Courtesy Pixabay

Pres­ident Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan has dom­i­nated foreign policy head­lines in recent weeks.

During this same period, however, many news outlets have shown little interest in cov­ering America’s dete­ri­o­rating rela­tions with Russia and China. Over the past four weeks, Chinese pres­ident Xi Jinping has threatened forceful reuni­fi­cation of Taiwan, Beijing has floated the pos­si­bility of attacks on U.S. air­craft car­riers in the South China Sea, and Russia suc­cess­fully tested a hyper­sonic missile that appears nearly impos­sible to defend against.

Now, Trump’s decision to withdraw troops is hardly insignif­icant. On the con­trary, it rep­re­sents a major shift in U.S. foreign policy and holds serious impli­ca­tions for ongoing U.S. efforts to counter Russia, Iran, and the last rem­nants of ISIS.

And the sac­ri­fices of the brave men and women who have served our country in the Middle East since the Reagan admin­is­tration cannot be taken lightly.

Yet, despite the con­tinued strategic impor­tance of the Middle East, an increas­ingly tur­bulent geopo­litical land­scape means that the region is no longer the primary focus area of U.S. strategy.
Instead, as the 2018 National Defense Strategy explains, “The central chal­lenge to U.S. pros­perity and security is the reemer­gence of long-term, strategic com­pe­tition” from so-called “revi­sionist powers” China and Russia. These nations, the doc­ument states, are working “to shape a world con­sistent with their author­i­tarian model.” As such, they present a credible threat to American interests and security.

China’s rise in par­ticular poses a major chal­lenge for the U.S. Through a com­bi­nation of predatory eco­nomic prac­tices and sweeping infra­structure projects abroad, Beijing has grown in power and influence by exploiting cracks in the U.S.-led inter­na­tional order. “China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the U.S. as the world’s leading super­power,” explains Christopher Wray, Director of the FBI.

To counter the threat China and Russia pose to American interests and security, the Department of Defense must channel spending towards three main areas. First, it must con­tinue to mod­ernize an aging nuclear arsenal. Second, American sci­en­tists and engi­neers must con­tinue devel­opment of advanced weapons systems. Finally, mil­itary leaders must pri­or­itize refinement and imple­men­tation of arti­ficial intel­li­gence.

American leaders must pri­or­itize nuclear mod­ern­ization. By main­taining a nuclear arsenal, the U.S. deters foreign aggression, ensuring that con­ven­tional or nuclear attack remains strategic suicide. Former Sec­retary of State Ash Carter has called nuclear deter­rence “the bedrock of our security” and “the highest pri­ority mission of the Department of Defense.”

Nuclear deter­rence con­sists of three indi­vidual com­po­nents: land-based ICBM’s (inter­con­ti­nental bal­listic mis­siles), sea-based SLBM’s (sub­marine-based bal­listic mis­siles), and strategic bombers. Together, these ele­ments form what is known as the “nuclear triad.”

However, each “leg” of the American nuclear triad has become dan­ger­ously dated.

For example, the Min­uteman III system – the standard American ICBM – was intro­duced in 1970. The Ohio-class sub­marine, which forms the sea-based leg of the triad, was com­mis­sioned in 1981. And, despite being intro­duced in 1958, the B‑52H Strato­fortress makes up over 3/4 of the American nuclear-capable heavy bomber fleet. The U.S. has not even pro­duced a single nuclear warhead since 1988.

For­tu­nately, the Department of Defense plans to address each leg of the triad within the next decade. If the defense budget is flat­lined or cut, however, any of these nuclear mod­ern­ization pro­grams could be pushed back even further.

Com­pounding the problem of geopo­litical insta­bility, the rapid devel­opment of futur­istic mil­itary tech­nologies – coupled with advance­ments in arti­ficial intel­li­gence – has the potential to change how war is fought.

Within the past few weeks alone, for example, China was observed testing a ship-mounted elec­tro­mag­netic railgun, while Russia announced plans to deploy its Avangard hyper­sonic missile in 2019. Russia’s Avangard system is par­tic­u­larly con­cerning, as it is both nuclear-capable and reportedly can travel at a speed of 15,000 mph. According to U.S. offi­cials, each of these weapons is nearly impos­sible to defend against with current tech­nology.
To maintain the security of America and her cit­izens, the mil­itary must quickly develop ways to counter advanced weapon systems like these. Ensuring that the U.S. mil­itary remains the most tech­no­log­i­cally advanced fighting force in the world is crit­i­cally important.

The final step must be sus­tained U.S. investment in arti­ficial intel­li­gence (AI). In a 2017 study on the future of warfare, the Department of Defense called AI “the most dis­ruptive tech­nology of our time.” It has a host of potential combat and non-combat mil­itary appli­ca­tions, including advanced tar­geting systems, improved logistics, and real­istic training pro­grams.

However, the U.S. faces tremendous com­pe­tition in the AI race. In an effort to become the world leader in AI by 2030, China is spending bil­lions more per year on AI research, devel­opment, and appli­cation.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, America’s role as the premier global super­power is being chal­lenged. Revi­sionist regimes China and Russia have shown an increasing will­ingness to chal­lenge America’s role as the premier global super­power. In an effort to elim­inate American mil­itary supe­ri­ority, these nations are pouring sig­nif­icant resources into devel­oping advanced mil­itary tech­nologies.

How can the U.S. counter these chal­lenges? One thing is clear: The U.S. must pri­or­itize mil­itary spending to maintain deter­rence against potential adver­saries. By mod­ern­izing the nuclear arsenal, devel­oping advanced weapons systems, and winning the AI race, the U.S. can protect the safety of its cit­izens while pre­serving world sta­bility.

In a time of global tur­bu­lence and uncer­tainty, American leaders would be wise to follow one of the oldest prin­ciples of grand strategy: si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war.”