U.S. Could Lose War With Russia, China Without Major Strategy Overhaul, New Report Warns

A new report has warned that America's military planning for potential conflicts with Russia and China is flawed, and argued that Pentagon's enormous budget will be going to waste unless it undertakes a major strategic overhaul.

In the report published Wednesday, Chris Dougherty of the Center for New American Security said America needs to develop a "new way of war" more suited to conflict with the world's great powers.

Though the Pentagon's 2018 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to pivot from a counter-insurgency focus to one of great power competition, Dougherty argued that the Defense Department is still investing its huge resources in "flawed concepts."

Dougherty—a former U.S. Army Ranger who also worked in the Department of Defense's Strategy and Force Development team—described the U.S. as a "status quo power navigating a period of disruptive change." Though the nation has long been the unquestioned global military power, Cold War-era combat concepts "will not work" in modern scenarios.

He suggested that U.S. doctrine "rests on a foundation of strategic and operational assumptions that were the product of an anomalous historical period of unchallenged U.S. military dominance...The assumptions from that period are now deeply flawed or wholly invalid and must be updated for an era of great-power competition."

"For the first time in decades, it is possible to imagine the United States fighting—and possibly losing—a large-scale war with a great power," he warned. While the U.S. has remained static, China and Russia have "offset their relative weakness versus the United States by using time and geography to their advantage" and focused on weapons that can exploit American weakness.

Dougherty focused on the Pentagon's efforts to defeat so-called "anti-access aerial denial" networks, designed to blunt the impact of American air power. He suggested that "many in the U.S. defense community" have wrongly identified these networks "as the operational center of gravity for China and Russia."

Dougherty told Military Times, these people "are focused on the wrong thing." he explained, "When you get into a fight where somebody's got a shield, you don't spend your entire time slamming your sword into their shield. You try to find a way around that shield."

He described the Pentagon's response to new threats as "piecemeal and lethargic," and said the Department of Defense had been slow to recognize the reality of great-power competition.

"This has led to the situation in which U.S. armed forces are the most powerful in the world by a wide margin, and yet they increasingly run the risk of losing a future war with China or Russia," his report explained.

America's "principal competitors are no longer regional threats such as the Iraqs and Yugoslavias of the world," he continued. Unless the Pentagon recognizes this, the U.S. could end up "losing a plausible war or backing down when faced with one, with devastating strategic consequences."

Dougherty offered four suggestions that a new strategy must consider. Though U.S. military planners have long sought to engage enemies at a time and place of America's choosing, Dougherty said this was no longer possible. "These are great powers with significant military capabilities and, in all likelihood, if war were to break out [between] the United States and one of those two powers, it would likely be the time and place of their choosing."

The "battle for information" will be vital in such a conflict, he said. "We have to focus on the battle for information rather than treat it as a supporting effort as we have in the past."

The Russian and Chinese arsenals also mean that the U.S. must learn to "operate without sanctuary." With long-range and covert capabilities, "Competitors that can reach out and hit us in the homeland," Doughterty continued. "How do we operate under that assumption?"

Finally, he suggested the U.S. must be able to compete without overwhelming dominance. Though this worked in the Gulf War, for example, "against a China or Russia, that approach will be far too slow...By the time we mobilize that level of dominance, they will have already seized whatever it is, and they will be looking to off-ramp the conflict from a position of strength."

U.S. military, Russia, China, war, lose
U.S. Marines drive an M1 Abrams during the Trident Juncture 2018 NATO-led military exercise, on November 1, 2018 near the town of Oppdal, Norway. Getty/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP