By C. Todd Lopez
Both Russia and China figure heavily into the content of the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which was released in October. Within the strategy, integrated deterrence — including increased partnerships with American allies and partners — plays a central role to defending against both the acute and strategic threats posed by those two nations.
Mara Karlin, who performs the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and who also serves as the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, spoke today at the Center for a New American Security to discuss how the department is enabling integrated deterrence regarding both China and Russia.
China, Karlin said, has both the intent and, increasingly, the capability to challenge the United States militarily, economically, technologically and diplomatically. While Russia doesn’t pose the same long-term strategic threat, it does pose a more urgent short-term threat. Because of this, and as evidenced by the now yearlong Russian invasion of Ukraine, the department has identified Russia as an “acute threat.”
“We very much see Russian aggression threatening our interests and values and those of our allies and our partners,” Karlin said. “Russia’s reckless war of choice against Ukraine has made that very clear and very real for the entire world. And we can’t help but watch the Russian alignment with the People’s Republic of China. Both [nations] seem to favor a world in which they can trample over the sovereignty of their smaller neighbors and have a free hand in their self-declared spheres of influence.”
One example of how the U.S. has operationalized integrated deterrence as it relates to Russia, Karlin said, includes the U.S. response following the Feb. 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We did a lot to surge U.S. forces to Europe as the conflict was kicking off and surge from 80,000 to 100,000 troops in Europe to reinforce our posture and frankly, that was doable because of our very close relationship with so many of those countries, because of preposition equipment,” she said.
As Russia continued to wage war against Ukraine, Karlin said, the U.S. and American allies and partners worked to defend their own interests in Eastern Europe by strengthening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.
“We’ve been able to build Ukraine’s military and asymmetric capabilities through robust security assistance,” she said.
NATO allies, Karlin said, have stepped up to enhance their presence in Eastern Europe, and as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — led by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III — some 50 nations have banded together to help meet Ukraine’s current and future defense needs.
“I would also just note that the United States has worked really hard to ensure we can maintain our bedrock commitment to NATO’s collective defense and we do that working hand-in-hand with our allies,” she said.
When it comes to China, Karlin said, the department is investing in a combat credible force and investing in critical capabilities across domains such as cyber and space.
“You’ve seen this in terms of our construction of new ships, our modernization of the Army and the Marine Corps and the advancement of air power and key investments and in various aircraft,” she said.
In space, she said, the department is investing in the fielding of resilient satellite constellations and in boosting U.S. resilience in cyber.
When it comes to partnerships, Karlin said the U.S. is working with key allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region to build and deepen security cooperation efforts.
“We’re forming new geometries for cooperation, such as AUKUS … Australia, the U.K. and the United States,” she said. “It’s really a strategic partnership that’s focused on enhancing regional stability and safeguarding a free and open Indo-Pacific, and it’s going to provide Australia with a conventionally armed nuclear powered submarine capability.”
As part of AUKUS, she said, the three partnered nations develop and exercise joint, advanced military capabilities.
“We’re accelerating the advancement of a bunch of different capabilities across areas as wide-ranging as artificial intelligence and autonomy and cyber … to ensure that our warfighters can retain and expand their competitive edge,” she said.
Also in the Pacific, Karlin said, the U.S. has worked to optimize its force posture there, including a more capable Marine Corps presence in Japan, increased rotational presence in Australia and better access in the Philippines.
“That’s all really meaningful when you look at our ability to project power,” she said.
The U.S. military is also expanding the number of exercises it holds with partners in the Indo-Pacific, Karlin said.
“What we’re really trying to do is change and enhance the size, scope, scale and character of these exercises,” she said. “A great example would be Garuda Shield, which was an exercise of 14 nations that occurred a couple of months ago.”