The USA is the world’s sole superpower and has rarely lost a battle since World War II. Despite this, America has lost nearly every war it has entered into since then. It’s time for America to stop losing, and this is how.
Threat 1: Avoid irregular conflicts around the world
The west likes nothing more than to fight good old-fashioned stand-up wars, and it’s really quite good at it when it does. However, going as far back as the American revolutionary war, the West has lost nearly every conflict against irregular forces that it has ever faced.
America is no different, which is rather ironic given that its own birth- the revolutionary war, was an irregular war fought against a global superpower that it wound up winning. Two centuries later, it would be the global superpower and it would be the one losing to the exact same type of warfare.
Irregular warfare is defined as war with no clear enemy, battle lines, and sometimes even objectives. In a conventional war the enemy wears the uniform of their nation, fights for material strategic objectives, and war is waged along clearly defined battle fronts. An irregular war however eschews all of this, is waged in the shadows, and largely for poorly defined, intellectual objectives. America really sucks at this.
It’s not necessarily the US’s fault, for decades its primary concern has been fighting off endless hordes of Soviet tanks pouring across the Fulda gap in Germany. When it got dragged into irregular conflicts such as Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it brought the exact same army and doctrine to crush Soviet forces in Germany to bear against insurgent forces. The unstoppable military Juggernaut was inevitably left reeling and blindly lashing out, all while its enemies ran circles around it.
Use the right approach to fight insurgency
Fighting an insurgency is not a military action – it’s a police action, and the use of the US military to fight insurgencies is like bringing a hammer to perform surgery. The right tool needs to be applied to the right job. However, the US has no correct tool in its arsenal for this kind of job – but one friendly nation does.
The French Foreign Legion has a reputation known all across the world, and has fought in conflicts in nearly every continent. The Legion fights far from France’s shores, and recruits from a pool of candidates that come from all over the world. Service guarantees citizenship and is an honorable path into integration into French society for many who might otherwise choose to try and enter France through other, illegal means.
Build a foreign legion like the French
America needs its own Foreign Legion, and it needed it twenty years ago. Not only is the US military the wrong tool for a policing anti-insurgency role, but the deployment of the US military for extended periods of time is very expensive, saps morale, and is incredibly unpopular with voters. It also lessens readiness for the military’s main job: serving as a deterrent against China or Russia.
An American Foreign Legion, made up largely of non-American recruits, suffers from none of these disadvantages. It could be deployed for very long terms without national morale issues or voter fatigue back home, and establishing a semi-permanent forward presence dramatically reduces operational costs.
The AFL would allow US forces to be present in regional hotspots for years, decades even if necessary, remaining forward-deployed for nearly its entire lifespan. This would also grant the American Legionnaires a familiarity with the people and culture that would be priceless in combating an insurgent force.
Today, the Afghanistan Taliban has won a victory against US forces by simply exhausting them. The AFL would permanently negate this strategy, because the AFL would remain in-country until the job was accomplished. While colonialism was a terrible legacy, there is a reason why colonial strategies were very effective in combating insurgencies- the permanent occupation favored the side with the most resources: the colonialists.
The AFL would not be a tool of colonialism- which would require strong public policy to ensure- and it would operate only at the invitation of local governments. But it would allow US forces to remain in the area and negate America’s foes’ best strategy of simply exhausting the US will keep troops overseas.
Adopt innovative thinking
The next way for America to begin winning irregular wars is to ditch antiquated ways of thinking. When America blundered into Afghanistan, it did so with a strategy of national unification under a strong democratic government. This lofty ideal was doomed to failure at the outset. In order to win in the future, clearer, more realistic goals need to be set and achieved.
Let’s look at Afghanistan again. The US originally invaded the nation in order to shut down Al-Qaeda’s ability to operate and the Taliban’s support for them. If the goal was to prevent Al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a staging ground for attacks against the west, then military action should have been limited to this one, singular goal.
Sweeping the Taliban out of the country and installing a nationwide democratic system was certainly noble, but completely foolish and only added to the misery of the Afghan people who’ve been in conflict for twenty years now.
Pursue singular objective
Rather, the US should have pursued a singular objective: prevent Al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a staging ground. This means no peacekeeping patrols, no removal of the Taliban from the government, and no winning hearts and minds.
You strike at AQ targets when they show themselves, crush any Taliban forces that have an issue with that, and rinse and repeat until the Taliban government has been punished enough to accept they can no longer support AQ.
It may not have been a pretty way of doing things, but it would have been far more effective and saved many more lives in the end.
Increase spending on Special Forces
Next, the US needs to focus more spending on special operations forces in order to fight asymmetrical foes. Special Forces are designed and trained to fight the same shadowy conflicts that insurgent or terrorist forces wage, while the rank and file forces are cumbersome, clumsy, expensive, and typically cause massive collateral damage.
A single Ford-class aircraft carrier costs more than the US SOCOM budget, and odds are that one of these carriers will never once be used for its primary purpose: fighting China or Russia. Meanwhile, US Special Forces are daily fighting conflicts its normal forces can’t.
Threat 2: Russia
The US military absolutely dwarfs Russia. In war, Russia would be forced to resort to nuclear weapons if it wanted to avoid a complete and total military defeat at the hands of the US. Despite this, Russia has been running circles around the United States for decades.
Russia’s greatest weapon against the United States is its ability to influence and manipulate the American population. Despite overwhelming evidence that Russia had interfered directly in the 2016 US presidential election, nearly half of Americans refused to believe it- with that refusal ironically powered by the same Russian operations that influenced the election in the first place.
Russia has weaponized trolls, memes, misinformation, Instagram, and Facebook. They have succeeded in dividing America along political lines, and shielded their actions by playing on false American patriotism, painting political opponents as unpatriotic and outright enemies of the state.
Meanwhile, their asymmetrical forces operate in Ukraine, where it has seized 7.2% of the country without ever formally declaring war. It has also reversed nearly all progress made by American-backed militants in the Syrian civil war, winning for itself strategic ports along the Syrian coast which it can use to threaten the Mediterranean.
In October 2019, the US began to withdraw nearly all of its troops from Syria, leaving Russia alone to dictate policy in the region and influence it to its own interests.
All along, American internal division has kept the US too preoccupied to care
The superior US military is of no consequence in this new style of war, and in order to counter Russia in the future the US will need to respond with the same ‘gray area’ tactics, strategies, and forces that Russia operates so deftly against the slow, lumbering American juggernaut.
The US needs a strong investment into electronic warfare- but not more radar jammers or spoofers, electronic warfare in the realm of digital social life. Only by preempting Russian digital influence with its own, can the US mitigate its impact, and shape global narratives to its own ends.
Russia is already a fading power. Its population has been in a downward trend since the end of the Cold War, and its economy has long been in shambles, leaving many Russian citizens dissatisfied and disillusioned.
Many of those skilled and educated Russian citizens are joining a growing exodus of talent and intellect leaving the nation for greener pastures in the west. If the US wants to win against Russia, it needs to begin preparing to fight not a physical war that’ll almost certainly never happen, but the cyberwar for hearts and minds that has already been raging for a decade.
Threat 3: China
In 2020 the US Navy finally admitted what many had suspected for a long time: in the case of war, it would no longer be able to operate freely in the South China Sea. China had officially won the opening salvo of a Sino-American war before it even started.
For years China has been using a militarized coast guard service to bully and intimidate other Southeast Asian nations’ ships. Meanwhile, its actual military has been busy constructing artificial islands in order to enforce territorial claims to those same waters, despite an international ruling at The Hague declaring this illegal.
While the world debated the legality of Chinese artificial islands, it was busy basing fighters, bombers, missile batteries, and long-range radar installations on them, turning the islands into unsinkable fortresses.
And now in the case of war against the US, there’s little the US could do about it without pulling troops away from responsibilities in other theaters of the war. So what did America do while China’s coast guard drove away other nations’ fishing fleets and commercial gas and oil prospectors, so that it could get to those same resources itself? Nothing.
What was the US response when China began to illegally militarize islands in other nations’ exclusive economic zones? It sailed ships past those islands to show China it didn’t ‘recognize its authority. Meanwhile, China added even more anti-ship missiles to further strengthen that authority that America wasn’t recognizing.
There is little that the US needs to improve in its arsenal to militarily defeat China today. Even with the state of the South China Sea being what it is, the US retains the long-term military advantage. Such a war would be dramatically more difficult today thanks to US inaction than it would have been even ten years ago, but it is still a very winnable conflict for America.
