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The U.S. Navy's Montana-Class Battleship Dream Was Really a Nightmare

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 13:02

Summary: The Montana-class battleships, planned but never built, represent a bygone era of naval power. With their formidable armament and heavy armor, some suggest bringing them back or such an idea for such a warship amidst concerns over anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threats posed by nations like China. However, the efficacy of such behemoths in modern warfare is questioned. A2/AD capabilities, exemplified by China, pose significant risks to surface warships, rendering even the mighty battleships vulnerable. The escalating use of drones in conflicts like the Ukraine War further underscores the challenges faced by large surface vessels. Despite their historical allure, the Montana-class battleships may remain impractical in today's contested maritime domains.

Montana-class Battleships: Reviving an Old Concept in Modern Warfare

During the Second World War, the United States Navy possessed a fleet which had some of the world’s most powerful and most sophisticated (for their time) battleships in the world. These were known as the Iowa-class battleship—and they served the United States on-and-off from the 1940s until 1992, when the last battleship was decommissioned. Today, there are still calls to bring these warships, which are currently museums, back into service. But the US Navy was designing an even larger, more powerful, and sophisticated battleship to succeed the Iowa-class. 

That was the Montana-class battleship. 

While these glorious battlewagons were never built due to the fact that by 1943, it was obvious to most naval planners that the aircraft carrier had displaced the battleship as the Navy’s premier weapon in its arsenal of power projection. 

The Montana-class was Almost Built

For almost 80 years, the carrier has ruled the high seas as the US Navy’s primary capital ship. Yet, America’s enemies have not sad idly by, watching the Americans sail the seven seas aboard their floating airbases. American rivals have judiciously devised strategies for negating the potency of America’s aircraft carrier fleet. This has become known as “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD). 

China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are all in possession of advanced A2/AD capabilities (notably China). These systems threaten the very existence of any US surface warship—especially America’s massive and expensive aircraft carriers—that gets within range of these weapons. 

The Navy knows that its warships are vulnerable. 

Chinese A2/AD Threatens Safety of US Navy Warships

No matter how great the ship’s onboard defensive systems are, China’s A2/AD swarms are designed to overwhelm those defenses. They don’t need to sink the US warships. They just need to disable them to such a point that they become wasting assets in a fight. 

Some analysts are looking for ways to retain power projection in a contested, A2/AD environment. This brings us back to those calling for the recommissioning of the four remaining Iowa-class battleships. But what if the US Navy looked to building (and updating) its old design concepts for the Montana-class battleship? 

After all, the Montana-class was originally designed to have 12, powerful 16-inch guns and even heavier armor than what the Iowa-class battleships had. The Navy had more plans to add truly potent 18-inch guns that could fire shells weighing over 2,000 pounds at enemy targets. Coming in at 64,000 tons, the Montana-class battleships would have been the biggest battleships in the US fleet if they’d been commissioned.

Eighteen-inch armor and massive guns sounds pretty good in the age of A2/AD defenses. The Montana-class battleships could take—and dish out—a serious pounding. The only problem is that, even if they were upgraded with modern weapons and equipment, the Montana-class battleship would be out of its proper time. 

Contested Domains Today

Because the problem facing surface warships today is not that some are more capable of fighting—and surviving—in the contested battlespaces of A2/AD-wielding powers than others. The real issue is that the swarming capabilities of A2/AD means that no surface warship can really survive a protracted engagement with these systems.

Modern warfare among near-peer rivals is going to be fought increasingly at greater distances from previous wars. That’s not to say the surface ships are obsolete. But until the A2/AD threats to them are neutralized, they are wasting assets, whether it be America’s current fleet of expensive and large aircraft carriers or the possibly resurrected Montana-class battleship. 

Further, another reason opted to not follow through on its plans to build these battleships was because of the cost involved in maintaining them. They were fuel guzzlers and required much maintenance. 

These systems, therefore, would not be helpful today.

Beyond that, large surface warships are already being shown to be increasingly ineffective. The Ukraine War, which has entered its second grueling year, has demonstrated how surface warships are poorly defended from sophisticated drone attacks. The Russian Black Sea flagship, the Slava-class battlecruiser, the Moskva, was sent to the bottom of the Black Sea by the Ukrainian drones. Similar attacks have been conducted against other Russian surface ships in the Black Sea. 

Learning from the Russian Example

The point is that the mighty Russian battlecruisers cannot hold up against the kinds of systems being referred to in this piece. While American warships are more advanced and their crews better trained than the Russians, it does not negate the fact that US warships operating within an A2/AD “bubble” will likely suffer a similar fate as did the Moskva. 

Sure, a modern variant of the proposed Montana-class battleship might be able to operate in a contested environment—and even open it up—because of its added armor and larger weapons platform. Ultimately, however, the law of numbers will sink those warships as readily as US aircraft carriers will likely be damaged or destroyed by Chinese A2/AD systems.

The Montana-class should stay on the drawing board. 

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

The Myth of the Invincible U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Is Fading Fast

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 02:16

Summary: Since World War II, the US has avoided direct conflict with major powers but engaged with lesser foes. However, as adversaries like China advance their military capabilities, the invincibility of American aircraft carriers is questioned. China's technological advancements pose a significant threat to these carriers, raising concerns about their vulnerability in a potential conflict. The geographic deployment of carriers may now depend on public sentiment and perceived conflict significance. 

Rethinking US Aircraft Carriers: Vulnerabilities in Great Power Competition

Wisely, the United States has avoided direct conflict with great and middle powers since the conclusion of World War II. The US has, however, during the same period, engaged consistently with less formidable foes, i.e., North Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, the Taliban. The result has been a public and a military leadership inoculated against the hardships and horrors of great power conflict.

Simultaneously, the US has stockpiled the world’s largest fleet of advanced aircraft carriers. Costing many billions of dollars per unit and taking years to construct, the supercarrier has become a symbol of American global dominance and a practical tool for expanding American air power.

But as America built their supercarriers, and avoided conflict with great and middle powers, the subconscious notion of carrier invincibility took place.

The United States has never lost a modern aircraft carrier. Yet, lately, as adversaries (especially China) develop and stockpile weaponry capable of harming US carriers, observers are being forced to reconsider the aircraft carrier’s vulnerability, and relatedly, the aircraft carrier’s deployability.

Understanding the risk to aircraft carriers

An aircraft carrier is a remarkable machine. Running on nuclear power, capable of operating indefinitely, with upwards of 5,000 sailors and 100 aircraft aboard, the aircraft carrier is a modern city and a floating airbase – a key to the international projection of American power.

But, the aircraft is still just a boat with a hull, screws, bow, and stern. And boats, as the designers of the Bismarck or the RMS Titanic could tell you, are sinkable – mainly when targeted with weaponry designed specifically to sink boats.

America’s adversaries, most especially China, has developed technology that is increasingly likely to sink an American aircraft carrier. Xi has overseen one of world history’s most ambitious shipbuilding sprees, under which the Chinese Navy has expanded to include various attack submarines and surface vessels that could potentially harm a US carrier.

China is also expanding its own carrier fleet, which could launch aircraft capable of targeting an American carrier, in the sort of carrier-on-carrier conflict that the US hasn’t experienced since the Pacific Theater of World War II.

And the aircraft that China would launch from that aircraft is increasingly sophisticated, increasingly capable of slipping past defensive lines and landing a blow.

More concerning still, China has stockpiled intermediate-range missiles (which until recently, the US was treaty banned from possessing) and developed hypersonic missiles (which the US cannot yet reproduce or defend against). Either China’s intermediate or hypersonic missile arsenal could be used to target an American carrier with lethal results.

The point is: US carriers would likely be vulnerable in a direct conflict with a great power, i.e., China.

Are US aircraft carriers only deployable to relatively safe regions?

The US has spent several decades deploying their aircraft carriers worldwide, without much concern for the vessel’s safety. Now, however, an aircraft carrier’s safety may be geographically determined.

Would the US deploy their carriers to a region where the carrier is at heightened risk? That would likely depend on public sentiment and on the nature of the conflict.

If the US public is committed to the conflict, as they were during World War II; if the conflict is perceived and approached as if it were existential, then yes, the US would likely deploy their aircraft carriers without reservation for the prospective loss of fiscal treasure, military hardware, or human life.

But if the US public is not fully invested, if the population is divided, or apathetic, or skeptical, (as in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan) then American war planners would be less likely to risk the sinking of an aircraft carrier.

And if the public is not fully supportive of a conflict, the US may want to reevaluate the necessity of participating in the conflict.

About the Author: Harrison Kass 

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.  

The Air Force Is Cutting Back on F-15EX Eagle II and F-35 Spending

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 01:53

Summary: The US Air Force is shifting its procurement strategy, opting for fewer F-15EX and F-35 aircraft in fiscal year 2025. With a $217.5 billion budget request, the focus is on modernization, readiness, and addressing evolving threats. Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, stresses the importance of competitive funding amidst global shifts. Core functions remain air superiority, global strike, and space operations. The proposal allocates funds for Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and space capabilities. Additionally, efforts to combat inflation include improving quality of life and retaining skilled personnel. Despite fewer new jets, the Air Force aims to sustain its operational effectiveness.

Here Comes NGAD, Less Spending on F-15EX Eagle II and F-35 

The United States Air Force is now opting to do more with less, as it was announced on Monday that it will seek to acquire fewer Boeing F-15EX Eagle II and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft in fiscal year 2025 (FY25). The Department of the Air Force unveiled a $217.5 billion budget request, which put a greater focus on modernizing the Air Force and Space Force while maintaining readiness to respond to current threats, and addressing key capability gaps while investing to manage risks that are increasing with time.

The $217.5 billion proposal that Congress will now consider for fiscal year 2025 includes $188.1 billion for the Air Force and $29.4 billion for the Space Force. If enacted into law, the Department of the Air Force's overall budget would grow by 1.1 percent, $2.4 billion, from last fiscal year's budget.

"I think that 2025, while difficult, is at a level that I think we can accept, and it will still allow us to make progress on the modernization we need," said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, who further stressed the importance of adequately funding the military for competitiveness in a rapidly evolving global landscape.

The FY 2025 budget was built for each service's unique mission, the department further suggested.

"The Air Force's core functions remain unchanged: air superiority, global strike, rapid global mobility, command and control, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance," added Kristyn Jones, performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Air Force. "The Space Force's efforts reflect the indispensable support that underpins all other joint operations and its continued transformation into a warfighting service to secure our interests in, from and to space."

What The U.S. Air Force Budget Request Includes

According to the newly released budget proposal, the service would receive a $14.9 billion investment to enhance competitive capabilities and maintain air domain lethality, along with $24.9 billion to ensure unmatched ability to deliver global strikes around the world. A further $29.4 billion would be spent towards readiness while continuing to make maximum possible investment in modernization, with $4.7 billion to proliferate a multi-orbit missile warning architecture to counter near-peer threats.

The budget would also direct $3.4 billion towards the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Family of Systems to augment current and future platforms in highly contested environments. The NGAD program includes the Air Force's efforts to develop a manned sixth-generation air superiority fighter that would replace the aging F-22 Raptor. In addition, it calls for an unmanned component of so-called loyal wingmen to operate alongside the manned fighter.

In addition, $538 million for Agile Combat Employment was earmarked to build the right mix of capabilities to defend against current and future threats, while $6.2 billion would be spent towards commercial space launches and resilient space data network to deliver capabilities to the Joint Force in, from and to Space. The budget calls for $4.4 billion in funds for integrating satellite communications to increase space superiority by connecting and supporting our allies and partners.

Fighting Inflation

The Department of the Air Force also acknowledged the practicalities of economic factors, and the FY25 budget proposal accommodates inflation and rising fuel costs, and for quality of life and retention of personnel.

This includes $42.9 billion to improve quality of life for Airmen and Guardians including a 4.5 percent pay raise, along with $1.1 billion for bonus and retention programs for 118,000 critically skilled positions.

