The US, Ukraine crisis and the context of great powers

US Grand Strategy and great power competition

Prof. Monteiro stated, in his world-famous book “Theory of unipolar politics”, “When the unipolarity prevails in the world, the grand strategy of the unipole is the most important variable conditioning both the prospects for peace and the durability of a unipolar system.”  

The US grand strategy is significant factor mediating between the structure of international system and on the other hand conflict-producing and competition-inducing mechanisms. The grand strategy covers both military and economic issues. Monteiro defines three broad military strategies (offensive dominance, defensive dominance, disengagement) and two broad economic strategies (accommodation, containment).

Monteiro’s recommendation of the Grand Strategy for the US is “defensive accommodation”. This strategy combines a military strategy aimed at maintaining the international status quo with an economic strategy that makes room for accommodating the interests of rising major powers.

The US foreign policy 1990-2010 seems to be according to Monteiro’s framework but since then the situation has changed dramatically, when the US selected, in mid 2010s, an opposite strategy of “offensive containment” creating a continuum of crisis and escalating great power competition.

Position of the US as an unipole has been declining during last ten years (2012 – 2021) with an accelerating velocity, due to the unsuitable grand strategy and intensifying hard balancing (inter alia China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Turkey, India) worldwide.

The renewal of great power competition has led to a renewed emphasis on grand strategy and the geopolitics of great power competition. For the US, grand strategy can be viewed as strategy at a global or interregional level, as opposed to US strategies for individual regions, countries or issues.

From a US perspective most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. In response to this basic feature of world geography, US policymakers have chosen to pursue, as a key element of US national strategy, a goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia. Although not often stated in public, the goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia, US military operations in recent decades appear to have been carried out in support of this goal.

President Biden’s grand strategy seems to be a mix of value signaling and aggression, which represents a dangerous combination. The first refers to emphasis on so-called “Western values”, “democracy” and “human rights” ideals as manifested in information warfare campaigns against China and Russia. The second is proven by US attempts to assemble alliances to contain China and Russia by using the Quad, NATO and the US’ new proposal to create a competitor to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

Instead of using diplomacy and aiming to peace, the US is defying the movement towards polycentric / multipolar reality in the present world. In doing so, Washington is antagonizing relations, primarily with Russia and China. The confrontational policy is aimed also at driving a wedge between Europe versus Russia and China.

American goals in general and in Ukraine crisis particularly     

I have analyzed this issue in my articleCurrent situation in Ukraine crisisof November 30.

As stated, there is a huge disconnect between the officially stated goals and covertly pursued goals. The main purpose of the US is the full containment and militarily encirclement of Russia, which has been a major provider of cheap energy to Europe. The medium-term US tactics and goals were to confiscate more than $300 billion of Russian foreign reserves and to impose economic sanctions, which would turn the “Ruble to rubble” and trigger Russian economic collapse. This would create public unrest in Russia, which would enable a US sponsored colour revolution to depose Putin.

 The US long term goal would eventually be to fragment Russia into smaller states. Those smaller post Russian banana republics would each have puppet leaders appointed by the US, who would then foil the “belt and road” initiative of China, the next target of the US. All of these goals and chain of events have been outlined in many American official and think-tank documents, especially those from the Rand corporation.

The US is deliberately misleading Ukraine so it can use its territory to wage its war on Russia. The US has no real, vital national security interests in Ukraine. What matters to Washington is delivering a blow to Russia, seducing Russia into a conflict that will cause it to “overextend itself militarily or economically” (report of Rand Corp.), thus, rendering it incapable of projecting power beyond its borders. That’s the goal and that has been the goal, to “weaken Russia”. It’s all about power, pure geopolitical power.

In fact, American foreign policy elite and their close allies abroad have decided that the only way to prevent America’s economic and political decline and preserve the nation’s role as the world’s preeminent unipolar power, is through the use of military force. Clearly, that decision has already been made.

What can be seen in Ukraine and soon Taiwan, is further evidence that America’s foreign policy elite and its allies are not going to relinquish their top position in the world without a fight. This tells us that the transition away from the “rules-based system” will not be quick or bloodless. The emerging multipolar world, instead of the US unipolarity, depends eventually on the result of Ukraine war.