Yet the US is rapidly losing the influence of war in the South Pacific, and if it continues to do so it will inevitably be shut out of the region as it becomes clear to South Pacific nations that the real regional power is not America, but China.
With Chinese military forces now deep into the South China Sea, nations such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan are having to wake up to the reality that it’s China, and not the US, who controls the waters around them.
Losing faith in the US will inevitably force them into China’s sphere of influence, which would only grow with each new nation to ditch its historical cooperation with America in favor of not suffering the wrath of the Chinese military.
China doesn’t even need to be able to win a war against the US to undermine American allies and partners’ faith in her. It simply needs to make the conflict so costly that it’s no longer worth it to oppose the Chinese Communist Party.
Even if Manila knows the US will inevitably defeat China in a multi-year war, it’ll mean little if it has to suffer the economic devastation and possible Chinese occupation during such a war. Better than to simply turn to the CCP and forge a new path.
Strengthen relationships with historical allies
To win against China, the US must strengthen ties in the region with historical partners such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It must also be willing to engage in new partnerships, no matter how difficult, such as with Vietnam, which itself is diametrically opposed to growing Chinese influence in the region.
Of special importance, however, is the growth of US influence in the region of the Straits of Malacca. China may be growing a military capable of challenging the US Pacific Fleet, but it has one glaring Achilles heel- most of its trade, especially of strategic goods, comes from overseas, and a large amount of that trade passes through the Straits of Malacca.
US presence in the straits and partnerships with nations such as Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia would effectively choke this vital trade artery for China in the case of war, slowly bringing the nation into submission.
US should be specifically seeking the help of a sister democracy in the region
Since its independence, India has grown to become a formidable military power, and today is the largest democracy in the world. As a free and open democracy, it is already a threat to the Chinese Communist Party, who fear their 1.3 billion strong population making any real push for democracy themselves.
But India and China have had many recent disputes for a variety of strategic and political reasons. This simmering hostility between the two nations has even led to open conflict along border regions, the most recent taking place early in 2021 and resulting in many Indian deaths.
The US and India already share a common threat, and with strong democratic ties that bind the two nations together, an alliance between the two would reshape the balance of power in not just the South Pacific, but all of Asia. Historically, India has been reluctant to get too close to America due to the US support of Pakistan.
Today, Pakistan has proven it’s no friend to the US, as it has been often caught red-handed protecting, training, and equipping the same insurgent and terrorist forces that were killing Americans across the border in Afghanistan. It’s also almost certainly a foregone conclusion that Pakistan was fully aware of Osama Bin Laden’s hiding place, given that the city he was hiding in as Pakistan’s version of West Point- an area with a high concentration of senior military and intelligence officials.
But in a more practical sense, the US should begin to aggressively counter the actions of the Chinese coast guard directly. Being thousands of miles away from US shores, however, it’s not practical for the American coast guard to be involved in countering Chinese bullying of local fleets, so instead the US should dedicate resources to the building and training of an indigenous fleet of small craft, similar to the Chinese coast guard.
For a fraction of the cost of a supercarrier, the US Navy could outfit an indigenous force capable of confronting the Chinese coast guard, which so often precedes actual Chinese military vessels and military activity. For years, China has used these ‘gray area’ forces to not outright declare war or carry out kinetic hostilities, but still achieve the same effect.
Its coast guard forces have allowed Chinese economic exploitation of zones either in the open ocean or directly inside the economic exclusion zone of other nations such as Vietnam or the Philippines.
Rather than engage in largely symbolic freedom of navigation exercises, the US could make it very clear that it doesn’t recognize Chinese influence by instead using its naval vessels to directly support this force of indigenous ships meant to harass and drive away China’s own coast guard forces, using the same non-kinetic tactics of ramming, intimidating, and blasting with water cannons.
Then, much like Chinese ships do today, US missile cruisers and destroyers could simply lurk in the background, discouraging Chinese vessels- now on the defensive- from acting out of line.
This of course is not in keeping with established maritime laws, but for two decades the US has stoically stuck to maritime law while it and its allies and partners have lost ground to the Chinese navy one artificial island at a time. If the US is to win against China, it has to not be afraid to operate in the same manner as China.