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Does the Fate of US Arms in Ukraine Create Pause for Thought Ahead War with China?

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March 12, 2024 (NEO – Brian Berletic) In recent months, advanced US weapon systems provided to Ukrainian forces have been cornered and destroyed on the battlefield by Russian troops. This includes the first ever confirmed footage of a US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), the destruction of several M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and the further loss of several more Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Newsweek reported.

Last year, the US Department of Defense admitted that a US-made Patriot air defense battery sustained damage in a Russian missile attack, according to CNN. This year, in an article by Forbes, it is admitted that a Russian short-range Iskander ballistic missile destroyed at least two Patriot missile launchers.

These developments end decades of US claims regarding the superiority of its weapons systems, including boasts that Russia’s Soviet-era equipment “won’t be a match” for US arms, as the Business Insider claimed regarding M1 Abrams being sent to Ukraine.

Busting the Myth of American Military Supremacy 

The Business Insider article, like many others across the Western media, repeated the myth of the superiority of America’s military technology based on flawed analysis of its performance during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. In both instances, the US pitted its best troops and equipment against poorly trained Iraqi forces using Soviet-era equipment already obsolete at the time.

The lopsided results of the fighting in both conflicts were cited as evidence of American superiority over Soviet and then Russian Federation military technology. It also serves as the basis of assumed military superiority over Chinese military power. Such lopsided fighting was imagined by Western analysts ahead of US weapons arriving at the battlefield in Ukraine, and despite the poor performance of these systems in Ukraine, such lopsided fighting is still imagined amid any potential conflict between the US and China.

However, for analysts carefully studying the evolution of modern warfare from 1991 to present day, the disparity between Western military technology and that of even non-state armed organizations was closing. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah used modern Russian anti-tank weapons to inflict heavy casualties on Israeli forces, Haaretz reported. Hezbollah’s enhanced military might allowed it to stop the advance of Israeli Merkava main battle tanks and supporting troops well before their stated objective of reaching the Litani River.

The Syrian Arab Army’s successful use of Soviet and Russian-made air defense systems during the ongoing conflict in Syria has forced US, European, and Israeli warplanes to launch attacks using longer-range stand-off weapons. These same air defense systems have been used to intercept Western cruise missiles, reducing damage to targets across the country.

Russia’s intervention in Syria at the invitation of Damascus in 2015 was followed by an effective use of modern Russian air power, cutting the supply lines of Western-backed militants, and aiding Syrian forces on the ground in encircling and destroying them.

It was becoming clear that should modern Western weapon systems face modern Russian military technology, the myth of Western military superiority would be shattered. It was also becoming clear that a similar gap was closing in terms of US military technology and its Chinese counterparts.

On the battlefield in Ukraine, Russian forces using modern Russian weapons are eliminating Ukrainian brigades trained and armed by the US and other NATO members. Despite high expectations ahead of Ukraine’s 2023 offensive, up to 9 NATO-trained and armed brigades were decimated in months of fighting. The New York Times would report at the end of 2023 that despite Ukraine’s massive offensive campaign, Russia had gained the most territory that year.

While it is true that Ukraine did not have enough time to properly integrate the Western arms transferred to it from 2022 onward, the performance of both Western and Russian weapons on the battlefield has made it clear that, now more than ever, the idea of Western military superiority is a more nostalgic interpretation of history, and far from a current reality.

Beyond the performance of Western and Russian weapons on the battlefield themselves, both Western and Russian military industrial capacity has been put to the test. Western private industry-run arms manufacturing had failed to develop surge capacity needed for the protracted, large-scale fighting now taking place in Ukraine. Russia’s military industrial base inherited and then enhanced and modernized such surge capacity from the Soviet Union and, according to the New York Times, despite sanctions, is now outproducing the collective West.

Additionally, because of the complex nature of modern Western arms, a vast network of logistics, sustainment, and maintenance is required to keep these arms operating on the battlefield. A recent press release by the US Department of Defense Inspector General reveals that no such system was created for US weapons transferred over to Ukraine and that without it, “the Ukrainians would not be capable of maintaining these weapon systems.” 

Such support was not provided to Ukraine because of the massive undertaking such support requires. For any given fighting force, one many times larger is required to support, sustain, and maintain that force and the weapons and vehicles it uses.

Taken together, all of these weaknesses revealed about Western military technology do not bode well for the United States ahead of any potential conflict directly or by proxy against China.

The Gap Between US and Chinese Military Power is Narrowing

Not only does China have many weapon systems comparable to the systems Russia is employing in Ukraine now, China has acquired some of the best Russian military technology from Russia itself. This includes the Su-35 warplane and the S-400 air defense system.

The US Department of Defense admits the growing capabilities of Chinese military systems, particularly in terms of missile technology, both surface-to-surface missiles and air-to-air missiles launched by warplanes, comparable to or exceeding the capabilities of American missiles, Air and Space Forces Magazine reported.

A 2023 Reuters article would likewise cite the US Department of Defense, admitting that China’s navy was already larger than the US Navy.

Even as Russia’s military industrial base is outcompeting the collective West, China’s industrial base is larger still. Any difficulties the US is having outproducing Russia in terms of military equipment and ammunition will pale in comparison to China’s military industrial output.

Together with the fact that any potential conflict the US seeks to provoke with China will take place in the Asia-Pacific region, thousands of kilometers away from US shores, and considering the extensive nature of the networks required to support US military technology on the battlefield, the idea of Washington fighting and winning any armed conflict against China appears particularly and increasingly absurd.

Even if Washington’s strategy is to subordinate China not with the threat of fighting and winning a war against China in the Asia-Pacific region, but to hold peace and stability in the region hostage by threatening war regardless of its outcome, the US finds itself in a difficult and increasingly weak position year-by-year.

Current US foreign policy is predicated on the premise, “might makes right.” However, the US is clearly no longer “the mightest.” As it provokes conflicts around the globe directly or by proxy, it risks suffering severe consequences its previous advantages in terms of military power had protected it against decades ago.

Continuing to pursue an unsustainable policy like this will end in disaster for Washington and for the American people. However, the US could always pivot toward a policy of coexistence and cooperation, built on mutual respect for other nations like Russia and China as well as the primacy of national sovereignty of all nations.

While the US would no longer be the most powerful nation on Earth, it would still assume a prominent and respected position within a multipolar world. Conversely, if it continues pursuing a foreign policy of belligerence, it still will no longer be the most powerful nation on Earth, but will arrive at that conclusion under much more difficult conditions.

What is unfolding on the battlefields of Ukraine is giving the collective West insight into what it itself may undergo if it continues provoking conflict within a world where Western supremacy has diminished and the rest of the world is now capable of asserting their own best interests within their borders and regions of the world above the collective West and its ambitions worldwide.

The collective West insists on its continued pursuit of global primacy at its own peril.


Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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