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Why is USA and NATO vs Russia and China a potential scenario for a global conflict involving military and army forces?

The world is divided into two major blocs of military power: the United States and its NATO allies, and China and its main partner, Russia. Both sides have invested heavily in their armed forces and are ready to use them to advance their global interests. What would happen if they clashed in a full-scale war? This is the thrilling story we will explore today, as we compare the military capabilities and strategies of the two rival coalitions 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

By InfoPublished 7 months ago 20 min read
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USA and NATO VS Russia and China 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

The world is divided into two major blocs of military power: the United States and its NATO allies, and China and its main partner, Russia. Both sides have invested heavily in their armed forces and are ready to use them to advance their global interests. What would happen if they clashed in a full-scale war? This is the thrilling story we will explore today, as we compare the military capabilities and strategies of the two rival coalitions 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

How Close Are We to a Hot War Between the US and China? 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

How Close Are We to a Hot War Between the US and China?

The world is witnessing a tense and dangerous situation that could escalate into a global conflict at any moment. The US and its allies, mainly NATO, are facing off against China and its main military ally, Russia, over various issues such as the invasion of Ukraine, the crisis in Taiwan, and the competition for global influence. Both sides have been building up their military capabilities and conducting provocative actions that could trigger a war. But how likely is such a war to happen, and who would have the upper hand if it did? In this blog post, we will examine the military strengths and weaknesses of each side, as well as the political, economic, and demographic factors that affect their decision-making.

The Opposing Military Strenghts in Europe 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

The Opposing Military Strengths in Europe

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most of the world perceived Russia as the second most powerful military in the world. They had massive numbers of tanks and artillery, their air force was seen as a peer with the American air force, and their navy was capable and feared, even if it didn’t have comparable numbers to the US navy. Russia’s military fiasco in Ukraine has proven their tanks are outdated and poorly designed, their logistics vanish once they leave their rail network, and their air force has been fragile enough that they don’t dare fly over Ukrainian territory for fear of being shot down. The only two legs of their military that remain unbowed by these defeats are its artillery, still numerous though notably inaccurate, and its nuclear forces, which remain unused and still unproven.

As of April 2023, the widely-respected research organization Oryx has documented and confirmed an astounding 10,000 vehicles losses by the Russian armed forces, including over 1900 main battle tanks – half of what it reportedly had pre-invasion – along with 830 armored fighting vehicles, 2200 infantry fighting vehicles, 800 pieces of artillery, 79 aircraft, 81 helicopters, and 12 surface vessels, including the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the Slava-class guided missile cruiser Moskva. This is in addition to an estimated 200,000 Russian military casualties, with anywhere between 45,000 to 50,000 killed in action.

These numbers are incredibly high from just over a year of fighting and are far greater even than what Russia suffered in its ten-year losing war in Afghanistan. The losses are so high that in early 2023, Russia began returning 75-year-old T54/55s into service, the equivalent of the US using Korean War-era M-47s. The Russians also lost a reported 1500 officers, including 160 top-level generals and colonels, and it’s clear the once-feared Russian military is a shell of its former self.

Standing opposite the vastly depleted and shaken Russian military is NATO, now more united and stronger than at any time in its 74-year history. With Finland’s admission into NATO in April of 2023 as its 31st signatory nation, the organization can now boast a combined troop strength of just over 3.5 million soldiers, airmen and sailors. That includes, however, the US and its 1.4 million strong standing army (not all of which will be fighting in Europe), and Turkey’s 425,000 (not the most committed of NATO’s members). That means the rest of NATO’s 29 members contribute only 1.7 million troops total. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland and Italy each have 160,000 or more active personnel, while other countries have smaller forces to rely on.

It must be stated, though, that NATO considers itself a defensive organization. How involved they’d be beyond their own borders is anyone’s guess. It’s important to note that the current war in Ukraine has shown that the NATO members, mostly led by Poland and the US, are willing to supply lethal aid, from missiles and artillery to tanks and fighter jets, to a non-signatory nation whose defense is of a vital interest to the nearby NATO members.

