State of (Deterrence by) Denial

July 1, 2019

The Washington Quarterly
By: Rep. Mike Gallagher
July 1, 2019

Great power competition is all the rage. The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) both argue that the United States’ central challenge is the reemergence of strategic competition with revisionist powers (China and, to a considerably more limited degree, Russia). The Commission on the National Defense Strategy for the United States (NDS Commission)—a Congressionally-mandated, independent review of the NDS—applauds “the priority the NDS places on competition with China and Russia as the central dynamic in shaping and sizing U.S. military forces and in U.S. defense strategy more broadly.” As former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster put it: “Geopolitics are back … with a vengeance, after this holiday from history we took in the so-called post-Cold War period.”  

Great power competition can mean many things, from assuring economic reciprocity to avoiding nuclear war, but it boils down to the United States’ ability to deter China and Russia from attacking the United States and our allies or established partners. For example, Washington does not want China to invade Taiwan, nor Russia to invade the Baltic states. Deterring China and Russia from doing such things, however, is difficult today due to the relative decrease in U.S. economic power and military capability. The era of U.S. military dominance—when the United States could count on controlling the air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace—is over. More capable adversaries plus declining American dominance add up to less favorable balances of power and less confident allies in key regions of the world.

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