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.