrase in Asia, a “short, sharp war,” but it seems to have failed to do so. And the Russian military campaign seems to have reached a stalemate or culminating point.

So, this is a very broad question, but how would you assess the current situation so far? And what aspect of this issue would you focus on?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: Regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our President Eisenhower once said that every war will surprise you, that you can never really predict what will happen once you make the decision to go to war. And this certainly seems to be the case in Ukraine. As you pointed out, the Russian offensive that was designed to win a blitzkrieg, or a quick victory has pretty much failed. And so the question is, what do the Russians do now?

It seems as though they are shifting some of their forces from the area around Kiev more to the East, and it’s not certain whether they’ll try to make a greater effort to seize Kharkiv or to reinforce their units in the Donbas because they’ve lost quite a few troops trying to seize Mariupol along the Black Sea Coast.

There are two things that people are looking at now. One is whether the Russians, having failed to win a quick victory, will do what they did in the Caucasus about 20 years ago when they failed to seize Grozny. They basically began to emphasize firepower. It’s not a blitzkrieg but quite the opposite, the grinding kind of brute force aggression that creates lots of civilian casualties and a great deal of destruction. It’s not designed to produce a quick victory, but rather a very bloody victory. And then the other thing we are seeing is a possible shift in Russia’s objectives. Perhaps Putin will now settle for less than the total destruction of Ukraine. Perhaps he now seeks simply to secure the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea coast from Crimea to Odesa. And we’ve also had President Zelenskyy say that he agrees or he is willing to agree to Ukraine not joining NATO and being a neutralized nation.

So, there are now potential opportunities for Putin to find ways to end the war and claim a victory—victory in the sense that he may be able do so through negotiations to secure recognition of Russian territorial gains beyond Crimea and the Donbas region, while also pocketing a commitment to prohibit Ukraine from ever joining NATO.

Masashi Murano: Thank you. Maybe you pointed out that Russian strategy is slightly shifting from the blitzkrieg-like operation to a kind of strategic bombing. In such a context, how might this war be terminated?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: Yes, it’s very difficult to see how the war might play out. Right now, as I mentioned, there may be an opportunity for Putin to claim a victory and to cease his aggression. On the other hand, if things turn badly for Putin and his forces continue to face tough resistance, their military doctrine states that in cases when they feel the motherland is at risk, Russia’s leaders will “escalate to deescalate.” This means using nuclear weapons as a way of escalating the conflict so that your enemy will deescalate and agree to acceptable terms. And so, that’s another possibility. The third general possible outcome would find the war dragging on. In this case, the Russian forces fail to achieve great territorial advances, nor is there a negotiated peace. Then we have to consider the affect of economic sanctions on the war. Of course, sanctions work both ways. We are imposing them on Russia, but these sanctions also impose hardship on us and our allies. The Chinese have a term for this, “eating bitterness,” describing which countries are enduring more economic hardship before their leaders feel compelled to seek peace.

At this time, we haven’t really felt on our side the full effects of the sanctions. Energy prices continue to rise, and with Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertilizer likely off the market, there stands to be an enormous spike in food prices. So there’s the issue of what kind of political and social instabilities these sanctions might cause. Could the people in Europe and here in America, as well as in other parts of the world, to be willing to reach an accommodation with Putin because they don’t want to suffer that kind of economic hardship? So there’s going to be this competition, perhaps, between the Russian people and the citizens of those countries supporting Ukraine of who can endure the most hardship.

Masashi Murano: I thought about similar things, about the risk of the Russian “escalate to deescalate” strategy. In addition, currently the United States and other European countries are intervening only indirectly against Russia through economic sanctions as well as through arms and intelligence support to the Ukrainian military. In general, these countermeasures are perceived as having a lower risk of escalation than direct military intervention. Looking back at history, however, the total oil embargo imposed on Japan in 1941 was in some respects one of the factors that led Japan to attack Pearl Harbor. What are your thoughts on the risk of such cross-domain escalation?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: Yes, if I recall my history correctly, the oil embargo back in 1941 placed Japan in a very difficult position. Because of limited oil supplies, Japan would either have to abandon its geopolitical objectives or take action. So, there was no real middle path. And if the sanctions against Russia really begin to bite, then you could see a situation when Putin might be concerned about the survival of his regime and even his personal survival. Under those circumstances, he might feel compelled to take much greater risks than he has been willing to do so far. Would he use chemical weapons? Would he use nuclear weapons, escalating the war to shock the world into accepting his demands? Might he attack frontline NATO states, such as the Baltic states or Poland? It’s very difficult to say. But there is the risk Putin coming to believe his only options are to greatly escalate the war or face the collapse of his regime.

