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Can the US handle conflict on 3 fronts?

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 6 November 2023

The United States needs to pivot its defence from Europe to the Indo-Pacific to deal with China, its number one strategic competitor, according to eminent U.S. political scientist John Mearsheimer, but will have trouble doing that because of its entanglement in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Mr. Mearsheimer, who was a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies, was talking in Brisbane, Australia. He is from the "realist" school of international relations, which means that he thinks great powers should, and do, act only in their own interests. Advertisement - Story continues below AD

It's a pity Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was not able to hear him and was already en route to Washington to lobby for AUKUS at the time.


Mr. Mearsheimer's view that the United States needs to pivot is shared by the Australian, Indian, Japanese, and various other smaller Asian governments, including, in some ways most critically, Taiwan.

Mr. Mearsheimer recognises three superpowers: the U.S., China, and Russia. He points to Russian political weakness post the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and Chinese poverty, as having created a unipolar moment for around 30 years when the United States was dominant.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has brought Russia back from the dead, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has centralised power in a massive country that has become a middle-income nation that can now flex its muscles.

Today, the United States is embroiled in a war in Ukraine, and almost certainly one in the Middle East. In a tripartite world, it has antagonised the swing power, which is Russia, and now it is two to one.

A graduate of West Point, Mr. Mearsheimer asserts that the determinants of who wins a war, particularly wars of attrition like that in Ukraine, are manpower and manufacturing capacity.

On this basis, he deduces that Ukraine will lose, by which he means the Russians will occupy another 20 percent of the country in addition to the 20 percent it already has, and it will remain an unresolved war, similar to the Korean War-a stalemate with no peace treaty and the ever-present threat of fresh hostilities.


Just as the United States has 70,000 troops still in South Korea, he thinks it will need to have massive numbers in Ukraine for decades.

He also sees a bleak future for the Israeli state.

The problem for both Ukraine and Israel is that their enemies are more populous. Ukraine has 36.7 million inhabitants and Russia has 144 million-a four-to-one advantage. In U.S. dollars, the size of the Ukrainian economy is $173 billion, and Russia's $1.862 trillion (although to put Russia into perspective, the size of the Australian economy is $1.688 trillion).

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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