Covid-19 could give China and Russia a strategic advantage over the United States, according to a study by the United States military.
The reason? Authoritarian countries can devote resources to weapons rather than pandemic relief.
“It is likely that the effects of the pandemic, especially in the medium and long term, will reverberate relatively evenly between the United States and its two main adversaries, China and Russia,” the military concluded. However, while we expect the overall effects to be balanced, it is highly likely that Chinese and Russian technology investment and defense spending by the Chinese and Russian public sectors, including military modernization, will suffer less, in relative terms, than it is. ‘in the United States or among its Western allies.
“The centralization of authority of China and Russia and their focus on security rather than individual liberty allows these adversaries to maintain their current priorities without having to respond to their respective audiences by diverting resources towards a recovery. general, ”the army said.
The study, titled “The Operational Environment (2021-2030): Great Power Competition, Crisis, and Conflict,” examines four potential futures facing the US military. While the impact of Covid-19 figures prominently in these scenarios, so do Chinese and Russian advances in military technology as well as new tactics designed to exploit US vulnerabilities.
The four future post-Covid ranged from maintaining the status quo of military power, to Covid-19 slightly or strongly favoring China and Russia, to a future where the pandemic strongly favors the United States
The most likely outcome is that the Covid-19 will favor China and Russia somewhat, but not to the point of drastically changing the strategic balance. “We believe this world is the most likely outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the military said. “This represents a deviation from the assessed OE [operating environment] and assumes that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not as severe or alter the system as initially feared. However, the United States and its Western allies are less able to deal with the stresses and shocks imposed by the pandemic compared to the centralized systems of China and Russia, whose pace of military modernization has accelerated over the past 10 years. next few years compared to the United States. . “
This reflection echoes the ‘gun or ditch’ arguments of the WWII and Cold War eras about whether authoritarian regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – have an advantage. on democracies in that they prioritize military spending over consumer needs. Some may wonder if the focus on the military really weakened the Soviet Union in its competition with the United States.
It also remains to be seen whether the Covid-19 pandemic will threaten authoritarian regimes whose legitimacy rests on maintaining an appearance of competence and control. Russia, for example, may have suffered many more coronavirus deaths than the Putin government admitted, amid questions whether China’s Sinovac vaccine is as effective as Western vaccines.
While the United States has spent the past 20 years focusing on tackling low-tech insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has neglected the capabilities needed to fight the high-tech great powers. The Pentagon fears that China and Russia have gained superiority in areas such as long-range artillery and battlefield missiles, electronic warfare, air defense and hypersonic missiles. “For the first time since probably the Second World War, the American army faces adversaries with more efficient equipment than it has,” warns the study of the American army.
At the same time, China and Russia are transforming their armed forces from Cold War mass armies that relied on quantity, into better-trained and flexible Western-style units. China applies artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of the battlefield, while Russia has developed asymmetric warfare techniques to neutralize an opponent without firing a shot, including “political subversion to undermine and weaken one. targeted government and its institutions; economic war; and, prominently, information psychology operations to pressure, disorient and manipulate a target population, ”the study said.
In the most likely scenario of the US military, Covid-19 will only accentuate this process as China and Russia improve their armed forces while the US falls behind, even as America does. in the face of climate change that will inhibit military operations and expand forces to cover new theaters, such as the melting arctic ice fields.
The United States could be strained as “adversaries – especially China – begin to overtake the United States faster than expected,” the military study said. “Opponents could develop a real overmatch as early as 2023 in some key areas, especially if planned US capabilities are delayed or canceled. Moreover, our adversaries will recognize these relative advantages, and probably ephemeral, making them become more daring … “
While the Army study offers plausible scenarios for the future, it also makes many assumptions. This assumes that China and Russia will sniff out so-called US weakness and be willing to risk exploiting that weakness. It also assumes that China and Russia will not be bogged down by their own issues, including an overheated and unstable Chinese real estate market and a perpetually disrupted Russian economy. And, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic can still produce more surprises.
Ultimately, the real question is whether democracy or authoritarianism will prove more resilient in the long run.