If you look at Putin’s perspective of the West, going back to the end of the Cold War, he sees NATO expanding into Eastern Europe, the color revolutions that brought democracy to Ukraine and other states that were part of the Soviet empire. So one can understand his mindset might be that NATO’s ultimate objective is to unseat him and install a Western-style democracy in Russia. We certainly don’t see it that way. And certainly, it’s always difficult to get inside the mind of someone else, especially someone like Putin. But in terms of his public pronouncements, this seems to be the way he views the world.

Masashi Murano: Yes, thank you very much. I think these issues relate to how to manage the risk of escalation, and since about ten years ago or since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, it was mainly that the US and the strategic community started to argue for the off-ramping strategy, meaning can we force Russia toward the off-ramp of terminating or deescalating some conflict against its nuclear-armed adversaries? Do you believe it is possible to do so? Or, if we do, what kind of measures would we need to take to off-ramp Putin’s current political objectives?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: I think to a certain extent that, as Zelenskyy has already offered the Russians the off-ramp of permanent Ukrainian neutrality: Ukraine would pledge not to join NATO in the future. And I guess the historical example here would be Austria after World War II. Both the Russian and the Western Allied troops withdrew from Austria, it was understood that Austria would be a neutral state, and that held up throughout the Cold War. So, there’s a possible off-ramp for Putin if he will take it. It’s not clear how much more the Ukrainians or the West could really offer Putin without suffering a defeat.

It’s important here not to view aggression against Ukraine as an isolated case. Although unintended, the United States has exhibited a pattern of behavior that arguably has encouraged Putin to undertake ever-greater acts of aggression. This behavior extends back at least to the Russian cyberattack on Estonia in 2007. The Russians attacked Georgia not long thereafter. As you pointed out, there was the seizure of Crimea in 2014, followed by the aggression in Donbas. But we’ve also seen it in the Western Pacific, I think most famously with President Xi’s assurance to the United States in 2013 that he would not militarize the South China Sea Islands. And then most recently, we saw it in the debacle of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which I think sent the wrong kind of message to both Moscow and Beijing. So, you see this pattern of behavior where there’s little in the way of response on the part of the United States to acts of aggression. This can only encourage people like Putin and Xi who seek to overturn the international order while leading prospective partners as well as some of our close allies as to question just how strongly they can count on the United States.

Masashi Murano: I agree with that. So, this is the last question about the issue of Ukraine. The question is how should we think about the credibility of US deterrence and defense commitment in this case? Looking at the Biden administration’s response to the case of Ukraine, two different opinions have been observed in Japan and maybe in some other countries. One view is the importance of the official alliance. In other words, there are major differences between countries like Japan and NATO and Ukraine in terms of national interests for the United States. So, the credibility of US defensive commitments to Ukraine and to Japan are simply not comparable. This is one observation.

However, I have another view that we’ve already discussed a little bit, that President Biden may not be confident in his escalation control in the face of crisis with a nuclear-armed adversary. Even before the Russians invaded Ukraine, he had repeatedly emphasized that he would not send US troops. If Russian and US forces were to shoot at each other, it would turn into World War III or the risk of nuclear escalation. However, in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, that the same risk could arise was the crisis that happened between China or maybe North Korea.