Since Russia launched the invasion in February of 2022, NATO members have increased both their military budgets and pledged a greater amount of military spending per capita. They’ve also benefited from sending Ukraine their Soviet-era tanks and fighter jets, which have been replaced with upgraded models, many of them being state-of-the-art models from other member nations, like the US F-35 stealth fighter and M1A2 Abrams tanks.

NATO can also count on around 1500 Leopard 2’s and about 2500 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, the majority of which are M1A2’s, with the rest being the earlier M1A1’s, with an additional 800 or so British Challenger 2’s, and French Leclerc’s and Ariete’s.

And while the numbers of aircraft on both the NATO and Russian sides appear around equal, NATO forces employ more fourth- and fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 and the improved and updated versions of the F-16, while Russia is still reliant on more outdated MiG 29s (introduced in 1982), MiG 31s (introduced in 1981) and Su-27s (introduced in 1985). These three plane types alone account for more than 750 of their total of 1100 available pre-invasion fighter aircraft, a disproportionate number of outdated and non-modernized platforms. And as has been seen in Ukraine, many of these aircraft have not been maintained sufficiently in order for them to be combat-ready any time soon.

It’s clear that a war between only the European forces of NATO and the struggling military of Russia would be a one-sided affair. But how would China fare against mostly US forces?

The Opposing Forces in the Pacific 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

The Opposing Forces in the Pacific

China, it should be obvious, has not suffered from an equivalent loss of military strength as Russia has over the past year. In fact, the modernization and expansion of its military has been impressive, and has caused its neighbors, like Japan, Australia, India and the Philippines, to increase their own military expenditures. Yet China is still missing major components that will allow it to go toe-to-toe with the US Navy. These missing elements suggest China would be better off waiting at least five years, and possibly as much as ten years, before it initiates an open military confrontation with the West.

For example, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the PLAN, currently operates twenty-five of its modern 10,000-ton Type 052D destroyers, with its own version of the Aegis-type radar system, along with eight of the more advanced 13,000-ton Type 055A destroyers, along with six of the earlier 7,000-ton Type 052C ships. There are up to twelve additional destroyers currently under construction.

But while these ships are designed specifically for missile and aircraft defenses, they have yet to deploy with the planned HQ-26 medium-range ship-to-air missile system, which was based on the Russian 9K37 Buk, first developed in 1972. This new missile system is reportedly equivalent to the U.S. SM-3 missile used by the Aegis ballistic missile defense system and was expected to be able to engage short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and both manned and unmanned aircraft out to 400 kilometers. However, this capability is expected to be implemented around a year or two from first deployment, and will be even longer before it’s deployed fleet-wide. Until then, China’s missile-defense destroyers like the Type 052 and 055 will have to make do with the upgraded HQ-16B with a reported maximum range of only 70 km, a system that dates from 2011.

The biggest weakness in the PLAN, of course, is its aircraft carrier fleet. They currently operate three carriers, the oldest being a 1990s-era, Ukrainian-built, Russian-designed ship renamed the Liaoning with its ski-jump ramp, which is also a staple of its second carrier, the Type 002 Shandong. The Liaoning isn’t really considered a front-line carrier and is relegated to the role of a training carrier.

It’s third carrier, the Fujian (currently being fitted out), is equipped with advanced electromagnetic catapults, similar to those on the US supercarrier USS Gerald R Ford (some say copied directly from it). But that means the PLAN will have to train its carrier pilots on two types of takeoffs and will need two different types of carrier planes to operate on these carriers. Its current training model, the JL-9G, a single-engine twin-seat aircraft first deployed in 2011, can’t be used to duplicate emergency landings on any of its current carriers because it’s too weak to take the continual pounding of carrier landings, and it’s too underpowered to immediately take off in case of a missed landing. That leaves only simulated takeoffs and landings on ground-based mockups. This inability to field a true carrier trainer has led to a huge deficit in trained carrier pilots.

