Think of it as the most momentous military planning on Earth right now. Who’s even paying attention, given the eternal changing of the guard at the White House, as well as the latest in tweets, sexual revelations, and investigations of every sort? And yet it increasingly looks as if, thanks to current Pentagon planning, a 21st-century version of the Cold War (with dangerous new twists) has begun and hardly anyone has even noticed.
In 2006, when the Department of Defense spelled out its future security role, it saw only one overriding mission: its “Long War” against international terrorism. “With its allies and partners, the United States must be prepared to wage this war in many locations simultaneously and for some years to come,” the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review explained that year. Twelve years later, the Pentagon has officially announced that that long war is drawing to a close—even though at least seven counterinsurgency conflicts still rage across the Greater Middle East and Africa—and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.
“Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to United States security and prosperity,” claimed Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist while releasing the Pentagon’s $686 billion budget request in January. “It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II.”
Of course, just how committed President Trump is to the preservation of that “free and open order” remains questionable given his determination to scuttle international treaties and ignite a global trade war. Similarly, whether China and Russia truly seek to undermine the existing world order or simply make it less American-centric is a question that deserves close attention, just not today. The reason is simple enough. The screaming headline you should have seen in any paper (but haven’t) is this: The US military has made up its mind about the future. It has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Important as this strategic shift may be, you won’t hear about it from the president, a man lacking the attention span necessary for such long-range strategic thinking and one who views Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping as “frenemies” rather than die-hard adversaries. To fully appreciate the momentous changes occurring in US military planning, it’s necessary to take a deep dive into the world of Pentagon scripture: budget documents and the annual “posture statements” of regional commanders already overseeing the implementation of that just-born three-front strategy.