So, it is also linked to the question of how President Xi Jinping would see the situation of such a US response. So, can we say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has damaged the credibility of the US deterrence commitment? If so, what sort of effort is needed to restore it?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: Certainly, actions designed to deter a Russian attack on Ukraine failed and Russia has invaded Ukraine. The hope that the threat of economic sanctions would deter Putin has not succeeded. And so, at least at present, the decision is being decided on the battlefield. I think one of the takeaways, to use an American term, is that deterrence ultimately involves the threat of the use of military force, and an effective deterrent, whether in Ukraine or in Asia, relies on convincing an adversary that the cost of achieving their objective is too high. It’s called deterrence through punishment. There’s also deterrence through denial. This works by convincing our rival that we have the military capability to prevent you from achieving your aggressive objectives. The Biden administration, through the approach it calls “integrated deterrence,” appears to understand the need to reinforce deterrence. The problem is that you have to back up the words with actions and with resources. I think the current level of resources being devoted by the United States and by United States allies is insufficient to reduce the risk of aggression.

Masashi Murano: Thank you very much. Let’s move on to the next question, about the coming 2022 National Defense Strategy. My understanding is that the current Biden administration’s key concept of integrated deterrence looks like a larger concept than deterrence. What I mean by this is, in case deterrence fails, they have tried to create a favorable strategic environment for the US and its allies.

In the case of this crisis in Ukraine, for instance, the information-sharing or disclosing strategy for the Russian military’s campaigns and tactics could not deter Russian aggression toward Ukraine, as you mentioned.

However, the Biden administration has succeeded in countering the Russian information and hybrid warfare that had been a concern prior to this. If Russia were to use chemical or nuclear weapons in the future, few would consider their claims justified. In this sense, integrated deterrence seems to me to be based on a kind of split between the inability to deter all status-quo-changing behavior and the effort to create an appropriate information space and security environment even after deterrence has failed.

So, just a few days ago, the DoD submitted a classified version of the 2022 National Defense Strategy to Congress. While the details have not yet been disclosed, Dr. Kathleen Hicks, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has already begun briefing Congress on the FY2023 budget request. According to her briefing, it appears that the FY2023 defense budget will request an 8% increase over the previous year. But some believe that it may actually be flat or decreased in real terms, given the rate of inflation. In any case, my understanding is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain adequate defense resources for the security environment we are facing.

Just to add a little explanation for Japanese audiences, traditionally US force sizing has been based on the premise of winning two regional conflicts simultaneously. But in the 2018 NDS, the two-war standard was changed because this premise cannot be sustained due to the nature of great-power competition. This is also based on the report by the 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission, in which you and Dr. Hicks contributed to that very point. So, in other words, the US lacked the resources needed to implement the current 2018 version.

For those who are familiar with this strategic hard-choice argument, that dilemma and the poor trade-offs that the Biden administration is making in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region were expected, and the Russian invasion was bound to happen.

So, will this strategic dilemma be resolved in the Biden administration’s NDS? Also, do you think they have reviewed their force-planning construct?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: That’s quite a question. During the Cold War, for a time we had a two-war posture. We would be ready to fight a major war against the Soviet Union and against Communist China. Because of limits on our resources, as Russia’s power grew along with China’s, the U.S. adopted a one-and-a-half-war posture. So, it posited the ability to wage a major war against a large power and simultaneously a war against a minor power like North Korea.

After the Cold War, this changed to being able to fight two small wars simultaneously, such as against North Korea and, say, Iraq or Iran. That was within our capabilities. The problem now is that the size of the problem has grown enormously. We confront China and Russia, two great powers, both seeking to overturn the international order in their part of the world.

If you look at China’s GDP, relative to U.S. GDP, it is twice the size of any major rival we have faced in the last century. So, if you look at the Kaiser’s Germany in World War I, the Axis powers in World War II, or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, China’s economy is twice their size relative to America’s at the time they threatened our security. When you add Russia’s GDP to China’s, their relative standing is even greater.

So, we don’t have anywhere near the relative advantage that we had in those rivalries, of having a much bigger economy. Making matters more difficult still, our allies don’t contribute as much as they did. Certainly, if you looked at World War I, World War II, even the Cold War, nearly all our allies spent considerably more on defense than they do now relative to their GDP.