This problem with the PLAN trainer is just the opposite of its carrier combat aircraft, the J-15 Flying Shark, which was mocked by Russia for trying to be a back-engineered version of an Su-33 prototype, the T-10K-3, which they bought from Ukraine back in 2001. At a reported 17.5 tons, its upgraded version is now thought to be the world’s heaviest carrier-borne fighter; in comparison, the US Navy’s F/A-18 weighs only 14.5 tons. The J-15 suffers from either having to carry less than optimal fuel (giving it less range) or less armament (giving it less lethality), if it intends to take off from the two ski-jump-equipped carriers. It has since been nicknamed “the Flopping Fish” by the normally reserved Chinese press for its underwhelming performance. China has begun deployment of the Chengdu J-20, somewhat comparable to the US F-22 stealth fighter and have produced around 200 of them. But this aircraft cannot be adapted to carriers and remains a standard land-based air superiority fighter. China hopes to make up the difference in carrier forces with hypersonic missiles, though their reliability and readiness is still under discussion.

At present, there is speculation but no confirmation that China is building a fourth carrier, though at least one recent satellite image suggests that a fourth may be under construction. But the PLAN doesn’t even have enough carrier pilots for its current two front-line carriers, let alone a fourth.

In comparison, the US currently operates 11 Carrier Strike Groups, each of which is comprised of one of its nuclear-propulsion Nimitz or Ford-class supercarriers able to field 70 to 80 aircraft, one or two Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruisers (for air defense and coordination), two LAMPS-capable warships (focusing on anti-submarine and surface warfare), and two to three Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. Each Strike Group is accompanied by assorted logistics and support ships, and an undisclosed number of nuclear-powered attack submarines (usually one or two) that coordinate with each Strike Group.

The new Ford-class supercarriers currently in use by the US Navy are undoubtedly the most powerful warships ever produced, with one in service and four more planned or currently under construction to be delivered between 2024 and 2034. There are literally no carrier groups of such lethality in any navy in the world, though the British and French navies do have their own carrier battle groups with somewhat comparable strengths.

The US also deploys several Amphibious Ready Groups, built around the Wasp-class amphibious assault ships (in essence a small carrier), which can handle 6 fighters like the F-35 Lightning II, and up to 24 helicopters like the Cobra gunship and the VF-22 Osprey transport vehicles. The Amphibious Ready Groups also include a Landing Platform Dock ship (LPD) from the San Antonio-class, capable of deploying up to 600 troops and 14 amphibious assault vehicles, and a Landing Ship-Dock (LSD) like the Harpers Ferry-class and the Whidbey Island-class landing ships, which can load and unload conventional landing craft and helicopters. These Amphibious Ready Groups can also launch dozens of autonomous drones like the X-47B.

Normally two to three ARGs are forward deployed: one in the Mediterranean Sea/ or the Persian Gulf–Indian Ocean region, and one or two in the western Pacific Ocean area. Currently, one ARG is based out of Sasebo and Okinawa, Japan. The ARGs are usually attached to a Carrier Strike Group, which provides protection for them from both land- sea-based attacks.

The US can also count on 26 Los Angeles-class, 3 Seawolf-class, and 21 Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, as well as dozens of ballistic missile submarines each with ICBM-capable launch tubes. On the other hand, the PLAN operates 6 Shang-class nuclear submarines, and 40 older diesel electric submarines of much lower capability.

Many experts point to the PLAN’s superiority in total numbers of ships over the US Navy, 340 to 300. But we must consider that the PLAN’s numbers include 150 “patrol craft,” which are more equivalent to the US Coast Guard’s cutters, designed for coastal engagements only, and not really capable of the kind of blue-water combat that the main naval units would engage in.

In addition, while the US Navy appears perfectly capable of handling the current PLAN on its own, any shooting war will likely involve other countries that are either wary of or outright opposed to Chinese naval power projection, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and India. Following continued efforts by China to claim the entire South China Sea as their own personal swimming pool, each of these countries has begun to beef up their own naval might.

