The Pentagon now sees China and Russia as “the central challenge” facing the US military, according to the unclassified pages of the Trump administration’s new National Defense Strategy.
“Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security,” the document, which was made available to reporters Friday, says, adding “long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis was due to unveil the main elements of the new strategy at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies on Friday morning. President Donald Trump discussed the strategy with Mattis and senior military leaders during his Thursday visit to the Pentagon.
The majority of the strategy is classified and will help drive budgetary decisions in the years ahead, with the document saying that the challenges from Russia and China “require both increased and sustained investment” in defensive capabilities.
During the unveiling of the strategy, Mattis took the opportunity to slam Congress for not providing adequate funding to the Department of Defense, saying the Budget Control Act and short-term continuing resolutions passed by Congress in recent years had done more to harm the readiness of the US military than any enemy in the field.
Mattis also criticized the two options currently being considered by Congress, whether to shut down the government or pass a short-term funding measure.
“We need a budget and we need budget predictability if we’re to sustain our military’s primacy,” he said.
“We have no room for complacency and history makes clear that America has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis added.
The defense strategy comes on the heels of the administration’s National Security Strategy, published last month.
The document references Chinese and Russian efforts to modernize their militaries and invest in ways intended to undermine the US military’s relative strengths.
“Our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace — and is continues to erode,” Mattis said Friday.
The document notes that the US military can no longer count on conducting its operations in an uncontested environment.
“Obviously we don’t live in 1999 anymore,” Elbridge Colby, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, told reporters, highlighting how the US no longer maintains as much of a military advantage over its rivals as it once did.
The strategy points to China’s military actions in the South China Sea and Russia’s actions in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine as evidence of the threat posed by Beijing and Moscow.
“It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,” the document says.
While the document focuses heavily on the challenges posed by China and Russia, it also lists North Korea — particularly its missile and nuclear program, Iran and international terrorism — as threats that need to be addressed.
“Terrorism is still very much a problem and a threat,” Colby said, adding, “this is not a strategy that says we’re going to withdraw from the Middle East.”
And despite Trump’s “America first” foreign policy rhetoric and campaign criticisms of NATO, the strategy also underscores the need for strong alliances, saying “mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to our strategy,” and a “strong and free Europe” and “commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty,” which stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack against all, are “vital to our security.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the new strategy while speaking at the UN on Friday, saying “”It is regrettable instead of having a normal dialogue, the basis of international law, the US is striving to prove its leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts.
By Ryan Browne