As these words are written, we await a single man’s decision whether to plunge Europe’s eastern marches into war. By the time you read this, blood—perhaps a great deal of it—may have been splashed across Ukraine’s steppes. Euro-American powers have sought to discourage Vladimir Putin’s latest aggression through the threat of economic sanctions coupled with the belated and stingy provision of military hardware to Ukraine. NATO, the primary instrument of collective Western influence, and the United States, Euro-America’s self-doubting superpower, have publicly ruled out direct military action to oppose Russian aggression, pursuing “deterrence without risk.”
Because of the nature and number of threats as well as the fraying reputation of the United States, the best hope to deter China and Russia is by empowering American frontline allies and partners. They—Taiwan and Ukraine in this particular case—are the first responders to any regional crisis and have the strongest incentives to counter their aggressive neighbors. They have to deter their enemies by denying them the ability to achieve quick victories at small costs.