The top objective of U.S. foreign policy – and the primary purpose of our Armed Forces – is to keep America and our citizens safe. Anything that needlessly increases the risk to our safety should be avoided and all that contributes to it firmly reinforced. The absolute worst-case scenario for U.S. security would be to fight a two-front war with both China and Russia.
Since World War II such a possibility has been so remote as to warrant little serious consideration. Recent events, however, have pushed the potential into the realm of the possible. Great care must be taken to lower tensions before events spiral beyond our control, as we are faced with the nightmare scenario of squaring off against Moscow and Beijing simultaneously.
How a Two-Front War Could Begin
There is an emerging confluence of dynamics at play in the Indo-Pacific and in Eastern Europe that, if not managed well by Washington, could devolve to the point that the U.S. military is faced with a horrifying dilemma: choose to engage in a battle that could leave our Armed Forces fatally gouged or face humiliation by refusing to fight in the face of aggressive forces.
The potential flashpoint that could lead to such a situation would be the simultaneous decision by Beijing to use force to reunify Taiwan and Moscow to use force to conquer two provinces in eastern Ukraine. The chances of the coordinated events are not as outlandish as they might appear.
China has never been anything but direct and open about its willingness to use force to reunify Taiwan to the mainland. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has staked its reputation on the need to eventually “return” Taiwan to the communist fold. Russia has repeatedly shown that having NATO advance to its literal border is a red line, which if crossed, could trigger a military response. What is different now, however, is that both Beijing and Moscow have been taking significant, physical actions of late which would be necessary should either act on its threat to use force.
For the past couple of months, China has been dramatically increasing the number and frequency of air force fighters and bombers flying near or into Taiwanese airspace, as well as ramping up the number of warships and other vessels transiting the waters of the South China Seas. Were China to ever launch an attack of Taiwan, it would almost certainly precede the actual attack by desensitizing the Taiwan military to routine presence of warships and aircraft so that when the actual attack came, Taipei would be slow on the response.
After a meeting with NATO leaders on March 22, in Brussels, Ukrainian representative Dmytro Razumkov said Ukraine expected to be invited into the Membership Action Plan – a precursor to a formal invitation to NATO, “in the near future.” Days later, reports started emerging of Russian troop mobilizations in and near the Ukraine border. By April 8, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the number of Russian troops opposite Ukraine had reached their highest number since 2014. These concurrent Russian and Chinese military movements don’t, by themselves, indicate coordination. Combined with other actions, however, the actions elicit some concern.
Since at least the year 2000, China and Russia have been increasing their cooperation and partnership, most often in overt reaction to what each considers a rising threat of U.S. military intervention. In November 2019, the cooperation rose to a new level, and gained specificity.
Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in Brazil in 2019 to maintain the “momentum of the development of China-Russia relations at a high level.” The primary purpose of the cooperation, they said, was to “oppose unilateralism, bullying and interference in other countries’ affairs.” Exactly one year later, Asian media reported that a Chinese-Russian missile attack early warning system was nearing completion, which would “make China–Russia military integration and interdependence match the level of the advanced alliance relationships the United States has developed with countries such as France and the United Kingdom.”
Then in Beijing last month, the Foreign Ministers for China and Russia met – the day after Razumkov said he expected NATO to soon extend an invitation to join the Membership Action Plan – and said they were increasing their level of cooperation even further, in large measure because of Western interference “in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs under the excuse of ‘advancing democracy’ is unacceptable.”
China considers its issues with Taiwan to be “an internal affair,” and Russia considers Ukraine – especially the Russian-majority provinces of Luhansk and Donbas – to be almost part of Russia. Xi told his troops – just last month – to “step up preparations for war.” Then-president of Russia Dmitry Medvedev previously bragged that their 2008 war against Georgia succeeded in stopping further NATO expansion.
Given all the increasing cooperation between Russia and China at the highest levels, the repeated assertion that each views their respective issues with Taiwan and Ukraine in existential terms, and given the simultaneous increase in both nation’s combat power near those locations, it is not unreasonable to examine the risk that would accrue to the United States should China and Russia actually launch simultaneous assaults.
