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China, Russia, Iran, North Korea? Just How Many Wars Can America Fight?

- THE NATIONAL INTEREST - Doug Bandow - DEC 16, 2021 -

Reality will force the United States to begin trimming military commitments. The question today is whether those in Asia—especially Korea—will survive.

Washington and Seoul are making new war plans to address North Korean force improvements. However, the Pentagon is rather busy right now. Military analysts are talking about possible conflicts involving Russia, China, and Iran. Could Washington handle a fourth conflict, and all at the same time?

According to CNN: “The US and South Korea will develop a new operational war plan to address the threat from North Korea, senior defense officials said Tuesday, as the Pentagon shifts its focus to the Indo-Pacific region following its recently completed global force posture review.” Officials say that the effort does not respond to any one incident but rather to the fact that the current plan is about a decade old.

The review reflects a greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development Mara Karlin explained: “The Global Posture Review directs additional cooperation with allies and partners across the region to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability and deter potential military aggression from China and threats from North Korea.” That is, the usual boilerplate.

However, the timing raises the question of how many crises the United States can handle at once. Over the weekend the G-7 met in the United Kingdom and issued a statement targeting Russia’s threats against Ukraine: “Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law. Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response.”

Although the focus is on economic sanctions, policymakers were considering a range of U.S. military options. One is to heavily arm Ukraine, send special operations forces to Ukraine to create a human tripwire, and encourage allies to do likewise. Another would expand the potential field of operations, threaten the Russian-supported breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with invasion, convince Turkey to favor the passage of allied warships into the Black Sea to gain naval superiority, and blockade the isolated Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Senator Roger Wicker proposed active combat involvement, using ground forces, ships, and even nuclear weapons.

Wouldn’t that be fun!

President Joe Biden said he would not “unilaterally use force to confront Russia.” That appeared to preserve the option of a multilateral response, however unlikely that might seem. Moreover, the greater the concentration of opposing forces, the greater the chance of mistaken or accidental conflict.


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