Rethinking America’s plans for an integrated deterrence

By Around the Web


[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire.]

By Michael Fincher
Real Clear Wire

The conflict in Ukraine exposes the Biden administration’s thinking as wildly naïve and completely unprepared for a conflict NATO spent seventy years expecting and preparing to fight. The United States now seems woefully unprepared for a war it isn’t even fighting.

A year and a half ago Western nations sanctioned and seized official Russian assets and those of private citizens. They also pulled Western corporations out of Russia; stopped working with banks and trading currency; and the West largely banned Russian nationals from private associations and sporting events. Russia was hit with nearly every sanction and condemnation imaginable, their Nordstream pipeline was even destroyed, their people are demonized by American and European officials and by groups of citizens on the internet.

Realists and skeptics suggested early on that these approaches would prove counterproductive, and they were correct; sanctions completely failed to slow or stop the conflict. Instead, Ukraine is a meatgrinder that is eating depleting critical stockpiles of American and European munitions.

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Russia suspended participation in the 2010 New START Treaty in February of this year. The relationship between Russia, China, and other nations in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America has never been stronger. The BRICS are gaining more influence, looking for ways to move off the Dollar as the currency of international trade, and recently, forty additional nations sought to join them. Bilateral trade between China and Russia has increased 40% from last year. American action has even managed to make Saudi Arabia and Iran friends.

Iran has also confirmed that they have enriched Uranium to 84% purity, just shy of weapons grade. In short, any attempt to deter America’s enemies and rivals has fallen flat on its face. Beyond strategic deterrence, the Biden administration’s multi-disciplinary approach to deterrence, integrated deterrence, is largely a failure.

The Oxford dictionary says that deterrence is “the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences.” In discussions of political and military matters, deterrence is rarely discussed outside of the context of nuclear weapons.

When it comes to nuclear deterrence, the American way of thinking is to deter all uses of nuclear weapons—combined with policies limiting proliferation.

For instance, the fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion, and deter aggression. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. NATO’s goal is a safer world for all; the Alliance seeks to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons.

NATO member-states view deterrence primarily as a contest of demonstrating military strength, and they are wrong. Deterrence is a function of military capability x economic health x credibility x will. In short, deterrence success equals capability x commitment.

Capability is the actual capability of a nation, which factors in military personnel, technology, and quality of training. It also considers domestic economic health, which is critical in ensuring capability is sustained.

Commitment requires governments and institutions to have credibility and the political will to employ capability in a way to successfully prevent foreign states from acting in undesirable ways. It also includes the popular will.

It’s not enough to have a capable military force or superior technology to deter an adversary. The nation must also have a healthy economy. Although the United States still has the largest economy in the world, its growing $31 trillion debt is a weakness. American dependence on China for rare earth minerals, power transformers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and much more is a serious weakness.

Now, the military is not meeting recruiting goals amid a pilot shortage that is expected to fly the same aircraft as their grandfathers. The VA repeatedly fails veterans. This is all at a time when foreign challenges are greater than ever. It is obvious that the American military is stretched thin, and all too often distracted by vitriolic domestic politics.

While there is support for aiding Ukraine, Americans are tired of war and constant interventions. There are also very few people who want to expand the conflict.

Even as Russia performs terribly, the United States’ waning credibility is not bringing Russia to the negotiating table. Iraq and Afghanistan ended badly and appear a waste of blood and treasure. America’s adversaries understand no president has the will to define victory and achieve it. At home, American politics are divisive and focused on issues that leave adversaries wondering if the nation will soon end in a “Great Divorce.”

The United States appears limited to deterring an attack on the homeland. Even then there is reason for concern as nuclear modernization faces delay after delay while the Russian, Chinese, and North Korean arsenals grow ever large and more diverse. If Matt Kroenig is right, and the inferior nuclear power in a crisis always capitulates, the United States appears headed for a long future of backing down.

The picture painted here is clearly bleak but certainly not inevitable. It is time for a new Manhattan Project that builds the nuclear force needed for the current and future challenges facing the United States. That means more with varying yields, ranges, and launch platforms, and the ability to rapidly grow and change the arsenal and its deployment as conditions change.

We must also rebuild the American economy in such a way that the United States and its allies are not dependent on China for manufactured goods or Russia for oil and gas. It is also time for Congress, the President, and the states to reduce the burdensome regulations that slow down the American economy. The only solution to the nation’s security challenge is to grow fiscally.

Washington must also restore the nation’s credibility. This means reversing decades of sanctions and purposeless interventions. Following the Weinberger-Powell doctrine is a good place to start. When the world sees the United States as a serious but fair nation, the country will have the credibility necessary to make demands when its security is threatened.


Michael Fincher, JD, is a Fellow at the National Institute for Deterrence Studies.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.

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