The United States Air Force continues to struggle to meet recruiting goals and faces an ongoing shortage of pilots, and as a result, has increasingly offered bonuses to trained pilots to extend their service. In December, the latest retention incentives would pay pilots between $15,000 to $50,000 per year to commit to three- to 12-year contracts – up to $600,000 in total.

Fewer New Jets Like F-15EX and F-35

The biggest takeaway from the newly released budget proposal is that the United States Air Force could receive fewer new jets – notably the aforementioned F-15EX and F-35.

As Defense News reported, the service plans to buy 42 Lockheed Martin-made F-35As for $5.9 billion and 18 Boeing F-15EXs for $1.8 billion next year. That would be a reduction from the 48 and 24 fighters, respectively, the service originally expected to buy.

The Air Force had previously announced that it would cease acquiring additional F-15EXs after 2025 concludes, which will cap the entire fleet of Eagle IIs at 98 ­ six fewer than the 104 the service had been planning to buy. However, the Air Force's expected total purchase of 1,763 F-35As remains unchanged.

The F-15EX is a modernized variant of the F-15Eagle, which first entered service in 1979.

The Air Force also called for the culling of its current fleet by 250 aircraft in 2025, including 56 A-10 Warthogs, 65 older F-15 C and D Eagle fighters, 26 F-15E Strike Eagles with less-capable engines, 11 F-16 Fighting Falcons, and 32 Block 20 F-22A Raptors the service said would be prohibitively expensive to ready for combat.

Air Force officials have suggested that those retirements, if approved, would save the service more than $2 billion in fiscal 2025. However, they may face a fight from lawmakers in Washington, who have previously forced the service to retain its aging fighters.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force. 

The Russian Military Has 'Nuclear' Plans to Stop an Invasion by China

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 01:42

Despite the dramatic headlines, the leaked Russian military documents that discuss the conditions (including a Chinese invasion scenario) a beleaguered Moscow might resort to using nuclear armaments is not surprising. Nor should anyone be puzzled as to why the Russian military has contingency plans to cope with a possible Chinese invasion.

After all, one reason why progress was never achieved on drastically reducing tactical nuclear weapons, despite such proposals being on the table after the success of the 1987 INF Treaty, was that Russia has always seen tactical nuclear weapons as a last-ditch capability to protect the Russian state in the event of the complete collapse or defeat of its conventional military capabilities.

So, do these leaks, particularly about Russian plans to use such weapons to stop a Chinese invasion, change anything?

First, it is the job of military establishments the world over to envision and prepare for any scenario, no matter how unlikely. The United States maintained war plans for an invasion of Canada well into the twentieth century. Part of the calculations that informed the U.S. position on accepting limits on warship construction at the various naval conferences of the 1920s and 1930s was the possibility of a future conflict with Great Britain. Indeed, the very notion of capabilities-based planning (as opposed to scenario-based planning) assumes that the United States must be prepared to overcome capabilities rather than trusting the hands that wield those capabilities will be friendly and will not use them against the United States or its interests.  

While these documents were written between 2008 and 2014 during the Obama administration (in American terms, ancient history), the Russian general staff takes a long-term view. Current partners today—including Turkey and China—have, in the past, been strategic rivals. The Russian national security establishment remains guided by the maxim of Tsar Alexander III, who remarked that Russia's only true and enduring allies are its army and navy. In other words, Russia views its partnerships in fundamentally transactional and situational terms. Ankara and Beijing opposed Moscow in the past but cooperate today precisely because it is in their interests to do so. If that calculus changes, the relationship is also altered.

The founding editor of this journal, Owen Harries, once remarked that the United States “offers alliance on easy terms.” Washington assumes that allies would never have cause to turn against it. In contrast, Moscow believes that if it shows any sign of weakness or debilitation, its current strategic partners will see an opportunity to change the parameters of their relationship to their advantage. 

We have already seen this in the last two years as Russia expends the bulk of its power pursuing its “special military operation” in Ukraine while suffering considerable military losses from Ukrainian resistance plus economic damage imposed by Western sanctions. Under these conditions, both Turkey and China have been able to press for revisions to their partnership with Russia, especially in economic terms. Ankara is vital to the success of the “Eurasian roundabout,” which has enabled Moscow to blunt some of the impact of Western sanctions and shift the balance in both the Caucasus and the Black Sea in Turkey's favor. China has been able to change the terms of trade in getting Russian resources priced in renminbi and for China to receive additional discounts. If Russian power continues to decline, what might come next?

Two decades ago, Rajan Menon, in these pages, raised the prospect of a “reverse Manchurian” scenario where China, even if it did not formally annex formerly Russian territories in Siberia and the Far East (which previously had been part of the Chinese Empire) would be able to exercise de facto control. This feeds into the Kremlin’s long-standing geopolitical nightmare of a weakened Russia subdivided into Western European, Middle Eastern, and Chinese spheres of influence. 

Might these documents have been strategically leaked—at this particular point in time—to not so subtly remind China (and the United States) that Russia is contemplating a lower threshold for nuclear use as a warning against taking advantage of Russian weaknesses? The beauty of the leak is that the Kremlin can formally distance itself from the documents (and even claim that the documents are outdated) while still achieving its purpose. China is reminded that tangling with Russia would be costly, and Beijing’s aims and desires can be better accommodated by continued cooperation within the existing framework of China-Russia relations. Yes, the bear might be sick—but its claws remain sharp.

About the Author 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the director of the National Security Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Image: Shutterstock. 

Amid High Fives for Sweden’s Entry into NATO, Scary Talk Is Afoot

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 23:51

Hungary’s dilatory approval of Sweden’s bid to join NATO brought much relief and high-fiving at alliance headquarters in Brussels. It took much diplomatic bribing of the pro-Russian Viktor Orban government in Hungary (as it did the ambivalent Recep Tayyip Erdogan government in Turkey) to get the unanimous vote of alliance countries to bring in another new member. To close the deal, Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson had to make a pilgrimage to Budapest bearing gifts—four Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets and a promise by Saab, the aircraft producer, to open an artificial intelligence research center in Hungary. The New York Times concluded that Hungary’s approval of Sweden’s accession sealed “a major shift in the balance of power between the West and Russia set off by war in Ukraine.” And the strutting and flexing within the alliance already seems to have started.

Sweden’s geography does provide several advantages for NATO vis-à-vis Russia. Swedish territory includes Gotland Island, which helps control entry to and exit from the Baltic Sea. With Finland and Sweden in the alliance, it will be easier to bottle up the Russian Navy inside the Baltic and prevent its breakout into the Atlantic Ocean. Because Russia’s nearby Kola Peninsula is home to two-thirds of Russia’s second-strike nuclear deterrent, Swedish territory also makes a great outpost to spy on developments. Finally, in any NATO conflict with Russia, reinforcing NATO’s Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia would be more accessible from Sweden

Of course, because of its essential geography, Stockholm had received quiet defense guarantees from Washington even before accession. However, the perception that the formal accession of Finland and Sweden into the alliance alters the balance of power in Europe vis-à-vis Russia has a significant downside, starting almost immediately. 

A significant disadvantage of alliances—outside of the potential for freeriding —is that with the security guarantee of the leader, less powerful countries gain confidence to pursue riskier strategies. The danger of this phenomenon is illustrated by the recent loose talk from some of Europe’s leaders, who met in Paris about sending their troops to Ukraine. French president Emmanuel Macron has always been more favorable to European-driven military action. He publicly announced last month that he would not rule out the dangerously escalatory step of deploying European troops to Ukraine. Although he emphasized that no consensus was reached among the European countries—“in an official, approved, and endorsed way”—he also asserted that “anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” which he argued was to guarantee that “Russia cannot win this war.”

The Biden administration should temper any indications of a growing resolve among European nations to intervene directly in Ukraine. To date, although the United States military aid to Ukraine vastly exceeds the combined sum provided by the Europeans, the Biden administration has exercised appropriate caution on actions that could escalate the war into a direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. 

As the eruption of World War I teaches us, alliances can drag countries into catastrophic wars that nobody wants. Today, this caution is especially required given NATO’s Article V security guarantee, which considers an attack on one member as an attack on all. As the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates:

...[A]n armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Smaller alliance members spooked about Russia’s recent limited gains in the Ukraine war and encouraged by the perceived positive shift in the NATO-Russia balance with Sweden’s entry could very well entangle the United States in an escalation with the United States and Russian nuclear forces squaring off. Thus, President Biden needs to squash such brash and unwise talk among its ever-growing number of security clients in Europe.

Ivan R. Eland is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. Dr. Eland graduated from Iowa State University with an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University.

Image: Anette Holmberg /

Montana-Class Battleships Would Be No Match Against China's Military

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 20:43

Summary: Despite being larger and more heavily armed, the Montana-class would likely be ineffective in modern conflicts, particularly against a technologically advanced adversary like China. The advancements in naval warfare, emphasizing speed and stealth over sheer firepower, render the concept of battleships outdated. Even if built, the Montana-class ships, now would be 80 years old, making them ill-suited for current strategic military needs, underscoring the evolution of naval priorities towards aircraft carriers and smaller, faster vessels.

Montana-Class Battleships: A Forgotten Giant in Modern Naval Strategy

The mighty Iowa was the last class of battleship the U.S. ever produced – but not the last it planned. Montana-class battleships were authorized for construction, intended to succeed the Iowa. But as the U.S. Navy began to appreciate the importance of naval aviation – and of the aircraft carrier – the Montana­ was deprioritized, and the class was ultimately canned.

Decades later, tensions with China are rising, and pundits wonder whether the U.S. naval fleet is adequately prepared for great-power conflict. Would the existence of something like the Montana class help the U.S. in a conflict with China? Short answer: probably not. 

The History of the Montana-Class

“In the late 1930s,  the U.S. government, recognizing the deteriorating world situation, sought to rebuild US. Naval power,” Kyle Mizokami wrote for The National Interest. “The crash of the stock market in October 1939, as well as the Washington and London naval treaties, had slowed the growth of the U.S. Navy and reduced its tempo of peacetime operations. By 1940, however with fighting raging in Asia and Europe, it was clear the United States needed to beef up its defensive capability to deter attack – or to prosecute a war if it were dragged into conflict.”

The result? The authorization of the “Two Ocean Navy,” which included five Montana-class battleships meant to supplement the Iowa-class vessels.

A variety of designs were proposed for the Montana, all of which had one factor in common: The Montana would be significantly bigger. 

Now, the Iowa was not exactly small. Measuring 860 feet long and displacing 58,000 tons, the Iowa carried considerable heft. One design for the Montana, though, proposed an 860-foot-long vessel with a 64,500-ton displacement. The Montana also would have featured more firepower than the Iowa, with twelve 16-inch/50-caliber guns, relative to the Iowa’s nine. 

Would the Montana Be Useful Today?

The Montana, while larger and more powerful than the Iowa, would also have been slower, and hence more vulnerable. 

China is increasingly well equipped to harm American surface vessels. Chinese President Xi Jinping, having stockpiled attack submarines, quick surface vessels, aircraft carriers, advanced aircraft, and intermediate-range and hypersonic missiles, is well equipped to challenge American naval presence in the Indo-Pacific. Large, slow vessels like the Montana would be at particular risk in such an environment. Certainly, the Montana class would contribute offensively – even by modern standards, she would pack a considerable punch. But the question is: Would she be able to survive?

Had the Montana class actually been built, the ships would all be 80 years old at this point – the oldest in the Navy. Eighty-year-old ships are, for a variety of reasons, unlikely to be big contributors in a 21st-century great-power conflict. 

So while the Montana represents capabilities that the U.S. Navy left on the table, unrealized, in preparation for World War II, those capabilities have long become outdated and would be ill-suited to conflict with China

About the Author: Harrison Kass 

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy. 

Could Missile Defense Save the Aircraft Carrier?

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 20:26

Summary: U.S. aircraft carriers, formidable and nearly invulnerable since WWII, face new survivability concerns against modern adversaries like China. China's military expansion, including shipbuilding and missile stockpiles aimed at American vessels, highlights these threats. While carriers benefit from advanced missile defense systems and a robust support network aimed at evading detection and countering attacks, reliance on such defenses is seen as a last resort. The challenge of tracking and targeting these moving behemoths across vast ocean spaces has been mitigated by technological advancements, yet the potential vulnerability of these naval giants in conflict scenarios remains a pressing issue.

