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Lingamfelter: The Will to Deter

During his Administration, former President Donald Trump made a significant commitment in his budget to increase expenditures to refurbish the American military that had been—quite frankly—depleted during the two decades of counter insurgency (COIN) warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. COIN also—while sharpening American skills in door-to-door combat—dulled the skills of synchronization that are necessary in large scale combat operations (LSCO), or as we called this for years, conventional war.

For military forces to be effective in LSCO, they must employ combined arms jointly across all services. For example, within the Army that means the tanks, infantry, artillery, and combat support units must synchronize their combat power so that they can bring it to bear on the enemy in the most effective manner. It also means that the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps also fight together—jointly—using their separate capabilities in the same sort of synchronized manner.

That synchronization suffered badly during COIN when many of the LSCO skills were simply left on the shelf. There they atrophied and now, just as new and improved weapons systems are required for our military, so too is a major commitment to synchronization training and readiness. It’s one thing to buy new equipment for a football team to play better. But if the team doesn’t practice together as a team, the start-of-art helmets will be worn by the losers.

That example may be trite, but it is also true. That’s why America’s military leaders must speak up concerning our need to improve our wartime synchronization skills. That takes training—and yes—money. Lots of money to buy fuel, training ammunition, and a plethora of sustainment items like vehicle repair parts to keep the training up to date and—above all—highly realistic. It isn’t cheap. Nor can it be accomplished pinching pennies. Training is what winners do. And well-trained fighters produce victors in battle.

But money alone is not the only requirement to securing victory. There is that thing called “will.” This is a necessary component that must be present in the character of the leaders, both military and civilian, whom we elect or select to oversee our military in war. They must possess the will to fight when its justified, the will to win when we do fight, and the will to see things—the world and our adversaries—as they are, not as we would wish them to be.

Will can’t be purchased. It must be ingrained in national character and integral to our identity as a free republic. When we lack the will to sustain that, all is lost. Therefore, we must have leaders who are willing and able to do the hard things to preserve freedom. And chief among that is the will to fight and win.

America is war weary after COIN. That is understandable. But that is why we need leaders to remind all of us that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, demanding both that our leaders honor our constitution and also are willing to defend it against those who would vanquish us given the opportunity. We have several potential enemies who would do so. Russia, Iran, and North Korea are on the short list. But ahead of all of those is China.

China does not see itself as a transitory power but rather as a transcendent one. They see themselves through a lens of destiny, one where they will rule the world and as such deserves to be supreme. That is why they play by their own rules. They do not care about international agreements or norms as long as they have the power to manipulate and resist them. If you think that China will ever own up to its responsibility for COVID, then you are sadly mistaken.

Presidents and congresses past and present who have seen China as simply an economic competitor to be managed are naïve. China can’t be managed. It must be indefatigably deterred. If America is to successfully deter China, the latter must be convinced that it faces unacceptable consequences if it fails to comply with America’s peaceful, free, and just vision for the world. China must be convinced that it will lose more than it will gain if it underestimates America’s will. Our ability to successfully deter relies on clearly communicating our objectives and demonstrating both our capability and will to succeed. In particular, the U.S. must demonstrate that it will not be hamstrung through fear of unanticipated consequences of taking action.

War is on the horizon in the Far East. China does not see us as a competitor, but rather an obstacle. That’s why we must confront and deter it. We can buy the capability. We can’t buy the “will.”