OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher is offering President Joe Biden and his administration a “tip” on how to prevent further escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
In a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the “State of the Surface Navy,” Vice Admiral William K. Lescher, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, admitted to Gallagher that the U.S. failed to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.
Gallagher said, “I want to deter. We all want to deter. We don’t want to deal with an incursion into NATO. We certainly don’t want to deal with a conflict over Taiwan. But if integrated deterrence is a smokescreen for cutting our investments in hard power, and somehow believing that untested technology, or allies, or statements coming out of Davos, or the UN, can substitute for hard power, I think we’re going to see further deterrence failures.”
Below is a transcript of the exchange:
Gallagher: In response to Representative Wilson’s questions, Admiral Lescher, about Ukraine working with Turkey, you said, “What it does highlight in a positive sense, from a strategic perspective, we’re focused on integrated deterrence that you see being done very incredibly well.” I’m intrigued by this concept of integrated deterrence. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of the national security strategy, and then the national defense strategy. I assume integrated deterrence will be the cornerstone of it. But in this context, and in light of your comments, two questions about integrated deterrence: what do you see being integrated into deterrence that wasn’t there before?
Lescher: So the concept as I was highlighting is integrated across all domains. So you see an increased focus in the joint warfighting concept, multi-domain, integrated into domains, which is not to say they weren’t before. It’s an evolution, for sure. And then the broader, again, evolution to focus and deliver as part of a joint force, as part of the whole of government, and working in particular with allies and partners. All an evolution and emphasis that I think you’re familiar with.
Gallagher: But if we’re doing integrated deterrence very incredibly well in Ukraine, it raises a second question: what did we deter?
Lescher: Excellent question, I suppose we’re deterring any expansion into the NATO territory, so we’re committed to defending.
Gallagher: But in a very real sense, would it be fair to say we failed to deter Putin from invading?
Lescher: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Gallagher: So there was a deterrence failure. I don’t mean this to score a cheap point. I just think that’s interesting. That’s something we should study, we should understand why it happened. My own view, and this gets to integrated deterrence and part of why I’m skeptical of the concept, is that if it is used to suggest that we can rely on nonmilitary tools, specifically sanctions or hashtag diplomacy, in order to deter–uncoupled from a credible military threat–then we’ll have further deterrence failures.
My bias is that you have to put hard power in the path of people like Putin or Xi Jinping in order to have a hope of deterrence. I would go further and say that this is the first, real-world test of integrated deterrence. And it failed. We need to learn from that, right?
I want to deter. We all want to deter. We don’t want to deal with an incursion into NATO. We certainly don’t want to deal with a conflict over Taiwan. But if integrated deterrence is a smokescreen for cutting our investments in hard power, and somehow believing that untested technology–which won’t be fielded until the end of the decade or the next decade–or allies, or statements coming out of Davos, or the UN, can substitute for hard power, I think we’re going to see further deterrence failures.
I understand there are many in the building who disagree with me, and I’m open to the counterargument, but it is a matter of fact that deterrence failed in this case. I welcome the stiffening of the Europeans’ position, the shift that I perceive in Germany, the unification of the West. These are great developments that we should build upon, but deterrence still failed.
And so I would argue, perhaps we didn’t do integrated deterrence, whatever that means, very, incredibly well. Usually I actually ask questions. I don’t do speeches like this, but you’ve touched a nerve for me. The best lesson I think we can learn from this is actually in a different theater. It is in INDOPACOM. I think the lesson is that we need to think about how we arm Taiwan yesterday, right?
After things start going boom, it’s gonna be hard to surge support. We are engaged in a process of trying to deter the PLA by denial. And the threat of sanctions and the threat of a sternly worded mean tweet from the State Department press secretary is not going to deter Xi Jinping. I yield my remaining second.