đź”’ Geopolitical crossroads: ‘Missile Gap’, global tensions test America’s leadership – Marc Champion

In a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, the United States faces growing challenges on multiple fronts. Despite President Biden’s confidence in America’s strength, vulnerabilities are emerging. Political polarisation jeopardises support for allies like Ukraine, and military dominance is questioned, especially in the face of evolving asymmetrical warfare technologies. The U.S. must navigate complex situations, from Russia’s missile onslaught in Ukraine to the Middle East’s escalating tensions. Decisions made in this critical period may shape the nation’s role as a global power, influencing outcomes in Ukraine and the broader international arena.

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US Preeminence Is Threatened by a Real ‘Missile Gap’: Marc Champion

By Marc Champion

As recently as October, US President Joe Biden dismissed a question over whether the US could cope with supporting allies fighting two simultaneous wars, in Ukraine and Gaza. â€śWe’re the US for God’s sake,” the most powerful country in the history of the world, he said on 60 Minutes, with the kind of exasperation that anyone should even ask.

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Yet risks have been rising fast over the past few months, and history is littered with examples of seemingly untouchable empires that proved suddenly vulnerable, succumbing to some combination of domestic division, external overextension or the loss of relative economic and military dominance.

Make no mistake, the US is fundamentally in rude health. That so many Americans seem to think Biden is destroying the economy is frankly puzzling to anyone living elsewhere: Which one would you prefer to have? Even so, the US is showing enough symptoms of late-empire dysfunction that the choices Americans make in this presidential election year may well determine whether Biden, or his interrogator, was right. The threat of a multi-theater expansion of the wars the US is involved with — all based on missile technologies and stocks in which Washington’s once absolute dominance has faded — is growing.

America’s most obvious weakness lies in its political polarization. Continued backing for Ukraine in a war that, at no cost to US lives, is simultaneously weakening a key geopolitical rival, and protecting stability for critical European markets has now become a partisan plaything. So too the federal debt ceiling and with it the potential for eroding faith in the US dollar, a golden ticket that systemically discounts US borrowing costs and is the envy of every other nation.

Yet the US isn’t just being tested politically. Its military dominance also is in question, partly due to overextension. The invasion of Iraq and overlong mission in Afghanistan were draining debacles that allowed rivals, particularly China, to gain ground. But it’s also because the nature of armed conflict has changed since Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine in February 2022. Drones and missiles have become powerful munitions of asymmetrical warfare, and here the US and its allies are rapidly becoming stretched. 

Hundreds of Russian cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as loitering drones, have showered down on Ukraine over the past two weeks, killing dozens in some of the largest barrages since the war began. Ukraine knocked most out of the sky, but the mortal threat is evident. Russia’s aim is both to destroy the arms production facilities Ukraine is building, and to exhaust Kyiv’s limited stocks of air-defense missiles. Once they run out, Putin would have good cause to believe he could break the current battlefield stalemate and achieve his original goal of subjugating Ukraine.

Russia has more than doubled its output of cruise and ballistic missiles to about 100 a month. It also has started making its own version of the cheap Shahed loitering drones it bought from Iran. Shooting all of these projectiles down requires immensely more complex and expensive systems that can take years, rather than weeks, to manufacture — and neither the US nor Europe has enough. So long as Ukraine lacks the long-range missiles to damage Putin’s factories and launch pads, Russia can go on firing for as long as it takes.

Demands on US missile- and air-defense resources are increasing in other theaters, too. The Hamas fusillades against Israel continue. The risk that Hezbollah, an organization with an estimated 100,000 rockets and ballistic missiles, pulls Lebanon into the war is growing. Even Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome defense system would then struggle to shoot them all down. The US has said it’s resupplying Israel with precision-guided missiles, artillery shells and Iron Dome backups, but again, stocks are limited.

At the same time, a US-led fleet is having to strike down missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthis, as the Iran-backed group targets commercial shipping through the Suez Canal. US ground forces are having to counter drones fired by other Iran-allied militias in Iraq and Syria. All of these are being fired in the name of ending Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

US needs could escalate further. Iran sent a warship to back up the Houthis on New Year’s Day, and on Tuesday a suspected Israeli drone strike killed a top Hamas leader in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, drawing threats of a response from Hezbollah. On Wednesday, bomb blasts killed more than 80 Iranian civilians marking the anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds force, who was killed in a 2020 US drone strike. That again drew retaliatory threats, although Iran hasn’t yet  identified the “terrorists” it said were responsible, and the US has denied responsibility. With elections in Taiwan due this month, the possibility of new missile deployment to Asia, to counter any reaction by China, can’t be ruled out either

The US can’t control the actions of others. Yet key decisions on whether to give Ukraine what it actually takes to halt Russia’s autocratic expansion, or to grow the missile- and air-defense production needed to meet new military threats, are Washington’s to make. So too the coordination of its responses in the Middle East to minimize the risk of a wider conflagration. These are US interests that should be no-go zones for campaign politics.

The Biden administration is far from the worst when it comes to foreign policy, but it has been too tactical. The US must define more clearly what success would be in Ukraine, and then do what it takes to achieve it. The war will continue at least for another year but could drag on much longer, unless Putin is convinced that victory on his terms is unachievable. That will require not just the funds now stuck in Congress, but also a significant expansion of the quantity and range of missiles — offensive and defensive — supplied to Kyiv. On Thursday, US National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters the US would be imposing additional sanctions against those involved in supplying Russia with missiles, after North Korea sent ballistic missiles and launchers.

In the Mideast, the US needs a more proactive blueprint for Israel and Iran. Israel’s leaders need a direct, authoritative message that US support isn’t unconditional. Iran should know the cost of using its proxies to destabilize regional economies and trade routes are simply too high to bear. This doesn’t mean more Middle Eastern wars. But it also can’t be based solely on shooting down the cheap missiles that Iran and its proxies use to achieve their political goals.

The US is still a great power. If it fails in Ukraine or the Middle East, if it allows alliances in Europe and the Far East to crumble, that will have been solely a matter of choice.    

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