Can Missile Defense Systems Shield U.S. Aircraft Carriers Against Modern Threats?

Can missile defense systems keep U.S. aircraft carriers safe in a conflict with an advanced adversary like China or Russia? Missile defense systems are a useful tool, and they increase a carrier’s survivability. But hopefully, preservation of the U.S. carrier fleet won’t come to rely on missile defense systems.

Survivability Concerns

U.S. aircraft carriers have operated with relative impunity since the end of World War II. Nuclear-powered behemoths surrounded with an entire carrier strike group, America’s 11 operational supercarriers are hard to kill. 

But concerns have grown about the survivability of the aircraft carrier in a modern conflict environment. Enhancements to China’s military capabilities are especially worrying. China is in the midst of one of history’s most ambitious shipbuilding sprees, adding attack submarines, lithe surface vessels, and even aircraft carriers of their own. 

More concerning still, China has stockpiled intermediate-range missiles, hypersonic missiles, and anti-ship missiles – undoubtedly with American vessels in mind.

Aircraft Carriers Are Hard to Kill

Hopefully, U.S. carriers would only rely on missile defense systems as a last resort.

“The first step in attacking a carrier is to find it,” the Lexington Institute wrote in 2001. “Most adversaries would have difficulty doing this as long as the carrier remains in the open sea, takes prudent evasive actions, and actively counters efforts at detection.”

China would need to monitor millions of square miles of ocean in any conflict with the U.S.. “For instance,” Forbes reported, “the South China Sea, comprising a fraction of the area that China would need to monitor in a conflict, consists of over 1.4 million square miles of ocean.”

If an adversary can find an aircraft carrier, the adversary must then continuously track it, “because a carrier is likely to be far from the location where it was first detected by the time weapons arrive there.”

Two decades ago, “few if any nations” had “an assured capacity to track carriers continuously,” the Lexington Institute wrote. “All of the relevant methods – radar, electronic eavesdropping, electro-optical and acoustic sensors – have major drawbacks such as high cost, vulnerability to pre-emption, and inability to precisely discriminate.”

China has worked to augment its carrier-tracking abilities in recent years, launching “half a dozen electronic intelligence satellites into low earth orbit,”Forbes reported. But “the U.S. could degrade such satellites using both kinetic and non-kinetic means.”

And should an adversary find and track a carrier, the ship may still depend on an integrated defensive network.

“The carrier commanding a carrier can expect to have diverse defensive assets stationed within reach of his or her constantly moving vessel – Aegis air-defense destroyers, Virginia-class attack subs, overhead assets, etc. – all networked together into a layered defensive system that detects any approaching threats,” Forbes reported. “Once identified, each threat is assigned the optimum sensors and weapons to assure early interception, even if they are on different warships scattered across the ocean.”

The defensive measures surrounding an aircraft carrier are layered and redundant. “The architecture of the defensive perimeter dictates that if an enemy penetrates one layer of protection, it will then face another, and another,” Forbes reported. “So even if the adversary can find a carrier in the vastness of the Western Pacific, the likelihood its weapons will reach the carrier and do serious damage is not great.”

Still, given the time, money, and human capital invested in each aircraft carrier, the mere hint of vulnerability is concerning. 

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

U.S. Navy's Aircraft Carriers Might Have a Fatal Flaw

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 20:05

Aircraft Carriers in the Age of Near-Peer Warfare: The U.S. Navy's Strategic Pivot: The U.S. military in recent decades fought against weaker states such as Iraq, or against non-state groups like al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State, and the Taliban. The U.S. Navy used its aircraft carriers for ground support missions during these operations. Carrier battle groups didn’t have to worry about enemy long-range munitions, sabotage, submarines, or air attacks. 

Now that the Global War on Terror is largely over and near-peer conflict is back on the menu, carriers will have a harder job on the battlefield. But would the U.S. military really risk its aircraft carriers in a war with Russia or China?

Money and Adversary Capabilities vs. Aircraft Carriers 

Aircraft carriers are mighty expensive. The latest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, cost American taxpayers $13 billion. Although subsequent ships of the class will cost less, their price tag will still hover in the several billions. 

The total fleet of U.S. aircraft carriers cost nearly $60 billion. This number covers only the carriers themselves. It does not include the expensive fighter jets they carry, such as the F-35B/C Lighting II, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and EG-18 Growler, or the supporting warships of the carrier battle group. 

Meanwhile, near-peer adversaries have developed advanced capabilities that pose a significant threat to these invaluable assets. China in particular has been investing heavily in missile technology. It is also creating a robust anti-access/aerial denial bubble in strategic areas in the Indo-Pacific in an attempt to prevent U.S. aircraft carriers from entering a potential conflict. 

In sum, aircraft carriers are very expensive, and U.S. adversaries have more powerful options than they did in the past to destroy, sink, or restrict them. 

Considering this combination of factors, a logical question that comes up is whether U.S. aircraft carriers are now relegated to fighting wars only against those who can’t fight back.

Adjusting Fire

The answer is no. 

The Pentagon spends so much money on aircraft carriers because they are still the ships that can determine a naval battle and influence the course of a war. Advances in technology might mean that carriers are once more vulnerable to enemy fire – much like they were in World War Two – but there hasn’t been a “Midway moment” to turn the carrier battle group obsolete. 

The Navy should adjust its fire and invest more in light aircraft carriers to complement its supercarriers. More ships would divide adversary resources and increase overall survivability, providing the time and resources necessary to prevail. 

The “Lightning Carrier” concept that pairs amphibious assault ships – essentially small aircraft carriers – with advanced fighter jets like the F-35B Lightning II can still achieve a lot on the battlefield and help determine a naval clash. More of these ships, coupled with investment in anti-missile technologies such as directed-energy weapons and hypersonic munitions, could be decisive factors in the next near-peer conflict.

About the Author

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP. Email the author:

Gearing Up for a Multipolar World

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 18:29

The war in Gaza has not only resulted in a ghastly loss of life for Israelis and Palestinians, but it has also added to the burdens the United States faces in a world it no longer dominates. Conflicts rage in Ukraine, Gaza, Myanmar, the Sahel, Sudan, and potentially in Taiwan and Iran. Right-wing populism is rising in rich and poor countries, dividing societies into militant camps of the people versus the elite. Three decades after the Cold War ended, the envisioned community of nations linked together by a rules-based system of international relations modeled on America’s liberal-democratic values now seems like a gossamer dream.

The convergence of regional crises and far-right populism presents a formidable challenge for the United States and the stewardship of President Joe Biden. As explained in the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy, global peace and prosperity require containing countries that combine authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy, strengthening alliances in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and building partnerships in developing regions.

Alas, the Biden administration is seeing the trees but not the forest. Like every administration that has preceded it since the end of the Cold War, it is stovepiping the world into a discrete set of regional problems that it seeks to manage with rhetorical exhortation and technocratic ingenuity. What elected officials from the Left to the Right fail to see is that the turbulence we are experiencing is part of a panoramic upheaval on the part of emerging and developing states that seek a redistribution of global power. They may favor a rules-based order, as Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has said, so long as it does not compromise their interests. A “world order that is still very, very deeply Western,” he bluntly put it, is giving way to a multipolar world.

Although it is unclear what framework will emerge from the current geopolitical disorder, the United States must prepare for a world in which power politics rather than liberal ideals will prevail. To preserve international stability, the United States and the West will need to devise new rules of the road in concert with autocracies such as China and the middle powers so that they will become stakeholders in the global order they helped create.

Dominance and Decline

Military Might: For some scholars and policy analysts, multipolarity is an oversimplification of reality. Given the competition for primacy between the United States and China, political scientist and former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Joseph S. Nye, Jr argues the world is also bipolar. On a military basis, he maintains, it is unipolar. To be sure, China is developing its nuclear arsenal, Nye points out, but America’s military footprint is unmatched. With 750 bases in eighty nations and a network of alliances and partnerships, the United States fields a technologically innovative fighting force that receives 12 percent of all federal spending.

Even so, the U.S. military might not have inhibited Russia from invading Ukraine or China from threatening to bring Taiwan under its control by force. Indeed, the prospect of a larger war in Europe or a clash with China has understandably prompted caution in Washington. Competition from America’s adversaries is still more worrisome. Despite slowing economic growth, China is steadily chipping away at America’s dominance. It is rapidly modernizing its military, including an expanding nuclear force of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the construction of some 350 new missile silos, longer-range sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and new DF-17 medium-range missiles equipped with hypersonic glide vehicles.

Benefiting from an average of more than 9 percent GDP growth since the late 1990s, China now possesses the world’s largest navy, one that aspires to blue-water capability. Its Jin-class nuclear submarines are equipped with longer-range SLBMs, which can target the northwestern part of the United States as well as Guam, Alaska, and Hawaii. Despite China’s sagging economic growth, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is projected to have 356 battle-ready vessels by 2033, while the United States expects a reduction of its fleet to 290 by the end of this decade. China persists in militarizing atolls and islets in the South China Sea and is expanding its military presence in the Middle East, Africa, and the South Pacific.

Russia’s militarily disastrous invasion of Ukraine aside, Moscow continues to update its nuclear force. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) anticipates economic growth of 2.6 percent in 2024 thanks to continued energy exports. Moreover, Russia will allocate one-third of its budgetary spending to defense this year. It plans to modernize the dual-capable Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile system, which is deployed in Kaliningrad, and develop new delivery vehicles such as the land-based (and dual-capable) 9M729 cruise missile Washington has declared a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia is also developing the Sarmat ICBM, the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, and a submersible nuclear-powered drone releasable from submarines to attack carrier groups and potentially cities along the U.S. coast.

Other U.S. adversaries’ military arsenals are also growing. Iran has increased its defense cooperation with Russia since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, including the supply of drones and possibly surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. Iran intends to acquire Russian technology and military equipment to increase the accuracy and lethality of its short- and medium-range ballistic missile forces, naval forces, and air and defense assets. As for its nuclear program, Iran has increased its enrichment of uranium up to 60 percent uranium-235, which is close to weapons grade. To sustain combat operations in Ukraine, Russia has also turned to North Korea to supply it with artillery shells and other munitions such as rockers and howitzers. The price Kim Jong-un will likely demand for such assistance is Russian missile and satellite technology. With its successful test of a solid-fueled hypersonic missile, North Korea now has a delivery system with the range, reliability, and maneuverability to strike American territory. Although the size of its nuclear arsenal is unknown, it is estimated that North Korea could have enough fissile material for more than 100 weapons.

Economic Primacy: America is likewise the world’s paramount economic power. U.S. per capita income is 30 percent higher than that of Western Europe and 54 percent higher than that of Japan. At the end of the Cold War, the corresponding figures were 24 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Median wages continue to rise, as does productivity, because of the efficiency of labor and capital inputs. Immigration, the expansion and mobility of the workforce, and a high fertility rate (compared to other wealthy nations) have increased the working-age population by 30 percent over the past three decades, compared to 13 and 7 percent, respectively, for Europe and Japan.

Innovation in the workplace and skill levels have also risen. More American universities and corporations are considered among the world’s best than those of any other country. Six of the world’s ten biggest corporations in terms of sales, profits, and market value are American, according to Forbes magazine, and roughly half of the top twenty. Evaluated by market capitalization alone, eight of the top ten and sixteen of the top twenty are American.

The U.S. share of world GDP has been halved from the statistically aberrant 50 percent it enjoyed after World War II. The United States currently accounts for slightly more than 25 percent of world GDP at market exchange rates, a figure that has remained relatively constant since 1990. China and the European Union (EU) each represent roughly 18 percent, and the Asia-Pacific region’s share is about 37 percent. However, at purchasing power parity rates, America does not fare as well. In contrast to the Asia-Pacific’s share of 45 percent—19 percent of which is contributed by China—the United States, like the EU, represents about 15 percent of the total.

