RAND Sees Growing Threat to US Power Projection

The proliferation of anti-access, area-denial capabilities could imperil the US military’s ability to project power worldwide by 2025, according to a RAND report released Wednesday. “Since becoming the world’s sole superpower toward the end of the Cold War, the United States has used force offensively more or less wherever and whenever it chose to do so,” the authors conclude. “In the future, however, projecting force will entail heightened costs and risks, especially in critical and contested regions—against China in the western Pacific, Russia in eastern Europe, and Iran around the Persian Gulf … ” China’s economic and technological capacity make it the biggest threat to potential US force projection, but both China and Russia’s A2AD capabilities—advanced long-range air defenses, precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, extended-range sensors, and digitized command and control—could enable those countries to invade neighboring states by delaying the United States’ ability to respond, states the report. “Ultimately, adversaries could gain a degree of hegemony in regions of critical interest to the United States if they can project force behind their A2AD shields, while keeping US forces out of the region by increasing risk to an unacceptable level,” the report notes. The authors propose a multi-pronged strategy to exploit current US advantages and, in turn, prevent aggression that involves developing and using allied A2AD capabilities as well as nonmilitary “power to coerce,” means to deter regional aggressors. Economic sanctions, support for opposition movements, and influence in the global markets could all be used to supplement the allied A2AD capabilities, the report suggests. (See also: Overcoming Institutional Inertia in the Pacific.)