Not since the Cold War has the world faced the prospect of a direct military conflict between the globe’s two largest nuclear-armed powers. But it is possible to imagine such a confrontation, and its consequences would be profoundly damaging.
In a toe-to-toe conventional fight, experts agree that the United States’ globe-spanning military would easily thrash Russia’s forces. The US has far more bases, fighter jets and bombers, while at sea it is a clear winner with more destroyers and submarines and 10 aircraft carriers. And the American economy is massively larger, allowing it to ramp up defense production much more quickly than Russia could.
But today’s conflict has revived Cold War levels of suspicion, antagonism and gamesmanship. The United States and its allies have begun to gird for a long-term duel with Russia, arming Ukrainian forces and waging unlimited economic warfare against Moscow.
Yet the public is largely agnostic on this issue, as demonstrated by the fact that foreign policy and national security are rarely high on voters’ agendas. When asked what the most important problems facing the country are, few people mention these issues – and they certainly do not talk about their fears of a war with Russia or the possibility that America will be involved in a conflict with China. This is a dangerous development that requires leaders to change the public’s narrative on foreign policy and make the risks of a direct confrontation with Russia and China crystal clear.