Deadly dangerous provocation – once again

Kiev’s regime appears to focus on various danger provocations, which, however, seem to be separate incidents. The list is long but the latest one may be the most dangerous, including decisive, direct American involvement in the strike on Russia. 

The 1970s-vintage Soviet recon drones, Tu-141, were reconditioned and converted by Ukrainian and American technicians into cruise missiles, fitted with new guidance systems and directed by American satellites to hit against Russian Dyagilevo and Engels air force bases on December 5 and 6. Ukraine itself does not have the capability to guide missiles on its own.

Russia’s Defense Ministry experts identified one of the weapons as the Tu-141 from fragments recovered after the missiles struck in a December 6 statement. Images from Engels airport show traces of the fall of the UAV close to the Tu-22M3 bomber. The explosion killed 3 people and injured 4 others. The bomber received damage to the tail, elevators and an engine.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces actively employ Soviet-era UAVs like Tu-141 (base range is approx. 1,000km). In particular, after the start of the crisis, the Ministry of Defense decided to increase the efficiency of its air reconnaissance. One of the projects was the development work on the modernization of the remaining Tu-141 UAVs. This modernization program is ongoing with the help from US/NATO specialists.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s claimed on Tuesday, Nov 6, that the United States had nothing to do with Ukraine’s missile strike against Russian air force bases. “We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia,” Blinken told reporters during a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Australian officials.

Military sources in NATO as well as Russia denied him, reporting that the Russian Tu-141 drones that Ukraine launched at Russian air bases downlinked US satellite GPS data to hit their targets.

Contrary to Blinken’s denial, the US provided guidance for the missile attack and Washington must be well aware that this brings NATO forces to the brink of direct involvement in the Ukraine war and the Biden administration must be prepared to run that risk. The damage that Ukraine inflicted on Russian planes at the two Russian bases is trivial compared with the strategic risk that the US has introduced into the conflict.

Recently, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley has warned several times on “military victories” in the Ukraine War. Milley’s mention of a “window” for peace talks during the winter pause in fighting provoked consternation among US officials who want victory at all costs. While Milley and US military leaders believe that the only way out of the war is negotiation with Russia, Biden’s Administration and the neocons as well as the US State Department and National Security Council are determined to achieve a military victory over Russia by any means necessary.

Ukraine doesn’t have the forces to mount an effective counteroffensive against the Russians, so a military solution presupposes NATO troops on the ground. The attack on the Russian bases might be intended to provoke a Russian response that would, in turn, justify the deployment of NATO ground troops in Ukraine. American satellites used to guide missiles into Russian territory, might be considered legitimate military targets from the Russian side but a Russian attack on US satellites could draw the US into a war with Russia.

Scandals in the US – Ukraine relations

There have been numerous scandals troubling their relations since Maidan 2014 color revolution. American business in general and certain rich businessmen have purchased vast real estate and agriculture land property, massive industry and other business ownerships in Ukraine and started GMO-grains cultivation. All these with suspicious means. Pentagon has established nationwide network of biolabs, whose functioning is not known. President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has made tens of million dollars in energy business and “consulting” in Ukraine, among others.

Now the latest scandal is Crypto FTX Scheme. The sudden collapse of American crypto exchange linked to the Democratic Party in the US, has revealed that FTX had $10-$50 billion in liabilities and virtually no assets and among those liabilities, are “investments” made by Ukraine’s leadership elite, headed by President Zelensky.

The company FTX, in its bankruptcy filing appears to have held tens-of-billions in American “military aid” to Ukraine. Instead of using the alleged funds to fight Russia, the money was instead invested in the FTX Ponzi scheme. From the bankruptcy filing it is clear that this money has now disappeared. The crypto money from unsuspecting clients was also used to fund the Democratic Party in the United States. More evidence has surfaced suggesting that the funds may have been stolen.

