The ability of the United States to extend deterrence to key allies such as Australia and Japan and to partners such as Taiwan depends on two considerations. First, there are political considerations involving the credibility of the United States to honor its commitments and the willingness to bear the risks inherent in extending the US nuclear umbrella to another state. Second, the United States needs sufficient military capabilities—conventional and nuclear forces—to defeat the enemy’s military objectives or inflict unacceptable punishment on the enemy.
The Biden administration publicly released three major policy documents: the National Security Strategy (NDS), the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and the Missile Defense Review (MDR).
NDS intends to pursue a strategy focused on China. To this end, according to the NDS, China should avoid considering aggression as a viable means to advance goals that endanger US interests. The document states that the United States will deter China by leveraging existing and emerging force capabilities, postures, and activities to enhance deterrence and strengthen resilience, deterrence, combat, and rapid recovery. The NDS and NPR describe the benefits of modernizing the nuclear triad and nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) systems.
At the same time, the administration has announced on NPR that it will cancel the nuclear-capable sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) and retire the multi-megaton B-83-1 gravity bomb.
Moreover, the US Air Force plans to replace the F-15 fleet at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa with a rotational force, which would include deploying F-22s from Alaska after the departure of the F-15s. However, this raises concerns about gaps in the power structure and precisely which forces and which forces exist on the island. This move should have been implemented only if there was no capability gap and the F-15 was permanently replaced with the right number of capable aircraft. As it stands, the move diminishes the ability of the United States to present a conventional deterrent to China in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Biden administration is weakening the ability of the United States to credibly extend conventional or nuclear deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region.
There are three main problems with the Biden administration’s policy documents. First, it assumes that modernization of the triad underway this decade will be sufficient to meet the United States’ comprehensive barrier obligations. Only a small number of tactical nuclear weapons and no theater systems are in the US arsenal. In sum, there are no rungs on the escalation ladder for the United States, rejecting the Cold War power posture that devoted significant capabilities to tactical and theater nuclear weapons. Thus, Washington will be forced to move from conventional war to a strategic nuclear exchange. As Vladimir Putin is now signaling with Russia, this gives China every reason to expand its tactical and theater systems as well as its conventional systems. Threats of escalation by using tactical nuclear weapons to end the war – as the Russian doctrine recognizes “escalation to escalation”. China has options to avoid escalating to the level of drama that would localize a nuclear conflict and leave it to the United States to decide whether to escalate to a limited or major exchange of strategic arsenals between the two countries. Moreover, the US also faces Russia, so the US strategic nuclear arsenal is already taxed.
Second, collectively these documents assume that the US has time, can wait until the US modernizes its strategic systems and provides the right conventional force posture for deterrence—the enemy will not act before then. In fact, the Chinese regime has declared, at the 20th Party Congress in October, that the United States is their enemy and that they are determined to conquer Taiwan. They have reason to act before the Trio modernizes and the US and Taiwan can deploy the right power structure for their militaries. Therefore, if the US adversary acts on its timeline, believing that it is better to act immediately or in the near term, rather than later, to bring about the changes it seeks in global politics, the US faces something new. Risk window. More than years into the future, the Chinese regime has an incentive to use coercive measures against Japan, India, the Philippines or Taiwan when the US is still lagging behind.
Third, the trio of documents was a rare and wasted opportunity to tell the world that the United States is meeting its long-standing deterrence requirements by explaining what steps the administration is taking to address the serious threat. With additional details on NPR’s nuclear issues and MDR’s ballistic, hypersonic and cruise missile defenses, everyone can clarify what the US defense strategy is to match and defeat the threat posed by the Chinese regime. Everyone could have used the lessons of the Cold War when the United States was operating the prolonged embargo under difficult circumstances. Instead, the administration has produced reports that signal a lack of strategic focus on US weakness, uncertainty and threat. As the threat from China grows, the Biden administration weakens US military capabilities. Emboldened by his victory at the 20th Party Congress, Xi has declared his intention to replace the US and conquer Taiwan, and his perception of US weakness may invite his aggression and lead to the failure of US comprehensive deterrence.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.