For the first time in decades, it is possible to imagine the United States fighting—and possibly losing—a large-scale war with a great power. For generations of Americans accustomed to U.S. military superiority and its ability to deter major wars, the idea of armed conflict between great powers may seem highly improbable.
The idea that the United States—with the most expensive armed forces in the world by a wide margin—might lose such a war would seem absolutely preposterous. Nevertheless, the possibility of war and U.S. defeat are real and growing.
Given that U.S. armed forces’ last major conventional combat operations were the massively lopsided victories against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991 and 2003, many Americans might be wondering how this could come to pass. This report makes the case that one salient issue is that the American way of war—the implicit and explicit mental framework for U.S. military strategy and operations—that coalesced after the Gulf War is no longer valid.
China and Russia have spent almost two decades studying the current American way of war. While the Department of Defense (DoD) has taken its military superiority for granted and focused on defeating nonstate adversaries, China and Russia have been devising strategies and developing new concepts and weapons to defeat the United States in a war should the need arise.
They have offset their relative weakness versus the United States by using time and geography to their advantage and by focusing their weapons- and concept-development efforts on finding ways to attack vulnerable nodes in U.S. military operations.
The goal of these strategies and concepts is to create a plausible theory of victory whereby China or Russia avoid a “fair fight” with the Joint Force and could therefore defeat the United States and its allies and partners in a regional war.
These Chinese and Russian strategies, which once seemed implausible or far in the future, are beginning to pay off. They are shifting military balances in key regions and pushing allies and partners to reconsider U.S. security guarantees.
Click here for the full report (50 PDF pages), on the CNAS website.