Japan, for instance, is building two of the largest destroyers in the world. At 20,000 tons, they dwarf even the US’ 16,000-ton Zumwalt destroyers. These will complement and support Japan’s two new Izumo and Kaga carriers, converted from previous “helicopter destroyers,” and will operate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Once complete, the two carriers will be Japan’s first since the Second World War.

Along with Japan’s increasing naval might, Australia has entered into a long-term agreement with the US and Great Britain to build a fleet of state-of-the-art nuclear-powered attack submarines. India has also increased its own naval strength, while the country is still aching from violent confrontations instigated by China along its northern Himalayan border.

China's True Achilles Heel 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

China’s True Achilles Heel

And that brings up the most crucial component of any possible shooting war involving China: the fact that the country must import 70-75% of all their oil and natural gas through a long naval route from the Baltic through the Atlantic and past Africa, India and Indonesia. If the US or its Pacific allies wanted to interdict the flow of petroleum to China—and such a lengthy supply chain would be impossible for China to protect—then China would be looking at a three-month delay before its countrywide truck transport system would shut down due to a lack of fuel, and six months before it ran out of the necessary components for the production of fertilizers, which its farmers desperately need. Their economy would collapse within a year and massive famine would break out, even if they did manage to hold off the superior US Navy.

This dramatic and inevitable failure of their economy and the catastrophic famine that would follow might be the main reason why China isn’t looking to launch a full-scale war anytime soon.

The Fragility of a Russia-China Alliance 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

The Fragility of a Russia-China Alliance

In addition to the logistical problems of overcoming the US Navy and the watery moat around Taiwan, China faces another hurdle: the weakness of any long-term alliance with Russia, an alliance that would be merely a castle built upon sand. Any full-scale war, short of a nuclear engagement, would find Russia’s military virtually destroyed within the first few weeks of the conflict’s launch, leaving China virtually alone. The Ukrainian invasion has spotlighted why Russia is nowhere near a military peer to the US, China, or even NATO.

There are multiple reasons for the failure of the Russian military. First and foremost is the endemic corruption that riddles every layer of the Russian government, including the military. There are estimates that corruption has cost from 25% to 30% of Russia’s total annual GDP. And the sanctions Russia has endured since the start of the war has caused a massive drain of its remaining economy.

Not only is Russia’s economy collapsing due to the surprisingly efficient Western sanctions, but that smaller economy’s spending on its military is actually much less than the projected numbers. The sanctions have also shrunk the Russian economy to the size of Italy, and now puts it behind the individual states of California, Texas or New York.

Russia’s nominal $1.4 trillion GDP is miniscule when compared to the EU’s combined economic strength of about $15.28 trillion. Add the U.S. and EU GDPs together and you get about $35 trillion, more than 40 percent of the world GDP. Russia will simply never be able to outspend the EU and its NATO counterpart, much less the US and the EU combined.

Second, Russia has never had a coherent NCO training program. Russia has lost at least 150 officers of colonel rank and above simply because their orders have to be passed almost directly from the leadership to the front-line troops. The members of NATO, the US, and even China understand that the sergeants and other NCOs have to have the independent authority to assess the war from the front lines and make immediate and effective changes in response. Russia has never had that level of independence, which leads their military to dogmatic, inflexible attacks that usually require masses of tanks, waves of infantry, and massive artillery bombardments, none of which are effective in a modern battlefield environment that is overwatched by drones, surveillance satellites and reconnaissance planes.

Third, Russia has never had the ability to manage their logistics at any distance from their rail network. The ignominious “40-mile-long traffic jam” north of Kyiv from late February to March of 2022 was one glaring example of how their military cannot perform the simple task of keeping their tanks and transports full of fuel and moving. This lack of logistics has been further exacerbated by the introduction of HIMARS long-range rocket artillery systems, which can hit targets over 50 miles away. These systems, along with newer smart ammunition such as ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), which can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy, have made it much more difficult for Russia to resupply its troops in Ukraine. The cost of these weapons systems has been significant, at more than $10 billion.