American universities and corporations also no longer enjoy the commanding heights they have in the past. The number of American universities in the top 100 declined from forty-three in the Times Higher Education survey of 2018 to thirty-four in the 2022 compendium. In the London-based Quacqarelli-Symonds study, American universities represented half of the top ten in 2022 as opposed to six in 2010, and ninety-one of the 177 reviewed in 2022 declined in rank. A comparable trend is discernible in the rankings of American corporations. Measured by market capitalization, American firms accounted for eight of the global top ten in 2022 versus six in 2000. Using metrics such as revenues, profits, and assets, however, Forbes ranked only three American corporations in the top ten and five in the top twenty in 2010. In the 2023 global list released by Forbes, China accounts for three of the top ten.

China is not the only rising economic power in the global transition. Although only one of its corporations is ranked in the world’s top fifty by Forbes, India accounts for nearly 7.5 percent of global GDP. It is now the world’s fifth-largest economy at market prices and third-largest in purchasing power parity. With a younger and highly educated labor force and annual economic growth forecasted by the IMF to exceed 6 percent over the next five years, Morgan Stanley expects India to become the third-largest economy by 2027, surpassing Germany and Japan.

China and Europe are also encroaching on America’s technological dominance. In 2020, the United States accounted for about 25 percent of global R&D investment versus 69 percent in 1960. China has increased its share from 4.8 percent of global spending in 2000 to 23 percent in 2020, and Europe accounts for around 22 percent. China is far and away the largest producer of patents, more than double that of the United States. It is also the largest market for electric vehicles. It sold 22 million passenger vehicles in 2022, compared with less than 13 million in Europe and the United States. Fearful of the competition from cheaper and technologically superior Chinese cars, the European Union is threatening to raise tariffs on its imports, which Beijing is countering by opening a factory in Hungary. The Biden administration may follow suit, prodded by pressure from the bipartisan United States House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party to ban an array of imports.

As growth of 4.9 percent in the third quarter of 2023 attests, the United States has nonetheless continued to demonstrate its economic resilience despite the great recession of 2008-09 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Powered by the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS Act, and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the United States has created roughly 14 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and unemployment has declined to 3.7 percent. China, meanwhile, is stagnating under massive government debt and deflation from an unraveling property market, slowing exports, an aging population, and inflexible leadership.

Still, it may be premature to herald the new American renaissance as New York Times columnist David Brooks has done. The increase in America’s GDP relative to Europe’s is partly a function of the euro’s declining value. And while China’s sputtering economy may replicate the economic crisis in Japan after its asset bubble burst in 1990, regional growth rates historically fluctuate. Asia produced 61 percent of world output in 1820 compared to 25 percent from Europe, only 20 percent in 1950, but 48 percent in 2018 versus Europe’s share of 15 percent.

To be sure, declining energy prices and the apparent end of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes have increased the prospect of a soft landing. Even though inflation fell to 3.1 percent by the end of 2023, the message from the index of leading economic indicators is that a recession may lie ahead, according to the Conference Board. U.S. growth is further likely to be hampered by China’s continuing economic struggles. China is the largest trading partner of some 120 countries, including Japan, South Korea, the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the EU. It is America’s third-largest export market and the largest purchaser of U.S. treasury bonds. While China’s deflationary spiral has benefited countries battling inflation, anemic demand has hurt exporters of industrial goods as well as the tourism industry.

By the same token, the prospect that China will recover from its current malaise should not be dismissed. According to a study by the Australian Strategy Policy Institute, it enjoys a technological lead over the United States in thirty-seven of forty-four fields, from AI to robotics. China graduates 1.4 million engineers annually and dominates the supply chain of rare earth materials, controlling 70 percent of their extraction and 90 percent of the processing.

The threat to American economic primacy presented by China’s trade-distorting subsidies and theft of intellectual property is only one of the reasons the Biden administration has opted for industrial policy. Bidenomics also aims to produce new manufacturing jobs for working- and middle-class Americans. Critical of the inequality produced by unfettered free trade, Biden avers that industrial policy will lead to a more egalitarian and geopolitically secure society.

Both propositions are dubious. China has already responded to Washington’s ban on the export of computer chips by restricting exports of gallium, germanium, and graphite—elements used in semiconductor manufacturing, fiber-optic networks, and military kits—and more recently, graphite, a component of electric vehicle batteries. Expanding supply chains to other producers of rare earths is economically prudent. But even if the United States can find alternative sources in, say, Vietnam, Australia, India, or Peru, it is not likely to erode China’s dominant position or alter the reality that America’s Indo-Pacific partners remain dependent on their economic ties with Beijing. Industrial policy is far more likely to reinforce the tit-for-tat dynamic that is playing out between Washington and Beijing and divide the world into competing blocs.

Industrial policy will also undermine the efficiencies of the international trading system that lowered the cost of goods and raised real incomes during the 1980s and 1990s. While it is true that cheap Chinese imports destroyed manufacturing jobs in the industrialized world, the decline mainly resulted from the labor-cutting efficiency of modern technology and shifting comparative advantage. The cumulative effects of economic nationalism will raise the cost of goods to American consumers and inhibit innovative research on climate change. Industrial policy has already prompted the EU to launch a “Buy Europe” project to incentivize the domestic production of green technology and semiconductors. India, South Korea, Australia, and Canada are acting correspondingly.

The United States and other wealthy nations’ gravitation toward protectionism and deglobalization will further create hardships for low-income countries, which lack the ability to provide lavish subsidies to domestic producers. Worse, it will erode the economic progress they have made since 1990 in raising the incomes of the world’s poorest populations. Protectionism will constrict participation in global value chains, deprive poor countries reliant on farming of export income needed to pay for imports and cover debt service for loans and create more failed states, thereby sabotaging economic development and intensifying global instability.

Political Authority: In confronting the geostrategic challenges posed by Russian revanchism and Chinese militancy, the United States remains the keystone of its alliances in Europe and Asia. However, the uncontested political power that it wielded during the Cold War and in the decade after the collapse of the Soviet empire is fading. Shifting geopolitical interests and alignments among emerging regional powers who demand a voice in global governance is a major reason. Dissention between the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia on a host of global threats is another.

Intent on asserting their views, countries in the rich and developing world have increasingly impugned Washington’s policy preferences. In some cases, dissent has been broad-based; in others, powerful voices have stymied the United States. Undeterred by President Bill Clinton’s opposition, Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy challenged the world to ban landmines, which produced 164 signatures to the Ottawa Treaty in 1997. Though many countries joined the “coalition of the willing” in the second Gulf War in 2003, U.S. military action was publicly opposed by France, Germany, Russia, and the European Parliament, as well as by Latin America, the Arab League, and the African Union.

The collapse of the Doha Round of trade negotiations in 2008, on the other hand, resulted from Sino-Indian insistence on agricultural subsidies over U.S. objections. In 2010, Brazil and Turkey defied President Barack Obama’s decision to ratchet up sanctions on Iran, reviving earlier proposals for a fuel swap deal. Although the Obama administration proceeded with its sanctions resolution, Turkey and Brazil had both contested Washington’s authority and elevated their international status.

Continuing criticism of the West for its quasi-colonial dominance of the international economic and political order further reflects the Global South’s clamor for a voice in international decision-making. Irritated by the persistent gap in GDP per capita between North and South, developing countries have long sought to curb the de facto veto power the United States and Europe enjoy as respective heads of the World Bank and IMF. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank created by China in 2016, which now numbers 109 countries, and the BRICS Development Bank have emerged as a sort of second Bretton Woods to challenge the West’s dominance.

Thirty-five countries have more recently registered their resentment toward the rich world by abstaining from censuring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the United Nations vote in October 2022. Many have chastised the United States for provoking the conflict, deriding the hypocrisy of the rules-based order that sanctions Russia but ignores Israel’s unremitting absorption of Palestinian territory.

Emerging powers are also becoming more transactional in their relationships with global adversaries. Although Indian prime minister Narendra Modi implicitly reproached Russian president Vladimir Putin in the fall of 2022, saying, “Today’s era is not an era of war,” India has expanded its trade ties with Russia. Along with China, Turkey, and Brazil, it has massively purchased discounted Russian oil, which helps Moscow sustain its war. A founding member of the BRICS, India has joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue along with the United States, Australia, and Japan to counter China’s growing influence in Asia. Yet India remains reliant on China for cheap consumer goods and the critical semiconductor chips and circuit boards on which its industries depend.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is equally keen to give Turkey the global status the Ottoman Empire once held. Defying Washington’s warnings, Erdogan purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. He has denounced Russia for its invasion of Ukraine but abstained from joining the West’s sanctions regime lest it provoke economic reprisals from Moscow. Even so, Turkey and Russia have backed opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Libya. Erdogan displayed similar transactional behavior in the summer of 2023 when he agreed to support Sweden’s accession to NATO to ensure the purchase of F-16s from the United States, which followed in January.

Other emerging and developing countries that favor a multipolar world order are similarly inclined to straddle tensions between the West and the China-Russia strategic partnership. Though it is a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States, Brazil has opposed the dominance of the U.S. dollar in international trade. During a visit to China in April 2023, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for the de-dollarization of international trade and urged the BRICS group of nations to devise their own currency. Aspiring to a larger role on the world stage, Indonesia, an emerging power in Asia and chair of the 2022 G20 summit, has indirectly chided the United States for its “megaphone diplomacy” on Ukraine and refused to take sides in the Sino-American competition. However, it has criticized China’s claims in the South China Sea, conducted military exercises to safeguard its maritime interests and increased defense spending by 20 percent in November 2023.

Concerns about the impact of U.S. sanctions on Russia have prompted some countries to settle payments in renminbi, as Singapore and Malaysia have done. However, the main reason for the Global South’s interest in de-dollarization is the growing trade with and aid from China. ASEAN’s trade with China more than doubled in 2022, now accounting for one-fifth of the region’s global trade. Trade between Brazil and China rose to $154 billion in 2022. Not only is China the lender of first and last resort for many developing countries, but it is also the principal supplier of developmental aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Brazil is also increasing its commercial presence in Africa. India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also involved.

Even smaller countries assert their interests in a world that seems increasingly unmoored. Tiny Qatar, home to a U.S. air base and a haven for exiled Hamas leaders, has assumed a surprising diplomatic presence in the world. It helped to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in 2021 and mediated the release of Israeli hostages and wounded Palestinian fighters in the war in Gaza. At the other end of the spectrum, the Houthis, a militant Shia sect in the failed state of Yemen financed by Iran, have attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza war. To protect shipping through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, the United States and the United Kingdom have launched airstrikes against Houthi missiles, which could provoke a military response from Iran.

Depending on their outcomes, a raft of global elections in 2024 could exacerbate turbulence in world politics. Though Xi Jinping has thus far exercised restraint, the victory by the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan’s presidential election on January 13 will certainly increase friction between Beijing and Taipei. The U.S. presidential election in November 2024 will likely have a more profound effect on international stability.

A second term for Biden would result in a continuation of policies pursued during the past three years. International turbulence would persist, but sufficient guard rails would be in place to contain it. If Donald Trump regains the White House, however, a winners-versus-losers standard would replace Biden’s democracy-versus-autocracy argument, which would redound to the benefit of Xi, Putin, and other tyrants. Trump’s continued indifference to democratic values would reinforce the Global South’s perception that the rules-based order is a hypocritical contrivance to justify Western dominance. The planned 10 percent tax on all imports Trump has proposed would cripple global trade, provoke beggar-thy-neighbor policies not seen since the interwar period of the twentieth century, and set relations with Beijing on a collision course.

Moreover, America’s support for Ukraine would wither, as would any prospect of negotiations. The prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end, and the United States would abandon any interest in the Middle East save for drawing closer to Saudi Arabia. America’s alliances in Europe and Asia, which Biden has restored, would languish or cease to exist. Putin would expand westward, probably starting in the Baltic States. The United States would avoid a conflict with China, however, because Trump is likely to concede Taiwan to China.