Alongside the increasing cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, the United States has increased its engagement with both Taiwan and Ukraine. There have been voices in Washington that advocate giving specific security guarantees to Taiwan and the U.S. Defense Attaché in Kyiv said in response to Russia’s military build-up that the U.S. “in every possible way supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The truth is, however, that the United States is presently capable of defending the territorial integrity of neither Taiwan nor the Ukraine.
As I detailed in a recent analysis, If the United States were caught flat-footed by a Chinese attempt to retake Taiwan by force, we would be unable to successfully intervene to stop them. If both Russia attacked eastern Ukraine and China fought for Taiwan, President Biden would be faced with a no-win dilemma: go to war with China and Russia that we could not possibly win, or refuse to fight and stand helplessly by as both eastern Ukraine and Taiwan likely fall to their oppressors.
The absolute right response to such a premeditated act of war by China and Russia would be for the U.S. to avoid an immediate response and diplomatically rally the majority of the world’s countries to oppose Beijing and Moscow while simultaneously strengthening our own defense. Though there would be many in Washington to demand an immediate response, the truth is that both China and Russia would weaken themselves dramatically in those fights and would be incapable of launching any additional attacks against the U.S. or our allies – while our military would remain at full strength.
If we succumbed to pride, on the other hand, and moved forward into engaging in conventional combat in one or both locations, we would suffer egregious harm to our Armed Forces, would likely not prevent either country from accomplishing their objectives, and our ability to defend even our direct territory would be severely weakened. That, of course, is not the worst outcome: having a mistake or miscalculation resulting in a nuclear exchange could result in entire U.S. cities being burned to the ground.
How To Avoid the Unkthinkabale
To avoid even the possibility of stumbling into such a horrific dilemma, the United States needs to urgently reform how it engages with the rest of the world. The reality is that the U.S. military genuinely is the strongest in the world right now (though both Russia and China have made significant strides in modernizing their forces) and can deter any nation – China and Russia included – from launching an unprovoked attack against our country. But we must concurrently recognize that our military is not invincible, capable of imposing our will on all nations of the world, simultaneously.
That means we have to be more judicious as to the security guarantees we make around the world and the number of states we are willing to go to war to protect. Taiwan and Ukraine are issues of regional importance to China and Russia, but do not, by themselves, imply that the fall of either would necessarily lead to a regional or world war.
America’s preeminent first priority must be to ensure the security and freedom of the United States. If we overstretch ourselves, if we dissipate our strength by trying to do too much, we may one day discover that we forfeit our own security in a misplaced desire to secure everyone else. The hard reality is we cannot do everything for everyone. We must accede to this reality before we are faced with an unimaginable reality – like a two-front war with both China and Russia.
Daniel L. Davis is a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times and the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” The views shared in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent any group. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.
April 11, 2021 at 8:58 pm
Glaring problem with this analysis is that neither Ukraine nor Taiwan needs American “boots on the ground” to make invasion unpalattable for either Russia or China.. Just sell Ukraine and Taiwan the weapons they need to defend themselves, then sit back and collect the money from arms sales and let the Ukrainains and Taiwanese bleed PutXi dry.
April 17, 2021 at 11:10 am
I agree, but I also think we should give Taiwan nuclear weapons.
April 12, 2021 at 6:45 pm
The last time Russia invaded Ukraine Obama gave then blankets and MRE’s. Now that Biden is in office totally controlled by Obama staffers if not Obama himself, why would any other reaction happen? And it isn’t like two simultaneous fronts would confuse Biden, just walking up plane steps confuses Biden.
April 12, 2021 at 8:58 pm
Better to trip on plane steps than to climb them with toilet paper stuck to your shoe…….. remember that one?
Biden can handle a crisis. He’s smart and actually understands world issues. Trump would either be in bed watching Fox/Fake news or on the golf course cheating his opponents. And since he was in bed with Putin he would likely have let the Russians march all the way to the English channel and then tell him how much he admires him.