The founder and CEO of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, was one of the top donors to the Democrats, with only George Soros outperforming his largesse. Recently, he also shared a podium with such globalists like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Allegedly, Mr. Bankman-Fried transferred $10 billion of customer funds from FTX to the trading company Alameda Research, which is run by his girlfriend Caroline Ellison.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are currently looking into whether mishandled customer funds. Bankman-Fried is also being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for potential violations of securities rules.

American industrial warfare dilemma

The US has provided a staggering volume of military aid to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion: Stingers, Javelins, HIMARS, 155mm M-777 howitzers and other material and equipment, which have slowed down Russia’s invasion and Ukraine has regained some territories back. Although the US total military material inventories and production capabilities are large, however, some US inventories are reaching the minimum levels needed for war plans and training. The key judgment for both munitions and weapons is how much risk the US is willing to accept.

Behind the operational “success” lies an uncomfortable reality: the war in Ukraine has left US defense stockpiles significantly depleted. Current inventories do not strengthen a national security strategy that continues to support Ukraine while retaining the ability to assist Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

According to the Defense Department, in the six months from March to September, the US supplied Ukraine with more than 800,000 155mm artillery rounds. From Sept. 28 to Oct. 28, it donated another 100,000 rounds. The September production capacity was only 14,400 rounds per month. While the exact number of 155mm artillery rounds the US possesses is unknown, this gap between utilization and production will significantly deplete its reserves over time. The current plan to increase production capacity would incrementally bring the total number of 155mm rounds produced per month to 36,000 over the next three years. While this represents an improvement, even this will not address and backfill a depletion rate of more than 100,000 per month.

Other weapon systems face even more dire production challenges. The US has delivered more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine. Having been focused on counterinsurgency operations, Pentagon has not procured Stingers in more than a decade. Raytheon Technologies — the manufacturer of the Stinger — reported earlier this year that several materials used in the production of the Stinger are no longer available. As such, Raytheon will not be able to resume Stinger production until 2023.

As for the Javelin, ramping up production of both the system and missiles will be less challenging than the Stinger. The production of Javelin missiles could be upgraded from approximately 2,000 missiles per year to 4,000 over the span of several years. Furthermore, it is also not clear that 4,000 missiles per year will be sufficient, given the need to replenish depleted supplies, the strong potential for the war in Ukraine to continue and Taiwan’s need for similar systems.

The weapons used in Ukraine are already in high demand in Taiwan. The Biden administration has signaled military support for turning Taiwan into a fortress that would be costly to invade, thus deterring China from attacking.

The war in Ukraine has already strained defense procurements for Taiwan. In August, the island abandoned a contract to purchase 155mm M109 self-propelled howitzers after a 2023 delivery date was pushed back to 2026 due to supply chain stress. The replacement for the M109 will hardly relieve strains on the defense industry. Taiwan now plans to increase its purchase of HIMARS systems from 11 to 29 by 2027.

The US defense industrial base is operating in a distinctly different environment than it was five years ago — great power competition is again paramount and there is an unexpected need to replenish US military stockpiles. To properly support Ukraine, enhance Taiwan’s ability to defend itself against attack and maintain its own readiness, the US government must work to enhance the production capacity of critical weapons systems in the short and long term.

A bipartisan group of senators recently introduced the Securing American ARMS Act, legislation that would allow the Defense Department to replenish depleted stockpiles through the award of noncompetitive contracts to defense industry members. Although noncompetitive procurement practices should not become the norm, this will allow for the backfilling of stockpiles without a lengthy procurement process.

War in Ukraine exposes fragility of US and NATO weapons

According to US defense official estimates, Russia is firing a staggering 20,000 artillery rounds per day, while Ukraine is firing from 4,000 to 7,000 rounds daily. The fact is that Russia is firing 4 to 5 times more artillery shells than Ukraine every day.

Ukraine is quickly burning through their stockpiles of artillery rounds and other ammunition, including their air defense systems, while the US and NATO lack the industrial base to produce new supplies to fulfill Ukrainian needs and restore their own stockpiles. The war in Ukraine has a rate of artillery shelling not seen in a war since the Korean War. That intensity is so high that it’s putting a strain on the artillery pieces themselves.

