About Deterrence

I want to commend this article by Raphael S. Cohen at War on the Rocks to your attention. I found it thought-provoking. Here’s a snippet:

Above all, the Ukraine conflict shows that wars are fundamentally unpredictable. In Ukraine, a war that nearly everyone thought would be over in a matter of days and offer a relatively clean Russian victory has ended up dragging on for well over a year and put the Vladimir Putin regime on increasingly shaky ground. That’s an uncomfortable implication for all leaders thinking about using force in the future — no matter whether they are sitting in Moscow, Beijing, or Washington.

At some level, the critics of U.S. support for Ukraine have a point. Deterrence vis-à vis China is eroding. Unlike the American-Russian military balance, at least some military trends are going in China’s favor. As a result, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, unlike President Vladimir Putin, can afford to be patient. No matter what the United States does in Ukraine, in the long run, China will be more difficult to deter as its power and ambition grow.

As a matter of policy, however, the key question is how the United States will use the tools it has today to maximize its deterrent effects. From an operational perspective, the Ukraine War has not hurt the military balance versus China. In fact, the United States has demonstrated that it can continue to pursue its Indo-Pacific-focused capabilities while still aiding Ukraine. Moreover, the Ukraine War may even help in the long run if it spurs both the United States and its allies to understand that industrial warfare is not just a topic for the history books and to prepare accordingly.

Read the whole thing.

I wish I were as confident about what’s happening in Ukraine (and in Russia, for that matter) as the author seems to be. The only contribution I can make to the discussion is that IMO deterrence is less likely to be effective when you’re talking about a strategic opponent’s core interests and, like it or not, we can’t dictate to them what those core interests are.

1 comment… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    I assumed that this site was serious, but apparently not.

    From the article:

    More importantly, if indeed deterrence is primarily a psychological effect, then another key question is, what packs more of a punch: a few extra Javelins and HIMARs sitting in Taiwan, or seeing a fellow authoritarian regime with whom you have a friendship that knows “no limits” impale itself invading a smaller, weaker neighbor?

    That is not how strong humans think, especially authoritarians. Most animals that are strong or think they are strong assume they will win any engagement they start.

    … True, the United States has already obligated over $100 billion in aid to Ukraine. But as high as that number sounds, it is about one-eighth of the Pentagon’s total defense budget, and less than half of the $100 billion comes from military assistance; the rest is humanitarian. …

    Dollars buy munitions and equipment, but you cannot shoot dollar bills or coins at the enemy. Well, I guess you could, but it would be stupid.

    … Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, Virginia-class attack submarines …

    Nuclear subs are useless in shallow waters. They are too noisy, and it is likely that the Chinese have seeded the seabed with listening devices. An aircraft carrier battle group may be able to operate on the far side of the island, but there is still a resupply issue.

    The link to the article about Putin’s imminent demise is paywalled, but it was from February (2023). I suspect it was written by somebody with little knowledge of Russian history.

    In my opinion, the US politicians stating that they will defend Taiwan at all costs is the most likely reason for China to invade. The Chinese are worthless militarily, but a D-Day type operation could be done. With a beachhead established, resupply would be mostly unopposed, and follow-on troops could take the island piece-by-piece.

    Militarily, the Russians are slightly less worthless than the Chinese, but Ukraine is not an island. Additionally, China has a long coast.

    This article is an accountant’s assessment. The world does not work like that. Here is a bit of advice: don’t stare at somebody too long.

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