Toward a More Stable World

The turmoil that engulfs today’s world is the antithesis of the liberal-democratic order that Washington confidently envisioned would reshape the world in America’s image. As it happened, the United States failed to see that resurgent nationalism, historical grievances, and, beginning with the Yugoslav wars, recurring violence were incompatible with a world bounded by America’s values. The current disorder may presage a return to the balance-of-power system that maintained an uneasy equilibrium prior to World War I or succumb to the anarchy of the Hobbesian state of nature. But it could transmute into a stable world order, the emergence and persistence of which will depend on a mutuality of interests to sustain it rather than a vague rules-based order that lacks universal consent and thus validity in international law. Determined by non-Western and Western countries, democracies and autocracies, the rules must be consensual, enforceable by the stakeholders when disruptions of peace occur, and subject to dispute settlement by the principal parties to the dispute and the larger international community.

Restoring America’s commitment to the United Nations as the global forum for reasoned debate and conflict resolution will contribute to stability. The United States should cease its penchant for responding to the collective will of the UN, a body it conceived as an option rather than an obligation. It should further assume a leadership role in extending UN Security Council membership on a permanent and/or rotational basis to countries from the developing world so that every region shares a stake in preserving international stability.

Even though it will no longer be the sole rule-maker, the United States will still play a vital role in ensuring the stability of the evolving world order. Militarily, it will be incumbent on Washington to balance the competing interests of major adversaries such as China and Russia and regional powers. Both to deter countries from unwelcome actions and to respond to threats, it will be important for the United States to maintain a robust and operationally ready military force, restrict access to certain dual-capable technologies, and champion arms control agreements. Strengthening relations with America’s allies in Europe and Asia, as the Biden administration is doing, and, in concert with China, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to control its destructive power will be critical to preserving U.S. security and geopolitical stability.

Maintaining a dialogue with America’s adversaries is essential. This is especially important with China, where the United States has a codependent relationship in trade and investment. Unfortunately, partly out of ignorance and partly out of fear that U.S. global preeminence is ebbing, Americans on the Right and Left have demonized China as the latest anti-Christ. If its history is any guide, it seems unlikely that Beijing’s ambition is to control the world, its military modernization and power projection in the South China Sea notwithstanding. More plausibly, China wants to be recognized by Washington as a great power with core interests no less important than those of the United States.

The thaw in U.S.-China relations that has followed the Biden-Xi summit last November is a positive sign. But it beckons more than opinion-page cheerleading to evolve substantively. At the very least, the Biden administration should end its industrial policy and unwind trade sanctions against Beijing, which are bad for American business and the public and unlikely to impede Chinese trade with Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Protectionism intensifies bilateral hostilities and elevates the risk of military confrontation.

Restoring free trade will pay economic as well as geopolitical dividends. In an increasingly competitive world, creativity and innovation will be the key to comparative advantage. Instead of raising import barriers to contain China’s rise, the United States should seek to regain its former leadership in science and technology by increasing government R&D spending in semiconductors, robotics, quantum computing, AI, and medical science. The objective should be to increase investment to the level it had reached two decades ago.

Lastly, the United States can remain a powerful force for political and economic liberalism in the world. Liberalism has not outlived its purpose, as Putin self-servingly claimed before the G20 summit in 2019. True, only 8 percent of the world’s population lives in a fully functioning democracy, but more than half of the world’s population will go to the polls in 2024 to voice their individual opinions. Rather than lecture the developing world to practice democracy, like nineteenth-century circuit riders preaching the gospel in rural America, the United States can again become a model for others to emulate. To do so, it must dampen the culture wars that divide the country into hostile camps, reduce crime, resolve the border crisis, increase educational opportunities and skills training for women and minorities, acknowledge the reality of value pluralism, and increase developmental aid to the most vulnerable societies, as China and other countries have done.

Good intentions aside, when all is said and done, cynicism may triumph, and this century will look no different from the previous one. However, the more concretely people everywhere can envision a future of shared responsibility to preserve order in an interdependent world, the more likely the prospect is that the nascent multipolar era will be a stable one.

Hugh De Santis is a former career officer in the Department of State. He also chaired the Department of National Security Strategy at the National War College and served as senior advisor for Asian regional integration at the CIA. He is the author most recently of The Right to Rule: American Exceptionalism and the Coming Multipolar World Order. He thanks Stanley Katz and Carolyn Fuller for their constructive comments.


How the U.S. Navy Can End Its Aircraft Carrier Nightmare

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 17:24

Summary: As the pinnacle of naval power, America's aircraft carrier fleet faces increasing threats from advanced missile technology, particularly from near-peer adversaries like China or Russia. With hypersonic, cruise, and ballistic missiles capable of targeting carriers, the sheer force of numbers poses a significant challenge. However, carriers are not defenseless; equipped with formidable aircraft and supported by carrier battle groups, they create a defensive umbrella to mitigate threats. While adversaries aim to penetrate this defensive bubble, historical precedent shows the resilience of carrier battle groups. Through strategic planning and seamanship, US carriers strive to stay ahead in the ever-evolving landscape of modern warfare.

The Battle for Supremacy: Assessing Threats to America's Aircraft Carrier Fleet

The American aircraft carrier fleet is the strongest in the world. With 11 supercarriers and hundreds of aircraft, the U.S. Navy can project power to any part of the globe and respond to contingencies as they arise.  

These aircraft carriers would be the central actors in any near-peer war with China or Russia. By containing or destroying them, an adversary would neutralize much of America’s expeditionary firepower. But how would they achieve this?

Today, missiles are the most serious danger to aircraft carriers. 

A Shooting War and Aircraft Carriers

Advances in missile technology have increased the threat to carriers. Hypersonic, cruise, and even ballistic missiles now have the range, speed, and destructive capability to take out a carrier. Nor is the threat limited to a single well-placed, cutting-edge missile. Indeed, the Navy is concerned that a near-peer adversary like China could launch dozens, if not hundreds, of missiles against American supercarriers and destroy or sink them through the sheer force of numbers. The more advanced the incoming munitions, the greater the odds in favor of the attacker. 

But it isn't just about math. It is also about calculated risks. You will not find an aircraft carrier exposed unless something has gone really wrong. To begin with, a carrier’s first line of defense is its aircraft. They can fly thousands of miles away from the mothership and take out incoming threats. 

In addition, aircraft carriers don't fight alone. Supercarriers lead carrier battle groups that can include guided-missile cruisers, guided-missile destroyers, submarines, minesweepers, and support vessels. The smaller warships fan out and create a defensive umbrella around the aircraft carrier, protecting it from aerial, surface, and underwater threats.

Staying Alive

During combat, the goal of an adversary is to penetrate that defensive bubble and get to the carrier. If he can damage or sink the leader of the battlegroup and thus restrict or stop its air operations, then the carrier battle group is neutralized. This is easier said than done. 

The last time an aircraft carrier was destroyed or sunk in major combat operations was during World War Two. Since then, the closest a military has come to sinking an enemy carrier was during the Falklands War, when the Argentine Air Force threw dozens of aircraft against a British task force in an attempt to sink two British aircraft carriers and establish air superiority over the battlefield. Although they sank several warships and support ships, the Argentines failed to penetrate the air defense umbrella completely and reach the aircraft carriers. 

The goal of the carrier battle group is to stay out of danger – or limit its exposure to danger as much as possible while it works through the enemy’s capabilities. Numbers might create an advantage, but that advantage can be countered by good seamanship and proper planning. 

About the Author

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP. Email the author:

China’s Space Strategy Dwarfs U.S. Ambitions

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 16:35

Last month, rumors that Russia has been developing a space-based nuclear weapon took the media by storm. The technology in question, ominously dubbed a “serious national security threat” by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, left many in Washington asking how the United States itself is planning to capitalize on the strategic significance of outer space. 

Russia, however, isn’t the most assertive actor in the space domain. That honor belongs to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has a clear plan to dominate outer space—and which is moving ahead with the full backing of the powers that be in Beijing.

China’s outer space strategy involves many things, from asteroid mining to increasing the number of PRC-fielded satellites to developing a rival to the U.S. GPS navigation system. However, its ultimate objective is clear: to bolster the country’s comprehensive national power. As the PRC itself has asserted, “To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry, and build China into a space power is our eternal dream.”

Consequently, China’s space program has made massive strides in recent years. The PRC’s Tiangong space station, for instance, initially entered Earth’s orbit in April 2021 and has since hosted six separate astronaut crews. Last year, Zhang Qiao, a researcher from the China Academy of Space Technology, announced that the station will double in size in the future to support the over 100 scientific research projects that have or are currently taking place in orbit. In addition, China successfully collected Lunar material in 2020 with its Chang’e-5 mission, landed its Zhurong rover on Mars in 2022, and completed a record sixty-seven targeted launches in 2023.

Most recently, researchers from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in northeast China unveiled plans for a manned facility on the Moon. Newly translated video footage from the Third Annual Space Science Conference in October 2023, co-hosted by the Chinese Society of Space Research and Zhejiang Province Science and Technology Association, presents a plan for an expansive Lunar installation. The base features subterranean living quarters, research labs, a greenhouse, a fleet of unmanned vehicles, a photovoltaic system, closed-cycle life support, and more. The purported purpose of the project, led by Chief HIT Engineer Mei Hongyuan, is to study the chemical composition of the Lunar surface.

The proposal in the video draws heavily on research from a 2022 paper published in the Chinese Journal of Deep Space Exploration titled “Research on Building Plans Design for Future China Lunar Base.” The report features several different design possibilities for a Chinese Lunar facility and emphasizes the fact that “the Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite,” and that “countries must establish Lunar bases in order to take advantage of the Moon’s natural resources.” 

Why should U.S. policymakers care about Chinese plans to build a base on the Moon? First, the plan has a considerable chance of becoming a reality. As many already know, China is no stranger to grand architectural undertakings (The Great Wall, the Grand Canal, Three Gorges Dam, etc.) and is already planning to send its first manned mission to the Moon in 2030, followed by the construction of a permanent base there by 2036. 

Meanwhile, the credentials of the architect of China’s new Lunar Base plan suggest seriousness. Mr. Mei is a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with political ties to China’s leadership and has professional experience designing facilities for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, for the PRC State Council, and for the Harbin Institute. As such, his design plans for a Lunar base carry substantial credibility.

Second, a Chinese Moon base represents an economic challenge to U.S. interests. The Lunar surface, for one, is home to a variety of critical materials. More specifically, Helium-3—a non-radioactive isotope found in large quantities on the Moon’s surface—has a wide range of uses, most notable in the operation of nuclear fusion reactors. Aluminum and Silicone are also very abundant on the Lunar surface, meaning Chinese engineers will likely use the Moon’s soil to produce solar panels and 3D printed facilities. As Chinese Moon scientist Ouyang Ziyuan has put it, “the Moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings…This is crucial to sustainable development of human beings on Earth…Whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first.” 

Underpinning all this is a key recognition: industrializing the Moon would be a key part of what China envisions as a $10 trillion/year Moon-Earth Economic Zone. Ultimately, a Chinese Lunar base would serve as an important resource deposit and a trampoline to catapult the PRC into deep space

If the United States does not confront this fact, it will be edged out of both the tangible and symbolic gains that China is aiming to seize. For the moment, the United States is in danger of precisely that. America’s ambitions remain decidedly modest. For instance, the cornerstone of the country’s space plans, the NASA Artemis program, is far less ambitious than China’s proposal and lacks the proper strategic vision to make the country a space-faring nation.

All of this is liable to come at a high cost. As China has eloquently demonstrated with its Lunar plans, the clock is ticking. For America to actually take advantage of the strategic opportunities presented by Lunar development, it will need to start thinking more about how space serves the long-term national interest.  

Aedan Yohannan is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.


Putin Will Freak Out: F-16 Fighter Jets Could Be in Ukraine By July

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 16:06

Summary: As Ukraine faces increased pressure from Russian forces, the arrival of F-16 Fighting Falcons offers a significant boost to Kyiv's air defense capabilities. While the process of training Ukrainian pilots on these modern aircraft has been expedited, challenges remain as they adapt to Western tactics and language requirements. Despite Russian efforts to downplay the impact of the F-16s, their deployment marks a strategic move by NATO allies to support Ukraine's defense. With the F-16's combat-proven track record and versatility, its integration into Ukraine's military arsenal could potentially shift the dynamics of the ongoing conflict.