And not only do we face a much bigger combination of rivals, but the character of military operations is changing. If you look, for example, at the Chinese, they talk about fighting in what they call the speed domains, which is space and the air domain, and also what they call the intangible domains, the electromagnetic and the cyber domains. The cyber and space domains are relatively new areas of warfare. This also means the American military has to change the way it thinks about investing in new capabilities.

This means we need allies much more than at any time since at least World War II. If you look historically, you find that ever since Napoleon tried to dominate Europe, or when the Kaiser tried to establish German hegemony in Europe during World War I, or when the Axis powers sought to dominate Eurasia in World War II, or when the Soviet Union tried to establish itself as a hegemonic power, on each occasion the country seeking hegemony was defeated by a coalition of countries. And so it becomes crucial for the United States to build or sustain alliances in Asia and Europe, respectively.

Unfortunately, what you see in the Biden administration’s budget, as you pointed out, is that it barely covers the increase in inflation. If you look at our budget, our defense budget relative to the size of our economy, it’s barely 3%, and it’s projected to continue to decline as a percentage of our GDP. On the other hand, during the Cold War, when we faced only one great revisionist power, the Soviet Union, we averaged over 6%, over twice the level of investment in defense that we are projecting now. So, you have this odd situation where the size of the threat is growing and the relative level of investment on our part is decreasing. This creates a growing gap between what we are trying to accomplish and the means that we are allocating to do it. Our allies have not increased their effort, although I will say Japan is planning to do that, planning to double the size of its GDP devoted to defense. And recently, Germany, the most powerful country in Europe, declared that it is planning to improve its defenses. Those are encouraging signs. But even if they follow through, it’s not clear that the military balance won’t continue to shift in favor of especially a country like China, which continues to devote enormous resources to improving its military capabilities—including nuclear capabilities, I might add.

Masashi Murano: One of the major problems in resource-constrained environments is how to compensate for this shortage, especially the shortage of conventional capabilities. This is one of the key issues, the reason the Biden administration introduced the concept of integrated deterrence. One of the elements of integrated deterrence is nuclear conventional integrations, and the coming budget request basically almost covers the nuclear modernization programs.

However, the fact of US conventional superiority can no longer be maintained, especially in the theater-range strike capability of the Indo-Pacific region. So, when dealing with the shortage, a program in terms of conventional elements under resource constraints is an important factor. To resolve this problem, then, in either the Indo-Pacific or Europe, the United States may be forced to supplement its lost conventional superiority by expanding the role of its nuclear forces. However, President Biden’s belief is the opposite: he continues to pursue a reduced role for nuclear weapons in security policy. More on this will be revealed in the coming 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, but what is your view of the role of nuclear weapons in an era of great power competition and under resource constraints?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: There’s a saying in American military circles that “the enemy gets a vote” because what the enemy does can influence what you have to do to maintain deterrence or to defend successfully if deterrence fails. The revelation last summer that China is building up to 300 silos for ballistic missiles, along with estimates that China is looking to expand its nuclear arsenal from a few hundred weapons to 1,000 or more by the end of the decade suggest that China is looking, as it is in all other areas of military power, to become equal if not superior to the United States. Furthermore, given President Xi’s determination to make China a major military power over the next several decades, it seems unlikely that the Chinese would stop at 1,000 weapons.

In fact, if you look at the 300 silos they are building, they’ve also recently deployed a missile, the DF-41, that according to some estimates is capable of carrying up to 10 warheads. So, 300 silos, missiles with 10 warheads each, that’s 3,000 weapons. Right now, the Americans and Russians are limited to about half that under the New START arms control agreement. And this does not even taking into account Chinese aircraft that carry nuclear weapons, or their mobile missile launchers that carry nuclear weapons, or their submarines that carry nuclear weapons. So, for the Americans to say, “We would like to reduce our emphasis on nuclear weapons,” that I think is going to be difficult to do. It is certainly something you would like to be able to do. We would all like to, if we could, reduce the need for a nuclear weapons capability. But, realistically speaking, this seems wishful thinking in light of China’s provocative actions.