April 15, 2021 at 11:54 am
Eaasy!! Biden is smart? haha I do agree on the rest tho but Biden!!! smart!!! can’t find that.. yet he’s still smarter than the annoying orange
April 12, 2021 at 9:33 pm
This is the second article that this man wrote where it shows how limited his thinking is. “As I detailed in a recent analysis, If the United States were caught flat-footed by a Chinese attempt to retake Taiwan by force, we would be unable to successfully intervene to stop them.” He is obviously an incompetent former officer and military analysis. How can the USA be caught flat footed in a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? One of two things would have to happen. China starts a bombardment of Taiwan to soften it up then masses the shipping for the invasion force to set sale. Or China masses the invasion force then starts the bombardment. This former officer does not realize that the USN has 11 strike carriers to delay the invasion and destroy it. While the slugging match commences and widens the USA will use Japan as a massive carrier sending over 1000 jets to strike at Chinese shipping harbors where they would suffer huge losses and be crippled to sustain the invasion. Once the shipping losses are being felt by China they have no replacement ships to sustain the invasion force which will then wither on the vine and die from lack of supplies. One b2 stealth bomber could fly over that one Chinese carrier and sink it with the 20 2000 lb bombs that it can drop on the carrier and the escorts with laser guidance. The author preaches not to react militarily and that is so strange. The USA would be disgraced if they did nothing. It would be the beginning of future aggression when there’s no reaction. China would then continue to invade other areas. For some reason the author advocates no military reaction and suggests to sit back and do nothing. I wonder why? Russia invading parts of Ukraine right now with the forces they have assembled need to suffer huge losses and so the Ukrainians need to fight. The forces the have massed are not enough for a total take over of Ukraine they appear to be only enough to take parts of areas where the Russians claim their people live. God forbid this former officer ever takes over a position of power in the Biden Administration because he is an appeaser like Nevelle Chamberlin.
April 12, 2021 at 9:48 pm
Maybe if NATO would have told Ukraine in the recent meeting a “no” for them to join NATO then Russia would not feel threatened by NATO then putting troops on the Russian Ukraine border. There is no way Russia will tolerate Ukraine going NATO they will go to war. As far as the author for him to think that the most powerful military in the world that he admits the USA has would cower from China that would be the second time “peace in our time” fraud that Hitler did on Chamberlin. I just can not understand how a news site could allow someone who is a officer to write stories for them who does not realize the true power of the USA military might. The Chinese would get a lot of shots in with missile and jet strikes but as time goes on they will be weakened with a naval blockade where oil would be stopped and their fleet will be sunk. Yes they have more ships now than the USA but it still is the aircraft carrier that is supreme. The jet firing the anti ship missiles will overwhelm the Chinese ships. Also their ships will have to remain close to China land masses to keep air support. They will not be able to go beyond maybe 1000 miles from their coastline without air support or they will be done. Then while their ships harbor in their harbors hiding or patrol their coastlines the USN strike carriers will be taking them out one by one with their air strikes. This author has no concept of the power of the USN naval might with the carriers. In two months the whole Chinese navy will be sunk. Then the merchant shipping that is supplying the invasion force will be easy pickings. After the cease fire begins the world will have to cut trade off with China and cripple their economy forever in order for this threat to never rise again. Then also there’s the USN attack submarine force that will be wiping out the Chinese navy with torpedo and missile strikes. They will patrol the Taiwan straight and be sinking the invasion force shipping all over. The author does not realize the power that even one submarine has. He is lost.
April 12, 2021 at 10:02 pm
The only threat we have is that we have a totally mentally deficient president now who won on election fraud. Thats the national security threat we face where our enemies know he can not handle staying awake and making decisions and we are all in danger. The USA in a year would have gained air superiority and in a 18 months air supremacy over China. With air bases in Taiwan, Japan and maybe the Philippines. A relentless air assault destroying Chinese factories, harbors and military sites. This author has no concept of the power that the USA could bring to play against China. He needs to read history about what happened in WW 2 in the naval war and air war against Japan and Germany. He seems to have limited knowledge of the military power that the USA could bring to the war. Once the Chinese navy is sunk they’re dead meat. The Japanese could not defeat the USA with 14 carriers how can the Chinese do so with 1? The USA ended the second world war with 20 Essex class carrier and over 20 more light carriers. Even if the Chinese try to replace their shipping losses their ship yards will be bombarded. The Chinese do not have the offensive naval power to do the same to the USA along our coastline. Its best to get it on now before they become too powerful. It would not be a landward in China because that’s hopeless. It would be a massive aerial bombardment campaign. then when they do a ceasefire we have the world cut off trade with them so it would never be a problem again.