Ukraine's F-16 Fighting Falcons: A New Front in the Conflict with Russia

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is already a combat-proven fighter, adopted by dozens of nations around the world. The first Fighting Falcons could also be in the skies over Ukraine as early as this summer, The New York Times reported on Monday.

A dozen pilots have been training on the U.S.-made aircraft in Denmark, the UK and the United States.

While 45 aircraft have been pledged to Kyiv, just six F-16s have been delivered. The additional jets can't come fast enough, as Ukraine is desperate for more weapons, as it runs low on artillery rounds and other ammunition while Republican lawmakers in Congress have held up additional U.S. military aid. The F-16s are expected to arrive in Ukraine armed with short- and medium-range missiles and bombs, partially making up for the shortage of ground-based munitions, the paper of record reported.

"This year, new fighter jets will be in our skies, and we have to make this year an effective one in defending ourselves against Russian guided bombs, Russian aircraft and their missiles," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this month.

Expedited Training

The New York Times further noted that the training of Ukraine's pilots on the F-16 has proceeded at "lightning speed, compressing years of classroom learning, simulations and flight exercises into months."

Yet, the progress has been slower going than Kyiv or its allies had hoped – due to the fact that pilots trained on Soviet-era planes and tactics have had to get up to speed on the English language and Western military practices to make effective use of the Fighting Falcons.

The first Ukrainian pilots began training last August at Skrydstrup Air Base in southern Denmark, but their deficiencies in language skills and knowledge of Western flying techniques slowed the progress down considerably and it wasn't until this past January that the Ukrainian pilots were actually ready to fly.

F-16 Game Changer for Ukraine?

NATO member Denmark led the European effort last spring to provide Ukraine with F-16s. The F-16s were on the list of Western-made military hardware requested by Zelensky, along with tanks, air defense systems, and artillery.

The Biden administration only reluctantly gave in to Ukraine's demands, last summer by allowing NATO allies to provide the F-16s to Kyiv. Those jets were being phased out in some European militaries in favor of the newer F-35 Lightning II.

As the paper also reported, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium committed to sending around a combined 45 of the jets to Ukraine, enough for three small squadrons. Denmark is on track to send the first six in the late spring, with 13 more due to arrive over the rest of the year and into 2025.

However, American officials have cautioned that the F-16 Fighting Falcon would not be decisive in the war and that the training would take a considerable amount of time. The latter fact has already been the case, but Ukraine has benefited from downing multiple Russian A-50 reconnaissance aircraft, which could make it harder for the Kremlin's forces to monitor the skies over Ukraine.

Russia Downplayed the Fighting Falcon

As previously reported, Russia has downplayed the threat of the F-16, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has even dismissed claims that the F-16s will be able to flip the course of the war in Ukraine.

Putin suggested the F-16s would be as easily destroyed as the German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs). Moscow has even warned that if the F-16 Fighting Falcons take off from the territory of NATO member countries and are used in the Ukrainian conflict, the Kremlin could regard this as a conscious step toward escalation and "de facto direct participation in the armed confrontation."

Since it first entered service in 1979, the Fighting Falcon has engaged in more than 400,000 combat sorties and has more than a combined 19 million flight hours. Moreover, the F-16 has been adapted to complete several missions, including air-to-air fighting, ground attack, and electronic warfare. It has proven to be highly maneuverable while its combat radius exceeds that of its potential threats.

The F-16 is no longer being acquired by the U.S. Air Force, but Lockheed Martin continues to build the F-16 for foreign customers around the world. It remains the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role jet fighter ever produced.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

The Air Force's F-35A Fighter Is Now a Nuclear Bomber

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 15:38

Summary: The F-35A, Lockheed Martin's advanced stealth fighter, has attained operational certification to carry the B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bomb, marking it as the first 5th generation aircraft with nuclear capabilities. With this milestone achieved ahead of schedule, the F-35A becomes a pivotal component of the US and NATO's extended deterrence commitments. This development highlights the aircraft's versatility as a dual-capable platform, capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. As NATO-operated jets receive initial certification for the deterrence mission, the integration of the B61-12 further enhances the F-35A's combat capability, solidifying its role in modern warfare.

F-35 Lightning II: Now Nuclear-Capable, Ushering in a New Era of Combat

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has been touted as being the most advanced multirole combat aircraft in service in the world today, and according to a new report – it is now a nuclear-capable warbird.

Breaking Defense first reported on Friday that the F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant, has been operationally certified to carry the B61-12 thermonuclear gravity bomb.

In a statement, F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) spokesman Russ Goemaere told Breaking Defense the certification was achieved on October 12, months ahead of a pledge to NATO allies that the process would wrap by January 2024. An undisclosed number of F-35As will now be capable of carrying the B61-12, officially making the stealth fighter a "dual-capable" aircraft that can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

"The F-35A is the first 5th generation nuclear-capable aircraft ever, and the first new platform (fighter or bomber) to achieve this status since the early 1990s. This F-35 Nuclear Certification effort culminates 10+ years of intense effort across the nuclear enterprise, which consists of 16 different government and industry stakeholders," said Goemaere. "The F-35A achieved Nuclear Certification ahead of schedule, providing US and NATO with a critical capability that supports US extended deterrence commitments earlier than anticipated. "

As previously reported by Maya Carlin for The National Defense in December, some North Atlantic Treaty Organization-operated jets had received "initial certification for the deterrence mission."

The F-35A is only certified to carry the B61-12 variant, the latest variant of the United States military's B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs. It is a combination of new and refurbished components from earlier variants including the B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, and B61-10. Moreover, the certification additionally does not extend to the stealth jet's sister variants, the short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B and carrier-launched F-35C.

The B61-12, which is twelve feet long and weighs approximately 825 pounds, is an air-launched nuclear gravity bomb that utilized an inertial navigation system (INS) to make a precision strike on a target. It was first integrated with the U.S. Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle, where it is carried externally. The weapon will also be certified to be carried on the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit strategic bomber, as well as the F-16C/D fighter.

Analysis from the Federation of American Scientists reports that as of last summer, there are approximately 100 older variants of the B61 bombs housed by NATO forces in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The first of those nations either currently or plan to operate the fifth-generation stealth fighter.

Getting the F-35 Ready For the Nuclear Mission

In 2021, the F-35A became the first fifth-generation platform to near certification as a nuclear-capable airframe. The improvements to the already-advanced F-35 will boost the combat capability of the stealth fighter jet. These improvements will allow it to penetrate hostile airspace without warning and possibly be a part of the United States military's nuclear triad.

Unlike with the other fighters, including the F-15 and F-16, the B61-12 will be carried internally in the F-35.

The B61-12 was first successfully flight-tested to carry the B61-12 nuclear bomb at the Sandia National Laboratories' Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, in late 2020. An F-35A carried a mock warhead, which was used in a strike from an altitude of 10,500 feet, as part of a full-weapons systems demonstration that was designed to increase confidence the bomb would “work when needed.”

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers Would Be Sunk in a War with China

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 15:07

Summary: As tensions rise between the U.S. and China, military strategists analyze the growing threat posed by China's anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) like the DF-21D and DF-26B. While the U.S. Navy has successfully countered missile strikes so far, the prospect of facing these advanced weapons in a conflict with China raises concerns about the effectiveness of aircraft carriers, long considered the backbone of U.S. naval power. With both sides possessing formidable arsenals, we must question the role of carriers in modern warfare and whether a potential conflict might escalate beyond conventional naval battles.

Countering China: Assessing the Risks to America's Aircraft Carriers

Military planning is about considering the numerous hypothetical scenarios – such as how and where an enemy might strike, but more importantly whether and even how a potential foe's weapons systems can be countered. No doubt America's enemies likely have considered how to hit and sink an aircraft carrier – and it is just as likely U.S. Navy officials have been kept up at night worrying about such an unthinkable event.

The sailors of the United States Navy must do everything right absolutely every time, while an enemy only has to get lucky once. That fact is no doubt understood by the sailors who have been serving in the Red Sea, facing missile and drone strikes launched by Houthi rebels operating in Yemen.

So far the United States Navy has a perfect record, countering every missile fired at its warships. Arguably the odds are stacked in favor of the U.S. military, which has the best and most advanced air defense systems in the world operated by highly trained sailors.

In a conflict against China, however, the odds could shift.

As previously reported, three decades ago, China introduced its DF-21D (Dong Feng-21, CSS-5), a medium-range, road-mobile ballistic missile. It has been described as the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) or "carrier killer." Designed to replace the obsolete Dong Feng-2 (CSS-1), it was China's first solid-fuel road-mobile missile to use solid propellant. Able to deploy a 600 kg payload with a minimum range of 500 km (311 miles) and a maximum range of 2,150 km, the DF-21D’s warhead is likely maneuverable and may have an accuracy of 20 m CEP (circular error probable).

Beijing has since developed multiple DF-21 variants, including a dual nuclear/conventional capable version (DF-21C) and another designed as an anti-ship ballistic missile (DF-21D). In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) also revealed that it believed a new nuclear variant, the DF-21E CSS-5 Mod 6) was also being produced.

Moreover, while the DF-21D could be used near the "home waters" of China, Beijing has also developed another missile that poses a threat to warships operating throughout much of the Indo-Pacific region.

This is the DF-26B (Dong Feng-26), a road-mobile, two-stage solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile that was first unveiled during a military parade in September 2015. It has a reported range of 4,000km (2,485 miles) and it can be used in both conventional and nuclear strikes against ground as well as naval targets.

\The mobile launcher can carry a 1,200 to 1,800 kg nuclear or conventional warhead, and as it could directly strike a target such as the U.S. territory of Guam in the event of war it should be seen as a formidable weapon. More ominously, the DF-26B has been described as a carrier killer due to how it could be used to target the U.S. Navy’s fleet of Nimitz- and Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered supercarriers.

Aircraft Carrier Vs. The Carrier Killer

Aircraft carriers were vital during the Second World War in defeating Japan in the Pacific, and the flattops have proven vital in confronting aggression during the Cold War and throughout the Global War on Terror (GWoT). Yet, the number of carriers has actually diminished even as the United States Navy operates 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – more than any other nation in the world.

Instead of having a large fleet of conventionally powered carriers, the United States relies on a smaller number of massive flattops. The question now is whether the United States Navy could risk such vessels in a conflict against a near-peer adversary, notably China.

Losing a single carrier would be devastating as it couldn't be quickly replaced.

Yet, a war against China wouldn't simply be a replay of World War II. Even if the conflict were to be fought in the Indo-Pacific, it wouldn't be an island-hopping campaign. More importantly, U.S. bombers can already strike any spot on the globe thanks to aerial refueling fly CONUS-to-CONUS missions.

Thus, the hypothetical is whether carriers are now the weapons needed for a war against China. It is unlikely that such a conflict would be decided by even a single decisive naval battle. Rather it would likely be one of stealth bombers, missiles and possibly even nuclear weapons should the conflict escalate to that point.

Yet, the point remains that if an enemy has enough missiles, drones, aircraft, submarines, etc. – a carrier is going to be sunk. But that goes both ways. China can ill afford to lose its capital ships any more than the U.S.

Perhaps that realization is enough that cooler heads will prevail again, and keep any potential Cold War 2.0 from turning hot.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

Image Credit: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

World Forgot Plight of West Azerbaijanis

Foreign Policy Blogs - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 14:09

Across the world, media outlets and non-governmental organizations are speaking about the plight of Armenian settler colonialists in Karabakh, who left their homes voluntarily.   For example, the International Crisis Group recently published a report, proclaiming: Armenia is having problems integrating over 100,000 refugees who fled Nagorno-Karabakh when Azerbaijan took control of the enclave in September 2023. Yerevan has tried to be generous, but it lacks funds and a long-term plan, leaving the displaced people exposed and facing an uncertain future.” 