Another thing that’s concerning to me is the Chinese term for deterrence, if I’m pronouncing it correctly, is Weishe [ph]. When they talk of deterrence, they talk about it in Western terms, in terms of “I want to prevent you from doing something that would threaten me.” But Weishe also involves using force to coerce others. This suggests the Chinese see nuclear weapons as a way of undermining U.S. extended deterrence, a promise we make to key allies like Japan and Germany.

Looking at China’s nuclear buildup more broadly, we are moving from a bipolar American-Russian nuclear great power system to a tripolar system of three great nuclear powers. This tripolar system lacks some characteristics that stabilized the nuclear rivalry in a bipolar system, such as parity. In a bipolar system, we and the Russians could each have roughly the same nuclear weapons. This enabled us each to have an assured destruction capability, knowing that enough of our weapons and enough of their weapons would survive a surprise attack to make such an attack unlikely.

When you move from a bipolar to a tripolar system, it’s impossible for every country, or each of the three countries, to maintain the same number of weapons as the other two powers combined. So, you either default to an arms race where each of the three tries to achieve a force that matches the forces of the other two, or you have a riskier situation in terms of deterrence. This also makes it more difficult to maintain an assured destruction force.

China’s nuclear buildup will also create problems for India. As China moves to 1,000 weapons on the way to maybe even greater numbers, will India simply look at what China is doing and not respond? There would seem to be a strong incentive on India’s part to increase its arsenal. So, we are moving into a new period where our best strategic thinkers are going to have to make a sustained intellectual effort to figure out how to maintain stability in this tripolar nuclear system being created primarily by the Chinese.

Masashi Murano: Very interesting. One of my recent research projects is on how mutual vulnerability between the US and China affects extended deterrence, and I recently finished a report on the subject.

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: I’ve got a piece coming out in Foreign Affairs in the next issue talking about that.

Masashi Murano: At this point I would like to ask you, what concerns would arise if the US were to acknowledge mutual vulnerability with China?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: In a way, we’ve seen the situation before, when in the 1950s the Soviet Union built up its nuclear arsenal to the point where we had mutual vulnerability. And what we saw, at least on the part of France, was a feeling that because the United States was now vulnerable to a Soviet attack, France needed an independent nuclear force of its own. That’s an interesting question for countries like Japan, which is counting on the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States.

Related to that, another consequence of the Soviet buildup during the Cold War was the need for the United States to rely more on conventional forces because it could not play the nuclear trump card. And it was interesting—President Eisenhower, looking at the situation in the 1950s, basically said, “We are losing our advantage in nuclear capability.” To offset this loss, he felt we needed to make sure that our economies and the economies of our allies were stronger than the Soviet economy. This would enable us to field and maintain conventional forces sufficient to deter a Soviet attack. And so I think part of the issue, if we look at this from a long-term perspective, is how strong are the economic foundations of Japan and the United States? Because it’s those foundations that will enable us to develop and maintain a strong conventional force so that deterrence is maintained not only at the nuclear level but at the conventional level as well.

Masashi Murano: Thank you very much for your comments on these issues. So, now I would like to ask how to update and strengthen the strategic cooperation of the US-Japan alliance. Looking back to almost ten years ago, the 2010 QDR, Quadrennial Defense Review, shows a major focus on the new operational concept of “Joint AirSea Battle.” Now, after almost a decade, I think these joint operational concepts, such as joint warfighting, are repeatedly updated at the Pentagon. What do you see as the current status of the development process or the development of the joint operational concept at the Pentagon?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: It is lagging. This is something that is very much needed, a joint operational concept. It is something that Kathleen Hicks and I were both concerned about when we worked on the 2018 Commission on the National Defense Strategy. The Pentagon’s joint all-domain operations concept is the latest attempt to create an operational concept. It’s not an effective approach in my estimation. One problem is that the military has not defined the operational challenge. So it has not defined the problem this concept is supposed to solve. My question is: Tell me how this concept defends the first island chain, along with our allies and partners?

One of the problems you run into is that defending the first island chain is a very new problem for our military. It’s different from the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations that we’ve pursued over the last twenty years since 9/11. And it’s a very different problem than that posed by Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-Il, back in earlier times. It’s also a different kind of problem than we faced in Europe during the Cold War. Today we are focused on a different part of the world, it’s the Indo-Pacific. So, it is difficult to believe that the way our military waged war in recent decades is going to prove highly effective in deterring war with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The problem is that changing dramatically the way in which you plan to wage war is difficult for a military organization to accomplish. This is partly because change of this magnitude creates big “winners” and “losers” among and within the military services, and those parts of the organization that stand to lose influence typically strongly oppose change.

So, unfortunately, we are not very far along in developing operational concepts for the Indo-Pacific, and that very much works to our disadvantage. For one, the military risks investing inefficiently or ineffectively because it hasn’t come to grips with how it’s going to conduct operations. There is a term in the Pentagon, program momentum, meaning you’re just building the things that you’ve been building even though the threat is now very different.

I find it interesting that I published an article in Foreign Affairs that outlined an operational concept for defending the first island chain—Archipelagic Defense—and two weeks later I had an invitation to visit Japan’s Western Army Command in Kyushu. There I talked to my Japanese colleagues, whose thinking on the subject was very advanced. For many, many years, it always seemed the Japanese were trying to catch up with the Americans in their thinking. In this case, I found the Americans needed to catch up to our Japanese allies. Senior Japanese civilian and military leaders are thinking about the problem and they ask the right kinds of questions. When I talk to my Japanese colleagues in the government, in the military, they ask, “Well, how do we divide the geographic area? If it’s the first island chain, who has responsibility for what areas? How can we support one another? What other countries need to participate? How do we prevent the Chinese from jumping the first island chain and establishing bases along the second island chain?”

The Japanese have worked very hard with countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, which are critical to us in terms of the geographic value they have. India has been very good in terms of developing ties in Southeast Asia, the Australians the same. And so, unfortunately, as one of my Japanese colleagues said, “Americans, you need to get your head in the game. You need to become engaged. You need to begin to work with us.” And I agree.

When I talk to members of the Japanese military, they say, “Well, once you figure out how you are going to defend, then we can talk about what kinds of capabilities we need to develop? What military forces do you need to develop? How can our forces complement each other?” These are all questions that demand answers . Otherwise, these very scarce resources that we have for defense risk being wasted by being spent inefficiently, and on forces that are not as effective as they could be. And they will not help us achieve what we are trying to, which is to extend this era of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Masashi Murano: I totally agree. It’s related to the issue of the Japanese government reviewing their own national security strategy, national defense program guidelines, and midterm defense plan. As part of these discussions, one of the major issues is the modality of Japan’s own long-range strike capabilities.

In this regard, I argue that it is important to have a long-range strike capability that does not rely on aircraft, i.e., on ground-based medium-range ballistic missiles to be dispersed and deployed at exercise fields in Hokkaido and other locations. Related to the Archipelagic Defense concept you mentioned earlier, what should be the priority in reviewing the strategy and force structure of Japan and the US in the Indo-Pacific region?

Also, what is the missing piece of the US-Japan alliance to update our structure: capabilities, capacities, integrated concepts, consultation mechanisms, institutional innovations to break through bureaucracy, or investment in emerging technologies, etc.?

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.: Well, for us, right now I would say our overall military posture is more expeditionary. So, in the event of a war, we would have to bring a great many forces, either from Hawaii or from the United States, into the Western Pacific. We need to move away from that expeditionary posture and more toward a forward-deployed posture. This doesn’t mean forward-based forces, but it means we would probably have rotating forces. And again, this isn’t going to happen overnight. None of this is. But we need to decide on what we are trying to accomplish, and begin taking steps to achieve our goals.

There are some encouraging signs that we might be able to position some forces in the Philippines in the coming years, and more forces in Australia so they don’t have to come all the way from the West Coast of the United States.

We need to cultivate, I think, Vietnam. Vietnam could be a very important country for us in terms of bottling up China’s capability in the South China Sea.