According to the New York Times, which is reporting that a large portion of the approximately 350 howitzers provided by Western nations to Ukraine — including 142 American M-777 howitzers — are damaged, destroyed or simply breaking down from overuse. Citing multiple US defense officials, the report said that repeated use is wearing down the barrels. The artillery pieces have to be taken out of service and sent to a repair center outside of Ukraine.

Given the far higher rate of fire by Russian artillery pieces, logic suggests that Russia should be running into the same problem but it is not. Part of the explanation is that Russia has far more artillery pieces than Ukraine and those Russians systems are produced in superior quality that withstand the stress of multiple fires.

One cause for the poor performance of the American produced artillery pieces is a consequence of the US defense procurement process. During the last 40 years the United States has not had to fight a peer that could fire back with comparable rates of fire. As a result, the standard of performance specified in the request for proposal submitted to the U.S. defense contractors did not envision the rate of fire that the artillery pieces are doing on a daily basis in Ukraine. The defense contractors produced an artillery piece that met the minimum standard.

If Ukraine falters in its ability to maintain its existing level of fire along the battle front, it will be forced to retreat. Artillery has been one of the few weapons that has kept Ukraine in the fight. Ukraine has no air power to provide close air support and their supply of battle tanks is being reduced every day. Ukraine’s situation is made more dire, because neither the US nor NATO have an ample supply of new howitzers and ammo to send to Kiev.

Impending Audits

As if ongoing corruption crypto scandal (FTX scandal) was not enough, the troubled Biden administration is now faced with another one. Pentagon cannot account for $20 billion worth of weapons in Ukraine, while another $19 billion for Taiwan is missing.

According to the latest reports, the US government is unable to account for the approx. $20 billion worth of weapons it sent to the Kiev regime. The US Congress has become a place of heated debates as Republicans warn there will be “impending audits” after they take full control of the House of Representatives in January. The Biden administration inspected only 10% of approx. 22,000 weapons it sent to the Kiev regime from late February to November.

The GOP wants audits to determine, what is going on with the massive amounts of weapons the US is sending and how much of it is ending up “where it’s supposed to be.” Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has vowed to “hold our government accountable” for spending US taxpayers’ dollars for the sake of the corrupt Kiev regime.

Back in May, the Biden administration promised it would pledge more than $54 billion in the military, financial and humanitarian “aid” to the Kiev regime. On multiple occasions, the US government and the Pentagon indirectly admitted they were not able to track Ukraine-bound funds and resources after they reached the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Yet, weapons deliveries to the Kiev regime are hardly the only issue the US is faced with at present. Weapons the Biden administration promised to deliver to Taiwan have been considerably delayed and slowed as a result of the US commitment to arming Ukraine. It is estimated that Washington approved approximately $20 billion in arms sales to the government in Taipei since 2017. In late August, there was a $14 billion backlog in weapons sales to Taiwan. However, the latest data indicates that the number has now drastically increased to nearly $19 billion in delayed deliveries, according to a new estimate by The Wall Street Journal.

The information indicates that the US might not be able to respond effectively to a potential escalation of tensions in Taiwan. “The flow of weapons to Ukraine is now running up against the longer-term demands of a US strategy to arm Taiwan to help it defend itself against a possible invasion by China, according to congressional and government officials.

Somewhat ironically, many Washington and Taipei officials have consistently used the Ukraine crisis as a reference point to reinforce the narrative that the US “must urgently equip the island with everything it needs.” However, very few of them have admitted that the US Military Industrial Complex doesn’t have the production capacity necessary to concurrently arm the Kiev regime and the government in Taipei. This is especially true given the aforementioned issues with tracking weapons and other funds earmarked for the Kiev regime.

American military power and doctrines

After releasing the National Security Strategy (NSS), Biden’s Defense Department released the National Defense Strategy (NDS), ostensibly the military counterpart to the National Security Strategy. The NDS was released alongside two other documents, the Missile Defense Review (MDR) and Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). 

Based on some statements by experts of the US DoD combined with the subjects of the NDS, confirms that the United States is not prepared for an impending Eurasian war, not to mention a possible two-front war.  As the risks of such wars increase in the coming months, President Joe Biden’s administration should reconsider and change course to recognize that this is a decisive decade for military confrontation.