They discussed the difficulties faced by Armenian settler colonists who left their homes voluntarily upon return to Armenia, while remaining deafly silent about the plight of the West Azerbaijanis, who faced similarly difficulties and who unlike these Armenians were the indigenous inhabitants of the land and not settler colonialists, whose presence in Karabakh violated four UN Security Council resolutions.  Similarly, the European Commission just released a statement, proclaiming: “the Commission is allocating an additional €5.5 million in humanitarian aid to support the Armenians displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.”

Underlining EU’s humanitarian support to Karabakh Armenians, Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said: This is the first winter for thousands of Karabakh Armenians who fled to Armenia last Autumn. In these challenging times, it is our humanitarian duty to provide protection and assistance to the people most in need. With this new €5.5 million funding, we will aim to further strengthen the existing EU humanitarian response to the displaced people in Armenia, by providing them with access to basic services.”

Interestingly, when Israel evacuated 9,000 Jewish settlers from 22 settlements in the Gush Katif community in the Gaza Strip, the European Union did not provide any of the Israelis who were displaced from their home with financial assistance, including in the winter months.  This remained the case, even though decades onward, not everyone who was evacuated from their homes has been able to establish a new home and a new life.  In fact, the Europeans praised Israel’s evacuation from Gaza, even though it led to this grave humanitarian disaster for the residents of Gush Katif and the brutal Hamas terror organization taking over the coastal strip.    So, why the compassion for the Karabakh Armenians and not the Israeli evacuees? Is this not hypocrisy?   Furthermore, why did the Europeans not raise a finger to help the West Azerbaijanis, whom no one ever argued were settler colonialists?   

Chairman of the Management Board of the Western Azerbaijani Community, MP Aziz Alakbarli, recently stated that today the world speaks about the plight of Karabakh Armenians, even though they are settler colonialists, but not the West Azerbaijani community, who are indigenous to the land: “the Western Azerbaijani Community does not accept the injustice committed against the western Azerbaijanis not only in the last 100 years but also in the last two centuries and rejects the consequences of this injustice. Based on the right of return established in the Convention and other important international acts, it declares as its main goal to create conditions for the return of Azerbaijanis expelled from the territory of Armenia to their homeland and to ensure their individual and collective rights after returning there.”         


The Military Strategy that Could Make Aircraft Carriers Floating Graveyards

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 13:25

Summary: The decline of America's "unipolar moment" and the rise of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems signal a critical juncture for US military strategy. These inexpensive but effective defenses challenge the utility of America's costly offensive platforms, like aircraft carriers, against near-peer adversaries. The proliferation of A2/AD capabilities to smaller states and non-state actors further complicates US power projection globally. As enemies like the Houthis potentially gain access to such technologies through backers like Iran, China, or Russia, the US Navy must innovate or face diminishing operational spheres, highlighting the urgent need for advancements in drone swarms, submarines, and hypersonic weapons to maintain strategic relevance.

Beyond the Super Carrier: Adapting US Naval Power for the A2/AD Era

It has become trite to say that America’s “unipolar moment” has ended. Sadly, it has ended. Yet, the elites who run US foreign and national security policy have yet to realize this tragic reality. The longer that they continue operating as if it is 1994 as opposed to 2024, the more likely the US military will suffer its greatest defeat since the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. Understanding the grave threat that relatively inexpensive defensive systems, such as anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), pose to America’s wildly expensive—and complicated—offensive weapons platforms, such as its aircraft carriers, is an important step for US policymakers. 

The longer that US policymakers fail to consider the rise of these A2/AD systems, the more insecure America becomes.

As Steven Stashwick of The Diplomat wrote way back in 2016, “the United States is already paying much more for a proportionally smaller increase in combat performance, a diminishing future operational return on increasing military investments.” Citing both the Ford-class aircraft carrier and the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation warplane as examples of the diminishing operational return on increasing military investments, Stashwick suggested that US war planners abandon the concept of decisively defeating a near-peer rival in combat. Instead, Stashwick believes the Americans should simply seek to deny their rivals from winning.

Interestingly, America’s greatest rivals—notably China—have so thoroughly perfected their A2/AD capabilities that even attempting to deploy expensive systems, such as the aircraft carriers, into areas that are home to these dangerous A2/AD systems would be wasteful. 

So, if the US cannot use its greatest naval power projector against near-peer rivals due to their A2/AD capabilities, when and where could these assets be used? 

Fighting Smaller Enemies

Aircraft carriers would be useful, as they have been over the last 79 years since the end of the Second World War, in regions where the enemies of the United States lack these A2/AD capabilities. However, the problem is that both China and Russia are rapidly proliferating these systems to smaller states and transnational terror organizations because they understand that A2/AD stunts the ability of the US military to project power. 

Take, for example, the situation currently plaguing global shipping around the Middle East. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels operating out of Yemen are increasingly threatening the safety of global shipping through regions, such as the Red Sea and the Strait of Bab El-Mandeb.

Despite having been terrorizing the high seas since last October, the US Navy, which has many assets in the region, has stayed its hand in responding to the Houthi threat directly. Because of its hesitancy to respond, the Houthis have only been more encouraged to continue antagonizing the situation, believing the US Navy will not directly respond to their endless provocations. 

In fact, the Houthis have gotten so bold that they just recently launched a massive attack consisting of 21 advanced offensive drones and directed them to attack nearby US Navy warships. 

The Navy warships dispatched the Houthi drones (which were provided by the Iranians, the chief benefactor for the Houthis) with relative ease. But, as a colleague and expert in military affairs quipped to me shortly after that event, all these attacks against US Navy assets are merely data-gathering missions. 

The Houthis are escalating at every engagement with the Navy. With each engagement, they learn invaluable intelligence about the Navy’s defensive capabilities.

Will Even the Houthis Threaten US Aircraft Carriers & Capital Ships?

It would not be too difficult for this tiny terrorist organization to suddenly be handed A2/AD capabilities by their Iranian, Chinese, or Russian allies. Such systems would only allow for the Houthis to operate with even more impunity than they’ve already been operating under. And the US Navy seems willing to oblige even these tinier threats by not innovating their own effective countermeasures to the growing global A2/AD threat. 

So, until they do, the world will become smaller and smaller for US forces. Specifically, there will be fewer areas in which US carriers and other capital ships could operate with the kind of impunity they’ve become accustomed to since the end of the Cold War. 

Yes, given A2/AD capabilities being fielded by rivals, like China, US carriers will be increasingly relegated to operating in ancillary areas of interest. But China and its autocratic allies will not be content to simply keep US power projection out of their respective regions. 

Instead, they’ll seek to rollback US power everywhere. Even groups like the Houthis will suddenly become important destinations for A2/AD capabilities. 

The Navy needs to take the development of massive drone swarms, the expansion of its submarine fleet, and hypersonic weapons systems much more seriously than it has. Otherwise, even the Houthis will possess the means to sink US carriers—thereby ensuring that those systems could not be deployed to even places like Yemen.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

China's Age of the Aircraft Carrier Is a Nightmare for the U.S. Navy

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 13:15

Summary: China's People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is rapidly expanding its aircraft carrier fleet, aiming for five to six carriers by the 2030s. Despite the global shift towards sophisticated anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems that challenge naval power projection, China continues to invest heavily in carriers. This strategy underscores China's ambition to dominate the Indo-Pacific, particularly the First Island Chain, leveraging A2/AD systems to create a defensive "bubble" that enables its carriers to operate with impunity. Unlike the US, China’s carriers are not the centerpiece of its maritime power; instead, its A2/AD capabilities are, facilitating regional dominance and deterring US intervention.

China’s Naval Ambitions: Beyond the Expansion of Its Aircraft Carrier Fleet

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been building a fleet of increasingly sophisticated aircraft carriers. What began as the butt of all jokes in the naval community—China’s Russian-built aircraft carrier called the Liaoninghas helped the PLAN develop into a robust (though untested and still limited) carrier force. Possessing three total aircraft carriers, with a fourth on the way, China is churning out their aircraft carriers like sausages (thanks to the mass production capabilities that Wall Street handed over to China during the deindustrialization craze that befell America in the middle of the last century). The fourth carrier in China’s growing fleet is rumored to be nuclear (the other three are non-nuclear).

China’s naval planners desire to have five or six aircraft carriers in their fleet by the 2030s, according to Wang Yunfei, a retired PLAN officer with knowledge about Beijing’s carrier plans. 

This begs the question, though, how many carriers does China really need? 

And that gets us to the underlying problem facing most great powers today, which is that the advent of sophisticated anti-area/access-denial (A2/AD) systems has complicated the ability of navies everywhere to project power beyond their shores. 

At least that’s the case for the US Navy. 

China Plans to Use Aircraft Carriers Within The Bubble

So, if A2/AD has seriously stunted the ability of surface fleets to move their assets within striking range of distant targets—and China’s military has led the way in this revolution—why is Beijing dumping so much money and resources into developing their own aircraft carrier capability? 

It's because, despite their awful human rights record and authoritarian regime, China is led by actual military strategists not politicians. 

For China, they have a multi-step strategy for dominating the Indo-Pacific—starting with the First Island Chain. There are three island chains, each radiating out from the previous one. The First Island Chain runs from Japan through Taiwan all the way down to the Philippines. The Second Island Chain consists of the tiny South Pacific Islands that track from the Japanese island of Okinawa all the way out to U.S.-controlled Guam. The third and final chain comprises Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and jogs down to the Hawaiian Islands. 

For China to dominate the Indo-Pacific it must ultimately come to control all three chains. Their main priority now, however, is to dominate the First Island Chain. That’s where China’s sprawling A2/AD constellation throughout the South China Sea, for instance, comes into play. From these forward-deployed positions, China’s A2/AD systems can rebuff most attempts by US Navy surface warships to come within range of Chinese forces that may be engaged in an invasion—or even a blockade—of Taiwan or some other hostile action against another US ally, such as the Philippines. 

Without the ability to reliably project power against Chinese forces in the First Island Chain, Beijing’s forces suddenly have a strategic freehand in what they view as their sphere of influence.

In essence, A2/AD systems create a nearly impenetrable “bubble” to shield Chinese military forces from American military retaliation. Underneath the protective A2/AD bubble is where Chinese carriers will operate—presumably out of range from American offensive systems. With the US Navy’s biggest power projectors, aircraft carriers, kept away, China’s carriers will have free reign to operate and intimidate. 

This, of course, is the purpose behind China’s robust arsenal of A2/AD systems. 

The Aircraft Carriers is Not the Centerpiece of China's Power Projection

Unlike the US Navy, China’s aircraft carriers are not the center of gravity for their fleet. These systems are ancillary. The lynchpin of China’s offensive maritime strategy is oddly in their defensive A2/AD systems. 

These systems are specifically tailored to keep the bulk of US naval power back, giving China’s other naval assets—like their less sophisticated aircraft carriers—the room to enhance their national interest in the First Island Chain and keep US power back over-the-horizon. 

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

The U.S. Navy's Aircraft Carrier Nightmare Can't Be Solved

The National Interest - Mon, 11/03/2024 - 13:02

Summary: The US Navy faces significant challenges in missile defense against the complex anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems of adversaries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Despite possessing advanced defensive systems, the sheer volume of potential missile attacks can overwhelm US warships, especially aircraft carriers, rendering them liabilities. The theft of classified defense system designs by Chinese cyber spies exacerbates this vulnerability. To counter this growing threat, experts argue for a strategic shift towards long-range warfare, including the development of offensive drones, enhanced submarine capabilities, and US hypersonic weapons, to bypass A2/AD defenses and ensure effective power projection.

From Sea to Cyber: The Growing Challenge of Protecting US Warships and Aircraft Carriers 

The US Navy (indeed, Washington in general) seems to be averse to basic arithmetic.

Whether it be the massive deficit spending or even something as simple as protecting US warships from massive numbers of Chinese, Russian, Iranian, or North Korean missiles and hypersonic weapons associated with their increasingly complex arsenal of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems. 

For example, US Navy warships have some of the world’s most sophisticated defense systems meant to protect the ship from incoming antiship missiles. 