We need to run mobilization drills. Now, Japan’s forces are in Japan, but there is a mobilization aspect to that. We used to have something in the Cold War called REFORGER, which was short for Return of Forces to Germany. We need to begin to exercise and test our ability to deploy forces forward quickly in an emergency to support our allies in the region: Japan, South Korea—Taiwan is not an ally, but we have an obligation to its defense—the Philippines, Australia. This is because we need to know where we stand with respect to China in the event the PLA begins to mobilize for war. To deter war we will need to keep pace, so as to preserive a favorable military balance.

And there may be points in this mobilization race when China sprints out and takes the lead. Well, we saw that in the Cold War with respect to the Soviet Union. And when we saw that, the decision was made to forward deploy not troops but large quantities of equipment, so that all we had to do is move the troops. This reduced the Soviet’s mobilization advantage , and that improved deterrence.

We also need to allocate responsibilities. I’ve had some Japanese colleagues say, “We’ll take the northern sector.” The northern sector is Japan and the Ryukyus that comprise the Southwest wall. Perhaps the Americans and the Australians would take the southern sector. This is a planning concept, and we would have to begin to work out the details. But what about deterrence? Would it be good to have some American forces along the Southwest wall, because then if China attacks there, they risk killing Americans as well as Japanese? And that makes it a much greater risk because it would increase the likelihood the United States would become involved in the war. So, it’s worthwhile looking at that and these sorts of things.

And then there is the question: how do we plan to fight? How do we plan to defend? And it gets into questions like you were raising about what this means for Japan’s strike capability. I think there is value in long-range strike capability because, number one, it gives the prime minister another option, another choice, because we don’t know the circumstances that he or she is going to confront if there is a war. Better for the prime minister to have choices tha not.

Number two, it improves deterrence because it means that just as the Chinese hold targets in Japan at risk of being destroyed, Japan can improve its deterrence by saying to China, “Well, we can do the same thing. You cannot just attack us without incurring any kind of risk.” Number three, if you look at the distances involved, you have this very long island chain. You can also use long-range fires to reinforce threatened sectors along the chain—along the southwest wall, for example. If you have long-range fires, you can have the units with these capabilities positioned on the main islands, the home islands, and you can still use them to defend Okinawa and other parts of the southwest wall.

There is the issue of vulnerability. Should we disperse our aircraft to more air bases to complicate the PLA’s targeting problem? Can we harden the air bases so that we have aircraft underground and they can survive an attack, adding to the PLA’s problem? Or do we need to emphasize more missiles, which can be moved around and don’t require an airbase, so they can be hidden more effectively? To what extent is this a responsibility for the Americans? for the Japanese? Does Japan want to rely entirely on the Americans for this capability, or does it want to make sure that it always have the ability to act and operate this way? These are questions that need to be addressed. And the final point I will make is we need a combined command and control organization. Just as we have with respect to other countries and other alliances, there needs to be a combined command that organizes and directs US and Japanese forces in whatever sector we decide is going to be defended.

So, again, given that we lack the resources we would like to have to address all these questions, and others, adequately, we can’t afford to waste thme. Not having a common approach risks wasting a lot of resources. And quite frankly, at the end of the day, it risks our security—our ability to deter an attack.

These are just some of the problems that demand the attention of our defense policy-makers and military planners. The last one I’ll mention is the need to prepare for an extended war, which may be emerging right now in Ukraine. What happens if we get into a conflict with China? Certainly, we are not going to invade China, and they are not going to invade the United States. Each side can continue to fight as long as they have the will and the means to fight. If that’s the case, then how do we improve our position over time? If China attempts to blockade Japan and limit its ability to get food and energy into the country, how do we break that blockade? Will we try to blockade China? In this case, what kind of economic sanctions should we consider? So again, it’s back to the Chinese observation that this war could turn into a war where eating bitterness and the ability to do so could be a deciding factor. And that speaks to the American people, the Japanese people, and their willingness to sacrifice in order to sustain an effort to defend their security and way of life. So, there are an enormous number of questions to consider. The sooner we begin to address them, the safer our people will be.

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