Obama put end to ‘two-war’ doctrine that leaves US military limited to single regional conflict

With tensions high amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns over China’s intentions with Taiwan, talk of a potential World War III has sparked questions about America’s military capabilities.

One expert has pointed out that the Obama administration shifted the nation’s military stance a decade ago and if simultaneous conflicts erupted across the globe, the U.S. will have to literally choose its battles.

The Pentagon’s “two-war” doctrine was effectively ended under former President Barack Obama in January 2012 as the Democrat administration felt it was “not really a two-war world” any longer, according to Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow for Defense Programs at the Heritage Foundation.

“When the Obama team came in, they had a very specific … agenda. It was very domestically focused, and their worldview was such that nearly all problems can be resolved diplomatically via trade,” Wood told Fox News Digital.

“The perception was you just didn’t need a big U.S. military,” he explained.

Wood pointed out what the current construct means in the event the U.S. faces getting involved in Ukraine while China escalates the situation with Taiwan.

“It means we can’t do both,” he said in the phone interview.

January 2012 saw the end of the Cold War-era planning model that had guided the U.S. military as Obama and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the shift. Previously, the U.S. had been able to address simultaneous conflicts as during the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But ending the Pentagon’s “two-war” strategy left the nation in a position that could have major implications in the current climate.

According to Fox News:

Wood explained that the Obama administration wanted to establish that it’s “not really a two-war world” anymore, and to instead have a military that could handle one major crisis while balancing smaller “pop-up sort of crises or to maintain a presence.”

Obama said at the time that the U.S. military would become “leaner” but would maintain its “military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”

The military has in fact become leaner, with the number of Naval ships shrinking from about 570 in the late 1980s to 296 ships today, according to Wood.


Reviving the “two-war” doctrine has so far not been on the table with even former President Donald Trump, who did increase the budget for the U.S. military, opting not to reinstate it.

“It says that you are thinking that there might actually be wars out there in the world, and so we have to beef up, we have to militarize. Nobody likes to really say that,” Wood noted.

President Joe Biden has thus far rejected pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to impose a no-fly zone over his nation amid the onslaught by neighboring Russia for fear of risking a direct military conflict with President Vladimir Putin’s forces.

The aggressive invasion of Ukraine has renewed fears about China potentially moving on Taiwan, currently an independent country but one that China views as a province that needs to be part of its own country.

The U.S. has been preparing for a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, with thousands of troops headed to Australia in the Northern Territory, according to Daily Mail. Approximately 1,000 Marines have already landed in the city of Darwin, which is located south of several Asian countries.

If the U.S. faced engaging in two wars at once, such as in Ukraine and Taiwan, Wood told Fox News Digital that “national leadership would have to decide which theater is more important.”

“In a Taiwan scenario, we have no treaty obligation to come to Taiwan’s rescue. There was the Taiwan Relations Act that was intentionally written rather ambiguous, that the U.S. supports diplomatic solutions to resolve the condition that exists between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China,” he said.

“If we got involved in Ukraine, it’s basically all-in. We have a much more robust, in some ways, relationship economically, culturally, historically with Europe than we do with Taiwan,” Wood added.


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