It may, if you believe the report issued by The United States Institute of Peace.
The US, says the report by this federal outfit, “might… lose a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”
The document outlines several possible scenarios. First, there’s China attacking Taiwan. And Russia goes China one better: it can hurt America in two ways.
It could invade the Baltics, NATO members all three of them. Or it could paralyse the US infrastructure with cyber attacks, which may or may not be followed by an assault on the Baltics.
Then there’s North Korea, which may attack its South neighbours, threatening to launch nuclear ICBMs on American cities should the US interfere.
And let’s not forget Iran that’s about to develop a nuclear capability, if it hasn’t already, which it may use for aggressive purposes.
Any of these scenarios have a whiff of doomsday about them, and some or all of them happening at the same time considerably more than just a whiff.
Yet I don’t think the danger is as imminent as all that.
This isn’t to say the fears are unfounded. Far from it: every possible flashpoint the USIP identified is real and smouldering. It would be irresponsible of the US and NATO not to prepare for any eventuality both physically and morally.
Moreover, either China or especially Russia definitely may play out one of those scenarios and drag the US into a war. But I think they’d lose.
Si vis pacem para bellum, said Vegetius – if you want peace, prepare for war. And prepare we must, reversing two decades of demob happiness following the ‘collapse’ of the Soviet Union.
That euphoria was encouraged by frivolous commentators, mostly of the neocon persuasion. A particularly inane academic actually declared that history had ended: liberal democracy had triumphed, the forces of evil had capitulated. End of story, end of debate – end of history.
Well, history has restarted since then, as it did when Hegel made a similarly empty boast after Napoleon’s victory at Jena – as history always does. The forces of evil, correctly identified by the USIP, are back and more menacing than ever.
Hence there’s little doubt that America’s military capability must be built up to the Cold War level at least, relative to the strength of any potential adversaries.
There’s even less doubt that Trump is right: other NATO members must match American military spending as a proportion of GDP.
However, provided we aren’t irresponsibly complacent, I don’t think either Russia or China, or even both of them together, could defeat NATO.
It’s not that I question the statistics presented by the USIP. Even though America’s military expenditure is greater than Russia’s and China’s put together, the combined might of those two evil empires does look formidable on paper.
However, wars aren’t fought on paper. Even in our time of sci-fi Star Wars, they’re fought by people killing other people. And the West does it better than the East.
One example illustrates this point. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941, calculations similar to those produced by the USIP would have suggested that the Wehrmacht would be instantly routed.
The Soviets had a threefold advantage in tanks in the immediate theatre, and a sevenfold one overall. Moreover, the quality of those tanks was incomparably better in every category – and the categories represented by Soviet T-34s and KVs didn’t even exist in the German panzer force.
Soviet artillery was a generation newer than German. The Soviet air force of 10,000 warplanes was bigger than the Luftwaffe, and held its own in quality. And of course the numerical strength of the Soviet army was unmatched.
Moreover, the Soviets had practically endless reserves of both manpower and materiel. Their tank factories in particular were churning out monsters faster than the rest of the world combined.
And logistically the Soviets enjoyed the benefit of fighting on familiar terrain and without the need to stretch their supply lines.
In short, rather than enjoying a three-to-one superiority recommended by military science for a successful offensive, the Wehrmacht was severely outgunned and heading for perdition – or so the proto-USIP would have maintained.
What followed instead was history’s greatest military debacle. The Soviet regular army was wiped out within days, with the Germans taking 4.5 million POWs in the next six months and getting to admire the Kremlin through their field glasses.
The most important reason for that was that the German army was Western and the Soviet one wasn’t.
Stalin’s hordes were made up of reluctant slaves driven by murderous and incompetent slave masters. They were treated as a herd, fought like one and ran like one.
Hitler’s army, on the other hand, was an army of citizens, who happened to live under a despotism at the time, but who nevertheless retained the Western military tradition of citizen-warriors.
Their rank-and-file and NCOs, to say nothing of officers, were encouraged to display initiative and improvise under pressure. By contrast, even Soviet generals couldn’t on pain of firing squad react to a rapidly changing situation without a direct order.
The Germans were commanded by generals like Rundstedt, educated at two academies, who had commanded a corps during the Great War.
Facing him at Kiev was a two-million-strong Soviet army group led by the barely literate Gen. Kirponos, who had been an orderly during the Great War and then a political commissar under the Bolsheviks.
That clash could have had only one outcome. The Germans took 600,000 prisoners (one of them my father) in that battle, and that’s by the official Soviet estimate.
One would have expected that Soviet soldiers, who were defending their country against a foreign invader, would display the sturdier morale. Yet the reverse was true.
The slaves didn’t want to fight for their masters and surrendered en masse, often fully armed and to the sound of regimental bands. Furthermore, over a million of them ended up fighting on Hitler’s side – a unique event in Russian, or any other, military history.
The Soviets were eventually made to fight by extreme violence. “There are no Soviet POWs,” declared Stalin. “There are only Soviet traitors.” Their families, explained Stalin’s henchman Zhukov, would be either shot or starved to death.
In the first days of the war, Soviet planes, rather than fighting the Luftwaffe, routinely strafed columns of Soviet POWs trundling into German captivity. And frontline troops were driven into battle by another uniquely Soviet feature of warfare: ‘blocking units’ of security troops machine-gunning retreating soldiers from the back.
God only knows how many were killed that way, but the official count of Soviet soldiers executed ‘judicially’ stands at 154,000 (the Nazis executed merely 8,000 of their own). Add to that number those shot out of hand, and we’ll realise that the Soviets inflicted on their own troops greater casualties than the US army suffered altogether.
This is here to stress the fundamental difference in military doctrine – in the very concept of war as an extension of civic ethos – between East and West. This explains why the West has ultimately won every conflict with the East, reversing any temporary setbacks.
The gap in the quality of human material between NATO and Russia is probably narrower now than it was between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
The West has grown softer, and the Russians en masse don’t hate Putin as much as the Soviets hated Stalin. But a gap still remains – as it certainly does between NATO and China.
When push comes to shove, I don’t think the impoverished Russian masses (75 per cent of Russians are poor or destitute) will want to die in apocalyptic numbers for the yachts and palaces of the Putin gang – and the Chinese will feel the same way about Xi.
Barring an all-out nuclear holocaust whose consequences no one can predict, I’m convinced that the West will repel any aggression by Eastern powers. Yet I hope this won’t be necessary.
War can be prevented by arming the West to the teeth – even at some cost to our welfare hand-outs and foreign aid to assorted tyrannies, including those that threaten us.
Even more important, the West must demonstrate firmness and resolve, for anything less may indeed spell disaster.