Deterrence — America’s principal defense strategy — is intended to discourage an attack on us or our allies by threatening unbearable consequences for the attacker. Our deterrence has lost much of its credibility over the past 14 months because President Biden has weakened our military, diplomacy and economy. Its credibility must be restored.
George Washington admonished us that one of the best ways to ensure peace is to prepare for war. Mr. Washington’s counsel was ignored, and America usually took years to build its forces and convert its economy to wartime. The advent of the first Cold War with Russia required us, in “peacetime,” to provide the protection of our “nuclear umbrella” to our NATO allies.
Twenty-first-century deterrence needs to be effective against nuclear and major conventional conflicts. That requires constantly-evolving military strength, tough-minded America-centric diplomacy and American prosperity. Without prosperity, we cannot support either the military we need or the credible diplomacy upon which it must be based. (Some adversaries, such as Iran and Islamist terror networks, are not susceptible to deterrence. A separate strategy is needed to deal with them.)
It’s impossible to believe that Mr. Biden understands the enormous danger he creates by undermining deterrence.
A small group of close advisers evidently controls Mr. Biden’s thoughts and speeches, probably comprised of national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Susan Rice, who was former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, may be among them. They all have Mr. Biden’s Afghanistan debacle and his multitude of diplomatic failures on their records. Ms. Rice’s record of incompetence goes back to the Benghazi attacks of 2012.
Mr. Biden’s mind, whatever is left of it, isn’t capable of incisive analysis of evolving facts. Even while his Afghanistan withdrawal plan was obviously failing, he refused to change it. That stubbornness, accompanied by the anger he often displays, is another symptom of his mental decline.
As he proved repeatedly, Mr. Biden will never engage in the hard-nosed America-centric diplomacy that deterrence requires. His diplomacy consists of giving up something of value to America without getting anything in return.
For example, he gifted Russian President Vladimir Putin with a five-year extension of the New START arms control treaty, on Russia’s terms, without demanding the inclusion of Russia’s hypersonic missiles. He also rejoined the Paris Climate Accords without gaining anything to benefit America, such as tougher limitations on China’s and India’s emissions. Now, Mr. Biden is about to sign a renewal of Mr. Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran, which will be even worse than the original.
Our military capabilities are being reduced in parallel with the abandonment of strong diplomacy and the damage to our economy.
Mr. Biden’s military budget for fiscal 2023 reduces our deterrent capabilities. In recent congressional testimony, both Adm. Charles Richard, commander of Strategic Command and Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said the nuclear-armed cruise missile, zeroed by that budget, is necessary for deterrence. Gen. Wolters added that the B83 (our only nuclear gravity bomb, also zeroed in the budget) is similarly necessary to deterrence.
There is much more in Mr. Biden’s budget that undermines our deterrent. The Navy will retire 24 ships this year and only buy nine. The fleet’s strength will be reduced to 280 ships by 2027 despite the Navy’s position that it needs a five-hundred ship fleet to counter or defeat China.
Our Air Force, according to the Air Force Association, is the smallest, oldest and least ready to fight as it has ever been.
Those forces are clearly insufficient to deter aggression, either nuclear or conventional.
And then there’s the “wokeism” being implanted in the military. Mr. Austin and his Pentagon crew are more concerned with diversity, climate change and expunging a nonexistent “systematic extremism” in the military than they are in the lethality and readiness of the forces under their command. That is part of another problem.
In the delightful cynicism of the last century, it was said that the British fight for empire, the French fight for glory, the Americans fight for vague moral principles, and the Russians fight for what they can steal from the dead.
During the Vietnam War, we had forgotten those “vague moral principles.” Mr. Biden is replacing them with “wokeism” which — if imposed on the military — will be a form of national suicide.
Our economy is suffering from inflation brought about by Mr. Biden’s reckless over-spending, which he intends to continue. Our supply chain problems are unresolved and may even affect the availability of food later this year.
In sum, our nuclear and conventional deterrents are fading, our diplomacy is in the hands of people who are willing — even eager — to trade strength for appeasement, and our economy may already be incapable of sustaining us in wartime.
Our enemies know this and are acting upon it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disunited NATO over more than Russian energy supplies. Chinese cyberattacks on the U.S. have increased a reported 116% since Russia invaded Ukraine.
The credibility of deterrence — militarily, diplomatically or economically — will continue to decline while Mr. Biden remains in office. The failure of deterrence is the shortest path to war and defeat. If only Mr. Biden and his advisers understood. Or cared.
• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.