American analyst Hal Brands: Talking about the existence of absolute protection for American lands is an illusion

The next war will target the lands of America

  • Korean nuclear weapons are developing and uncontrolled.

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  • China's nuclear weapons target America in the first place.

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Americans have lived for decades, perhaps centuries, viewing war as “something that happens there” in other countries, even if their own country is fighting this war.

But it appears that Americans should prepare to confront war as "something happening here" on their soil, according to Hal Brands, Henry Kissinger Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced American International Studies.

And Brands says in an analysis published by Bloomberg News Agency, that American lands will not be sacred in any future conflicts.

The United States has entered an era in which its lands are at risk as a result of technological development that made it possible for its geopolitical enemies, not just terrorist groups, to transfer war to the lands of America itself.

Of course, the United States has been attacked before, the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, the Japanese struck Hawaii, then the American lands themselves in 1941 during World War II, and “Al-Qaeda” attacked New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. But these attacks are exceptional in the history of The United States, whose combination of power and geography helped make its territory more secure than any other major country.

Since the Cold War, the United States has faced terrorist attacks, but the countries that America struck, especially Iraq and Serbia, did not have any ability to attack their territories.

This has now changed in more ways than one.

First, the number of hostile nations able to threaten the United States with nuclear weapons in any conflict has increased.

China, which has traditionally had a small and vulnerable nuclear arsenal, is now rapidly augmenting that arsenal. Beijing wants to ensure the ability to strike the United States in any conflict involving Taiwan or another hotspot.

Times are different

North Korea is on the verge of acquiring, and may already have, nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

America's adversaries may still have strong incentives not to attack it with such weapons, at least to avoid a devastating US nuclear response.

But today is different from the years of the Cold War, when these countries can now strike the US mainland in ways that are less dangerous and more rewarding for them.

Russia and China have or are developing capabilities to strike American targets with conventional warheads mounted on long-range missiles, whether cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or supersonic glide vehicles.

There is growing concern about China's ability to use swarms of small container-launched drones to strike targets on the West Coast of the United States.

Although such attacks would not lead to catastrophic destruction, they would disrupt logistics, communications and possibly the ability to mobilize forces during any conflict, and might simply give Moscow or Beijing a means to deter or retaliate against the United States if any Russian or Chinese territory was attacked. .

Brands, senior fellow and expert on US foreign policy, strategy, and defense at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that the most likely form of attack on US soil would not involve violence at all, but would be in the form of cyber attacks targeting infrastructure systems, or critical financial services networks that could lead To the disruption of daily life, and the diminishing of the US administration's ability to respond to the attack.

A ransomware attack on the US Colonial Pipeline, which led to severe energy shortages on the US East Coast, was a typical example of such attacks.

big damage

The extent of the damage and losses that could result from a broader attack of this kind can be imagined, in the context of an escalating international crisis over Taiwan, Ukraine or the Baltic states. Such cyberattacks would be an attractive idea for Russian and Chinese war planners. These attacks can be shrouded in a degree of ambiguity, which cannot be done in the case of direct military strikes. These cyberattacks would also lead to major internal unrest, without inflicting large numbers of civilian deaths, and delaying the American response at the start of any conflict, when Moscow or Beijing wanted to achieve their military objectives in Eastern Europe or the Western Pacific. These attacks could also pose difficult questions for US decision makers, such as, would Washington want to use force to stop an aggression happening from far away? And if it did, could it suffer painful losses on its soil?

According to Brands, the United States does not have a perfect solution to this dilemma.

Missile defense systems, for example, can help protect key targets, but they are extremely costly and cannot be relied upon to provide comprehensive protection.

The most that the United States can do is mitigate internal security weaknesses through a combination of defensive and offensive capabilities and flexibility.

Civil Defense

This requires massive and more systematic investments in what was called “civil defence,” strengthening infrastructure, logistical facilities, and communications networks to counter digital attacks.

Washington will need to improve its peacetime propaganda for its ability and willingness to retaliate against any state-sponsored cyber attack.

Such propaganda will make Washington's opponents think about the United States' ability to respond to major attacks, whether physical or digital, in times of war.

In the conclusion of his analysis, Brands says that in the end there is no escape from the fact that talk of the existence of absolute protection of the American territory is an illusion.

The Americans must accept the increased possibilities of the exposure of American territory to attacks, and develop the social and economic resilience required to absorb such attacks, which could be at the expense of America's global influence, in a world where geography no longer gives America immunity from attacks.

• Russia and China possess or are developing capabilities to strike American targets with conventional warheads carried on long-range missiles, whether cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or glide supersonic vehicles.


• Missile defense systems can help protect key targets, but they are very costly and cannot be relied upon to provide comprehensive protection.

The most that the United States can do is mitigate internal security weaknesses through a combination of defensive and offensive capabilities and flexibility.

• America's opponents may still have strong motives not to attack it with nuclear weapons, at least to avoid any devastating US nuclear response.

But today is different from the years of the Cold War, when these countries can now strike the US mainland in ways that are less dangerous and more rewarding for them.

• American lands will not be sacred in any future conflicts.

The United States has entered an era in which its lands are at risk as a result of technological development that made it possible for its geopolitical enemies, not just terrorist groups, to transfer war to the lands of America itself.

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