Washington resurrects talk of two-war doctrine in nod to China

Posted on : 2022-03-02 17:12 KST Modified on : 2022-03-02 17:12 KST
The US sent a delegation to Taiwan, signaling its intent to continue its containment of China
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heads to a congressional briefing on Feb. 28. (AFP/Yonhap News)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heads to a congressional briefing on Feb. 28. (AFP/Yonhap News)

The White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific remarked that the US will continue to deeply engage in two theaters of conflict simultaneously, brushing off concerns that the war in Ukraine will reduce US interests and influence in the Asia-Pacific region while putting China on notice.

During a virtual forum hosted by the German Marshall Fund on Monday, White House official Kurt Campbell said the US simultaneously engaged in “two theaters” of conflict during World War II and the Cold War. On the practice of simultaneous engagement in two theaters, he said, “It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it is also essential, and I believe that we’re entering a period where that is what will be demanded of the US and this generation of Americans.”

Campbell also said, “There is a deep recognition and intention here inside the [US] government, in the White House, to sustain every element of our engagement in the Indo-Pacific.” Stating that the world is watching how China will react to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Campbell pointed out that China is in an “awkward” position in its attempt to maintain a close relationship with Russia. Mira Rapp-Hooper, a director for US Indo-Pacific strategy at the White House National Security Council, also stressed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not divert from US goals in the Indo-Pacific.

Many within the US and across the globe project that amid war in Europe, US strategy in the Indo-Pacific aimed at checking Chinese influence in the region will fall by the wayside. Others also point out that the second and third most powerful military forces of Russia and China uniting and taking military action in Europe and Asia, respectively, would be too much for the US to handle.

In the midst of such forecasts, the US signaled its intention to continue its containment of China in full force by sending a delegation including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen and former deputy national security advisor Meghan O’Sullivan to Taiwan. According to a US government official, the delegation was put together by the White House and the US government, though current high-ranking officials were not included in its roster, AFP reported. The delegation plans to hold meetings with high-ranking Taiwanese officials, who are apprehensive about Chinese intentions amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Campbell’s statement is noteworthy as it’s reminiscent of the “two-war doctrine,” which was abolished in 2012 during the administration of Barack Obama. Previously, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense during the George Bush administration, had said, “I have no doubt that, should two nearly simultaneous conflicts occur, [the US] would prevail,” while carrying out two simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, the Obama administration insisted on the need for disarmament and scrapped the two-war doctrine, which instructed the US to maintain the ability to simultaneously execute two wars in Europe and in Asia, in January 2012, in favor of the so-called Obama doctrine, which stipulated that the US attain victory in one war while suppressing war in another region. The US sought to thereby shift the focus of military balance towards the Asia-Pacific — this was the beginning of the US’ rebalancing strategy.

But, 10 years later, the US has trotted out the expression of “two wars” once again now that Russia, the successor of its Cold War nemesis of the Soviet Union, began an all-out war against its European neighbor. Though the context was different, when asked how the US would react to a potential North Korean provocation amid tensions in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken answered, “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” saying the US can respond to both crises by cooperating with its allies.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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