Russia continues to sell its best or almost-best military gear to China, even though they know the technology is likely to be copied, reducing what little technological superiority Russia still maintains over China. This policy dilemma has been compounded by the post-Ukraine effect on Russia’s struggling manufacturing sector, which has left the shrinking Russian economy increasingly reliant on China’s much larger economic base, further eroding any remaining compatibility in their relationship.

More recently, President Xi has tried to bring China to the forefront in worldwide diplomacy. So when the U.N. held a vote to condemn the Russian invasion, China surprisingly abstained from the 141-5 vote to condemn the invasion, and in fact was a key leader of thirty-four other countries who also abstained. This was the first time that China had a chance to publicly support their “partner,” and they openly refused.

This hand’s off approach demonstrates China’s desire to maintain its currently neutral stance regarding the Ukraine war, in hopes of trying to establish Beijing’s bid for global leadership. But they can’t do that if they supply lethal aid to Russia, so they’ve refused to supply such support, despite Putin’s pleas to the contrary.

When Presidents Putin and Xi met in Russia in March of 2023, Putin had hoped that Xi would offer a deal to create a direct pipeline between the two countries, making China more reliant on Russian crude oil and natural gas, and giving Russia a direct buyer for their primary export, but no such agreement was reached. Xi did say publicly that China and Russia would continue “to resolutely uphold the fundamental norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter,” but that statement blatantly ignores the illegality of Russian’s invasion in the first place, which directly violates the Charter’s core precepts.

Putin’s hopes for any concrete agreements for aid and mutual development never materialized. The summit was summed up by historian Sergey Radchenko with an old Chinese proverb, “Loud thunder but few raindrops.” He then modified that statement as, “Scratch that: even the thunder wasn’t all that loud.”

In fact, the Putin-Xi meetings actually caused further support for Ukraine, as Japanese Prime Minister Kishida used the opportunity to make a surprise trip to Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky.

Despite Xi’s efforts to lead China into a role of a peacemaker and world negotiator, he still has to deal with the hawks in his own government. On the heels of the Moscow summit, the Guangming Daily wrote an extensive article, more of a semi-official position piece, declaring the four “no’s” that China says they will not put up with:

  1. The US should not make irresponsible remarks on “normal exchanges between sovereign states.”
  2. The US should not compare China-Russia relations with the “small circle of US allies.”
  3. The US should not undermine China’s efforts to promote peace talks on the Ukraine issue.
  4. The US should stop using the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to attack and sanction China.

Some of this rhetoric is no doubt simply strong words, but they may also signal an effort to lay the groundwork for China to ramp up its military support for Russia’s war, though so far, there is no evidence of that.

What will Russia and Ukraine do? 🏴‍☠️💥🎃

What will Russia and Ukraine do?

China and Russia are in an unenviable position. Both countries are seeing an inevitable shrinking of their populations, with China admitting an over counting of its population during its last census by as much as 100 million. The Pew research Center forecasts a decline from 1.4 billion people this year to 1.3 billion by 2050, and a staggering reduction to below 800 million by 2100. That’s according to the UN’s “medium variant,” or middle-of-the-road projection.

Russia’s upside-down population pyramid is no better: they’ve already experienced a massive brain drain as a repercussion from its Ukraine fiasco, which was followed by as many as 400,000 young men who left to avoid the first conscription callup in September of 2022. Combine that with an aging population, a lower birthrate, and a decrease in life expectancy of 15 years since early 2022, and Russia’s population is in freefall.

Both of these troubled countries might believe, then, that their only window to have enough young males to support a war is rapidly shrinking. That leaves Putin and Xi with a difficult, if not impossible decision: launch a war now that they’re not ready for and probably can’t win, or wait a few years, when their populations and economies are even less capable of enduring such hardships.

It’s an unenviable decision for any leader to make.

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