These systems are some of the most expensive and complex in the world. Yet, no amount of complexity can provide the kind of consistent and comprehensive shield that US warships require in the face of the growing A2/AD threat to their safety. This is especially true of US aircraft carriers which, if lost or seriously damaged, would quickly go from the Navy’s greatest power projection weapons platform to its greatest—most expensive—liability. 

A Simple Equation Long Forgotten

Basically, it’s a simple math equation.

US warships can only defend themselves from a certain number of incoming missiles at once. American rivals, notably China, understand this fact. That’s why they’ve tailored their A2/AD systems to being able to overwhelm the Navy’s most sophisticated defensive systems.

While the Navy certainly has defenses against a certain number of incoming ballistic missiles, there are no known defensive countermeasures available to Navy warships that will protect against Chinese or Russian hypersonic weapons. 

Staying with the mundane mathematics of missile defense, the Navy does not have limitless capabilities to defend their warships against attack once within range of A2/AD systems. What’s more, in 2013, the Washington Post revealed that the Pentagon had suffered a serious breach of its cybersecurity. Chinese cyber spies hacked into the Pentagon’s supposedly secure network and stole the classified designs for more than two dozen key US weapons systems. 

Among those systems were the designs behind the Navy’s Aegis-class Destroyer’s ballistic missile defense system. This system is one of the most advanced ballistic missile defense systems in the world. Aircraft carriers operate a similar, though, different system known as the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS). China’s hacking of the schematics for the Navy’s Aegis defense system not only means that China can build their own versions of this system. It also means that they can develop capabilities to overcome the systems employed on countless American warships. China has likely already tested their A2/AD systems against the data they stole from the Pentagon on the Navy’s shipborne missile defense systems and believe that they can overcome whatever defenses US warships employ.

If the enemy can overwhelm your missile defenses by simply throwing too many missiles in one barrage, then your ship is sunk. At the very least, in the case of aircraft carriers, the flight deck is badly damaged basically making the flat top a wasting asset on the battlefield. At that point, it’d become a race to both keep the ship from getting more damaged and taking it out of the battlespace before it was sunk. 

Long-Range Warfare is the Future

The Navy has known for over a decade that China and its autocratic allies have had their number when it comes to stunting American power projection. Despite this fact, the Navy and the political class that oversees them have decided to continue operating as if the threat is nonexistent. Meanwhile, China and its autocratic allies have continued enhancing their ability to deny large portions of the world map to the US Navy when the inevitable great power war erupts. 

What should have been—and must now—be done is for the Navy and the rest of Washington to fundamentally rethink its force structure. Looking at China’s threat to the US Navy in places like the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait, the current paradigm will not yield victory for the US Navy. It will lead only to mass carnage, humiliation, and a bitter defeat at the hands of China’s advanced antiship and hypersonic missile forces. 

If the Navy is one of the key components of America’s power projection into contested environments, and America’s enemies have developed effective ways of stunting that power projection, then the Navy and the rest of the military must invest in new technologies and capabilities that circumvent these A2/AD defenses.

Notably, the US should expand its commitment to building large swarms of offensive drones, it must enhance its submarine fleet, and it needs to develop effective hypersonic weapons systems of its own. Warfare among great powers will increasingly be fought at a distance. The Navy and other branches could develop these long-range strike capabilities that could knock out known A2/AD emplacements. 

Once those are taken care of, then more conventional power projection methods can be resorted to. 

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy. 

Military Aid Will Not End Terrorism in Africa

The National Interest - Sun, 10/03/2024 - 18:08

As the Islamist military group al-Shabaab continues to pose a threat to Somalia, the United States continues to take action. In February, the administration announced its plan to build five new military bases for Somalia’s Danab brigade, an elite special operations unit of 3,000 soldiers trained and equipped by U.S. troops to fight terrorist group al-Shabaab.

However, the U.S.’s continued emphasis on security over democracy in its dealings with African countries is not making the continent any safer. The data is clear on this point: Africa has seen a twenty percent uptick in fatalities from Islamist violence (with 83 percent of those fatalities occurring in the Sahel and Somalia) alongside six coups since 2021.

These issues are inextricably linked to U.S. policy. American policymakers’ efforts to combat Islamist groups via regional military assistance have inadvertently spurred military coups. Instead, the United States must alter its emphasis on military aid towards diplomacy and democracy to combat these groups’ influence effectively.

Niger offers a case study of this phenomenon. Although the United States eventually ended military aid to the country after the July 2023 coup led by Nigerien General Abdourahmane Tchiani, it continues to operate an “expensive and ineffective” drone base that houses 1,100 American troops. At least five members of Niger’s junta received military training from the United States, including Tchiani, who attended a seminar on counterterrorism at the National Defense University in Washington, DC from 2009 to 2010.

The link between military training and coups is no coincidence. While discussing their 2017 article, Jesse Dillion Savage and Jonathan Caverly noted, “By strengthening the military in states with few counterbalancing civilian institutions, U.S. foreign military training can lead to both more military-backed coup attempts, as well as a higher likelihood of a coup’s success.” According to the authors, the “professional identity” of the military gives soldiers a sense of separation and superiority in relation to their government, which could lead to a “temptation to intervene in political affairs.”

The chain of events for these coups is clear. The United States provides security assistance to the military of a state facing an insurgency, only for that military to turn against the civilian government in the name of fighting said insurgency. The leadership of the juntas in Burkina Faso and Niger both claimed that the civilian government had failed to deal with insurgent violence. Meanwhile, civilians continue to suffer under the rule of repressive regimes and face violence from insurgents and soldiers alike.

Despite these failings, the Biden administration is pursuing the same policy in Somalia. Security assistance to Somalia is not a new policy, as the United States provided $500 million in assistance to the Somali military between 2010 and 2020, notwithstanding the additional $2.5 billion it has sent to different African Union missions in the country. While President Trump withdrew all 700 U.S. troops from Somalia in 2020, President Biden later reversed this decision and returned an estimated 450 soldiers to the country. The United States has also supported the Somali military with drone strikes, launching 262 attacks since 2007.

But this aid has not led to the defeat of al-Shabaab. Although a recent offensive by the Somali National Army and its clan militia allies, along with drone strikes by the United States and Turkey, had success in taking back towns and villages in Hirshabelle and Galmudug in central Somalia, al-Shababb has proven to be a national fixture. The group gains $100 million in annual revenue from extorting taxes from Somali civilians and intimidates local businesses in Mogadishu through attacks with improvised explosive devices.

Al-Shabaab’s success is directly linked to the ineffectiveness of governing institutions in Somalia. The rule of law is nearly nonexistent—as indicated by its 0/16 score across all “Rule of Law” categories in Freedom House’s 2023 rankings. Political authority remains divided, and corruption is rampant. Grievances from these conditions assist the group’s recruitment while also allowing al-Shabaab to take on a governing role by providing essential services to local populations and implementing a Sharia-based legal system.

The Somali government’s weakness means that al-Shabaab will retain its influence for the foreseeable future. If the government remains weak as the military gets stronger through U.S. aid and training, a military takeover becomes more likely—and Somali civilians will continue to suffer.

The United States must reject its military-focused approach to Somalia to prevent this outcome and engage with its civil society. This approach requires the United States to adjust its target. “Western governments must therefore be ready to engage not only a junta and its supporting forces but also local officials, civil society groups, and religious and community leaders,” argued Joseph Sany and Kehinde A. Togun in Foreign Affairs.

Engaging with local groups and businesses through conversations and displays of mutual recognition will help promote democracy by empowering Somalia’s civil society. From this position of strength, these groups can better advocate for policies to improve the lives of Somalians—such as by improving infrastructure or implementing business-friendly policies—despite facing repression from the central government and al-Shabaab.

Another tangible step the United States could take in this regard is to increase bilateral trade between the United States and Somalia, specifically by accepting Somalia’s application to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides African countries increased access to U.S. markets through the removal of import tariffs on African goods. The increased investment resulting from improved trade ties can improve Somalia’s poor economic growth, helping set the conditions for higher wages and better access to education and healthcare. Somali businesses and workers should not be punished for the democratic failure of its government, as the Biden administration decided regarding Gabon, Niger, Uganda, and the Central African Republic.

Unfortunately, none of these proposals can be effectively implemented in the throes of a civil war. This means that the Somali government must engage with al-Shabaab and local authorities to achieve some consensus on governance for Somalia. The United States ought to focus on helping leaders open lines of communication through proactive negotiations so that both sides can gain a deeper understanding of each other’s long-term objectives while also working towards a ceasefire that allows for the free flow of people and goods. Complete agreement on a proper course of action is unlikely. Still, U.S. and Somali leaders alike should focus on creating the conditions for all sides to mutually exist without conflict, whether this includes integration or another approach.

There is no magic formula for making Somalia—and Africa as a whole—generally safer for its people. But it’s clear that an emphasis on democracy, diplomacy, and economic growth will go further than the U.S.’s continued prioritization of military aid.

William Rampe is a Young Voices contributor studying Government at Hamilton College. His commentary on foreign policy has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason,, and the Organization for World Peace. Follow him on Twitter @WRampe7.


What is the Point of the U.S. Military Presence in Syria?

The National Interest - Sun, 10/03/2024 - 17:38

Members of the U.S. military are sitting ducks in the Middle East, and in December 2023, eighty-four members of the Senate voted to keep them there because fewer U.S. troops in the Middle East could be a gift to Iran. In early December, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) brought forth a bill to remove 900 U.S. troops from Syria amid the barrage of drone attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan by Iranian-backed militias. Roughly a month after that vote, a drone attack on Tower 22 in Jordan killed three U.S. service members and injured dozens more. After the deadly January 28 attack, the Biden administration found itself trying to balance an impossible scale. How could it satisfy political pressure without inadvertently escalating tensions into a regional conflict?

On the surface, removing U.S. troops due to rising instability seems counterintuitive, but the question of reducing the number of troops is emblematic of a larger problem. The soldiers were initially deployed to a location without congressional authorization and remained there long after their original military mission was accomplished. The U.S. presence in Syria is part of a U.S.-led coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which began in 2014 to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Congress did not specifically approve OIR since the Obama administration relied on the 2001 and 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force as a legal justification. By bypassing Congress, the Obama administration circumvented Congressional oversight mechanisms and a framework that may have established clearer guidelines for concluding OIR.

Since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) regained control of Al-Baghouz in 2019, the United States declared that ISIS had been defeated but made no moves to reduce troop presence. OIR is still active, but instead of fighting to regain ISIS-held territory, the mission has shifted to the broader goal of ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS. The United States already has a mechanism to prime the SDF to counter ISIS activities, the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF), a program passed by Congress in 2014 to train, advise, and fund Syrian and Iraqi security forces. This perceived redundancy begs the question of whether or not troops deployed under OIR are necessary for preventing an immediate resurgence of ISIS or if a gradual reduction of troops coupled with continued CTEF support would be just as effective.

The drone strikes by militia groups and retaliatory strikes by the United States are also increasing tensions between the United States and Iraq. In response to the February 7 retaliatory drone strike that killed a senior member of Kataib Hezbollah, a spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani, Yahya Rasool, called the U.S. presence in Iraq “a factor for instability” which “threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict.”  The statement indicates a shift in perspective for Iraq and other host countries. Even though the U.S. troop presence initially provided stability against the threat of ISIS, the continued presence represents an opportunity for local militia groups to target Americans. On February 14, the United Arab Emirates imposed restrictions aimed at preventing the United States from launching retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian proxies from U.S. military bases in the UAE.

With the relationship between the United States and partner countries in the Middle East under strain due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and Iranian-backed militias targeting U.S. forces, it is time for the Biden administration and members of Congress to ask themselves if the existing troop presence is worth losing more American lives while also risking a broader war in the Middle East. Furthermore, the Department of Defense must reevaluate the goals and scope of ongoing troop deployments to the Middle East. Even if continued cooperation with partner security forces is essential for preventing a resurgence of ISIS, the Biden administration should consider options that avoid asking American troops to dodge rocket and drone attacks far from home.

Bree Megivern has a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. Her areas of interest are U.S. foreign policy, transatlantic security cooperation, and global development.