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Pentagon terms China, Russia bigger threat than terrorism

Updated January 20, 2018

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WASHINGTON: Countering China’s rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia are now the US military’s top national security priorities, outpacing the threat of terrorism, the Pentagon said on Friday.

A new national defence strategy says that competition with China and Russia has threatened America’s military advantage around the world. And it will require increased investment to make US forces more lethal, agile and ready for war.

“We will continue to prosecute the camaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of US national security,” Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in prepared remarks at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

He declared the defeat of the militant Islamic State group’s “physical caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, but warned that IS, Al Qaeda and other extremists continue as threats across the globe.

The document reflects persistent US worries about China’s military build-up in the South China Sea, its moves to expand its political and economic influence around the globe, and what has long been described as Beijing’s systematic campaign of cyberattacks and data theft from government agencies and private US corporations.

And it underscores American concerns about Russia’s aggressive military moves, including the invasion of Ukraine and involvement in the Syria war, as well as its meddling in the 2016 election.

Pentagon officials released an 11-page unclassified version of the strategy on Friday, saying it mapped out a “fundamental shift” in focus for the military.

“We’ve been doing a lot of things in the last 25 years, and we’ve been focused on really other problems and this strategy really represents a fundamental shift to say, look, we have to get back, in a sense, to basics of the potential for war,” said Elbridge Colby, the deputy assistant defence secretary for strategy.

“This strategy says the focus will be on prioritising preparedness for war and particularly major power war.” Previous defence chiefs have long warned about a rising China — triggering the Obama administration’s move to put a greater focus on the Asia Pacific region, including added ships and troops. And the new strategy’s call for strengthening alliances sounds more like previous administrations, rather than the “America First” message of President Donald Trump’s national security strategy that was released in December.

The Pentagon document says that allies and partners are crucial and can provide additional capabilities and access to other regions.

“This is not 1999, when some would say the US can do everything by itself,” said Colby. “There is a practical reality that we need to be able to do things together, to be more interoperable, to be able to divide up missions in a constructive way.” Asked if terrorism is no longer a top priority, Colby said it remains a “serious, pressing threat”, and that Iran and North Korea are “urgent problems.”

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2018