April 12, 2021 at 10:35 pm
Just because someone writes an article like this does not mean that they have a total understanding of the military situation because they might not know what they are talking about or have a limited knowledge of history and the military. When I was in the military I knew most officers did not know history because i would talk to them and I realized that they had limited knowledge. They studied how to be an officer and had basic history knowledge but they were limited in their knowledge. This author seems to be lacking in the military potential of the USA. He appears to be thinking on the levels of what the USA vs China military power is now. Not what it would be in a total war where industry would be mobilized. The Chinese are in a strategically disadvantage situation. They have one carrier. This means that their numerically superior navy can not venture in to the ocean beyond aerial land based air cover. If they did so they will be sunk by carrier strikes. Then the carriers will launch attacks on ships within the coastline of China. One by one their naval ships will be sent to the ocean floor. The Chinese even when industry is mobilized will have no respite from attacks on their ship building yards and ship harbors. Their whole navy will be sunk in two months. A f22 could fly over Chinese harbors undetected and drop 2000 lb bombs on their ships and sink them. The Chinese fighter force have 1000s of jets but they are inferior to the f18 the usn has. Their jets on the carrier can not carry a large bomb load because their engines are under powered. Their carrier will be sunk within two days. Their submarines are easily detected with their noisy obsolete engines. The author knows what the USA military has now but since he has limited historical knowledge he has no appreciation of the industrial might of the USA in a total war production footing.
April 12, 2021 at 11:15 pm
The author is lost. If the “world” didn’t do anything about Russia’s war against Georgia and their take over of the Crimea and war against Ukraine and if the world didn’t do anything to China when they enabled COVID-19 to wreck the livelihoods and lives of the entire planet, then what diplomatic action does this author think could possibly wake up the snowflakes leading the West. The ChiComs know they are competing with snowflakes and cream puffs. The ONLY real leader that was willing to stand up to the ChiComs just got showed the door. The two-horse race is over, folks. The best we can do now is maintain deterrence and keep it close down the stretch.
April 13, 2021 at 12:42 am
Your not fully understanding this article. We have the ability to kick both there a&$$$es. But this article is a statement to Russia and China that America will allow them to do what they want. Remember our media is bought out so this article is another way to demoralize us into thinking we can’t do s$&t. And guess what our military and government is sooo sold out we won’t do anything. We can kick these mofo’s into next Tuesday and set them back so far into the Stone Age they will never recover. But both Russia and China brilliantly took over our media news and this pathetic sold out LT. Col. so he’s just telling them through this piece that hey go ahead we are cool with it.
April 13, 2021 at 6:48 am
An effort should be made to weed out defeatist officers and interrogate them as to why they preach defeatism. Also examine all personal financial and family backgrounds to find out information about them that may lead to show ties with the communist Chinese.
April 13, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Authors of the comments above say that the US could defeat Russia and/or China. This may be true. But, if Taiwan or Ukraine were invaded, does the US presently have the political will to do what it takes, fight, suffer losses, etc, while Europe, the UN and the American left cry, “… give peace a chance! Diplomacy will work!” It’s unknown how such events might actually play out.
December 3, 2021 at 2:00 am
The US would probably win such a war if it went all out, reducing China and Russia into smoking oblivion such that they can never rise again.
Trouble is, the US would also become a nuclear wasteland and be so devastated afterwards that Mexico could step in and reclaim everything it lost before, and more.
Death for China and Russia, total disability for the United States.
Nuclear winter for the rest of the world.
March 17, 2022 at 7:28 am
Hi,thanks for your wonderfull post.Do you know?National security adviser Jake Sullivan talks to reporters at the White House on December 7, 2021, in Washington, DC.
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