The NPR is far more relevant for the Biden administration’s strategic picture. It explicitly states that, given the multiple major-power threats the country faces, it is entirely possible that the US might need to use nuclear weapons to deter one Eurasian competitor from exploiting a Eurasian contingency and launching a war of conquest. In other words, nuclear brinksmanship is back on the table, even as the US narrows its nuclear options by delaying Minuteman-renewal (which is a massive work) and cutting new nuclear cruise missiles development.

But these apparently thorny issues of defense strategy and force structure vanish, if one assumes, as the Biden administration does, that a major war will not come for another 10 years, the US has time to prepare and that the most important step the country can take is to ensure its resilience, not its pure military power. Anyway, a nation goes to war with the military it has, not the one it wished it had.

November 2022, top US military commander warns American capabilities sinking.  The warning is that the power of America’s military deterrent is ‘fading’ – and that America might not be adequately prepared for a large-scale military engagement. Obviously, this is based on experience on Ukrainian protracted war, where the usage of ammunition and other military material has been massive and manifold compared to those estimates and plans by the American military experts.

“This Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup,” Navy Admiral Charles Richard, commander of US Strategic Command, said at a conference last week. “The big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be very long before we’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested” for “a long time.” According to Richard, things are getting worse. “China is putting capability in the field faster than we are and that is a very near-term problem.” This is a more urgent vulnerability than most of the American politicians care to recognize. China is producing new ships to their navy in much larger volumes than the US. In fact, China has passed the US Navy in numbers of surface battle ships, especially in large combatants.

Another sphere is hypersonic missiles, where both Russia and China are some years ahead of the US. As the US top military notes: “How we lost the hypersonic race to China and Russia deserves hearings in Congress.” Educating the public about US military weaknesses runs the risk of encouraging adversaries to exploit them. But the greater risk today is slouching ahead in blind complacency until China invades Taiwan or takes some other action that damages US interests or allies because Beijing thinks the US can do nothing about it.

The US Defense Department’s  “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” of November 29, reflects a grimly realistic rethinking of China’s military capacity in its home theater. Senior flag officers are saying that “we’re on a trajectory to get crushed in a war with China, which would likely be the most important war since WWII”. The strategic takeaway is that the US cannot win a firefight close to China’s coast and can’t defend Taiwan whether it wants to or not. The United States will enact a scorched-earth policy in Taiwan, destroying its semiconductor industry, if the PRC seizes the island.

What if?

As in the two previous articles, that of December 5 and that of November 30, I am going here to sketch some obvious trajectories and main consequences, in the case Russia is winning in the Ukrainian war.

The question is, what will happen to the US in this kind of context?

Firstly, it is necessary to recall the whole non-victorious series of American waged wars and military operations since WWII, just to mention some of them here like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Iraq and now Ukraine. The relevant question can be made: Has something really thoroughgoing taken place inside the US after those military defeats or losses? The reply is so far, NO … but some intuition says, this time is different. The biggest difference is now that this time there are two real great powers facing each other. In all previous cases mentioned above, there were the US versus some minor power or terrorist group.

Secondly, after November elections, Republicans got the majority in the Congress and President Biden will be more or less “lame duck” in his last two years as the president. The defeat in Ukraine would make a great success for Republicans in presidential elections 2024 and also the majority in both Senate and Congress. The American domestic politics would be stigmatized by bitter contradictions and deep conflicts, further in the rest of 2020s.

It appears now that the US is making a fatal strategic mistake in binding itself to Ukraine war and containing Russia instead of focusing for the estimated duel of the century, between the US and China in the Pacific theater of war. Even the present consumption of ammo and other military material, described above, which have been sent to Ukraine are surely away from the coming main scene, Pacific region.

No doubt, American domestic contradictions will reflect also in alliance relations around the world, deteriorating further the position of the US as a great power, in the same way as the ever-growing US debt burden and weakening position of US dollar. At the end of the day all these may lead to total collapse of the American empire before the end of this decennium, paving the way for a new era.